Prosthetics & Orthotics Volunteers: A First For Samarthya

Last year, I was at Hodgson Orthotics in Coquitlam to collaborate on a shared client’s scoliosis brace. I mentioned that I was heading off to India to volunteer, and joking-not-jokingly said, “I’m heading to India, anyone feel like coming with me?”.

Before I knew it, the ball was rolling and Yvonne Jeffreys (instructor at the BCIT Prosthetics & Orthotics Program and orthotist extraordinaire) was arranging a student placement for the second year BCIT students. Shane Bates and Malena Rapaport jumped at the opportunity to travel and volunteer abroad, all while completing their required clinical hours!

We quickly realized that it would be best to have a team stationed in Koppal and one in Deodurg/Raichur to spread the knowledge and provide the best working conditions for all four volunteers. We soon recruited Jenny Billett, a prosthetist working on the east coast, to be the other supervisor for the placement.

Soon after arriving in Koppal, the teams split up: Yvonne and Malena stayed in Koppal, and Shane and Jenny made the bumpy 5-hour journey to Deodurg. This is the first time the workshops have ever had technically skilled volunteers, so their contributions, suggestions, and insights were invaluable. In short (but kinda long), here’s what they did over 4 jam-packed weeks:

  • The two teams observed their respective workshop processes and made suggestions to improve workflow and safety
  • Jenny and Malena created floorplan suggestions to renovate Koppal and Deodurg workshopsIMG_4785
  • Ashok, Basavaraj, and Muttana shared their knowledge so the team learned about how to create aids and appliances in rural India using available supplies
  • Shane gave an inservice on how to complete a thorough initial assessment, combining BCIT and Samarthya approachesIMG_4731
  • Malena facilitated a group brainstorming activity to discuss four categories of concerns in the workshop – procedures, layout, resources, topics for learning. These will be the foundation for future changesIMG_4768
  • Yvonne created a shared online folder and uploaded many resources for the staff to access, including device design flowcharts, manufacturing guidelines, and more
  • Lengthy discussions with the local workers helped come up with a training plan for new technicians and assistants
  • They identified equipment and tools that would improve efficiency, and last but certainly not least…
  • They contacted their generous networks and received bags of donated tools and raised an astounding $5635 that will be going toward workshop renovations, equipment, and training!

A massive ‘dhanyavadagalu’ to Yvonne, Jenny, Shane, and Malena for everything!



Continual Evolution

It’s amazing how much the plans can evolve over the course a long project. One of the (many) lessons I’ve learned here is to adapt and evolve to each situation… particularly in India, situations change a LOT. Here is a continuation of the last post, describing our original goals and how they’ve changed.

Over the year of planning leading up to this trip, I really felt like a flaw of the aids and appliances workshop was the construction of wooden seating chairs that children would quickly grow out of, thus needing new ones within a couple years. So we came up with this goal:

#4: Increase efficiency of the organization by piloting and implementing new ventures such as a loan equipment program

After plenty of discussion with the workers, it turns out that a loan equipment program wouldn’t fly because it isn’t culturally acceptable to have your child re-use equipment from another child! Despite the low socio-economic status of many of the families here, people want seating chairs, walkers, and wheelchairs that are brand new! We scrapped that goal and had to go back to the drawing board for increasing workshop efficiency.

Goals #3 and #5 weren’t pressing back in the fall…but they certainly are now!

#3: Hold educational sessions for caregivers, school teachers, and other community members to maximize care and inclusion of people with disabilities in these rural communities.

#5: Teach the local CBR-Workers to be teachers, so they can continue to educate their colleagues and future newcomers to the field, and not rely on Canadian volunteers for education

We’re developing training sessions where the senior workers will be the instructors for the juniors, and talking about how to create effective presentations. The team has also already given 10-day training sessions to primary school teachers on how to identify children with disabilities and where to refer them for help!!


CBR Worker Viresh describing the different types of disabilities, and Virupakshi sitting in front translating into sign language

A very intriguing article was circulating on facebook (as they do) called The Differences Between Eastern And Western Cultures in terms of mindset. It is SO TRUE. I’ve seen these in action! The polarity in thought processes and general approaches to problems are bang-on, and there was one more aspect that perhaps applies specifically to Samarthya here in India. I’ve noted that most businesses in Vancouver have established extensive systems manuals to ensure that their business have structure and processes in place. What we found in the fall was that there weren’t any formal systems in place, and therefore this was causing so many issues! New goal:

#8: Create systems for processes that involve referrals between programs, because that’s where communication was getting lost. Establish formal job roles & responsibilities to minimize redundancies and gaps in service. Generate checklists to ensure information isn’t missed. 

The January Volunteers just finished up their time here – Next up: Below knee amputations, seating chairs, and AFOs – BCIT Prosthetics & Orthotics Team offers their expertise in the workshop