Originally published October 4, 2016
By Saul Tercero
Master’s student, Occupational Therapy
I recently had the opportunity to cross our international border and go to our neighboring country for a service learning opportunity with two other students and a professor. Fundacion Integra, located in Juárez, Mexico, is the clinic where we completed a 40-hour internship. The clinic serves underprivileged communities in and surrounding Juárez and offers rehabilitation services to patients of all ages and walks of life.
Not knowing what to expect, we were overwhelmed with excitement and nervousness at the same time. Upon arrival, the entire clinic, staff and patients welcomed us as if we had belonged to their community for years. We hit the ground running, lending our knowledge to the staff and patients while absorbing as much as possible. Within the first day, we had the opportunity to work with a variety of patients with different diagnoses and deficiencies including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal bifida, stroke, Down’s syndrome, aneurysms, and visual and hearing impairments.
I was shocked to learn about the very limited access clients had to transportation. The clinic owned the only wheelchair-accessible bus in town, and many clients utilized the service for one- to three-hour bus rides each way to and from the clinic several times per week. We observed that the clinic has become a place of hope for patients with extremely limited resources.
Fundacion Integra provides its beneficiaries with the means not only for the therapy they receive that day, but also welcomes their loved ones so that they can provide caregiver education in order to implement home programs. This made me think of the saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day … teach a man to fish and allow him to feed himself for life.”
Each patient we saw was completely different but seemed to share one common characteristic: an attitude of gratitude toward us, the other providers in the clinic, and for life itself. It was truly an empowering and humbling experience for me. The opportunity to work with such unassuming and life-loving individuals is something I wish everyone in my class could have experienced. It has left me inspired to continue on my quest to become a well-rounded therapist and place more value on exploring unique opportunities where I can engage myself, share my knowledge and enrich my own educational experience while a student at UTEP.
I am grateful for the education I am receiving through service learning in a foreign country in the border region. It has opened doors inside of me and allowed me to give back to my community and help those who are the most in need. It has affected my future practice as an occupational therapist. I strongly encourage all current students, graduates, and professionals to find a place to give back and serve our community, as the experience will greatly outweigh the time and effort expended.