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Monday, July 19, 2010

Volunteering at ASSA

Our first day started early, as we accompanied some of the ASSA children to their morning physiotherapy session. Starting at 7am, a number of kids already dressed in their red and white school uniforms took over the PT unit and we watched as they played together and did their exercises with the staff. We each played with the children who were waiting to receive therapy, throwing balls and playing clapping games. Soon everyone was up and off to breakfast with the other children, fitted with their callipers and orthotics, or wheeled by their friends. The lively ASSA morning routine continues with busloads of staff and children arriving at the main gates to attend school.

During a couple mornings, Kayla and Marissa observed the intimate classrooms at the Special School, where teachers were paired with no more than 10 to 15 students each, arranged in inclusive semi-circles where everyone could get the attention they needed. Here, students of all ages with varying developmental delays progress through grades based on ability and also learn activities of daily living, language skills (Tamil and English), and vocational skills for some of the more senior students. The students also receive regular physiotherapy at the school. Here, we met another volunteer from Denmark, Marianne, who was just wrapping up a three month stay at the school helping with English lessons.

Just across from the special school is the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Unit, with its friendly group of patients sitting outside in their wheelchairs, waving to passersby. As Pranavi and Jeremy attended morning rounds at the unit, they learned that each patient had met with an accident that drastically changed their lives and that this chronic care facility is meant to help them adjust and gain the skills necessary to live independently again. The unit has a 12-patient capacity and people stay and receive treatment and training for 6 months to a year. Here, patients get a well-fitted wheelchair (in fact, the unit serves as a store house for the several wheelchairs that ASSA provides to people in need throughout the district), counselling, medical care, round the clock orderlies to help with activities of daily living, vocational training or continued education, and daily physical therapy. ASSA’s field workers also visit the homes of these patients before and after they have moved out of the facility to ensure a smooth transition to life on their own.

We spent the rest of the week out in the field, participating in ASSA’s amazing Village Based Rehabilitation (VBR) Program that serves over 330 village communities within a 100 kilometre radius of the Sangam. We visited two of the six PMRC (Parent-Managed Respite Centre) special schools that this program supports. These schools of between ten and twenty kids each, provide physiotherapy and special education to children with developmental delays. We couldn’t help but notice what a warm and home-like environment these places were for the children and we loved getting to know the boys and girls at each school until they shared auto-rickshaws home at the end of the school day. We also accompanied the Sangam’s field physiotherapist and community rehabilitation worker during home visits, which was a one-of-a-kind experience for all of us. For those children who cannot attend the PMRC’s or the special school at ASSA, the VBR program identifies children with special needs and arranges regular home visits to provide physiotherapy and to train families to best manage their child’s condition at home. It was for this purpose that ASSA had asked this year’s IHI team to create a parents’ manual of practical tips for managing various physical limitations that children may face on a daily basis. While we visited people’s homes, we saw what a far-reaching impact ASSA has had in these villages, as children had custom callipers and other equipment available at home and their families were able to ask questions and learn how to care for their child with a special need. We hope that next year’s IHI team embraces this opportunity to learn about how various physical conditions are managed at home and how organizations like ASSA and their field work team has helped.

PS - Pictures hopefully to come! Technical difficulties...

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