Physical Therapy in Uganda


PT in Uganda 2016

2016 Uganda Trip

Physical therapists Ryan Jacobson and Tyler Cuddeford, as well as community coordinator Gina Braden, led a trip to Uganda in June of 2016. Consistent with previous trips, this journey also included physical therapy services at Kireka School, where nine second-year physical therapy students participated in the treatment and plans of care for disabled children. As with previous years, these children benefited greatly. “We’re really starting to see a cultural shift within the school and community about how the disabled are treated and valued,” Cuddeford said.

In addition to Kireka School, the team also worked with a partner school, Goodwill School, to offer physical therapy treatment to children. Because of the gap between medical knowledge in the U.S. and Uganda, much of the time was devoted to teaching and training caregivers and teachers how to best care for the children. The team observed big differences in some of these children in as little as just a couple of treatments.

Developing lasting relationships is a key component of a healthy sustainable partnership, and Gina was our fearless leader. Key staff members at Kierka School remarked how helpful Gina was with organizing, being the bridge between the physical therapists and teachers, and her love for Ugandans. She also worked tirelessly fixing many wheelchairs so that these children could get around easier. We couldn’t have done it without her and we’ll definitely be back again next year.

Physical Therapy in Uganda

2016 Ghana Trip

Jeff Houck and Caitlyn Burbank led a team of 11 doctoral physical therapy students to teach and train physical therapist assistant students at Greenhills School of Health Sciences in Ghana. This unique trip entailed a host of activities, including active teaching in the classroom and clinic, special guest lectures at the University of Ghana, and hands-on physical therapy for community members.

George Fox partnered with students from Greenhills to provide free physical therapy services to those in the community where more than 400 patients were assessed and treated. Students treated orthopedic injuries that ranged from back pain and knee pain and also treated stroke patients and children with cerebral palsy. Many of the patients praised the work that we did and were able to function better following physical therapy.

The team also provided consultative services to Greenhills, which hopes to open up a stroke rehabilitation clinic near campus. George Fox helped with some of the strategic planning and groundwork necessary to open and successfully run a neuro rehabilitation clinic. Caitlyn spent numerous “off” hours supporting this effort. Because of the success of the trip, we’ve been invited back again next year and look forward to going.

2015 Uganda Trip

Physical Therapy in Uganda

In June of 2015, physical therapy professors Jeff Houck, Ryan Jacobson and Tyler Cuddeford took 12 students to Uganda for a two-week trip, primarily to work with children at a school for the disabled. Kireka School is a boarding school that houses nearly 80 children with intellectual and/or physical disabilities. Many of these children benefited greatly from physical therapy and rehabilitation services, and early into the visit the school’s staff and caregivers witnessed children walking for the very first time.

For many of the PT students, it was their first time working independently with children for a prolonged period. As they departed, they outlined a plan of care for the caregivers and staff. The PT group is committed to making a sustainable impact at the school and is partnering financially with the school’s administration and executives to fund a local physical therapist full time.

In addition to helping disabled children, the students also helped adults with post polio. This entailed a thorough assessment to determine the level of involvement and culminated in individual plans of care for these patients.

2014 Uganda Trip

Doctor of Physical Therapy students serve in Uganda

Within a day of arriving in Uganda in June 2014, two professors and a group of 12 George Fox doctor of physical therapy students were hit hard with a harsh reality: Things were done differently here.

Among their first impressions: A young man tied to a tree, restrained there for four years because of his disabilities. “He hadn’t walked in years, and nobody knew how to deal with him,” says Tyler Cuddeford, director of George Fox’s physical therapy program. “They were afraid he’d make bad decisions, so they tied him up. It just shows the lack of care for children with disabilities in the country. It’s hard to see and hard to prepare for.”

Into that backdrop Cuddeford, fellow professor Jeff Houck and a dozen third-year students tended to the needs of Ugandan children and adults stricken with disease and immobility last June. It was the first service trip for the program but won’t be the last, as plans call for an annual visit.

Doctor of Physical Therapy students serve in Uganda

Serving with Passion

And while making the two-week trip isn’t a requirement to graduate from the three-year program, it more than meets the program’s “professional duty and social responsibility” component. It also embodies the department and university’s mission to “serve with passion.”

“Ultimately, being experts in mobility, our mission was to empower people to take care of themselves – to get them to function better, whether that means teaching someone to walk or just helping them move in a more efficient way,” Cuddeford said.

Treatment and Research

The George Fox team visited two rehabilitation clinics for disabled children, an adult clinic and a remote village, Kisowera. They also partnered with Uganda Christian University to conduct research on foot health, comparing Ugandans who grew up wearing shoes to those who’ve been walking barefoot all their lives. The data is still being analyzed.

Doctor of Physical Therapy students serve in Uganda

For student Alex Grimsley, the experience won’t soon be forgotten. “I’d never been to a different country to do anything like this,” he says. “I was excited to use the knowledge I had to educate people and see them respond. It was a practical application of all we had been learning in the classroom.”

Students treated patients with clubfoot, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and polio. Ailments ranged from dislocated shoulders and an inability to move arms to a complete breakdown of the legs. “The very first person we treated crawled in, legs rotated sideways, and his feet didn’t even resemble feet,” Cuddeford said. “He also had a shoulder that routinely subluxed. Still, even though he had significant post-polio challenges, we were able to help him by improving his mobility and strength.”

The People: 'Beautiful and Kind'

Doctor of Physical Therapy students serve in Uganda

George Fox students assisted more than 50 children that first day. They would go on to treat 40 more at another school a few days later and 40 at the adult clinic. The reality of their surroundings was reinforced by the presence of a cemetery on one of the school grounds.

“It’s hard to walk into a place and past a kid on the ground who isn’t moving – and you don’t know if he’s alive or dead,” said Houck, director of research in the George Fox physical therapy program. “It takes an emotional toll on you. I had to step away at one point and collect myself. What was rewarding was seeing how grateful the people were. They were beautiful and kind.”

'We'll Definitely be Back'

Cuddeford will assess the trip and make modifications, primarily to improve efficiency. He also says there is a possibility of adding other service-related trips, perhaps to China.

 “The average wage [in Uganda] is less than $2 a day, yet the people there love life and are wonderful to work with,” he said. “We’ll definitely be back.”