So it’s over, I’ve arrived home from my trip to CRP in Bangladesh. It really has been the trip of a lifetime and an absolutely incredible experience. I’ve seen and learnt a lot, met some incredible people and achieved some great things.
I was amazed with the huge amount that CRP does for disabled people in Bangladesh, especially as it is the only centre for paraplegic patients in a country that is not very accessible for disabled people. The centre not only has a hospital that provides service to both inpatients and outpatients with spinal cord injury, but also has a hostel on-site for discharged patients, where they are slowly integrated into normal life again. Patients living in the hostel are also provided with vocational training in a variety of activities, to help them earn a living when they leave CRP. The hospital however is not the only facility within the centre. There is also a school which educates 300 students, with almost half (114) of these having special needs (90 of which suffer from cerebral palsy). Students with special needs also have their own separate hostel on site for them to stay.
During my time, I was very happy to be able to volunteer in many different areas of CRP. Some of my time was spent working in the school, where I helped in a variety of ways. I spent time teaching vocational classes, taking dance and music classes and teaching some basic English. However, my proudest achievement while volunteering in the school is that I organised and took the schools first ever sport session. During this session I introduced the wheelchair children to some different activities such as wheelchair basketball, volleyball and then tag. Not only did it provide the children with physical exercise, it also provided them with a new activity that was enjoyed by all, including the members of staff who saw the fun and wanted to take part. I was also able to teach the members of staff some of the activities and provide the school with the chance to continue taking sport sessions which feels like a great accomplishment to me. The children also enjoyed new sports kit that I took to the centre to donate, which I obtained by contacting my school. As well as being involved with sport with the school, I was able to play proper games of wheelchair basketball on a couple of days with the patients. The patients play in teams every day at 4 and I was fortunate enough to be able to play myself. It was great fun and actually quite tiring.
On one of the days, I took the 4 o’clock session and instead of playing wheelchair basketball, I coached and refereed a game of wheelchair rugby, as I’m a big rugby player and they’d never played it before but wanted to. It was brilliant to be able to introduce one of my sports and great to see smiles on faces while they were playing (even if it took a while for them to appreciate the offside rule…).
Besides sport, I was also invited to teach English classes to the university students at the university on-site. I took lessons where I was asked to discuss deforestation, holidays and foreign countries, along many other topics. It was great to be able to help with the education and I made some amazing friends with some of the students, and was able to learn a lot about their culture from them.
I was also fortunate to be able to shadow doctors and nurses in different areas of the hospital including neurology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and hand therapy. It was very interesting to see the healthcare system in a developing country, and seeing that despite the differences in equipment, facilities and training, the same principles of practice apply with multidisciplinary teams and cooperation between specialists. One hard hitting moment I encountered while shadowing was when I spent some time in the Paediatric department. I was observing and participating in a therapy session with a cheerful 3 year old boy with a rare condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which affects the motor neurons. He was so happy and we played lots during his therapy with him laughing and smiling. It was very upsetting to discover that his condition is progressive and he has a life expectancy of only 6 years, meaning he only has another 3 years to live. I felt helpless, as if I wanted to be able to make him live for longer, and it was distressing that there was absolutely nothing I could do, so I continued to make him smile the best I could over the next few days when I went to his therapy sessions before he was discharged.
Alongside all of this, I also spent some of my time with the publications department working on CRP’s new website. I helped by checking through every section of the website and correcting the English. It was good to be able to provide something productive to them, despite my lack of qualifications as a student.
Before the trip, I thought that I’d be counting down the days to come home. When I was there, the opposite happened. It went so fast and I such an incredible time that by the end, I wanted to stay for longer and help more. It’s nice to be home but I’d love to return one day and offer more to CRP. I’ve had an amazing experience, met some amazing people, seen some amazing things and heard some amazing stories. I’d love to do some fundraising for the centre over the next year, and hopefully return in the future