When Shiren Assaly ’11 and Garrett Norris ’11 were given an opportunity to take part in the Rotary Wheelchair Distribution in Peru, they had more than a few reasons to say yes.

“I went there to help others live a better life, and little did I know that they would change my life in such a positive and inspirational way,” said Shiren. “This mission was a good way to learn more about physical therapy and at the same time it gave me a chance to see Peru,” added Garrett.

The wheelchair distribution missions are organized through a partnership with the Department of Physical Therapy and Rotary International with support from Equip Kids and Hope Haven International which work to provide wheelchair customization and fitting to adults and children in third-world countries such as Peru. In 2010 two student physical therapists visited Guatemala, Mexico.

Shiren and Garrett spent much of their time in Peru at the Clinica San Juan De Dios, both in Cuzco and Chiclayo, supporting the wheelchair distribution mission. Their responsibilities included evaluating the individuals’ condition and taking measurements to assess for head support, lateral trunk support, seat depth, and tilt angles to make sure the individual were well-fitted.

Prior to leaving for the trip, Shiren and Garrett met with Pacific faculty members to gain a better understanding of the cultural differences. The students also took lessons in Spanish, which is one of the main languages in Peru, to help improve their communication skills abroad.

For the student physical therapists, taking lessons in Spanish was just the first step in breaking the barrier when working with their patients. Garrett recalled a moment when he set himself up as a target in order to encourage his patient to use his arm to push himself in the wheelchair. “Sometimes all it takes is playing games to motivate the patient to perform at his full potential while in the wheelchair. It was a lot of fun,” commented Garrett.

While Shiren and Garrett had hoped to educate their patients about how important a well-fitted wheelchair is and the usability of the wheelchair, they were also taking lessons from their patients.

“The people I met throughout my experiences taught me life lessons in compassion, adversity and determination. The strength and courage of the Peruvian people has shown me the importance of working hard and always believing in myself,” says Shiren. “I learned to not take anything for granted. We are all extremely lucky to be where we are and have healthy lives. Not everywhere in the world is like the U.S,” Garrett responded.

The school provides a number of experiences such as this one, and the students enjoy them. Shiren and Garret hope that many student physical therapists will follow in their footsteps.

“It is a learning experience that will allow the students to enhance their knowledge, share in a once in a lifetime opportunity, and make a difference in the world of others,” they agreed.


By Dua Her '09
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