USD Physical Therapy Program conducts Guatemala service trip

VERMILLION, S.D. -- The University of South Dakota’s Physical Therapy Program organized a spring break trip to Guatemala where they helped fit wheelchairs for children with disabilities and conducted a foot-care clinic for senior citizens.

The group included five USD faculty members and students as well as a USD Spanish instructor and a physical therapist from Vermillion. Lana Svien, chair of the Physical Therapy Program, Ph.D., said the trip exposed students to another culture, including how people with disabilities are treated in another country. "The students said there was no way to prepare them for this emersion into another world," Svien added. "Unless you're there you cannot fully understand the differences. Students learn, for example, that the basics we take for granted, including hot water and toilet paper, are luxuries in some countries."

The wheelchair distribution and foot-care clinic were conducted in Santiago Atitlan, a community of 40,000 and capital of the Tzutujil Maya nation. The group also provided wheelchair fittings at two orphanages in and around Guatemala City. 

In addition to Svien, the group included Julie Mengenhausen, physical therapy graduate student from Howard, S.D.; Holly Brydl-Andrews, occupational therapy graduate student from Seward, Neb.; Jessica Krout, an Honors student and pre-physical therapy student from Mitchell, S.D.; Francisca Flores, pre-physical therapy student from Vermillion; Kristine Jelken, USD Spanish instructor; and Wilza Schmied, physical therapist from Vermillion.

"It was absolutely wonderful experience, and your heart could not help but melt for the children and elders in Guatemala," Brydl-Andrews said. "Many people in Guatemala live tough, hard-working lives and have very little, but they were always willing to give us what they could and they were incredibly thankful to us for being there."

Planning has already started for spring break next year, the fifth such trip for USD's Physical Therapy Program.

The Physical Therapy Department is part of USD's School of Health Sciences. The School’s other programs include alcohol and drug studies, dental hygiene, medical technology, nursing, occupational therapy, physician assistant and social work.