Taking PT Education Abroad to Rural Nicaragua
A sunrise over Finca el Peten in rural Nicaragua marks the last day for the Georgia State Doctor of Physical Therapy students in Los Robles. Thirteen PT students along with two faculty, co-directors of this study abroad program, Anne Lorio and Kimberly Morelli, have called the organic coffee farm in the small farming village of Los Robles, Nicaragua home since January 3. This first PT international study aboard program brought the students a variety of experiences in this picturesque community.
The study abroad program used the services of Communidad Connect, an organization that was co-founded by a Georgia State Master of Social Work alumnus, Jon Thompson. The mission of Communidad Connect is to connect social, economic and environmental development opportunities in Nicaragua with local and global resources.
The students learned the culture and lifestyle of this rural Central American community, while providing physical therapy services to coffee farmers and other Los Robles locals. They screened adults and children for neurological and orthopedic conditions, making recommendations to improve mobility and physical movement for each patient. The students also participated in home improvement projects with the community, such as building clay ovens, laying concrete floors and painting the walls of locals’ homes to help repel mosquitos.
The remarkable learning experience allowed the students service opportunities while caring for residents in the medically underserved community. During evening clinics, the students treated the adults’ orthopedic conditions and during the day, they completed rotations including home visits, created fun exercise activities for the children, or participated in cultural immersion and public health initiatives. During evening reflections, one student commented, “the best part of this trip was being immersed in a culture and being lost in it.” At the last evening reflection, another student commented, “this trip was the best trip of my life.”
Bus driver Daniel tutored the PT students in the Spanish language while ferrying them around Los Robles and other parts of Nicaragua.
The students also had time to soak in Nicaraguan history and culture. After building clay ovens, they learned to bake traditional Nicaraguan bread. In addition, the students finished the week with a tour of Grenada, the one of the oldest cities in the Americas, even climbing up into the bell tower of one of Grenada’s old churches. The trip wrapped up with a tour to the most active Masaya volcano that continues to release sulfur gas and its magma is visible at night.
The PT students raised more than $13,000 via the Georgia State University Foundation’s Crowdfunding program to help fund the 2016 Nicaraguan study abroad program. Because of the success of this inaugural program, the co-directors have reserved the same time next year to continue the service learning international opportunity for physical therapy students. And all involved in the trip, including faculty, students, community members and Communidad Connect partners, learned and grew from this unique experience.