Allied Health Students Make a Difference in Kenya
For a group of occupational and physical therapy students, a visit to Kenya opened their eyes to a different way of living and working. For some children with disabilities in Africa, the visit meant hope for more in life.
The group of students, a veteran occupational therapist from Tulsa, and faculty from the College of Allied Health, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences from both OU-Tulsa and the OU Health Sciences Center took a trip to Kenya as part of the Wheels Project. The goal of the project is to improve the lives of people with disabilities through work with wheelchairs in a developing country. The collaborative project works to evaluate wheelchair performance and usage in less resourced areas. This research and data is then provided to wheelchair manufacturers who donate the devices.
“Our goal with the research project was really to look at wheelchairs that have been provided for the kids. A lot of them are free wheelchairs that people give, which is very kind … but a lot of times the wheelchairs aren’t appropriate for the kids,” said Jessica Tsotsoros, Ph.D., OTR/L, assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Services, who led the trip.
As the group conducted research, they were also able to work with individuals to help them to better utilize the wheelchairs they have.
“Our overall goal with the wheelchair is to get the kids sitting upright and proud and being able to go out into the community,” said Tsotsoros. They were able to provide reassurance to families that their child was safe, and up off the floor in a wheelchair. Families reported being able to go to work on their farms because they could bring their child along in the wheelchair. Children were able to get outside and watch and interact as their friends practiced soccer. They also work to fight stigmatization of people with disabilities in the culture.
Hailey Chamberlin, a third-year physical therapy student enjoyed all the various aspects of their mission.
“It was a cool experience to get to have every piece of a trip combined in one: service, research, really cool experiences, but also using our knowledge to help kids,” said Chamberlin.
The group from OU was able to have some traditional tourist experiences as well, such as a safari, but the participants agreed that wasn’t the focus. Reagan Collins, a third-year occupational therapy student, recounted how the days that they had the most fun was when they were hands on with the children and families.
“Just being able to apply what we’ve learned in school and along with actually seeing how we are impacting those families personally and being a part of their culture and their faith was such a huge portion of this project,” said Collins. “It has been truly a wonderful and purely impactful experience overall, professionally, culturally, and spiritually.”
To read more about the Wheels Project click here. Link: https://alliedhealth.ouhsc.edu/Research-Centers-Labs/Faculty-Research-Labs-and-Programs/Rehabilitation-Sciences/Wheels-Project