Finding Hope

MU Health Sciences
4 min readOct 27, 2020

By Jennifer Anderson

Last year, Karene Boos, a 1995 physical therapy graduate who has served the people of Africa in myriad ways for more than 20 years, developed the idea for a physical therapy internship in Tanzania.

“There are so many benefits for students who participate in an international clinical experience,” says Boos, who is currently working in Tanzania on a Fulbright scholarship. “Anytime someone is forced outside their comfort zone, especially when there are language and cultural differences, criticalthinking skills are improved.”

Boos, together with Dr. Lawrence Pan, professor and chair of the Physical Therapy Department, and Dr. Danille Parker, clinical associate professor of physical therapy, created a program and developed a rigorous and competitive application process. In the end, two physical therapy students, Bailey Peck and Meril Mani, were chosen for the monthlong clinical that took place this past December.

Once selected, the two students started a GoFundMe campaign to solicit funds for basic PT supplies they knew were in short supply in the Tanzanian hospital where they would work. They raised nearly $1,000 and brought with them to Tanzania a suitcase stuffed with equipment such as blood pressure cuffs and air casts. When they showed up the first day with the donated supplies, the clinic supervisor wept with gratitude.

The two students knew the language barrier would be a challenge, so they frequently practiced Swahili with each other. After they arrived, the PT staff would quiz them daily and challenge them to use the language as much as possible. They learned early on how to say important things, such as the typical greeting used for older adults, “Shikamoo,” a greeting of respect, which translates roughly into “I kiss your feet.”

Both say they were treated with overwhelming kindness during their stay. “The Tanzanian people have a whole ritual they go through when they greet you,” explains Mani. “Even total strangers will ask all kinds of questions and hold your hand and rub your back or give you a hug. They made us feel so welcome.”

From top to bottom: Karene Boos, Dr. Lawrence Pan and Dr. Danille Parker

Peck and Mani got to see up close the unique difficulties that come with living in a developing country and encountered problems that would be rare to see in the United States. Pan knew the experience would be eye-opening for the students and would require that they be resourceful.

“In a place like Tanzania, you are in a situation where you have very little in the way of equipment, and there’s no store nearby where you can run out and buy it,” says Pan. “You have to be creative with the materials you have on hand.”

The students learned the lesson quickly. “In the U.S., we give away TheraBands like candy so that patients can gain strength using resistance exercises,” explains Peck. “Over there, we learned to teach people to do more isometric exercises like pushing into walls to strengthen their muscles or using soda bottles as hand weights.”

Not only was the equipment limited, but the injuries were frequently different or more extreme than what they might see in the United States.

“Every Wednesday, the PT department would treat children with club foot,” explains Mani. “There are so many people there with club foot. In general, there are many more congenital deformities than we see in the U.S.”

Burns from open coal fires and exposed wiring were also frequent, especially in children, and the PT staff would work with them to improve the range of motion of the burned tissue, a process so painful that the children would often start to cry when they saw the therapist approach. Another problem the two saw with disturbing regularity was young men who had been in motorcycle accidents. The piki piki motorbikes are a popular mode of transportation and, between the crowded, chaotic city streets and a lack of helmets, the students saw many traumatic brain injuries. “It seemed like for every patient in the male surgical ward, it was the same story,” says Mani.

The two were impressed with the compassion they saw the therapists show to their patients, no matter how desperate the circumstances. “They care so much. It was almost overwhelming some days,” says Mani. “In situations most people would find hopeless, they could find hope. They taught us to always keep trying, to do as much as you can for your patients.”

Boos echoes this idea. “In a developing country like Tanzania, where poverty abounds, yet the human spirit is rich, this clinical experience showed them a great deal about dignity and treating all people with respect.”

When the two students finally said goodbye at the end of their monthlong experience, it was with a strong desire to return.

“We know we’re going to go back,” says Mani. “We saw how hard people fight for their lives there, and we really want to help them. It would be a blessing to be able to do that.”

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MU Health Sciences

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