Top 10 Things I Learned in India

We’ve been back just over three weeks now, and have had multiple in-depth conversations about our trip with various people which has enabled me to really reflect on the good, the bad, and the stinky.

Going away to an environment that is 180 degrees from our own really facilitated my own personal grown. It was challenging to narrow it down, but here are the top 10 lessons I learned from this trip!

1. Happiness is a choice. Like I mentioned before, we met countless families that have been presented with challenges that many of us can’t even imagine, and many of them are happy. They choose to push forward, and persevere. Depression and anxiety definitely exists, but people seemed to smile and laugh often.

2. Resiliency is a learned characteristic that I realize is not so common in our society anymore. So many of the children and parents in Koppal pushed through and just dealt with things, as tough as they were. Families waited six hours without complaint to have therapy. It was rare to see children whine for candy or toys.

I could certainly take a page out of their books when I’m complaining that I had a bad day and need a glass of wine to remedy my sorrows. Maybe I should be using my energy to reflect on what I could do to bounce back and make the next day better. Here’s a great post I read recently:

3. I can do a complete shampoo, conditioner, face wash and body wash with ONE bucket of water. In 10 minutes. For real.

4. Even though I thoroughly believe that businesses, organizations, and people would highly benefit from being as efficient as possible, I’ve accepted that people and whole countries can survive on long-winded, roundabout, multiple-unecessary-step ways. Sigh.

5. Eating with your hands is freeing, and your thumb makes a great shovel to push rice into your mouth. Filipinos would agree. Bonus: No cutlery to wash.

6. Despite #5, I DON’T like using my hands for spicy rice for breakfast, it hurts my eczema. Actually, I don’t like using a spoon for spicy rice for breakfast. In fact, I don’t like spicy rice for breakfast at all.

7. Waste not, want not. We struggled to find wastebaskets around the campus and in people’s homes; they just don’t exist, because there isn’t a big need for them. Food and other items don’t come individually wrapped in plastic trays in cardboard boxes in plastic wrap. Has anyone analyzed a box of Lindt chocolates lately?? (Thanks Rochelle for pointing that out!). Because there isn’t as much of an emphasis on consumerism due to poverty, people live the simple life and aren’t drawn into buying the next bigger and better item.

8. Our society is killing our squat form! As many physios out there know, sitting in desks and chairs since Kindergarten is ruining our flexibility and is leading to many biomechanics issues later in life (low back pain, knee and hip issues, movement pattern irregularities, etc). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy comfort (I’m lying on my pillowtop mattress under my duvet as I write this), and yes sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor isn’t the most relaxing but moving through the full range of squatting and sitting is just so beneficial.

My good physio friend Sarah S challenges some of her clients: try going a whole day without using a chair, and squat when you can. You might be rudely awakened with how limited your body is.

9. I learned a realistic concept of ‘need’. I saw that babies really don’t ‘need’ much more than food, a roof over their heads, and love. This is how a large proportion of our world lives, on minimal resources. No Sophie Giraffe chew toys, Baby Magic Bullets, top end strollers (or any strollers), or even diapers.

I can absolutely appreciate all of the amazing things our society has available to offer the little loved ones in our lives, but my perspective was shifted to understand the true meaning of ‘need’. I walked into my Vancouver apartment and immediately had a heightened sense of appreciation for everything, from my laundry washer and dryer to the shoe rack at the entrance. Most of the things I own are above and beyond any ‘need’ that I have.

10. Lastly, I learned that regardless how frustrating working internationally can be sometimes, it is always a rewarding and worthwhile experience in the end. Maegan, Danielle, Marcia, Kailen, and I thank Hilary and the SODA and Samuha staff for allowing us to have this experience.

I’m really hoping to go back again in the next few years, and take some other students or colleagues (Physio, OT, prosthetists) with me.

Thank you to everyone who has read this blog and given me feedback, to Maegan for her maaaany contributions of clever thoughts and sharp photos and proofreading, and of course to the families who allowed me to tell their important stories. Thanks Samuha Samarthya – it’s been a blast… we’ll see you soon 🙂


If you’d like to support Samuha’s efforts to change the lives of people with disabilities in South India like the ones you’ve read about in my blog, please visit SODA’s website,, as they are accepting donations year-round.

100% of donations go to Samuha in India. 



Dollars For Development – Where Exactly Did Your Donations Go?

A couple weeks ago I had a meeting with Samarthya director Hampanna to discuss the $9100 raised through our Dollars For Development campaign ($9100! That’s incredible!). Now that we’d seen how Samarthya operates and where the needs exist, Maegan and I talked where we felt the funds would be best assigned, and so here’s how they will be allocated over the next year:

1) Community Disability Clinics, Early Intervention Centre and Home based service for Children with Disability:  This includes educational toys and supplies to help children with Cerebral Palsy, Cognitive Delay, Spina Bifida, Autism, and other disabilities.

Additionally, we wanted to purchase more mats for the Early Intervention Centre, and invest in a photocopier for the office so the workers would be encouraged to draw home exercise sheets and provide written recommendations for the families.

2) Support for Medical Interventions / Further Referrals: This includes financial assistance for low-income families towards advanced assessments, treatments, and follow-up consults with specialists such as neurologists and orthopaedic surgeons.

Samuha can also aid families with surgery costs (for example, a hamstring release), transport to and from the city (usually Bangalore), and staff support (so a local worker can accompany the family to the appointments to assist with the discussions and decision-making).

3) Aids and Appliances: This contributes to the funds needed to fabricate orthotic & prosthetic aids, seating chairs, wheelchairs, tricycles, callipers, standing frames, commodes, and splints. We met with orthotic technician Muttana who requested some support to purchase a lathe, vacuum for splinting, and another drilling machine for the workshop.

4) Administration:  Other expenses associated with implementing and allocating these funds, i.e. accounting, audit, office/building expenses, telephone, transport and other utilities. This will be roughly 10% of the total donations.

We also took the liberty of donating a small amount to some of the families on our caseload for specific needs, like the one family of three children with muscular dystrophy who needed a wheelchair and writing tables… this still falls under #1 above, its just so nice that we were able to make that decision on the spot and help a special family that we worked with directly.

To give you an idea of how far this money will reach, $9100 = over 500,000 rupees. A pair of splints cost about 400 rupees, and a new wheelchair is 10,000 rupees.

Thanks again to everyone for their financial and moral support, and for spreading the word about our campaign. It will really make a considerable difference in so many lives.


The Early Intervention Centre will be able to purchase a few more paediatric-sized two-wheeled walkers like this one


The DFD funds will also go towards materials such as plywood, splinting plastic, plaster casts, and tools


The fundraising money will also go towards supplying children with splints like this one, or showing a village carpenter how to make this simple version of a walker


January 15, 2014

Leading up to this trip, many friends and colleagues inquired about the kind of work that we would be doing over the five weeks. I replied with the obvious: we’ll be providing physiotherapy assessment, treatment, and consultation for special needs children in the Koppal District.

What I wasn’t able to include in my elevator pitch were a few other key tasks. After surveying the local workers, Hampanna (the director) passed on a few requests for physio-related topics that our team has been researching in order to provide continuing education to the workers. In total, we’ll be doing four full days of presentations on topics ranging from bowel and bladder function in spinal cord injury, to feeding issues in very low functioning children, to interpretation of medical reports.

Additionally, while providing hands-on treatment to our clients, we’re aiming to EDUCATE and EMPOWER the family and other caregivers with background information, handling techniques, and exercise ideas so the family can continue to provide the much-needed therapy long after we leave.

Over the past week we’ve been interacting with one of the hardest working kids and most dedicated mothers that we have ever met.

Akshay is a super sweet 4-year-old boy with mild spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy (all four limbs affected). Since learning of Samuha and their services several months ago, Akshay’s mother has been bringing him (and his two very busy siblings) to the Early Intervention Centre. They are often the first to arrive at 9:30am and leave close to 4:00pm, doing multiple 45 minute sessions throughout the day, alternating with early childhood education lessons to make him as successful as possible prior to entering school.


We compiled a list of exercises that we implemented and then taught to Akshay’s mother.  Within minutes she requested to try assisting Akshay herself. As we observed and made minor suggestions, we realized that she was extremely observant and had a natural talent for hand placement to spot Akshay during the exercises, and she also had the skill to set up each activity and modify it to be most suitable for Akshay.

We showed her how to practice sit-to-stand to strengthen Akshay’s quadricep muscles:

Sit to stand

We also used the peanut ball to practice reaching and placing stacker puzzles to work on his core activation and upper limb function:

peanut ball

We also showed his mother how to facilitate weight-shifting using the wobble board and specific hand placement:


She reported that only one month ago, Akshay was not walking nor climbing steps into the home. Today, he walked 20 wobbly steps independently down the hallway. Akshay’s mother also said that he starting stepping up the stairs with assistance into the home just three days ago. We truly believe that his successes are directly correlated to his obedient nature and his mother’s persistence and true commitment to doing everything possible to help Akshay out. Marcia has taken Akshay onto her caseload so she’ll be providing him with more specific exercises to address his poor balance, weak core, and decreased pelvic stability. We can’t wait to see what other achievements he’ll make in the next 3 weeks!!

#DollarsForDevelopment and #GivingTuesday

#BlackFriday has come and gone, #CyberMonday is here in a few short hours. After a weekend traditionally associated with sales, shopping and splurging, a new day has been created to bring awareness to social issues and good causes – #GivingTuesday is coming to Canada for the first time this year!


“It is a new Canadian movement for giving and volunteering, taking place each year after Cyber Monday. The “Opening day of the giving season,” it is a day where charities, companies and individuals join together to share commitments, rally for favourite causes and think about others.”

I’m happy to share that #DollarsForDevelopment has been approved to be a part of Indiegogo’s #GivingTuesday initiative! For every $20 that our campaign receives on Tuesday December 3rd, Indiegogo will donate $1!


AND THE CHERRY ON TOP: Kids Physio Group has committed to matching Indiegogo’s contribution, which will multiply the effects – we will now get a bonus of $2 for each $20 that we receive on Tuesday! I am so fortunate to work at a clinic that is so supportive of this endeavour that Maegan and I are so passionate about!!


Please take part in this day of giving. If you’ve been thinking of supporting #DollarsForDevelopment in our quest in improve rehab services for kids in South India, Tuesday December 3rd will be a great chance to maximize your contribution 🙂

We’re at 90% of our $5000 goal!