Physical Therapy Students Help Children with Special Needs in Tanzania
Changing the world, one child at a time. Through service-learning with Global Volunteers in Tanzania, Regis University Global Pathways physical therapy students have provided services to children with special needs who wouldn’t otherwise have assistance. This post highlights Agano and Miriam – who made great strides in developing their motor skills after two weeks of physical therapy sessions with the student volunteers, under the direction of Professor Wendy Anemaet. Read on for details on their impact on these children and their families in Tanzania.
Physical Therapy Students Conduct Interactive Workshops with RCP Families in Tanzania
Through Global Volunteers’ partnership with Regis University in Denver, Colorado, students have served alongside faculty on two service programs in Tanzania during their summer break. Through these service learning experiences in August of 2018 and 2019, physical therapy students from Regis offered their expertise to the families and staff of the RCP Program under the direction of Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Wendy Anemaet.
Focusing on topics that would be most beneficial to RCP moms, in August 2018, the physical students conducted two workshops on movement, motor skills, and developmental milestones. Physical therapy student Elizabeth Johnson explains what the workshops with RCP moms covered, “This included information on normal development, different positions parents should put their babies in to promote growth and development of strong muscles, and the importance of sleeping on their back.” RCP Caregiver Supervisor Regina Mgahama explains, “The content of the workshops was to help RCP families to understand the movement of their children. This created awareness among the RCP moms about the importance of children’s movements and reaching their development milestones. The physical therapy students worked in the clinic with patients and assisted RCP Caregivers on home visits.”
Home Visits Help Create Stronger Bonds
Regis University students also participated in home visits in Tanzania, where they spent one-on-one time with mothers talking about their child’s development with the help of the family’s RCP caregiver. Regina Mgahama explains that physical therapy students can serve RCP families in very specific ways. “They understand not only how the muscular-skeletal system works but they are training in how to integrate movement with nutrition, overall health, and person to person interaction – all those things that RCP focuses on. Working under Professor Anemaet’s direction and supervision, the student volunteers were able to identify that not just movement but also nutrition and interaction were both at play in some cases of children not meeting their developmental milestones. They helped assist with understanding the value of balanced nutrition as well as the value of the mother-child interaction. Regina describes the interaction that occurred among all: “They helped form a bond as a healing team with the mom, the young child, and the RCP caregiver. That is the most powerful thing here.” This healing team is a case of sharing wisdom while allowing the family and caregiver to put a plan in action to help support a child on a deeper level than most. She adds, “Two children were helped significantly by these teams of volunteers and their expert knowledge.”
“They helped form a bond as a healing team with the mom, the young child, and the RCP caregiver. That is the most powerful thing here.”– Regina Mgahama, RCP Caregiver Supervisor
Agano Learns to Feed Himself with Help from Physical Therapy Volunteers
Agano Kidava is a boy from Lulindi village who was born with a spinal disability. A few years old, Agano started to get very ill and would frequently suffer from seizures. Agano’s parents tried to treat him by using local remedies, but his health did not improve. His parents decided to take him to a hospital in Iringa for a consultation. Agano was hospitalized for a week for testing. He didn’t receive an official diagnosis at the hospital and was discharged. Agano continued to experience difficulties and he was not growing. He had trouble moving his limbs and his body was not strong enough to support any movement independently. The only way he could move was if he had the support from his mother or father.
The first team of physical therapy students from Regis University that served in Tanzania in August 2018 was able to work with Agano and his parents on exercises that Agano could do to improve his movement. Agano’s mother, Rehema, took Agano to the Ipalamwa General Clinic every day for two weeks to work with the physical therapy students, who worked on exercises with Agano. Agano’s team especially worked with him on picking things up and feeding himself. After the Regis students left, the staff at Ipalamwa General Clinic continued working with Agano on the exercises, teaching his RCP Caregiver, Sifuni Mdegela, and his parents to do the exercises as well.
Agano’s movement has improved significantly. He is now able to feed himself using his left hand. He still crawls, but is able to stand with support, which his family says is an enormous success. He can now play with some toys and with other children. Ideally, Agano would have a wheelchair.
Agano’s father decided to join in Parents’ Club to share the message about his son’s success in the RCP Program with the people in his community: “The RCP Program has helped me so much and it has positively impacted many people, including my family. Parents of children with disabilities sometimes think we should hide our children away or isolate them. Without the help of the RCP Program, I might have hidden Agano again because he is disabled and I might have felt that that was bad luck. Now I know that is not the case. I have a positive mind and dreams for my son. He is moving and growing well like other children. Also, I love my son Agano the same as my other children.
“Without the help of the RCP Program, I might have hidden Agano again because he is disabled and I might have felt that that was bad luck. Now I know that is not the case. I have a positive mind and dreams for my son. He is moving and growing well like other children. Also, I love my son Agano the same as my other children.”– Robby Kidava, RCP father
Miriam Takes Her First Steps After Physical Therapy Sessions
Miriam Kibiki was born in Ukwega village without any problems and Miriam’s mom, Upendo, joined the RCP Program in June 2019, when Miriam was eight months old. Before Miriam and her mom became a part of the RCP Program, Miriam was commonly ill for long stretches of time. In the RCP Program, Upendo acquired new knowledge about hygiene and nutrition to keep her and her baby in good health. Soon after joining the program, Upendo shared with her RCP Caregiver, Amilia Kikoti, her deep concern that her child wasn’t crawling or eating well.
The second team of physical therapy students from Regis University served in Tanzania in August 2019. RCP Supervisor Regina Mhagama and the family’s RCP Caregiver, Amilia Kikoti, along with Professor Wendy Anemaet visited Upendo and Miriam. Wendy was able to identify the problem areas in Miriam’s back. Due to poor nutrition, Miriam was weak. Upendo was eager to learn as much as she could in order to be able to help her daughter. She went to the Ipalamwa General Clinic every day to work with the physical therapy students. Over the course of their two-week service program, the physical therapy students spent time with Miriam doing exercises and taught Upendo to do the exercises with her daughter as well, encouraging her to do them daily with Miriam. Professor Anemaet also assured Upendo that Miriam would be able to continue growing like other children. And when the physical therapists left Tanzania, Upendo continued to do the exercises daily with Miriam.
Through the continued support of the RCP Program and its pilar home visits, RCP Caregiver Amilia Kikoti encouraged Upendo to feed Miriam nutritious food and continue with the exercises, and checked in with her on a weekly basis on the struggles and progress they were making. Upendo remained very positive and showed interest in learning how to help her child. Upendo also attended an RCP workshop at the Ipalamwa General Clinic on movement and then immediately put what she learned to use with Miriam.
As part of the RCP Program, Upendo and Miriam receive Rise Against Hunger meals. Upendo says, “The Rise Against Hunger meals have excellent nutrition. That combined with the exercises they taught me, helped little Miriam improve her movement and reach her child milestone. I am so grateful! Now Miriam is able to feed herself and stand up on her own and sometimes without support. She has been working on trying to take a few steps.”
Upendo says that spending time with the volunteers and learning how to better care for her daughter left her feeling more motivated and supported, and that had a great impact on Miriam and her advancement in reaching her milestones.
“The Rise Against Hunger meals have excellent nutrition. That combined with the exercises they taught me, helped little Miriam improve her movement and reach her child milestone. I am so grateful!”– Upendo Kifyasi, RCP mom
Student Volunteers Exemplify Leaving the World Better Than They Found It
Almost three years later, the Regis University students still talk about their experience in service learning and other things they left behind in the Ukwega Ward, such as helping moms with chronic lower back pain learn to lift and carry in a more protective way, exercising with the primary school students, and helping the local medical staff understand the basics and power) of physical therapy for human development, especially for the young, growing child. This sharing of knowledge and experience is an exemplification of leaving the world better than you found it.
Read more on Regis University students’ service learning experiences:
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