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Travel the World with Service-Learning: Ecuador

Travel the World withService-Learning_ Zambia (3)

By Service-Learning Program Assistant Asta MacKie


Northeastern University is well known for encouraging students to gain learning experiences abroad, and Service-Learning plays an important role in this opportunity. Read on to learn from some of the faculty members and past and present Service-Learning Student Leaders in our network about their own experiences participating in Service-Learning while abroad in Ecuador! To learn more about opportunities in Ireland, Zambia, Greece, and the United Kingdom, check out our series on the S-Log!


Physical Therapy Project in Ecuador

For the past 12 years, Professor Lorna Hayward has traveled during spring break to Hogar Para Sus Niños in Ecuador with a group of 5th year Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students. The DPT students are enrolled in a five-credit, year long capstone that includes a nine-day embedded service experience at an Ecuadorian orphanage. Dr. Hayward selects 15 students based on their expressed interest in providing rehabilitation to children with disabilities, Spanish language skills, and global experience to participate in the Ecuador Physical Therapy project.

In preparation for this trip, students spend time in class studying normal and disordered development in children, the benefits of and how to deliver physical therapy, aquatic therapy, hippotherapy, sensory integration therapy, and about basic wheelchair positioning and modification. Over the course of six months, the students work on various projects that are designed to address rehabilitation needs specific to an individual child or help build capacity to support these children within the community through education.  Once in Ecuador, the students work with the physical therapist at Hogar Para Sus Niños to provide targeted rehabilitation to the children, many with moderate to severe impairments, residing at the site.

The service provided by the team of students can vary greatly depending on the goals of the organization.  Last year, in addition to physical therapy projects, Hogar Para Sus Niños informed Professor Hayward of the need to develop a method for three visually impaired children to independently navigate the orphanage surroundings.  To address this concern, the team devised a trailing wall with a PVC pipe which was attached to the orphanage wall to provide tactile feedback to the children. To build lasting capacity within the organization, the team provided training to the caretakers and children on how to use the trailing wall to navigate their surroundings.  Furthermore, this year the students provided a disability awareness training for 60 people within the community and collected data on the overall attitudes and perceptions of disability.

Professor Hayward emphasizes that this experience is not only important for the children in Ecuador, but for the students at Northeastern as well.  “The students uniformly say this trip was one of the best experiences that they have had while a student at Northeastern University,” she explains, “They learn on so many levels: about physical therapy in another culture, issues related to language barriers and access to healthcare, and how to problem-solve physical therapy solutions in a low- resourced environment.”  Additionally, the students develop a much greater appreciation for their own opportunities in education and their access to health care resources in the United States, and establish a deeper understanding of how to practice physical therapy through compassion, caring, and advocacy.

To learn more about the Physical Therapy Project in Ecuador, check out this video made by students in 2016 (Video Source:

Sources: Lorna Hayward and


Upcoming Opportunities!

Are you inspired to set out on your own Service-Learning journey abroad?  Check out these upcoming Dialogue of Civilizations for Summer 2018!


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