If you had a chance to go to another country and perform your same job in a place where you couldn’t speak the language… would you do it? A place where maybe they do your job a little bit differently, but where you had the opportunity to teach and share “tricks of the trade”? If you’d ask me for advice… I’d say…. Jump at the chance!! And I’m so glad I did!
Unfortunately, this opportunity doesn’t exist for all occupations. That is why I consider myself so lucky to have had the chance to go to Antigua, Guatemala this past April with a group of 15 third year physical therapy students from the University of Chapel Hill’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. Myself and 7 other physical therapists from UNC, Duke University Medical Center and Wake Med comprised the leadership team.
Once we changed our life long behaviors of brushing our teeth with tap water (“Don’t drink the water!”) and throwing the toilet paper in the toilet (they use the garbage can because the pipes have shifted with volcanic activity and the paper catches on the uneven edges causing clogs), we settled in at Las Obras Hospital to begin caring for patients.
The Guatemalan therapists and their students were eager to hear what we had to offer, and we were eager to learn from them as well. A few of our students presented their capstone projects in educational lectures on Down Syndrome, and Depression Management. In 2 separate community health fairs, we performed blood pressure screenings, and provided information on the importance of hand washing, nutrition, and a session on low back pain with proper lifting techniques. However, the women in Guatemala seemed to have more questions about how to manage their neck pain. Go figure! (Yes, that’s a small child strapped to her back in addition to the load on her head!)
Last, we went to a rural school for children with special needs called Ensenarme a la Pesce (Teach me to fish). Some of these children had just spent their first week away from home for a Special Olympics competition and were quite proud of their accomplishments. There, we did a few consultations for families with children with challenging diagnoses who did not otherwise have access to physical therapy intervention.
It wasn’t all work and no play. We had the chance to tour a coffee farm, wonder at the Myan Ruins, enjoy the thrill of zip lining, and to hike an active volcano called Pacaya. We melted the cheese on our sandwiches in the natural hot ovens at the base of the volcano.
The Guatemalan people are some of the hardest working and gracious people I’ve met. It was truly an inspiring adventure and an amazing learning experience. So if you are contemplating travelling outside of your country, or your comfort zone for work or pleasure… I say jump at the chance! Or as they say in Guatemala, “Brinca!”