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Students give care at Jamaican orphanages

Published: Thursday, April 2, 2009

Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2009 22:04

Bob Marley's music filtered throughout the room Wednesday as 13 physical therapy students prepared to give a picture presentation of their philanthropic work in orphanages in Jamaica.

During spring break, the students visited various orphanages in Kingston, Jamaica, to treat children and adults with disabilities and other special needs.

Megan Francis, 25, said she saw first-hand that the opportunities in Jamaica are limited.

"In Jamaica, you're either at home or in an orphanage," Francis said. "There's no in-between where you can go somewhere a few days a week to receive therapy."

Francis and Erin Brown, 26, worked with a young woman named Dana, 21, who was born with spina bifida, a condition where the spinal cord and its coverings do not completely develop.

Francis and Brown fashioned a slide board so Dana could get in and out of her wheelchair more easily.

Jennifer Tucker, a physical therapy instructor who accompanied the students, said only the wealthier people in Jamaica get treatment regularly.

"Physical therapy is in its infancy in Jamaica," Tucker said.  "Jamaicans don't necessarily know what their needs are because they don't really know what physical therapy can do."

The Jamaican mothers and grandmothers who run the orphanages can barely meet the basic needs of the orphans, the group said, so its goal was to empower these communities in Kingston by providing them with the education, and equipment necessary to help those who need more than basic care.

The students often had to resort to using duct tape, cardboard and other materials around the orphanages to make necessary modifications.

Ryan Shirley, 25, said providing therapy for the less fortunate gives him a greater sense of fulfillment.

"It's much more rewarding for me to go and work with people of this nature, who don't have the same type of opportunities that we have," he said.

Shirley was part of a group that worked with Patrick, a man who had a difficult time walking. The students sat on the floor with him and showed him how to stretch his legs because he could not communicate verbally very well. 

Patrick was not the only one who had this sort of problem, they said. Many of the orphans had severely limited mobility and ability to communicate with those around them, so the students wanted to find ways to make caring for them easier on the caretakers. 

It's important to establish good relationships with the housemothers, Brown said.

"If we can inspire them and show them the value of physical therapy, then they can continue on when we're not there," Brown said.

The students left their care plans with the housemothers so they can always refer back to it if they need help.

By improving the orphans' ability to function, they are sometimes reunited with their parents and able to attend public school, the group said.

UCF's continued partnership with the Florida Hospital Foundation outreach program, SHARES International, has allowed students to help orphans in Jamaica for four years. 

SHARES provides some financial support, but it is primarily the students who pay for their trip.

Tucker said the students' efforts were selfless.

"It's amazing," she said. "We made a significant impact. I don't think you can capture this learning experience in a classroom."

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