Innovative Virtual Placement Puts Students in the Heart of Papua New Guinean Village

Papua New Guinea placement students web
Worcester students, Jo Charlton and Anna Wells, who took part in an innovative virtual placement

Following Covid-19 restrictions, the students were unable to travel, so lecturers in Worcester worked with colleagues overseas to find an alternative way for the placement to go ahead.

The placement brought together Worcester students, Jo Charlton and Anna Wells, with two students from James Cook University Townsville to work together to devise and deliver support for disabled people in a remote village in Papua New Guinea. Not for profit organisation KumulCare, who work to improve access to assistive technologies for people with disabilities in Papua New Guinea’s rural communities, were the local delivery partner on the ground.

“Our role was to work on the education and training side of things mostly,” said Jo, who is in the second year of an Occupational Therapy degree at Worcester. “Several clinics in Townsville donated equipment, including Access Therapy, and we put together training packages and information to help the local care workers on the ground learn how best to use and deploy it.”

Anna, who is in the second year of a Physiotherapy degree at Worcester, added: “Jo and I produced films and other resources that show how to use each mobility aid properly. We also got involved in the prescribing side, looking at which piece of equipment might be best for a specific case.”

“One of the church elders sent us a video of some of the villagers using the new equipment and it was really nice to see the positive impact on their lives,” Jo said.

The placement was devised by Alison Double, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at the University of Worcester, and Joanna Murray, a Director with Access Therapy Services, an occupational therapy clinic based in Townsville Australia. Marina Townend, an Occupational Therapist with the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, also played a key role in supervising the students and lending her expertise to the project.

“The students had to overcome a lot in completing this placement,” said Alison. “It’s a very different culture and the healthcare provision in the village they were working in is nothing like they are used to from their previous work.”

“Many of the houses in the village are on stilts, which in itself poses a lot of challenges when trying to prescribe which equipment will work best for people with mobility impairments. Only one person in the village had a mobile phone for communicating with our team - and part-way through the project that was stolen. There was a huge flood, which meant the equipment was delayed in transit, and when it did get there it had to be quarantined because of Covid. None of the resources could be printed in the village, so Jo and Anna had to arrange for them to be printed in Port Moresby and delivered by boat.”

“There was so much to deal with, but these are the kinds of challenges you can face when you’re working in a developing country and the students handled it brilliantly.”

The project team used a variety of online platforms to collaborate across the huge distance from Worcester to Townsville via Papua New Guinea, and timings were an issue too, with meetings often scheduled for 7am UK time to avoid anyone having to get up in the middle of their night.