Our aim is to support people who need our help through the generosity of skilled and qualified professional volunteers and the provision of dedicated specialist care. We work in deprived areas where poverty and limited medical care are a reality of everyday life. Through our support and professional expertise, we aim to make a long-lasting difference to people's lives while benefiting the wider community.
It is difficult to put into words all my experiences, emotions and achievements in just 6 months spent in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. So much has happened. More than I ever believed was possible. I wish I could take everybody there for just a day so you could meet all the amazing children and adults I worked with, all see the wonderful things that have been achieved and visualise what I feel is possible in the future.
So where to begin...
One of the major stories was Usiel, a 34 year old Mexican man who had Polio when he was a baby and subsequently lost the use of his legs. He was able to walk with callipers but had had the same pair since he was 15 and they had broken in December.
Usiel was unable to walk confined to the house using a skateboard to get around. He could not work or earn money to support his family. He lives in a very basic house with his Mum, two sisters and nephew. They have only a bathroom and open living space, no beds, no furniture and a daily struggle for money. So when the callipers broke they were told they would have to pay £800 to buy new ones. Considering their financial situation and the fact that Usiel was unable to work, this was never going to be feasible.
I was introduced to Usiel by a very good friend of mine, Mauricio. Usiel is a big fan of Mauricio’s radio show and he was aware of his current situation so invited me over to his house to meet him. After our initial meeting I set up an appeal on Facebook as well as through my hotmail contacts. I had many generous offers as a result. Lots of people were very keen to start fundraising or donate money.
Fortunately, I had an email from a doctor at Cannock Chase Hospital, Dr Mulherin, who offered to pay the total amount for new callipers. This was such amazing news and within a week Usiel was measured and the new callipers were ordered. He got them just 5 weeks later.
I will never forget this day or how it felt to be in that room. His whole family gathered at the house to watch them fitted and his first steps were spine tingling. After that, there was no stopping him. I often spotting him walking into town (2 miles!) and he started back at work and even went back to school to study English. He is such an inspirational man and it was an incredible feeling to be able to support him and give his independence back.
Proyecto Pitillal was the day centre for disabled children I worked at 4 days a week. This centre is free and is accessed by around 30 children and adults. It caters for a wide range of physical and mental disabilities and provides general care, physiotherapy and has a classroom which offers basic schooling.
My role was to work with the physiotherapists and assist with assessments, treatments and training. During my time, I visited a specialist clinic in Monterry for children with cerebral palsy. The aim of this visit was to receive physiotherapy training, see what facilities and services were offered and how they were run and to get ideas about fundraising and how to successfully run a clinic.
I decided it would be beneficial to take the lead physiotherapist from Proyecto Pitillal with me. So I used some of the money from the fundraising events to pay for her travel. This trip was highly successful and when we returned we presented our experiences and ideas to the centre manager, the staff and the major donator for the centre.
We discussed two main ideas from our visit. One was seating/positioning and the other was communication. We felt that these could be most easily addressed in the short term. We made a plan to address seating in the class room as well as make position charts for all the non-ambient children. Furthermore, I made communication boards for all those children who were unable to or had difficulty with communication. We made some long term goals for the centre in addition.
I loved working at this project. The children are fantastic and it was a joy to be greeted at the gates every morning by hoards of children happy to see you. I made a real connection there and I will continue to work with the centre in the future.
My second project was CAM 21 Special Needs School. I have known most of the children here from my previous trips so it was great to get back and see them again. I worked here one day each week. The school has around 50 pupils with ranging disabilities and needs. It is a brilliant centre for the children but they have very limited equipment and staffing. They have no formal PE or physiotherapy, so I set up sessions for each class as well as individual sessions.
I managed to buy new equipment with the fundraising money and left a PE sports bag at the school. In addition I wrote an exercise ideas booklet and session planner so the teachers can continue working with the children at the school. This project was really successful. The children are amazing and were really receptive to the sessions and I saw big improvements in balance, gait, coordination, socialisation skills and team working. I have build up a good relationship with the school and will continue to work with this project in the future.
Aside from my organized projects, I also worked within the community. I heard about people who needed assistance through friends and friends of friends. Word soon spread and at one point I was very busy! My favourite patient was a 93 year old lady who had fallen and broken her hip. I used to visit her and check her exercises and mobility. It made me remember how much I love working with the elderly. She was a real character!
I also scoured the streets for possible clients and handed out my contact details where possible. I think many people are not used to being offered free help so I did not get very many responses. However, I did have a few contacts and now have a list of community patients growing so I can hopefully offer these people help with therapy, equipment, advice and support on my return.
I was very fortunate to have numerous people donate equipment that I was able to take with me as well as my friends and volunteers bringing things to me in Mexico. In particular, Celia, Claire Reay and Sharon in the Orthotics department at Cannock Chase Hospital, who all kindly donated equipment. This equipment was brilliant. It made such a visible, immediate impact.
We worked with one little girl named Diana in a standing frame. The straps were broken and they did not have callipers, so we had to use old splints and bandages. She used to hate this as it was uncomfortable and painful. I was able to use the callipers and shoes provided to make her much more comfortable when standing. The first time we used it she told me, "wow it doesn't hurt, look at me I am not crying!" This was so amazing to see and she was able to have her therapy and actually enjoy using the standing frame.
I am still collecting equipment and after an appeal in the Evening News and very kind follow up by my friend Oli Saunders, Andrew Grant and Sabrina Motors, we have been given some money to ship this equipment over to Mexico. This is fantastic news as I have seen firsthand what a difference it can make. I hope to continue collecting and sending equipment over next year.
I was very fortunate to have visitors during my stay in Puerto Vallarta. Vicky, a physiotherapist from Stafford Hospital, came out for 3 weeks to work alongside me in addition to two physiotherapy students, Cat and Emily from Keele University.
It was brilliant to have an injection of fresh eyes, ideas and energy into the projects and amazing to share my world and experiences with them. It is easy to write about my experiences, describe these places and the beautiful people you meet but another matter to actually have people come and see it, live it and breathe it firsthand. It was really successful to have all 3 over and confirmed my idea of setting up the volunteer agency and how well it could work.
My initial idea with Therapies Unite last year was to set up a volunteer agency. I wanted to create a different type of volunteer agency which was aimed at volunteers who have specific skills to offer, mainly to attract healthcare professionals and different therapists. Although this is not an exclusive requirement, I have found that volunteers who have a clear idea of what they want to achieve and what they can offer are able to provide more and really make that difference.
I loved my initial experience with the volunteer agency I went out with, but found many of my peers or volunteers that were working with different companies in the area were mainly focused on the travel side of the experience rather than the work they were doing.
Of course volunteering is a great way to experience culture and travel, but for me it was about more. I think it is really hard to be able make a difference when you just get placed in a centre or school as you become more of a helper/baby sitter than anything else. There are so many great day centres, orphanages, refuges, schools in Vallarta where these kids can go and be looked after. However this is all it is. They are looked after, food is provided, nappies are changed and they are played with. But what about all the other things that we would expect a disabled child/adult in England to have? What about basic education, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, orthotics etc etc etc the list can go on. Why should these children/adults be deprived of these services just because of where they live?
It was very difficult for me to challenge this. I achieved so much in terms of setting up the physical education and therapy sessions in the schools, introducing ideas at the centres, working with the therapists there and working within the community. However, I know now I have left it is unlikely these things I have put in place will continue. It is difficult to tell someone how they should run their centre/school, or free up enough time for the staff to be able to run these programs or even have the necessary equipment and funding to continue them. So how do we make that difference?
So my next project/idea is to open a Therapies Unite centre. This centre will be accessible by all the centres/special needs schools and refuges/orphanages in Vallarta and open for any child with a physical or learning disability. It will also be accessible for any adults in the community with physical or learning disabilities.
The idea is the centre will combine therapy, information provision and education. We want to provide specific therapy/treatment programs for service users which are based on individual assessment, goal orientated and monitored.
In terms of therapy, we want to run specific group programs. These will include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, music therapy, art therapy, dance therapy, IT skills for starters. Other ideas include arts and crafts, woodwork, bakery and so on. We can visit centres and assess children for suitability to the programs, or they can be referred to us by the centres. An assessment will be made and an individualised program created for that child.
In addition to group therapy, we would like to offer other services based on individual assessment and treatment. These could include speech and language therapy, orthotics, psychology and dietary services.
In terms of education the idea is to run courses and training for healthcare professionals and staff working at the centres in addition to parents and carers. We would also like to have an education and information area where parents can get assistance with issues concerning social assistance, funding and government support.
The centre would be run by volunteers, which is where the volunteer agency comes in. Therapies Unite would provide volunteers to run the necessary programs, take training sessions/courses in addition to help set up the foundations for these programs so they can be run by locals.
I have been working on this idea for the past few months in Mexico and so far think (fingers crossed very tightly) I have secured a building which is being donated and has two apartments to house volunteers. I have also been offered 4 mini buses, offers of monetary support, volunteers to run the art, dance and music programs. I am being offered support from the Rotary club in Vallarta and also have made links in England as well.
The planning is in its infancy and it depends on a lot of factors to be successful. There are many other ideas floating around and I am sure many other ideas will be introduced over the next few months. That is what I like about these projects; they can grow and change to suit the situation. Nothing is smooth running and certainly not in Mexico! I let my first project run its course and this is where we ended up. I was unsure what I was going to achieve when I set out In December last year. I had ideas about Therapies Unite and how I wanted to be able to 'make that difference'. But it has been the most incredible journey and I managed to achieve more than I ever imagined I would do or could do alone.
Nothing is set in stone and it will depend on what is achievable, what funds are available and what support we can be offered. This is just the beginning. It is a massive project. But I really feel it can be made into a reality I really feel that with support, determination and imagination we can achieve great things for these amazing children and adults and give them the quality of life they deserve.
I want to thank everybody for their support to date I could not have done it without you. Whether you donated money, attended the events, donated equipment, sent encouraging emails, whatever it was you are all part of something so special and I hope you realise what a difference you have made so far.
If you want to continue to support and can think of any ideas, have any advice or good contacts or even fancy joining me in Mexico to help out, please just drop me a call or email.
There are a number of ways you can support Therapies Unite:
Donations: The people we help cannot afford even the most basic healthcare. Every penny you give goes towards making a difference to the lives of disabled children and adults with musculoskeletal and neurological problems.
Volunteering: We are always looking for volunteers who are skilled and qualified professionals to help with our projects. Maybe you are a physiotherapist, nurse or doctor or maybe you have another skill which would benefit Therapies Unite, such as fundraising or marketing.
Working with Therapies Unite is a rewarding, unforgettable experience which you will never forget and which truly changes lives.
If you feel you have a particular expertise to offer and can afford to spare some of your time, please get in touch.
Corporate Sponsorship: Our work depends on the generous support of organizations and their employees. There are a number of ways that companies and staff can get involved and show their commitment to supporting disabled children and adults who are unable to help themselves. This can include sponsorship, donations, reciprocal publicity and awareness-raising opportunities and other methods.
If you want to speak in more detail about how you and Therapies Unite can work together, please get in touch.
Fundraising: Therapies Unite needs your help to continue supporting disabled children and adults. Whatever your circumstances, if you have time to spare and want to be a part of transforming the lives of disadvantaged and deprived people, we would love to hear from you.
If you are an individual, why not come along to one of our fundraising events or alternatively organise your own? Maybe you have a great idea of how we could generate much-needed funds or maybe you have time, items or services which you could donate to us.
If you are an organization, why not sponsor us or help us by providing specialist services such as travel, insurance, shipping, specialist medical or physiotherapy equipment, office equipment, children and adults clothing, learning and development toys and materials and anything else you are able to offer.
Being a Partner for Change can have a different meaning and application to each of us depending on our role, our location, our clients, our relationships. But no matter where you are or who you are, you can be a Partner for Change. Click here to get started today.
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