Students from Rockhurst University’s occupational and physical therapy programs recently traveled to Guayaquil, Ecuador for the 10th time this August. The annual trip began as a University immersion trip to Ecuador and included a tour of Damien House. Damien House “serves as an inpatient home and outpatient clinic for those in the area with Hansen’s disease.” Hansen’s disease is more commonly known as leprosy. Although the disease is not common in most of the world, there are still areas where the disease is prevalent and those who suffer from it are forced to live their lives away from their family and friends. While touring Damien House, first year students were approached by Damien House founder Sister Annie Credidio to return and help during their next visit instead of just a tour.
Each summer the occupational therapy students and the physical therapy students travel to Ecuador to serve as volunteer staff for the Damien House’s on-site clinic. The trip has such success partly because it is an experience unlike anything that one could experience in the US. Students must break through language and cultural barriers in an area that is characterized by poverty. Sarah Berry, who is in the second year of her physical therapy doctoral program, spoke of being placed in this situation. “We are constantly learning new things, and this trip allows us to gain real-life experience with everything that we have learned. We may be put into situations in which we are uncomfortable or situations in which we can’t get past the language barrier, but these situations are the ones that are going to allow us to grow as a person and as physical therapist or occupational therapist.”
The students brought supplies, worked one-on-one with patients to help them cope with their disease, and helped “patients adapt in ways that allow them to perform everyday tasks like tying their shoes and using utensils to eat with greater ease.” By the end of the trip, the group had seen about 100 patients and had a new perspective of what it will be like as a physical therapist or an occupational therapist.
You can read more about Rockhurst’s service trip here.