Physiotherapist Day of Service: Helping Children in Amman, Jordan

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Photo: Some members of the physiotherapy team, CVT Jordan.

For many professionals who do healing work, it is a good feeling to be able to bring your skills and experience to people who might not otherwise have access to your service. When a chance arose to bring physiotherapy work to a nonprofit organization in Amman, the CVT Jordan team was happy to step forward.

Beginning in 2015, an international group of physiotherapists (PTs) was inspired to start a project called the PT Day of Service. For one day in October, they call upon PTs around the world to engage in a day of helping within their communities, all with the mission to “Change lives. Grow community. Better the World.”

On the 20th of October, ten members of the physiotherapy team at CVT Jordan completed their day of service. This was the first time the team had the opportunity to participate, and they may be the only physiotherapy group in Jordan to have taken part. The team spent the day in the SOS Children’s Villages Association of Jordan-Amman.

SOS Children's Villages Association of Jordan is a local, private and independent social development organization. It was established in 1983, and cares for around 280 Jordanian orphaned and vulnerable children, in three Villages and nine youth houses in Amman, Aqaba and Irbid. The SOS concept adopts a family approach and long-term care for vulnerable children through its various residential, educational and developmental programs.

Professional foster care is provided in a managed environment within a well-developed infrastructure, where the family unit is recreated in as natural a manner as possible. Each child is given a mother and a family of five to seven brothers and sisters. Each family has its own home in the SOS Children's Village.

To begin their Day of Service, the CVT physiotherapists first met with the SOS psychologists who work with the children, in order to understand the challenges the children face. The psychologists shared success stories and challenges, and prepared the PTs for the kinds of behaviors they might see from the children.

Working with children in this context was a new experience for almost all of the CVT physiotherapists. The team met with 20 children of ages six-14 years, and set up a number of stations for them – they organized four children and a leader to meet with a physiotherapist at each station. During the two and a half hour visit, the physiotherapists used games and physical activity tools with the children to help them begin to understand concepts such as the body-mind connection.

As an example of the way the team was able to teach about the body-mind connection, before the team started the activities, they asked the children if they knew why the PTs were there. They told the children “If we play and have fun, it will affect our mood and help us study and concentrate on our tasks during the week.” The team then reinforced this idea throughout the day, saying “Let’s play and enjoy our time and keep our energy high throughout the week.”

To help the children with self-regulation, after finishing a high-tempo activity, the PTs held out a parachute and asked the children to come under it. They then covered them with the parachute and asked them to pretend they were asleep. The PTs repeated this exercise to help them understand how their breathing changes throughout the day with different activities and how learning to control it can make them feel more relaxed.

For body awareness, the PTs asked the children to form a circle, and then passed a ball between them, gradually increasing the number of balls and having the children change the direction of their passing from right to left, and then from left to right. In practicing these rapid coordination movements, the children needed to really focus on how their different body parts were moving in order to complete the task. It also helped the children to engage cooperatively together and work as a team.

There was a lot of activity. The children wanted to be close to the visitors and held their hands even though they were strangers. The children were also moving a lot, jumping and crawling in the room, and they had lots of questions. Their curiosity was noticeable but also poignant, particularly because of the absence of parents in their lives. The children asked many questions: “Who are you? Are you a mom?”

As a CVT physiotherapist, Farah Al Dweik noted that in some cases these behaviors can be coping techniques. “The children are well aware of their outsider status, she said. “They all know that they will face challenges in life because of their situation.”

The physiotherapists spent their time encouraging the children to move, to focus their energy and have fun. The team worked to create a friendly atmosphere and gave small gifts to the children, things like pencils, stories, colored stress balls and small watches. The children reported they had a fun Thursday!

Looking ahead to another day of service next year, Farah said the team is thinking about focusing on the caregivers at SOS. The women who serve as moms in the houses spend a full year there, with annual leaves. This requires that they leave their personal lives behind, which is a huge sacrifice. The PTs see an opportunity to teach coping and self-regulation skills to these caregivers to help them deal with the challenges their role entails.

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