Our perceptions don’t often live in reality. Sometimes they do. I had a lot of perceptions about Medellin before I traveled there, admittedly, some from watching Netflix shows. When I arrived in Medellin, Ann, from Venture with Impact, met me with a warm smile and showed me a typical Colombian hangout in my new neighborhood. I tried my first arepas, which I learned are a Colombian staple. First perception busted, Colombians love their deep fried goods and it’s much easier to find deep fried arepas than salad. Second perception busted, I felt pretty safe there. Even being a blonde-haired, blue-eyed gringa.
Fast-forward a couple days. Venture with Impact staffer, Lindsey, guided me through Medellin’s public transport to my first in-person meeting with Adam, the head honcho of E-nable Medellin, where I would be volunteering during my month experience. A few short minutes of talking with Adam about E-nable reveal how passionate he is about helping people and providing people with the best 3D printed prosthetics he can make. This one I expected, as Adam dedicates personal time and resources to operating a non-profit charity.
Adam suggested I meet with a teenager, Jhorman, who had already received a 3D printed prosthetic from E-nable to help plan my volunteer work. His initial idea was for me to create a basic exercise program he could pass along to the end users of the 3D printed prosthetic devices, since some people receiving the devices had obviously not used the muscles in their residual limb much and didn’t have good access to health care. As we talked, it became apparent I could contribute to some of the data collection processes Enable used for intake and follow up with device recipients. As I began to understand Enable’s recipient training process, it became clear I could use my skills as a physical therapist to help create a training manual for the group to use when delivering a new prosthetic. My work experience and research on prosthetics prior to arrival told me if the recipients weren’t trained on how to use the prosthetic for daily activities, they would not use the device much and the exercises wouldn’t be as useful.
Meeting with Jhorman confirmed my perceptions. He did use his 3D printed prosthetic every day for certain tasks, but did not have the planning skills with the device to use it during tasks like opening a zipper. His responses to what he used his device to do were a bit vague. He struggled to get the device on by himself. These are clues to a therapist an individual may not be using their prosthetic to its full potential.
Cue nerdy therapist mode. I’m not sure if he was coming expecting to get suggestions from me on his body mechanics and strength exercises for his shoulder blades, but I couldn’t help myself. I showed him how to power his 3D printed arm with less stress on his shoulder and some simple weight bearing exercises to help his strength. Jhorman has a smile that can light up a room. He has a determined attitude and despite the language barrier between us, it was clear he was trying to absorb as much knowledge as possible.
I spent most of my volunteer hours behind my computer working on the training manual. While I was not involved in direct patient care activities, I am hopeful this project will have a more lasting impact by allowing future volunteers to use and build upon my work. Venture with Impact opened my eyes about the importance of lasting impact with volunteering abroad. E-nable opened my eyes about a fire inside me that had started to dim. All the volunteers I met in Medellin and through the online global community are doing good deeds, for free, in a profit-driven world.
I signed up for Venture with Impact to take a break in between jobs and hopefully do a little good. The E-nable community is doing more than a little good. During my last week in Medellin, I was able to observe a man being fit for his 3D printed arm. He had been going through life without hands or forearms since a conflict-related trauma about 20 years ago. There are no words to describe watching him reach and grasp with his 3D printed prosthetic for the first time in 20 years. I will remember the smile on his face whenever I need a little inspiration.
I will never know how much good I did for E-nable Medellin and their cause. I can only hope I did help. I do know I will never regret getting to be a part of such a great organization. Venture with Impact made volunteering abroad for a month a possibility for me, which shifted my perceptions in ways I couldn’t have known. My experience in Medellin allowed me to see what I need to feel inspired. E-nable Medellin allowed me to be a part of good in the world.