CARREFOUR, Haiti – In an underserved nation like Haiti, if a person experiences any physical impairment, whether mild or life-altering, that person will likely live as though the residual pain and distress is his or her new lot in life.
“Conveying the knowledge that there is hope, relief and rehab exercises to encourage healing is huge,” said Dr. Beverly McNeal, professor of physical therapy at Southwest Baptist University and coordinator for SBU’s Physical Therapy Global Health Outreach program (GHO). “We can bring them the good news that they can get better and then we can show them just how much better they can become.”
As part of its Global Health Outreach program, McNeal recently led a team of alumni/adjunct professors, physical therapy students and non-medical volunteers to Carrefour, Haiti. The program has a long-term relationship with three churches in this part of Haiti, which McNeal said is essential to their goal of meeting both the physical and spiritual needs through physical therapy. It’s about using a skill to spread the gospel.
“This is the program’s fifth trip to the same community and we are able to follow up with the people we met before,” she said. “We see them for physical reasons and we ask them about the spiritual. God continues to work in Haiti; many, many people have come to Christ.”
Because the program seeks to give more than it receives, only second and third year physical therapy students are allowed to go on GHO trips.
“First year students don’t know enough to benefit the people we are ministering to and they feel less helpful,” McNeal said. “However, SBU’s Center for Global Connections (CGC) department provides excellent opportunities for undergraduates to be on mission. We work closely with CGC and they have given us so much support. Our missions focus is what makes SBU different.”
A variety of physical therapy is provided on GHO trips. They help people of all ages with paralysis, muscle or joint pain/weakness, physical deformities, cuts/wounds/scars, children with slow development, and any condition that makes it difficult to move. McNeal said the students who go and serve the people in these low-resource areas often go again and again.
“Not only do students get extra practice in their skills, they also pick up confidence in their abilities and in the way they relate to patients,” she said.
McNeal and her colleagues saw such a difference in the confidence of the students that they once considered making a GHO trip a physical therapy requirement.
“But we decided to keep it voluntary,” she said. “The people who go on these trips want to be there and we’ve seen too much good to take a chance on someone who doesn’t want to be there.”
She said the students, faculty, and the alumni professionals sacrifice their vacation time and raise their own funds to cover travel and participation expenses.
“One of our challenges is finding funding, especially for the professionals who sometimes take an unpaid leave to be able to go,” McNeal said.