Laura Brown is determined to improve the lot of disabled children in Mexico. Robert Millett reports
She has been dividing her time between working in the Midlands and volunteering in Mexico.
Originally from Worcester, Ms Brown studied physiotherapy at Birmingham University.
After graduating in 2006, she went to work for Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
Then, in 2009, she decided to volunteer for a project in Mexico organised by Outreach International, an agency which places skilled professionals and workers in initiatives around the world.
Ms Brown travelled to the Pacific coast city of Puerto Vallarta and spent four months working with adults and children with disabilities and musculoskeletal problems.
The project was an eye-opening experience and left her feeling both inspired and frustrated.
‘Mexico is a country that has minimal state funding for therapy or equipment for disabled children, and no national health service,’ explains Ms Brown.
‘Families with a disabled child usually have to struggle and fend for themselves, often with terrible consequences for the child.’
Ms Brown was deeply touched by her time on the project, but felt there was more that could be done.
So much so that on her return to the UK she decided to set up Therapies Unite – an independent, non-profit organisation that would provide on-going educational support and assistance to disabled people in Mexico.
She knew that many existing organisations already sent skilled volunteers to the country, but Ms Brown had noted that the projects tended to focus on short-term input rather than long-term participation.
‘My main objective was to change this, by not charging volunteers to come out and complete projects, but instead by finding skilled volunteers and funding them to come to Mexico,’ she explains.
‘The idea was to provide education, training and equipment for local healthcare professionals so that they could develop existing rehabilitation services.’
To make her vision a reality Ms Brown set up salsa dancing events and started to contact local businesses, organisations and individuals for sponsorship.
She gained support from the Rotary clubs of Cannock and Burntwood, UK charity MeDiCT – the Mexican Disabled Children’s Trust – and saved for her own airfare by doing locum work.
Before long she returned to Puerto Vallarta and was soon putting her plans into practice, helping the disabled community and individuals by providing free specialist therapeutic skills and expertise.
Since then Ms Brown has visited Mexico three more times, spending half a year volunteering in the country on each occasion.
She funds her long stays by returning to work in the NHS, for six month stints, allowing her to cover her living expenses while abroad.
‘I have very little help and do most of the organisation, administration and volunteer work myself,’ says Ms Brown.
‘But I’m really passionate about this work and I manage to juggle a double life as a result.’
Her hard work and passion are certainly paying off. In the last three years Therapies Unite has managed to arrange two Halliwick hydrotherapy courses in Mexico – funding the instructors’ travel and accommodation and training 26 local therapists, doctors, psychologists, parents and volunteers in the techniques.
The organisation has also funded the installation of solar panels at a local pool and set up two hydrotherapy groups for children and adults.
The groups are free to access and provide therapy for up to 70 children a week.
Plans are now underway for the organisation to open a postural management centre in Puerto Vallarta that will provide free clinics for the communities in the area.
To support the initiative, Therapies Unite has already secured a 40-foot container of redundant NHS equipment and donations from healthcare equipment specialists, but Ms Brown says more is needed.
We are still collecting equipment to send out so if any departments have any old or spare paediatric equipment we will happily collect it,’ adds Ms Brown.
‘And we are always looking for physios with specialist skills to come and help us.
‘So if anyone is interested, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.’ fl
For more information, visit Therapies Unite
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