Across the Ocean

A volunteer reflects on traveling across the ocean, and on her decision to extend her time on the Ranch.
November 7, 2016 - Honduras

Karin with a girl doing therapy at the school.

My name is Karin. Iím Austrian, 25 years old, currently living in NPH Honduras, and volunteering as a physical therapist (PT). In recent years on the Ranch, it has basically become an unwritten rule that the PTs tend to come from Austria.

It may seem strange because Austria is pretty small and pretty far. One might ask how I made it to Honduras. Well, NPH Honduras permanently hosts at least one or two Austrian volunteers, mostly therapists, sent by our very dedicated office in Vienna.

Working as a PT at NPH Honduras means you treat a lot of different people with very different problems. First and foremost, of course, the treatment starts with our kids. There are a few kids receiving therapy because of temporary injuries, like bone bruises. Most of our patients, though, are the numerous special needs kids who need permanent treatment, like those who live in our special-needs home in Tegucigalpa, Hondurasí capital. Itís challenging, especially at the beginning and due to the fact that I just graduated university - but I love it.

Furthermore, we have a house for elderly people that I work with, as well as a lot of patients from nearby villages who need therapy after getting inexpensive and high-quality surgeries in our surgery center. Also, like all volunteers, I spend time with the kids in my hogar almost every day. In my case, it is the 29 eight to ten year olds. Being there can sometimes be challenging, especially in the first months with very bad Spanish skills and no experience in working with 30 lovely-crazy little ones. But after infinite heart-warming smiles and beautiful and funny moments with them, it makes you forget whatever might have been tough before.

I even decided to extend my time as a volunteer PT for six more months. The reasons for this decision are varied. It takes you a few months to become comfortable with your job, your hogar, the culture, and the volunteer community. Actually it takes you probably half of your 13 months.

For a few months now I feel like Iíve really arrived. I got to know more and more Hondurans, I've made friends apart from the volunteers, I feel like Iím getting a more profound understanding of the Honduran culture, my Spanish is continuously improving (as well as my English), and I feel more settled in my job as a physical therapist. Itís already November, which means my regular time here would end in two and a half months!

Leaving Honduras, and everything I love about it, that soon just doesnít seem right. I know itís probably not getting easier to leave the longer I stay. Relations get more intense, and especially with the kids in your hogar who you spend a lot of time with and become an important part of your life (and you in theirs!). On the other hand, itís certainly worth staying a bit longer.

I love Austria, my family, my friends - my life there. A life that I'll hopefully continue in the way I left it. But Iíll live that life for many years, whereas my time here is limited. Right now Iím in the middle of an incredible experience. I feel helpful, I feel welcome, and I feel loved! Thatís why I love it, and I warmly recommend everyone whoís interested to do it!

Karin Leitner   
Physical Therapist




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