Volunteer abroad providing care and therapy to children with disabiliites in Ecuador
Based in Quito and funded through a mixture of private donations and state funding, this volunteering project is one of very few that provide care and therapies for disabled children. A major part of the project is a day care facility for young disabled children, and this is supplemented by an occupational therapy and physiotherapy departments, both of which support the children in the day care facility and other visiting children.
The day care centre caters for approximately 20-25 children, aged 2-5 years old. They have various disabilities including Downs Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and other physical and mental difficulties. There are a number of staff present, but they struggle to give the high level of care and attention that each child needs. The children need help with feeding, washing themselves, and ideally one-to-one support in activities such as arts, crafts, games and play. Help is also needed to support the children during outings to local parks and swimming pools.
Children visit the OT and PT departments each morning. Part qualified volunteers are used to support each child’s visit, helping manage the children and activities, providing more quality time for the local qualified therapist and gaining insight into local professional practice. Volunteers would then be expected to support the day care centre in the afternoon.
Volunteer opportunities exist for part-qualified and fully qualified physiotherapists and occupational therapists, plus this is an ideal volunteering opportunity for those looking to gain experience working with disabled children.
Non-qualified volunteers are needed to help play, paint, feed, bathe and help with stimulating recreational activities. The small number of local staff are only able to provide basic care and volunteers provide additional energy, creativity and resources.
There is a simple routine followed by the staff, and volunteers are encouraged to be proactive and dynamic in contributing their own ideas for activities that engage the children.
There are separate areas for physiotherapy and occupational therapy, under the guidance of qualified Ecuadorian staff. Volunteers who are actively interested in these vocational careers, or those who are part qualified, can provide assistance to these therapists, managing the children and supporting the therapies, but without taking the lead role. At lunch time, volunteers switch back to the day care, helping the children eat their meals and then staying to help with the afternoon activities.
There are too many children for the number staff. The level of disabilities mean that the children need more personal attention than the team are able to give. Improving this ratio greatly improves the quality of care and level of engagement each child receives.
Given the challenging nature of the work, volunteers also offer staff a degree of respite, as by giving some support to their duties they dramatically improve the quality of their working lives.
Those staff working in the therapy departments make the unit more productive, meaning more children can be seen. By helping manage the children, collecting them and settling them through play and interaction, the qualified therapist can manage the session more efficiently.
The parents form a tight-knit community. You are providing much needed support to these families.
I learned more than I thought possible in such a short space of time, Under 18 Ecuador
Bethan's review not only summarises the activities and routines of her occupatinal therapy project, but also provides a detailed appraisal of the overall volunteer experience in historic Quito, Ecuador