Team Tanzania

 

Students & faculty introduce physical therapy to African village

“When are you coming back? We have to do this again.”

That was the sentiment of University of Indianapolis physical therapy students upon their return from a four-week trip to the southeastern African nation of Tanzania over the December break in 2009.

UIndy’s Stacie Fruth, a Krannert School of Physical Therapy professor, and visiting instructor Renee Van Veld traveled with 10 entry-level PT students to the village of Pommern in Tanzania.

The team helped with whatever was needed—meaning that students spent time not only applying their physical therapy skills on behalf of local residents but also working in the health clinic, farming, helping to rebuild a school, and teaching conversational English.

The trip, which took years to plan, was organized by the Global Volunteers nonprofit service network. Dr. Fruth had been to Pommern in 1999 and decided she would return with a group of students one day.

Unfamiliar territory

When the the American visitors arrived in mid-December, word spread quickly. Yet most villagers were unfamiliar with physical therapy, so the UIndy team spent a lot of time educating people about how it could help them.

Some students worked with a 16-year-old girl with cerebral palsy; some worked with young children. Others helped a woodworker make a pair of badly needed crutches.

“It’s very cool to see students using their PT skills and building new relationships with people in this community,” says Fruth.

“Watching the students grow and seeing their lives change is amazing.”

In addition to working with villagers having health needs, the team noticed that the village is in need of computers. Many of its computers are more than 15 years old and incapable of doing much.

“We started to think about how we could help with this problem when we return home,” Fruth says. “We’d like to partner with this village and establish ongoing help and communication.”

Research component

The team is researching the effects of the trip on the students. In addition to pre- and post-trip interviews conducted by a third party, students were asked to keep journals during the trip.

“We’re applying for a grant,” VanVeld explains, “and want to analyze how this trip will affect the students after they’ve returned home.

“Do they think about their experiences often? Do they have a changed perspective on life? Do they feel that the trip has affected how they practice physical therapy?

“Those are the kinds of questions we’re seeking the answers to.”

Even Fruth and VanVeld feel that the trip changes how they teach and see the world.

“Ever since I’ve been to Africa, it’s been a part of me. You realize that the world is bigger than you think it is,” Fruth says. “It helps me to stop sweating the small stuff in my life.”

VanVeld agreed. “I find that I get opportunities with students in class to work with them and talk to them about the trip and to open their minds a bit.When I’m in the classroom talking about clinical education, I can talk about working with the villagers in Tanzania.”

‘You get it in your blood’

Both professors hope to return with a new group of students. International study and outreach not only are part of the University’s mission but also are woven through the ideals of the Krannert School of Physical Therapy.

Fruth and VanVeld want more students to share the experience of going abroad and helping others—and to realize the effect it can have on one’s professional and personal life.

“You get it in your blood,” says Dr. Fruth. “The needs in Tanzania are so simple, yet so profound.

“Watching our students have a great time was phenomenal, and you just can’t predict how much of an influence this trip will have on our students and the world.”

Contact the Krannert School of Physical Therapy at (317) 788-3500 or visit http://pt.uindy.edu.