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Volunteer AbroadVolunteer Overseas

Sonya Rowe - Physiotherapist in Bolivia

Name:
Sonya Rowe

Age: 28

Qualification:
Master of Physiotherapy

Experience:
Two years’ experience working as a physiotherapist in a hospital.

Sonya spent four months in Bolivia using her knowledge of physiotherapy to help with medical work at a hospital in a disadvantaged area. This is what she had to say about the project:

"I couldn’t have asked for a better placement, better staff or a better experience. Two months have gone by in a flash and I don’t have a single complaint to express."

The Project Partner

Sonya worked at the Hospital Viedma in Cochabamba with Dr. Oscar Romero, who is in charge of the Burns Unit. She was in a team run by a qualified physiotherapist (called a licensiada) along with another volunteer and a group of physiotherapy students. When she first arrived, Sonya thought that this would be more than enough staff to deal with a ward containing only 15 beds. However, she quickly realized that this type of environment needs all available staff to ensure that the patients receive the treatment they need. Sonya was able to work with the licensiada and medical students, learning all of the relevant Spanish medical terminology and finding out about new methods to treat burn victims. At the same time, she used her experience from back home to help the staff bring more organisation to their work.

Role of the Volunteer

Sonya's role at the hospital included the following:

  • Working with existing staff to provide physical treatments.
  • Treating burns victims using range of motion, strengthening, and wound care.
  • Taking part in workshops to learn new methods for treating burns victims.
  • Performing administrative work to ensure that all patients’ records were kept up to date.

Benefits to the community

Sonya worked with a team of doctors who have spent years developing the hospital. Over time, the hospital has provided the following benefits to the local community:

  • Patients who were formerly being kept on long waiting lists are now able to receive treatment.
  • Burns victims from all over the local area are able to receive the treatment they need, regardless of their wealth or social status.
  • The exchange of knowledge between Sonya and the physiotherapists at the hospital has led to an improvement in overall working practice and organisation.
  • New wards such as the Women and Children’s sections have been opened, enabling the hospital to give targeted care to a greater variety of patients.

Cultural Exchange

“My main goal in coming to Bolivia was to improve my Spanish conversational skills, in the hope of being able to improve my communication with Spanish-speaking patients when I return home to the USA.

My placement is in the pediatric burns unit at a public hospital, and I have definitely been practicing my language there. There is no staff member I have yet met there that is comfortable speaking English- so the requirement of having an intermediate level of Spanish to work here is well justified!

Although I came into my work experience here with an intermediate level of Spanish, my conversational skills were mostly limited to day-to-day conversation one needs to travel, not a medical work environment.

For the past two months I have been gradually grasping the basics of treating burns as it is done in Bolivia, suspecting the approach to treatments are very different back in the states. In addition to my language practice and learning the treatments, I am also managing to instill a few organizational changes and look into an equipment donation for the hospital.

I also shared the majority of my time at the hospital with another volunteer, which definitely adds to the enjoyment I take from this experience. Together we struggle with our Spanish and grab a Pavita at the cafe after a long day. It’s also nice to have someone to speak with in the inevitable down time that comes with any job. We are not looked down upon for our inferior volleyball (and language) skills, but rather we are embraced by the whole community!”

Sonya Rowe

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