Update October 2016
I had a whirlwind 20 day visit to Puerto Vallarta in September and despite being there for such a short time we achieved so much. This was only made possible by all the people who have donated money to support our projects this year and by our incredible team of volunteers and supporters. So here is a snapshot of what happened in September, how your donations helped us and where we are heading to next…
Keele University Catrin Pickles Physiotherapy Scholarship Program
We had five physiotherapy graduates from Keele University who were selected to take part in a 4-week volunteer placement in Mexico. Abi, Sam, Katie, Ileri and Chloe did a tremendous job even before they flew out to Mexico, raising £1400.60 for Therapies Unite. They spent the first two weeks in Monterrey at a specialist centre for children with cerebral palsy called The Instituto Nuevo Amanacer. They then came to Puerto Vallarta for two weeks to work on our various projects. From the outset, I was completely impressed by their attitude, professionalism, creativity, dedication and energy! They were an incredible team who made a huge contribution to making our projects bigger and better. Despite the heat, the poor working conditions and the long hours (some days would be 12 hours!) they never complained and their energy never flagged. With their support, we were able to make advancements in the Therapies Unite Clinic as well as progress our swimming program and deliver a new training program. The money that they have raised has enabled us to continue running our projects and they made a huge impact within our Therapies Unite community. I would personally like to say a huge thank you to them all and to their friends and families who help to raise so much money. I am so proud of this placement as it was Catrin’s idea and she was so passionate about setting it up. With the support of Catrin’s family, Pam Smith and Santander we can continue to develop this wonderful placement in her memory.
Not only did we have our fabulous five from Keele University but we also had the pleasure of having Dan, Sarah, Tessa, Rachel, Emma, Ben, Kate, Kate and Natasha…phew! We had a great mix of physiotherapists, nurses and physician’s assistants throughout the months of August through to mid-October assisting us on our projects. It is great to be able to start offering more volunteer placements for healthcare professionals. Each one brings their own unique set of skills and ideas and I find this is such a great way for us to progress and move forwards. Equally the volunteers are able to gain a great experience of working in a developing country and can get really stuck into their placements which are currently offered in paediatrics, elderly care, sports and rehabilitation, hydrotherapy and postural management. It was fantastic to have so many pairs of hands, especially when moving clinics and running our training programs. Thank you to all those incredible volunteers who helped us this year! They also know how to make an awesome human pyramid!
Moving and Handling Training
We added a new training course this year which was delivered to health care professionals, parents and care co-ordinators. The training program covered positioning and its rationale and moving and handling techniques without the use of special equipment. We ran two courses and were able to train 55 people in total. This is a really important topic to cover as the majority of families are given no information about how to move and position their relative at home. As a result, many people end up becoming more disabled as they become bed bound and develop secondary complications. The training was really well received, especially to the care-coordinators, whose job it is to visit people who are unable to leave their homes due to their disability and financial situation. They work directly with families to educate them about how to care for their relative at home. The volunteers worked hard in devising and assisting to deliver the training. We made a special booklet in Spanish, with photos, that covered all aspects of the course. This can now be disseminated to those in need. We also made cost effective versions of slide sheets and advised how to do this as well as gave ideas for making positioning equipment at home.
Still my favourite program we run…our group has shrunk a little in size due to relocating to a new outdoor pool but we have not lost any of our energy or enthusiasm. We have had some great achievements this year with our swimmers. Sergio, who is now training with the Adapted Sports Team, has been winning medals in his age group at national competitions. Damian, who has also started training with them, is set to be another superstar and was the winner of our Alan Holdcroft Special Achievement Award this year. He is an amazing child, unable to move his legs from the waist down and relies on a wheelchair but has learnt to swim with us and is now independently swimming and even doing butterfly stroke! Darian has returned after having his double above knee amputations and is as cheeky and adventurous as ever but making some great progress. We recently set up a special link with a local children’s refuge which is supported by an incredible UK charity called The Seaver Foundation. They are supporting the younger children and babies at the refuge who have developmental delay, physical, cognitive, social and emotional issues. Halliwick is a perfect form of therapy for them as it specifically designed to improve physical, psychological and social development. We ran a taster session in September with five babies and young children from the refuge and the outcome was incredible. One of the smallest babies we managed to get to smile by the end of the session and another little boy who had been terrified to get in the water spent most of the session laughing and splashing everyone. It was a truly wonderful experience for all of us and we are excited to see how much progress we can make with our new penguins! I would like to say a special thanks to Pamela Galloway who has supported this project from the beginning, being instrumental in our training, setting our program up and supporting us so much with her monthly donations to allow us to continue this therapy. If you would like to sponsor a Penguin too please get in touch!
Therapies Unite Mexico! We have the best team of volunteers working behind the scene all year around to make all this possible. Nadia is our incredible physiotherapist who is responsible for day to day running of Therapies Unite and Oscar and Usiel are our technicians, who work tirelessly in our clinics fixing and adapting equipment. Mariano is one of our Halliwick Instructors and has supported us since day one getting Therapies Unite established and supporting us in all our projects. He recently helped us get some brilliant donations of various tools for the clinic. We also have Rebecca who assists us with our swimming program. I am so proud of our TUM Team and of all the local supporters that help us keep Therapies Unite running and developing.
Adapted Sports Team
Over the summer we started to work more closely with the Adapted Sports Team who are an inspiration group of young athletes with varying physical and mental disabilities. They have very little funding and support so rely solely on donations to run. Their founder and coach, Ericka is an incredible woman who works tirelessly to push and develop her athletes. The team are recently competed at a National event in Aguascalientes where Usiel and Sergio both picked up gold medals in 50m swimming! They have been competing in numerous events throughout the year, winning 8 gold medals at the Paralimpiada and one of their athletes, Chyito is the fastest sprinter with Downs Syndrome in the world, recently returning from Italy with two gold medals. The team train five nights a week in athletics, swimming and gym. They are using our donated gym equipment which is set up in a room in a local sports centre. Thanks to Sweaty Betty and Zoggs we were able to donate lots of lovely new gym tops and swimming costumes to them. We have started to run physiotherapy clinics alongside their training sessions so that we can assess and treat those with injuries and assist with their training programs. The volunteers have really enjoyed this new project and we feel we have been able to make some really positive changes. It is so enjoyable to work with this team; they have achieved so much with so very little. The training is offered to children and adults with any kind of disability and offers a chance to participate in sport for free. They are in desperate need of support to help them buy kit and fund their trips to competitions. If anyone is interested in Sponsoring an Athlete please get in touch for more information.
Catrin’s Centre finally gets a perfect new home!
We had some great news in September when DIF (the local Government) donated a small space for us to use as our clinic, Catrin’s Centre. We had been renting a large storage facility but it had become a little over run with some extra visitors. With the help of the volunteers (who very bravely faced cockroaches and termites galore) we moved into this space and transformed it into a beautiful, clean and user friendly clinic. The clinic is run by Nadia (our physio), Oscar and Usiel (our technicians) and focuses on seating for children and adults with specialized postural needs; however, it also caters for children, adults and their families who need advice, education, support and specialist equipment such as crutches, walking frames and occupational therapy equipment. In addition, families can attend for up to 4 sessions with Nadia and receive a personal home exercise program and advice for working with their child. All the equipment we use has been donated from the UK (with the support of MeDiCT, International Aid Trust, Specialised Orthotics Services and Physio Net) and is checked, repaired if needed and then donated. Once the family has finished with the equipment it can be returned, cleaned and checked and then is ready to re-donate again. Our clinic team also visit local centres, schools and organisations that look after children and adults with disabilities to assist them with postural management. They work directly with staff and parents to provide education as well as run satellite clinics to repair wheelchairs and seating equipment and provide new equipment where needed.
Getting crazy over cardboard!
Nadia, Oscar and Usiel will be attending a very special course in November in Monterrey at The Instituto Nuevo Amanacer (INA). They are going to learn all about Appropriate Paper Technology (APT) which is a cost-effective way to produce various specialist seating and therapy items out of paper and cardboard. We are always looking to ensure that all our projects are sustainable. For this reason, the APT course will be a great addition to the services we currently provide at the clinic. We cannot always rely on the donated stock we have and often run out of certain pieces of equipment that are most needed. There are also often lots of ‘normal wheelchairs’ left over. APT can be used to make a special seat that fits onto a normal wheelchair which can be designed to fit the body of the child and provide more postural support than a normal one. In addition, tables can be made for the wheelchairs which again aid to postural support. Standing frames and splints are also something that can be made from cardboard. These are all very important pieces of postural management equipment that can be given to children from a young age that will greatly reduce the risk of developing deformities and aid with physical, mental and sensory development. The majority of families cannot afford to buy these pieces of equipment and Therapies Unite are unable to fund them for every child. Using APT keeps costs to a minimum as specialist equipment is not required and materials are cheap/free and available locally.
Rotary International have been incredible (Burntwood, Walsall Saddlers and Breewood Clubs) and have sponsored us yet again to fund the flights, transport and accommodation for our Team. The course itself has been organised by MeDiCT and in conjunction with INA they have very kindly allowed us to have 3 free places. We thank both MeDiCT and the INA for supporting us to develop our postural management program so much. Click on them to find out more.
A trip to Mexico would not be complete without a dog rescue!
For those who know me you know that I cannot resist rescuing at least one street dog during my trips to Mexico. One night I received a picture message from the Keele Physiotherapists showing a dog who had followed them back to their hotel. He was a beautiful Pitbull and they had already named him Buster. He was feeling very sorry for himself, very skinny and yellow and even had no teeth! The vet said he was probably about 7 and was most likely used as a bait dog for fighting due to the heavy scarring on his body and face. Buster is currently in a foster home in Puerto Vallarta and is getting better each day and we are now looking for a forever home for this special boy.
And finally thank you…
As always we have a huge team of people that we need to mention who support us in so many different ways in the UK and Mexico. Thank you to all those who have helped us to grow and develop so much over the past year. Please keep doing so…we cannot continue our work without you. To find out more about sponsoring a swimmer, athlete or to donate to any of our other projects, please get in touch.
Special thanks goes to ~The Keele Physiotherapy Graduates (Katie, Ileri, Sam, Chloe, Abi and their friends and Families), Keele Dancesport and Salsa Society, The Pickles Family, MeDiCT, International Aid Trust, Specialised Orthotic Services, Physio Net, Insituto Nuevo Amanacer and Centro de Atencion Postural, Steve and Janet Millwood, Gill Stewart, The Kines, Rotary International and specifically Burntwood, Breewood, Cannock, Walsall Saddlers, Marina Vallarta Clubs, The Seaver Foundation, Pamela Galloway, Pam Smith, Zoggs, Sweaty Betty, DIF, PAID, Comudis, Hotel Puerto del Luna, Fundacion Down, Pasitos de Luz, Proyecto Pitillal, Senior Barrios, Senior Lepe, Sra Yolanda, Ericka, TUM team.
We have had another incredibly successful 2015 thanks to the continued support and partnership with MeDiCT along with many other organisations and individuals that have helped us progress our services considerably this year.
We opened our first official clinic in Puerto Vallarta in August and we are offering support and advice to parents as well as postural evaluations and provision of specialist equipment where possible. We received another load of equipment this year which is currently being donated locally to those in need. Thanks to the support from MeDiCT and links with Instituto Nuevo Amanacer and the Centro de Atencion Postural (CAP) in Monterrey we have been able to really start to develop this project. Our team started to receive training and support from the team in Monterrey this year as well as from specialist Marcelle Field who spent three weeks in Puerto Vallarta in January. We ran a pilot with CAP and MeDiCT to produce 6 specially moulded wheelchairs which have made an incredible difference to the lives of the children who received them. In addition we purchased two brand new adjustable modular wheelchairs from the CAP that we are using for our assessments in the clinic.
Catrin’s Penguins have had a very successful year and our swimming group is growing in size every week. We have 6 new swimmers (the majority wheelchair bound) and two have competed recently in special swimming events across Mexico with both winning medals! We also had some more excellent training from Pamela Galloway in March who helped us work with our parents to develop their skills in the water.
We added an additional project this year with another specialist from the UK, Karen Kimberley, who ran various courses in Sensory Integration. This wonderful therapy was well received by all and is an excellent addition to our therapy services. The project was supported by Rotary International who funded us to buy 5 special sensory kit boxes that were donated as part of the training program to various schools and centres.
The Catrin Pickles Scholarship with Keele University Physiotherapy School was another great success this year. Amy and Angharad spent two weeks in Monterrey and two weeks in Puerto Vallarta and had a wonderful time in Mexico working at both sites. We already have 4 very excited students who will be going out to Mexico in 2016 and I am currently working with Keele University to try and turn this placement into a credit bearing one.
We have some big plans for 2016 and no doubt it will be a very busy year. I have been overwhelmed by the support that Therapies Unite and I myself have received this year. Without your support we could not do what we do, so from the bottom of my heart I wanted to thank each and every one of you.
My best wishes for Christmas and every success and happiness for the New Year
Special thanks to Rotary International (Cannock, Burntwood, Walsall Saddlers, Brewood, Marina Puerto Vallarta clubs in particular), International Aid Trust, Specialised Orthotics Services, PhysioNet, Zoggs UK, Sweaty Betty, Keele University Dancesport Society and Catrin’s Fund.
UPDATE 2015 SO FAR…
no images were found
As I write this I am not sure if I am awake or asleep but being this tired is understandable considering the past 2 months that my TU team and I have had in Puerto Vallarta (PV), Mexico. It has been the most hectic but also the most incredible and productive 8 weeks for Therapies Unite.
POSTURAL MANAGEMENT PROJECT This is our major project for 2015. We have been focusing on postural management since the start but this year we really want to make an impact in PV. With the help of many organisations we have been able to really develop this project and I am very excited about how much we have progressed already this year. I want to say a special thanks to Sarah Davies and MeDiCT, International Aid Trust, Specialised Orthotics Services, Rotary International (Cannock, Burntwood, Brewood, Walsall, Marina Puerto Vallarta Rotary Clubs), Instituto Nuevo Amanacer and ADAPT.
Postural management is the one of the most important things to consider for children and adults who have little or no control over their posture. A good postural management program is individually designed considering the child’s posture for 24 hours of the day and includes exercises, orthotics and the provision of specialist equipment such as wheelchairs, standing frames and night time supports. It has an endless list of benefits with the most important being to reduce the risk of the development and extent of deformities, promote comfort, improve eating, drinking and communication and enable the child to be as independent as possible. Little or no attention is paid to postural management in Mexico due to a lack of education about it and also a lack of specialist equipment. For this reason many of the children we work with have very severe deformities and poor quality of life.
We started our project in January with the delivery of 10 tonnes of specialist equipment. This had been sent from the UK and included lots of wheelchairs, specialist seating systems and therapy equipment. We had some marvellous helpers on the day from my local neighbourhood as well as the Club Rotario Marina Puerto Vallarta and my Mum and Dad who I managed to convince to take a day out of their holiday to help!
On the 19th of January Marcelle Field, a Postural Management Specialist arrived from the UK to spend 3 weeks helping us to set up the project. We started by doing a tour of all the specialist childrens centres and schools across PV. We delivered 2 training sessions at two of the centres who cater for approximately 200 children with varying disabilities. These sessions included working with the parents, therapists, carers and centre directors to teach them about the important of postural management and also to give some advice and ideas about positioning at home. Alongside the sessions we also are in the process of developing postural management booklets which will be used by professionals and also parents to give them more information about how best to manage their child’s posture.
Following these courses we ran two clinics for children and adults with complex seating needs and we managed to assess and provide new wheelchairs and activity chairs to 10 children. The children were seen in clinic and assessed by our therapy team which was lead by Marcelle and included myself, Laura and Tiffany, our TU volunteers from the UK. We also had Oscar and his wife Laura helping us who are Mexican and make an incredible team as he is our technician and she is a therapist! Oscar has started to work closely with us and has been absolutely amazing. He is able to fix and adapt all of our wheelchairs with very basic tools and very little instruction and as a wheelchair user himself he has a great insight into what is best for the people we work with.
In addition to these clinics we also spent time in two of the centres working with their staff and therapists to help assess and provide new wheelchairs/activity chairs for the children. We have been able to provide new wheelchairs, activity chairs as well as develop individualised seating plans and provide on the job training for the staff, therapists and family members.
Another major part of this project is the moulded wheelchairs. A moulded wheelchair is most suitable for a child or adult who cannot sit in a normal wheelchair due to the extent of their deformities. It is especially moulded to fit their body shape and then mounted onto a wheelchair base. We selected 5 children to have moulded wheelchairs and completed their initial casts in PV. The casting bag is huge and I brought this all the way from England. It was very kindly donated by Specialist Orthotic Services as well as the compressor. They had a good chuckle at me when I turned up to pick it up and asked if it would fit in a suitcase! It was squashed between me and my Mum in the car all the way to Heathrow and we had some very funny looks in the airport. The bag is basically made up of tiny polystyrene balls and during the moulding process the bag is softened and hardened using the compressor, which removes or inserts air as needed. The bag is placed on a specially made wheelchair (thank you Oscar!!) and the child is placed in their maximal seating position whilst the therapists shape the bag to their body using their hands and the compressor. Once the team are happy with the position of the child, the bag is hardened off and the child is removed and then a layer of Plaster of Paris is applied to make the preliminary mould. This process takes around 2 hours (or much longer when you have wriggly children and a very slow compressor!). Once our moulds were completed Marcelle and I flew them to Monterrey (packed very carefully!) to be delivered to Instituto Nuevo Amanacer (INA). The INA is a specialist centre that has a postural management clinic where they assess and make different types of wheelchairs. It is the only postural management centre in the country that can provide this specialist service and thanks to MeDiCT we have wonderful links with them. We waited with baited breath as we opened the boxes and were very relieved to find that the moulds were all in one piece. They have been left at Monterrey and will be made into fibre glass ready for collection in March. The whole process is costly (around £600 per chair) but the results are incredible. We are working hard to get more sponsorship from the UK and Mexico to try and fund more of these chairs to be made. There is such a need for them and so many people who would benefit. It is incredible to see the difference, even during the moulding process, you can tell that for the first time many of the children are actually comfortable and supported. All of them were so relaxed once the moulds were finished and you can see from the photos how different their postures are in the moulded chair as opposed to their normal wheelchairs.
We are planning on returning to Monterrey on in March with Oscar and Nadia (our local physiotherapist) so they can spend a week with the postural management team learning more about the assessment and manufacturing process. This is all part of our long term Postural Management Plan. We are aiming to open a centre in Puerto Vallarta, employing and training locals to manage the services. The centre will be named in memory of our first ever volunteer, Catrin Pickles. The aims of this centre will be to assess and where possible provide wheelchairs and postural equipment to local families. We have the option of using the equipment that is donated from the UK which can be modified here but also we have the option of ordering more specialist seats from the clinic in Monterrey. We are also able to start making moulds in PV and send them to Monterrey. As well as completing assessments and providing equipment we also plan on using the centre as an information hub where parents and professionals can come and learn more about postural management as well as other therapy interventions. We are starting small but hopefully with the continued support of our sponsors and new sponsors we will be able to develop and expand our services further in the future.
GENERAL CLINICS Aside from our postural management clinics we are also running general clinics within the community. We have been helping many people with all kinds of musculoskeletal and neurological problems. It is always such an incredible feeling to see the difference a simple piece of equipment can make. We had the honour of meeting a man called Salvador in January. My family and I spotted him on the main boardwalk in the centre of town selling sweets and cigarettes from his little makeshift wheelchair table. I asked him if there was anything he needed and he told me he would love to have a cushion on his wheelchair to make it more comfortable. The next day we took him a special pressure reliving cushion and he was completely shocked that we had actually kept our word and that we were giving him this gift. I invited him to come to one of our clinics so we could check his wheelchair. It turned out his wheelchair had been rubbing his back so much he had a large open wound. He had not even thought to mention this to me. We managed to fix his chair and make it more comfortable for him and then gave him a special commode for his home and a shower chair. This kind of basic equipment makes such a difference to people’s lives and we are so grateful that we are able to meet people like Salvador and help them to have a more independent life.
CATRIN’S PENGUINS Our swimming group just keeps growing and developing and I am so proud of this project. We now have 20 children and adults who attend every week and 30 children on our books. We have split our session into two groups so those who are more advanced and learning to swim work in one group and our beginners work in another group. We have special swimming badges that we have made so the children can work towards completing skills to gain their badges and this can be something simple like blowing bubbles on the water surface to more complex skills like swimming 5 metres. All of the children now have a special assessment and plan and we work directly with the parents in the pool who we support to deliver the therapy. We have a Mexican physiotherapist who is learning the therapy and is joining us every week to deliver it as well as Edwin who is now trained in Halliwick and running the sessions too. We have 6 children in our swimming group (4 of who cannot walk and rely on wheelchairs) and we have also seen some lovely developments in our beginners group as well. We are also hoping to have a specialist come to PV for 3 weeks in March to implement some further training with a special focus on working with the Mums and Dads.
Sensory Integration Project This is our brand new project for 2015! Sensory integration therapy helps children and adults who have difficulties with sensory processing and is suitable for almost all kinds of physical and mental disabilities. It is an excellent therapy that can be used to improve attention, coordination, balance, motor processing, communication and social interaction as well as help to involve siblings and families into the therapy process. We are aiming to set up sensory integration programs in 4 centres and schools that care for approximately 300 children and adults with varying disabilities. There are no sensory therapy programs currently running Puerto Vallarta so this will be the first project of its kind. The project will focus on key areas including tactile, visual, auditory, motor processing and social interaction. We have 5 large sensory kit boxes which contain different types of specialist equipment. These sensory kits, which were funded by a donation of £1000 from Cannock and Burntwood Rotary Clubs, will be lent to the centres and schools we work with so that they can begin to implement this therapy with the patients that attend there. The key part of this project will be to deliver specialist training to the therapists, staff and families about how to use the equipment and we are planning on having a specialist come out to PV in March for 3 weeks. By delivering training with the equipment we will ensure that this project is a success and sustainable. In addition, there are so many common household items that can be easily bought and used for sensory therapy so with the training we are also hoping to target families at home who do not have access to a specialist school or centre.
All that is left to say is…
Thank you so much for your support with our work. I am absolutely delighted with the progress we have made with all of our projects but especially the postural management project. We want to ensure that all children and adults in PV with postural problems have access to our centre and can be assessed and provided with help and all those who are at risk of developing problems are identified and monitored from a young age. We have achieved so much over the past 12 months and we now have the beginnings of a very special project but we really do need your continued support to make this into something long lasting and even more fantastic. Please keep supporting us and spread the word!
Thank you for helping us to change lives
As you may have heard (we have been shouting about it!) we recently got through the finals of The Latin UK Awards (LUKAs). Therapies Unite has been nominated for the Charity/Human Rights Organisation of the Year and I have been nominated for Charity/Human Rights Worker of the Year. As a result I have been inspired to re-visit the history of Therapies Unite and I wanted to share the story of why I started it and also let you know about all the wonderful things that have been achieved over the past 3 years.
I am a qualified physiotherapist and first visited Puerto Vallarta in 2009 on a 4 month volunteer project. Although I was preparing myself for this experience, I was shocked to see the vast differences between healthcare and rehabilitation services in Mexico compared to the UK. For the poorer communities access to these services is severely limited and often involves a lengthy and costly process. The majority of children I worked with had severe physical deformities, reduced life expectancy and poor quality of life. This was not necessarily due to their disability directly but the effect of not having access to specialised equipment and rehabilitation services. At the end of my 4 months I thought to myself ‘what have I done; did I actually help anyone? Did I manage to change anyone’s life?’ The answer, I suspected, was no. There were many volunteers helping in Puerto Vallarta but I had to ask myself; what were we all doing? Were we making a difference or simply offering a makeshift solution? I returned to the UK feeling very dissatisfied and frustrated and decided I just had to do more. This was the beginning of Therapies Unite.
I thought long and hard about how I could make a difference, how to change the lives of the disabled people I had met and decided that instead of having a volunteer come and work with the children, it would be much better for a skilled volunteer to come and work with the local medical professionals, therapists, teachers and caregivers. This would enable the development of existing rehabilitation services and allow those involved to work directly with the families to empower them to give therapy to their child at home. It was also important to me to try and unite the existing centres, schools and organisations that offered help to people with disabilities so that they could not only learn from each other but grow together.
I returned to Puerto Vallarta in 2011, 2012, 2013 (twice) and I am currently in Mexico, returning in mid-April. I come for a period of 6 months to work voluntarily in the projects we run and to develop our services. I then return to the UK to fundraise, support from a distance and to plan my next trip. Over the past 3 years we have grown so much and there are moments when I cannot quite believe how far this little idea has come. I am the founder and director of Therapies Unite and I have a very small team of three volunteers that work alongside me in Mexico. In the UK I rely solely on the support of friends and family. All of the funds that we raise go directly into the projects and we have no overheads.
The following is a brief overview of the things that I have managed to achieve since starting Therapies Unite. In 2012 I organised and funded a free Halliwick Hydrotherapy Course for 26 local professionals and non-professionals, who were trained for 2 weeks in a special form of water therapy. We have since set up a water therapy club called Catrin’s Penguins and currently give therapy to a group of 23 children a week. This is an incredible project as children and adults with all kinds of disabilities can enter the water and just be free. The children who are confined to wheelchairs and have never experienced the feeling of movement simply love to be moved in the water, as well as being able to splash and play. For other children in the group, they are able to learn how to control their bodies in the water and how to swim. Over the past 2 years we have helped to fund the restoration of two local pools back to working order which has enabled 170 children and adults with disabilities access to a pool. We continue to support the people who attended our training courses as well as work with families and new volunteers to help them learn about therapy in the water. Click here to see Catrin’s Penguins in action!
Since 2011 I have worked one day a week in a special needs school setting up a physiotherapy program. I evaluate and create home exercise programs for the children as well as run group and individual exercise programs. This year we started dance classes and now attend twice a week, once for dance and once for therapy. Mexico is alive with music and the children have so much natural rhythm, they love to dance and actually, I think they end up teaching us!
2013-2014 has been our busiest year as we shifted our attention to Postural Management. I decided that more needed to be done to help those children with severe disabilities to prevent further deformities and to maximize independence and quality of life. Working in collaboration with a specialist centre in Monterrey, Mexico, we ran a free Postural Management course in March for 56 locals. This course was aimed to raise awareness for therapists, teachers, caregivers and parents about the importance of Postural Management and the effect that the right wheelchair and postural program can have. This was one of the major areas I had wanted to address since my first trip.
Many of the children are in terrible positions for hours at a time due to their deformities and lack of control over their bodies and therapy input consists of stretching and then putting the child make in the same position. This unfortunately is the only option as very few of the children have specialist wheelchairs. Therefore therapy has little or no impact, other than maintaining the child at their current level of ability. The difference a correct wheelchair can make is instant and incredible and the list of health benefits is endless. Following on from this course, I returned to Mexico in late October with 20 tonnes of specialist wheelchairs and equipment that had been donated from the UK. I also managed to get the shipment cost donated from a company so the whole process cost almost nothing (a lot of grey hairs for me and a Custom ‘tax’/bribe which ended up being £500 – I had to fight for 2 months to get the container released from Mexican Customs).
Since the equipment arrived we have managed to run several Postural Management Clinics, assessing and adapting specialist wheelchairs for 32 children and adults. Check out our before and after photos of Jonny…
We have also donated a large amount of rehabilitation equipment to three specialist children centres, physiotherapy clinics, schools and other local organisations and individuals. We recently donated two trucks full of walking aids, hospital beds, commodes, wheelchairs, hoists and rehabilitation equipment to an elderly care home. I am working on developing a project with them as they have very basic services and lot of people in need. My aim is to set up a physiotherapy service for them and educate the staff about manual handling, how to move an elderly patient and basic rehabilitation.
We also donated sports wheelchairs and a whole gymnasium to the local Adapted Sports Team who are now able to train and compete in local and national competitions. One od the athletes Usiel has an incredible story and as a direct result of donations from Therapies Unite he is now back at work as well as training full time with the Adapted Sports Team. You can watch his story here. We have also started a wheelchair dance class, teaching ballroom and contemporary style dance to children and adults. Click here to watch our performance!
Oscar in Action!
Using the equipment we received I was also able to set up a bike club. We have 12 adapted bikes that we lend out to people every second Sunday, when they shut the main highway to cars. It is great fun to ride the bikes, use the wheelchairs and for many families it is the first time their child has been able to ride a bike and a chance for all the siblings to ride together. It is also a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of disability within the community and show that anything is possible.
The equipment has made a tremendous difference. It makes me feel immensely proud of Therapies Unite and our small team when I think about the number of different people and institutions that have benefitted as a result from donations. There have been many incredible moments that I will never forget, many wonderful experiences and I am very proud of what we have been able to achieve with such limited resources and volunteers. I hope that this is the first of many shipments; in fact we actually have equipment ready in the UK for the next one. My long term goal is to set up a Postural Management Clinic in Puerto Vallarta that manufactures specialist wheelchairs and this will be run by locals who will be funded by us to train. This clinic can then be easily accessible to the whole community, as well as to families from adjoining states. I have many other plans for the future of Therapies Unite and I am extremely determined to pursue these goals. My main aspiration was to make a long-term difference in peoples’ lives; I now feel confident in saying this is exactly what we are doing and this is just the beginning of a really special journey.
Finally I must say Thank You! None of this could be possible without the support from you! Whether it is money, equipment, time, advice, support, volunteering, fundraising, being forced to attend salsa events or climb mountains you are all part of something very special.
Thank you for helping us to change lives!
Therapies Unite Nominated for an Award!
We are ecstatic to announce that Therapies Unite has been nominated for its first ever award! The Latin UK Awards celebrate all things Latino happening in the UK or special things being done by UK residents. Therapies Unite has been nominated for Charity/Human Rights Organisation of the Year and Laura Brown has been nominated for Charity/Human Rights Worker of the Year.
We have been successful in getting through the final round and would really appreciate your support. Please take a moment to vote for Therapes Unite for Charity of the Year and vote for Laura Brown in Human Rights Worker of the Year. Second round voting finishes on the 6th of April and winners announced on 10th of April.
It would be fantastic to be recognised for our contribution to developing health services for the disabled community in Puerto Vallarta. Being a small organisation with very few volunteers and limited funding we have achieved so much over the past 3 years. All of our money, time and effort goes directly to the people that need it most and we work from the heart. We are honoured to be able to do this work and winning this award would be a wonderful gift for us.
To find out more about Therapies Unite and why we believe we deserve your vote, please take a look at our website or visit our Facebook page . You can even see us in action on our YouTube channel. To learn more about Laura, how and why she started Therapies Unite and the impact her work has had in Mexico please visit
Our 20 Tonnes of Equipment Arrives!!!
We are finally able to start giving out our specialist equipment to individuals in need as well as donating to specialist centres and schools across Puerto Vallarta. We are also working with the local Government Disability Services, using their database to access information about people who have contacted them for help. Our equipment is starting to fly out and every time we give something away it is just incredible to see the difference it makes. We recently helped an elderly man who had to have his leg amputated has not been able to leave his house for 4 months as he could not afford a wheelchair. Now he can go outside and enjoy the sunshine.
The 5 sports wheelchairs we received have been donated to local athletes and are being used to start a wheelchair basketball club, in athletic events and for dancing. The list of people that we are helping is growing steadily and are keeping a record so we can look back and say THANK YOU to everyone who helped us achieve this, it truly is an incredible thing. A special mention must go to FCL Global Forwarding for donating the shipment from the UK to Mexico and to International Aid Trust who donated most of the equipment. What a difference a simple piece of equipment can make and we have the pleasure of witnessing these mini miracles every day. We have big plans for some of the equipment so watch this space!
Libertad sobre Ruedas/Freedom on Wheels
The idea of this project is inclusion in recreational activities for people with disabilities. We are so proud of our athletes, cyclists and dancers we want to show them off and we are causing quite a stir in Puerto Vallarta. Using the donated sports wheelchairs and adapted bikes, we have set up a bike club that meets every two weeks on a Sunday to use the main highway which is closed to cars for 4 hours. We lend the adapted bikes and wheelchairs to children and adults and have a great time racing up and down. For some that attend it is the first time they have been able to use a bike and enjoy riding outdoors with their family and friends. The second part of this project is dance. We have started two sessions a week and we are teaching all different forms of dance as well as performing across the city at events. This has been one of my personal highlights and I had the pleasure of performing with our dancers last week at a local event. Click here to watch the video!
The Catrin Pickles Centre
We are honouring the memory of our dear friend Catrin and dedicating this centre to her. We have been donated a clinic space by the local Government and have just moved in and will start out clinics in the next few weeks. The idea of this clinic is primarily a postural management clinic where people can bring their children to be assessed for a specialist wheelchair. We are working with the specialist team in Monterrey to help train our local team to enable them to start assessing and adapting the equipment stock we have. In addition we run our dance classes from here, we are starting art classes and will also be offering therapy programs so that parents can attend to learn about things they can do with their child at home. I want to start developing courses that will be aimed at families, healthcare professionals and anyone who is working with disabled people, so that we can enhance the development of existing services.
Our wonderful swimming program goes from strength to strength. Our numbers are growing all the time and we have made huge developments this time with the inclusion of the parents. This was a big challenge but with a donation of swim suits from Catrin’s swimming club has enabled us to get the Mums in the water. Now we have each child working with Mum or Dad which makes everything much easier, the child is happier and learning more and I am free to assist the parents where needed. The sessions are running so well and the children are very excited to attend every week, desperate to know what kind of adventure we will be going on. Our swimming star Sergio is now training with the adapted sports team but drops in most weeks to swim about and help the other children learn, he is great for their confidence. In addition to our Penguins, we are also helping to support the implementation of Halliwick Swimming Therapy and hydrotherapy at another centre for children with disabilities. Cannock and Burntwood Rotary Club recently donated £650 to buy a new pump so that the pool can be back in action. Two of the teachers from the centre attended our Halliwick Swimming Therapy Course in 2012 so they will be able to run the swimming sessions, with our support, and provide therapy to children at the centre as well as children from the community.
CAM 21 Special Needs School
We continue to run our therapy sessions at CAM21. I have known the students since I first came to Mexico in 2009 and it is wonderful to see them all grow and develop. We visit the school twice a week to give therapy (group and individual) to all the children as well as work with the parents and teachers. In addition, we recently started dance classes, which they absolutely love and we are working towards some performances in the near future. It is amazing to see how the pupils respond to music and lots of fun for us as well. I am planning to purchase some basic PE equipment for the school so they can continue to develop their therapy sessions as it is such an important part of their physical, mental and social development.
We are involved in various community projects across Puerto Vallarta. We have started working with students from different schools and the local University to help develop their knowledge and awareness of the disabled community and create work experience projects and volunteering opportunities for them. These students visit our swimming sessions, therapy sessions and bike club to learn about the therapy we offer and also give something back to their community Therapies Unite is also involved in the Heroes for Vallarta project, a Government initiative to get help to those people who have difficulty accessing health services due to their location, lack of transport and money. They visit local communities every two weeks to promote their services and collect information from people who need help or specialist equipment. Therapies Unite have been invited to take part and are giving out equipment to those in need, publicising the services we offer as well as performing with the children and adults from our dance group.
As you can see we are extremely busy but we are developing and achieving our goal, which is to make a difference and to change lives. It is only due to the support and donations that we receive that we are able to continue and I want to thank all those who have helped us from the bottom of my heart. Whether it is money, equipment, time, advice, support, volunteering, fundraising, being forced to attend salsa events or climb mountains you are all part of something very special. I wish I could show every one of you the impact your support is having, but as flights to Mexico are pretty expensive, the photos and videos will just have to do! Please visit our Facebook page and Youtube Channel for more. Thank you for helping us to change lives.