Close to four months ago, having just completed our bachelor’s degrees, our group of six physiotherapy students at Université de Montréal boarded a flight to South America for an unforgettable experience: a 10-week internship at the Nuestra Señora del Carmen school in Ricaurte, Ecuador. Our main goal during this internship, which took place from May 16 to July 20, 2016 as part of the Québec Sans Frontières program, was to foster the social inclusion of people with disabilities.
As soon as we arrived at the centre, we were won over by the welcome we received from everyone we would be working with on a daily basis. We were also all delighted with our host families and the moments we shared with them; indeed, all our evenings and weekends were devoted to family life.
For many of us, this was our first pediatric internship, and we had a lot to learn. As physiotherapy students, part of our project involved working with the school’s physical therapist. We also prepared workshops for parents and teachers, and worked with them to ensure therapy continued in the classroom. The physiotherapy work was marked by many memorable moments: we will never forget little Maily, learning to walk with her walker, as Joao rolled his wheelchair alongside her, encouraging her. What joy we felt when, just a few days before leaving, we watched Maily walk on her own for the first time!
As the objective of the internship was to foster social inclusion, we organized visits to other schools in the village to raise awareness about what it’s like to live with a disability. Through play, the children were able to experience fictional disabilities; they also had the opportunity to talk to young adults living with disabilities, to better understand what daily life is like for them. These visits were a tremendous success! Now we’re back in Quebec and are planning similar visits to primary schools, to share our experience and make children here aware of what other children may be going through, abroad as well as right here at home.
Our days were very busy: we encouraged a group of elderly people to do physical activity, did sports and motor skill stimulation with the children at the centre’s daycare and school, led physical activity sessions, and helped the children in the child labour prevention program with their homework. Our work was generously rewarded during parties with the children and teachers. Even with all these activities, we also had the opportunity to visit conventional and organic banana plantations as well as a cocoa factory.
Living in Ecuador for two months allowed us to discover a new culture; we hope to bring some of their incredible ability to adapt and to live in the moment back with us. We left smiling, with new friends and strong relationships with the families that welcomed us with open arms.