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November 30th 2012
Published: December 13th 2012
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 Outreach Therapy Session Outreach Therapy Session Outreach Therapy Session

Alison pictured with two of her patients.

The Lifestart Foundation Free Disability Community Centre is now in full swing with patients benefiting from treatment each day. This year we have also commenced two outreach projects which also work with people with very complex disabilities. Both outreach projects are live in centers and through this work we will have the potential to reach a further 130 people in need.

The patients live in these centers because they are from very poor families and their families are unable to support them or because they do not have families and were previously homeless. These centers are now their home for the rest of their lives.

Both centers are poorly equipped on every level however they are provided with some where to sleep and some food.

I have asked our Physiotherapist, Alison from Victoria, Australia to write about her first two months with Lifestart Foundation in Hoi An.

Alison has taken leave from her work at Monash University, Australia and has moved to Hoi An with her husband and three sons for a six month assignment as Physiotherapist for Lifestart Foundation.

We are now accepting applications from self funded Physiotherapist volunteers who would like to come over to Vietnam and help us. Three months is the minimum volunteer time frame and longer would be even better. We will have an ongoing need for skilled professionals so even if you can't make it over now it may be something to consider in the future.

We are also interested to talk to Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists and Remedial Masseurs about volunteering with Lifestart Foundation.

In order to keep the Lifestart Foundation Free Disability Centre running we need your help. Please consider joining the Lifestart Foundation Monthly Members Club for as little as $30 per month or have a look at our wishlist at the end of this blog. You may be able to donate what we need or donate the funds so as we can purchase these items in Vietnam.

Donations to the Lifestart Foundation Monthly Members Club will fund the following projects:

- The Lifestart Foundation Free Disability Community Centre
- The Lifestart Foundation Free School
- Medical: surgeries and hospital equipment
- Medicines and supplements for the sick
- Aides for the disabled
- Food and rice for the poor and elderly

Here is Alisons first update after 2 weeks......

My role here in Hoi An is to work with Lifestart Foundation, building on previous work to help establish their ‘Free Disability Community Centre’. Two weeks in and some of the activities I have begun include:

- Meeting Lifestart Foundation’s founder Karen Leonard & Sang, my Vietnamese co-worker,and sitting in on her exercise group. Thinking about how to build capacity with her role with the Free Disability Rehab service.

- Looking over previous documentation and assessment formats, and trying a few of my own ideas through brainstorming.

- Getting more insight into what kinds of disabilities I will be working with: post-polio, cerebral palsy, severe scoliosis, Down’s Syndrome, Agent-Orange related deformity,various undiagnosed scenarios, amputees, and poverty-related side effects.

- Meeting and beginning assessments with several of the disabled women who work at the Lifestart Foundation workshop where they make gorgeous items to sell to support themselves and their families.

- Being a guest attendee at the local Disabled Peoples Group, meeting at a local pagoda.

- Looking at two government-run adult shelters for potential weekly
Repairing WheelchairsRepairing WheelchairsRepairing Wheelchairs

Alison's husband Peter pictured with one of the outreach patients.
outreach visits.

- 45 minute ride on the back of my Vietnamese co-worker’s motorbike to one of the shelters - I had to quickly buy the best helmet I could find in Danang. I’m going to try the local bus next week to investigate all my travel options.

- Seeing all around me, the end result of no intervention or intervention that has had no follow up. Many of the usual treatment options at home are not an option in this environment.

Alison's second update after 8 weeks....

"Hard to believe but I’ve been over here for 2 months now. It has been a big challenge but I think I am starting to find some kind of equilibrium now. My role is evolving a bit into doing quite a lot more outreach work at shelters for the very underprivileged. Some who have been abandoned by their relatives, if they have any, or victims of various forms of disease or horror that has left them incapacitated and unable to contribute to a barely surviving family who just cannot cope with the extra burden of their care. It must be a terrible choice to
Outreach Therapy SessionOutreach Therapy SessionOutreach Therapy Session

Mostly young adults with very complex disabilities are at this outreach centre.

Not only am I working in a developing country context but within that, at the lower social strata of those who live here – probably at times the lowest. For these people there is very little access to the usual resources, there are financial disincentives for people to follow up on their health and as a result many end up with severe chronic situations that for you and I would be largely preventable.

It’s hard to swallow.

It’s also hugely rewarding.

Despite at times feeling at a loss as to how to tackle it, the reality is that just being here makes a difference. At one shelter I am often greeted by a line up of toothless ancients, all grinning and babbling and wanting to touch me. I have no idea what they are saying but they love us being here.

Each time we come there is usually a new face wheeled in to join in with all the exercise activity. In one session last week I had 2 oldies post-stroke on the go, 3 boisterous young CP men rolling round on mats on the floor having a great time, one lady stood up with me for the first time in months, another man who can’t see and is desperately frail but unbelievably determined to get started on getting strong again, a young woman with CP who sorts the washing all day on the floor who is equally determined to struggle up onto her not very useful feet and walk regardless. Their resilience and ability to just survive is awesome.

I’ve really had to rein in my usual expectations of what I would expect to be able to do in many cases. It’s right back to basics but with a big lateral twist along with things I have NEVER seen, even in a text book. There is protocol to be observed and a ‘slowly and respectfully’ approach is required. Getting an accurate history is a major achievement (possibly haven’t achieved that yet) and a lot of what I do is based mainly on what I am observing.

2 adventurous Monash University final year Physio students, Peggy & Claire, have just finished up a 2 week placement with Lifestart Foundation in Hoi An. Both girls took on the challenge very impressively and brought over some additional resources for the Lifestart Foundation
We Need You!We Need You!We Need You!

Occupational Therapists. Speech Therapists.Physiotherapists. Remedial Masseurs. Organisational Assistant. Grant Writers. Graphic Designers/ Wordpress / Computer Gurus (with Microsoft Office knowledge (specifically excel) for assistance with bookkeeping/management) IT Database Consultant. Contact us:- http://www.lifestartfoundation.org.au/contact
Disability Community Centre which will be helpful.

We cracked open the new coits set for the exercise group that runs 3 times a week and the women had an absolute ball with them – don’t think I have ever seen people enjoy them so much. They were such a hit that we decided to take them to our next outreach visit where they were even more popular.

While they were with me the 2 students and I had some fun trying out some unconventional moulds and splinting ideas we came across.

Their 2 weeks ended with a Vietnamese style morning tea with some of the therapy participants they had met. Most of this group have Polio related disability and significant mobility issues that they have used ingenious methods, and whatever is at hand, to overcome.

Some of other highlights this month have been meeting up with some other volunteers and hearing of their experiences, managing to get a foam wedge made that took 4 attempts and a month to organise, slowly beginning to see some results from my interactions & managing to avoid a long silver snake that slithered across the road on my way home.

Today’s highlight was having a very long and convoluted interpreted conversation with one of the residents of the Hoi An Adult shelter, about her crazy (I thought) set of crutches. She has an AK amputation that she obtained courtesy of a bomb dropped in the ‘American’ war. One crutch is wooden with a hunk of old worn out tyre on the end and about a foot too tall for her, the other is more conventional looking but set up all wrong. My initial response was of course to want to toss the wooden thing out and sort out a decent matching set. What I discovered though was that she didn’t only use these odd crutches for walking, they served all other sorts of very important purposes for her that contributed to her ability to survive in the environment in which she’s living. The wooden crutch, with low handle placement enabled her to rest her stump on it at times so she could bend forward and do many different domestic duties she was expected to do. There is no one to help her do her work and she has come up with a way of being able to manage but it relies upon a crazy set of crutches. There is a whole lot more to this scenario but in the end I asked her “…what is it you want to me to help you with…?...”

What she really wanted was a new stopper on one and a new hunk of tyre on the other. Anything else I did to her set up at this point would have significant flow on effects that I can’t control and may actually discourage her from any mobilisation at all. So, I sorted out the stopper and we are working on the new piece of tyre. Meanwhile she has agreed to keep coming to my session I’m running there and do some work on her ‘good’ leg and maybe, just maybe I might be able to gently tackle the rest of her crutches issues as we go………………

The following wishlist items and equipment would greatly assist the ongoing work our Physiotherapists are undertaking in Vietnam. The total cost for everything that is needed to help all of these patients at the three locations we are working at is $4,614 aud.

Making cushions out of locally available materialsMaking cushions out of locally available materialsMaking cushions out of locally available materials

Peter pictured thinking " outside of the box!"

. Hand weights x 2 sets $60 per set

· Wrap on Velcro leg weights x 6 $25 each

· Theraband x 4 different strengths $200

· AFO’s/splints/shoes/shoe build up options x 10 $125 each

· Hand kit : for fine motor activities x 2

· Arm bike/ Upper Limb ergometer x 2 $200 each

· Steps x 2 Sets $40 each

· Rocker boards x 4 $10 each

· Door pulleys x 3 $40 per set

· Fitballs x 4 $50 each

· Yoga mats x 8 $10 each

. 2 CD players for both outreach clinics $40 each

· CD’s $20

. Standing fan $40

· Safe wheelchairs with removable sides & swing-away footplates x 2 for transporting/transfers $200 each

. Slide boards x 2 $15 each

. Re Ed boards x 2 $15 each

. Mayfield belt to assist transfer x3 $10 each

. Stable table for Upper Limb activities $80

. Adjustable table for Upper Limb activities $80

. Floor mats x 4 Large $150 each

A seat belt for safe travelA seat belt for safe travelA seat belt for safe travel

Tung travels a long distance to get to the centre so a newly fitted seat belt on his 3 wheel motorbike will make the journey safer.
Foam wedges x 12 and foam bolsters x 12 for positioning $15 each

. Spare parts for repairs of crutches, frames etc : stoppers, nuts, bolts, washers, knobs, $50

. Hoist or windup platform $150

If you can help with any of these items we would be very grateful. You can either donate the item or the funds to allow us to purchase the item/items in Vietnam.

Read more about the Lifestart Foundation Free Disability Community Centre by clicking here

Read the previous blog about the Lifestart Foundation Free Disability Community Centre here

Are you thinking of volunteering??

Arm yourself with as much information as possible about your host organisation, read their website thoroughly and I would suggest that you read this blog on International Volunteering .

For those of you who are little techno challenged like myself if you click on any of the words in blue it will automatically link you into that subject. Don't forget to have a look at our new website and find out how you too can support us from anywhere in the world.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Lots of Love from Karen


Enjoying the blogs?? Forward them on or subscribe those who you think would be interested in Lifestart Foundations work.......its free!


You can read the blogs of previous Lifestart Foundation volunteers on the links below.

Meet Sahar from the UK
Al and Robbie
Meet Trisha from New Zealand
Art Classes with Lone from Denmark 9th August 2011
Ruth: Teaching English in Vietnam 31st May 2011
E: Why Vietnam Rocks 9th Dec 2010
Sue: Capacity Building and Cleaning Up Mud 29th July 2010
Mark and Mary: Teaching English as a Second Language November 2009
Tropical Storm Ketsana - A picture is worth a thousand words
Cycle Vietnam for a Worthy Cause – Jan 17th 2009
Doctor John – Jan 14th 2009
Memory Portraits – Jan 14th 2009
Birdman Returns – Jul 15th 2008
Meet Sherry – A dream volunteer – Apr 30th 2008

There are lots more pictures on the next page...

Additional photos below
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Monash Uni students at the Disability Community CentreMonash Uni students at the Disability Community Centre
Monash Uni students at the Disability Community Centre

Exercise and fun at the same time with a game of coits.

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