Functional Adaptation for Familiar Faces

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Gousiya, Mustafa, and Abdul, three siblings who are all diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. With donor funding, we were able to provide their family with a wheelchair to transport the kids to and from school, a small desk to enable them to do sit upright while doing homework, and splints for Abdul, to prevent progression of his calf contractures. Read their full story, and learn about muscular dystrophy here.

In my first week back, I discovered that Samarthya has continued their involvement with this amazing family by funding and orchestrating the construction of a toilet!

Abdul, Gousiya, and Mustafa (L-R0, Oct 2015

Abdul, Gousiya, and Mustafa (L-R0, Oct 2015

Previously, their mother Rashida was carrying each child to their uncle’s home (nearby, but still inconveniently far enough) to use the toilet. As the children have grown, this became increasingly difficult for her, eventually causing her severe back pain.

Samarthya’s Functional Adaptation Program, with lots of work from the German volunteers Fabian and Jonas (who produced the summary below), improved the quality of this family’s day-to-day lives by alleviating some of Rashida’s physical demands. If you want to see the process, or if you happen to want to learn how to build an Indian out-house, check out the photos below!!final feedback report-page-002 final feedback report-page-003 final feedback report-page-004


India Weeks 3-4: Progress at each campus, and farewell to Julie!

It’s hard to believe a month has flow by already, and that volunteer Julie’s time at Samarthya has come to an end!  As we stated before, our goal is to further develop and strengthen the centers in the four following campuses:

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The Early Intervention Center in Koppal is a well-oiled machine. The Senior CBR-worker Prabhakar is highly skilled with the children, and is focused on providing education for the families. He truly strives to empower the parents to be the driver of their own child’s healthcare, and tries to decrease their dependency on him. Julie had several discussions with him and suggested some time-saving strategies to make him even more efficient. She created an exercise sheet template to increase parent compliance and decrease his stick-men drawing time. She also discussed the possibility of implementing group sessions, as many of the children present at the same stage of development.

IMG_6333Prabhakar’s dream is to have multiple clinic spaces (currently only one treatment room) staffed by three assistants, and to hire a recruiter to visit villages, meet with doctors and other health care professionals, and provide simple education sessions to surrounding community members.

The Early Intervention Center in Deodurg needs quite a bit of help – it seems like operations are all over the map. Volunteers in December will be dedicating most of their time to analyzing the processes and suggesting some time-saving strategies to also appropriately increase the reach of the services in the area.

In Raichur, we are hoping to launch an Early Intervention Center!! Raichur is a town of 200,000 people and there are NO services for young children with disabilities. Currently there is a workshop there that is struggling for business. We’re trying to estimate the cost of this start-up which can then contribute to the workshop orders, and luckily we have two existing successful Early Intervention Centers to base our plans on.

Senior Workshop Technicians Basuraj (L), Ashok (R), and CBR-Worker Babumiya (middle) dream to have busy, smoothly running EICs in Raichur and Deodurg and an efficient workshop set up to allow them to serve more villages in these areas. They also wish for a mobile workshop (via a kitted-out van or autorickshaw?!) to bring services to those who can’t come to them. Imagine that!


Here are a couple of photos of the current workshop – we’re hoping to move the main manufacturing center to Deodurg, have only a satellite clinic in Raichur, and use the existing bright and colourful space for therapy for little kiddos!

IMG_3585 IMG_3586The Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Center currently needs the most attention. There aren’t any fully-trained therapists working there and it’s currently running a major deficit due to low attendance. The main reason for the lack of patients is that most families cannot afford the Rs.4000/month cost ($80CAD) even though the patients would really benefit from the service. Also, a lack of an on-site medical professional make it even less attractive.

Physio volunteer Jen Tam has travelled along very bumpy village roads to do home visits for patients with spinal cord injuries and has been observing the current “short-stay camp” – a week-long camp for 7 old and new patients (see photos below) to get together and review exercises and gain support from their peers. Jen has come up with several great ideas:

  • hiring a part-time nurse to care and educate staff and patients on wounds
  • having a day of ‘stations’, where patients get to try various vocational and leisure activities (instead of just talking about the possibilities). Some ideas include caring for chickens to produce eggs for income, learning how to garden while being in a wheelchair, and learning to play wheelchair basketball
  • holding short-stay camps several times per year versus trying to recruit patients for 3-month long stints


We’re choosing two staff members to send for a 10-month distance education training program through the Association for People with Disabilities (APD) based in Bangalore to really increase the quality of care that we provide for these vulnerable clients.

One more round of thank-yous to Julie Alexander, who’s creativity and problem-solving skills contributed highly to this project!

farewell julie

Next up – what factors do we need to consider when making human resource decisions in a rural Indian organization?? Hint: it’s verrrryyyy different than hiring and firing in Canada!

Real Role Models Do Monkey Bars

(Originally published on OrthoCanada’s blog, Sept 3, 2014 – here)

Throughout my life thus far, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by incredible people that have been my role models and have shaped me into the person that I am today. My parents, senior members of my childhood church, passionate school teachers, caring employers, and countless wise and witty friends have all inspired me, and are continually pushing me to become a better person in all aspects of my life.

In my quiet time reflecting on how each person has influenced me, I came to a realization about what the above groups of people have in common: they are all older than me. But that makes sense, doesn’t it? People who have been in the game longer know it better. Right?

Andrea's image

This may be true for certain aspects of life; previous generations are more experienced in their careers, marriages, and child-rearing, and therefore society often looks to these people for knowledge and advice.

But there are two crucial facets of life that perhaps these older groups are not well-versed in: authenticity and movement.

I’ve been to several networking events since graduation, and one thing I notice is how generally “uniform” these events are. Everyone dresses similarly, moves at a certain similar slow pace, and everyone is speaking at a general 4/10 volume level. Of course this is the accepted professional level of conduct but I can’t help but think about how many of these people are also like this in their day-to-day lives.

Over the past three years working with children, they’ve shown me something marvellous: they are SO true to their emotions. They say what they mean, and wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Even though the expression of these emotions is often still raw and unrefined (I often have to remind kids to use their ‘inside voice’, and just the other day I witnessed one of the most epic meltdowns by a 3-year-old who wanted to take one of our toys home and couldn’t), they still are important role models of self-expression. We need to remember how to accurately display how we feel (minus the meltdowns) and stop stifling our emotions to save face. Say something when you don’t agree, rather than nodding your head to please people. Cry freely when you’re upset, or actually jump for joy.  LOL and even ROTFL, and hug reeeal tight. Be authentic, be genuine, be real.

As a pediatric physiotherapist, I’m lucky to have the opportunity to observe how children move on a daily basis. Parents will often sit in on sessions and I encourage them to actively participate in some games. One day, I was playing a game of crab soccer with a 6-year-old (supporting yourself on your hands and feet with your belly button face up and bum off the ground, kicking a soccer ball around). This young boy asked to face-off with his observing grandmother, who simply dismissed the invitation, stating “Oh honey, Grandma is too old to get on the ground”.  As people get older, many of them have lost the ability to move the way nature intended and this is wreaking havoc on their bodies.

As toddlers, we all learned how to develop strength, maintain mobility, and participate in functional daily activities. Our western society then introduced sitting in chairs, stagnant forms of entertainment through technology and media, and convenient methods of transportation that have actually limited our need to move. The loss of this regular movement can lead to issues such as bulged spinal discs, hip osteoarthritis, and eventual knee replacements.

The obvious role models in the world of fitness are professional athletes: Venus and Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, and Lionel Messi all push the envelope in their separate sports and we admire their talent, dedication, and skill. But let’s not forget the little beings around us that can sprint, crawl, squat, jump, swing, hang, duck, dip, dive and dodge! Look to the playground to our real movement role models, and admire the physical abilities we all used to have but have been lost over the years.

Life is all about learning and growing in cognitive abilities, personal interactions, and work-related skill. Surrounding ourselves with inspiring individuals is what motivates us to be better. We shouldn’t forget about this special group of little beings in our population nor can we underestimate the lessons these kids can teach us. Next time you spend time with a child, take note of their ability to be authentic and observe how they move their bodies to express that authenticity.

Who inspires you?