Medical Mission to Kenya

Two Overlake physical therapists teach Kenyans and learn from them

Physical therapists Nancy Cullinane and Kathy Golic, both with Overlake Medical Center & Clinics, traveled this spring to Nairobi, Kenya, where they spent two weeks at the Kenyan Medical Training College to teach a comprehensive women’s physical therapy course to Kenyan physiotherapists — the first of its kind in the country and East African region. 

“Colleagues we spoke to when planning the class cautioned us not to expect that the Kenyan women would fully engage in the type of intimate education and training that we wanted to provide,” said Golic. “On our first day, as the ladies learned what the labs would involve, including examination of external and internal genital region and muscles; indeed, many of the ladies were quite anxious, and some women shed tears. But these ladies were here to learn and committed to helping the women of their country. On the second (day), all but one woman returned! These ladies overcame their fears and hesitations in order to expand their knowledge and confidence. Thirty-four women physios of Kenya have earned a certificate in level 1 pelvic floor coursework.”

While teaching was the primary reason they went to East Africa, on the weekends and when they had some free time, they had an opportunity to get to know the people and their beautiful country.

We had a chance to learn more about their life-changing experience.

What airline did you fly, and where did you stay? 

Cullinane: We flew Delta/KLM and Kenya Airways, and they were all great. We stayed at Gracehouse Resort, as part of the negotiated deal with KMTC. The staff at Gracehouse was friendly and accommodating, and we developed friendships with many of them.  

Golic: Gracehouse Resort is where folks from noteworthy nonprofits, such as International Rescue Committee and people doing mission work, stay. On safari, we were at a camp called Little Governors Camp, next to the Mara River in the Masai Mara National Park, about an hour flight from Nairobi. The arrangements were made through ATR Safaris, which Richard Jackson Clinics recommended.

What sent you on this adventure? 

Tea plantation in rural Kenya

Cullinane: Several years ago, I met physical therapist Richard Jackson of Jackson Clinics Foundation as he was launching his foundation and the orthopedic program that is now fully taught by Kenyan faculty at Kenya Medical Training College. I told him if he ever decided to start a women’s health/urogynecology PT program, to look me up. He called last October, asking if I’d be willing to teach this past March.  

What was most surprising about this adventure? 

Cullinane: The cost of food, hotels, goods, etc. in Nairobi is similar to the cost of those same goods here in the U.S. There is a large diversity of wealth and poverty in Kenya. It’s hard to imagine how many of the people can support their families.

Golic: I feel humbled and honored to have been given this amazing opportunity. The transformation of these women was nothing short of remarkable!

Tell us about the safari!

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Golic: We were absolutely amazed at the abundance of wildlife! There was no “drive and look” for animals. They were everywhere and did not seem to mind our presence in our Jeep rovers. Our first day, we saw a lion kill and eat a zebra — even a hyena capitalizing on the zebra while the lion was still killing it. It was so harsh, and it felt so voyeuristic and wrong while watching. It was easier to handle once our guide explained that this was mother lion who was thin; she had lost her two cubs to another lion pack two months prior, and she had not been eating much. Certainly, the full circle of life, but I was not really prepared for this.

If other Eastsiders go, what should they absolutely fit into their itinerary?  

Cullinane: There are many national parks in Kenya. The Masai Mara is the largest/most popular, and it was, indeed, an amazing experience to go on safari there. I am interested in visiting other parks and perhaps the coastal city of Mombasa the next trip.

Golic: There are numerous safari opportunities in Kenya, as well as coast excursions, which I hope to do next time. If staying close to Nairobi, then going to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust orphanage nursery for baby elephants is a must. For $50, you gain access to an intimate encounter with baby and young orphaned elephants at evening time as they return from their daytime excursion into Nairobi National Park, to a safe haven with individual barn “rooms” complete with caretakers who live with them and feed them rich milk formula on a schedule until they are prepared and ready to launch into the wild. Also, Spinners Web Kenya is a fantastic no-pressure shopping space with lovely handcrafted items of all kinds, where most profits are returned to the artists (and without the haggling).

What was the best thing about your trip?

Nancy Cullinane teaching the physiotherapists

Cullinane: The best thing was seeing these students learn and change their perception of how to treat the pelvic floor dysfunctions we were teaching them about. It was an enormous privilege. During our unit on sexual trauma, we had some difficult discussions about cultural norms and how our students do not have the same laws, community organizations, or cultural beliefs we work under in the U.S., and although this is difficult, starting these conversations among themselves and in their communities is (one way) life for women in Kenya can improve.

Golic: The best part of the trip was being able to be a part of something so much bigger than ourselves. Being part of a strategic program to empower people in a developing nation (in our case — women). 

What did you learn on this adventure about the people you met/or yourself? 

Cullinane: I was pressed out of my comfort zone in many ways: with the tech difficulties we experienced, in having to adapt my lesson plans just about every day, and with being culturally sensitive, but at the same time, delivering quality education to the students. It was gratifying to get past all of that and at the end, see that the seed has been planted and this program will build.  

Golic: Though we are “worlds apart” in so many ways, our commonality is greater than our differences, and the mutual respect and bonds we formed with each other were just so rewarding and gratifying.

What else would you like to tell us about this adventure?

Kathy Golic with Kenyan PT students celebrate at end of course in Nairobi

Cullinane: The Kenyan people are the warmest and friendliest people ever!  

Golic: It is not over. The next chapter is in October, when I will go back with two other PTs to teach the second level in the curriculum, covering different topics related to men and colorectal issues that physical therapists can help with.

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