Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jack Goodman, a volunteer from the Princeton Novogratz Bridge Year Program.

Five small children resting on plush mats smile upwards toward the ceiling. Maria, one of three licensed physical therapists that work in-house at Mano a Mano, holds a boy in her lap, supporting his hands through a game of catch with a bright-green ball. A second boy, lying on a rainbow-hued woven blanket traditional to Bolivia’s indigenous community, laughs as a second practitioner adjusts his shoulders; a third, holding a ball of his own, looks with curiosity at the handful of adults sitting or kneeling around him. Although these kids, patients of Mano a Mano’s physical therapy program, regularly receive care for physical and neurological differences in this warm and inviting space, the care they are now receiving is far from regular: in this workshop in October, they’re helping 19 physical therapists, hailing from medical centers throughout Bolivia, further develop the advanced competencies they need to provide the highest possible quality of care to thousands of children just like them.

The Workshop

The treatment these children received was an essential component of Mano a Mano’s most recent physical therapy professional development workshop, itself an important facet of the organization’s efforts to enhance public health throughout Bolivia. What sets our model of professional development apart is the emphasis we place on linking theoretical instruction with hands-on practice. By connecting program participants with leading experts in the Bolivian physical therapy field for dynamic and demonstration-heavy conversation, we enable our workshop attendees to deepen their understanding of modes of treatment ranging from aerosol therapy to emergency first-aid. Then, by simply crossing the hall into Mano a Mano’s physical therapy center, those same attendees are able to use real equipment and, when medically advisable and coupled with robust supervision, real patients to put the theory they’ve just encountered into practice. The difference between solely observing a slide deck that explains how to use the DTR model of muscular rehabilitation (one that emphasizes repeated, slow, and three-dimensional manipulation of a patient’s muscle groups) and actually helping a patient move their hip into the correct position cannot be overstated. Likewise, a table of appropriate oxygen percentages in gas treatments used to combat hypoxemia (a condition characterized by below-normal blood oxygen levels) is only valuable if coupled with the opportunity to practice measuring blood oxygen concentrations and assemble nebulizers, both experiences our participants were able to access. In workshop after workshop, attendees tell us that this blend of lecture-based and real-world learning is what makes our programming special; in our latest physical therapy workshop evaluation, the overwhelming majority of participants stated that practice with real patients was a very important component of their learning experience.

A Full Circle

Of course, Mano a Mano’s commitment to fighting for a healthier Bolivia doesn’t end with professional development. Instead, we seek to support the medical process in every way we’re able, working directly with patients, assisting professionals, and supplying equipment. Importantly, we have seen that uniting these disparate methods of enhancing Bolivian healthcare creates more positive change than any one route could offer alone. Because Mano a Mano processes hundreds of boxes of life-saving medical equipment donated from Minnesota every year, our patients have access to the treatment technology they need and our workshop participants get hands-on work with instruments they might not be able to find at their own hospitals or health centers. Because our staff includes licensed physical therapists who see patients daily, our donation center is able to easily receive feedback on what equipment should be prioritized in distribution from working professionals and our professional development attendees can build upon their skills in the context of an operating health center. And because our doors are open to physical therapists from all of Bolivia looking to improve their practice, our donation center and physical therapy team are frequently exposed to fresh ideas at the forefront of Bolivian medicine. Truly, each aspect of Mano a Mano’s healthcare work is essential in strengthening the others.

A Human Impact

Making use of a unique mixture of expert-led instruction and real-world practice, Mano a Mano’s three-day professional development workshop helped 19 physical therapists improve the quality of care they provide to patients across Bolivia. From a seat in one such theoretical session on the second morning of the workshop, my eyes drifted across the hall to Maria. She holds up a child who cannot stand on his own, unbuckling the straps on a red walker. The child, a grin on his face as he works a piece of string through his hands, stops for a moment to wave up at his therapist. She waves back.

Pictures From The Physical Therapy Workshop

Jack Goodman Bio

Jack Goodman is a volunteer from Chicago, Illinois. A participant in the Novogratz Bridge Year Program, Jack is interested in rural development, cultural exploration, and sustainable growth. Jack will remain in Bolivia through May before returning to the United States, where he is a student at Princeton University in New Jersey.

From the Princeton website:

“The Novogratz Bridge Year is a nine-month, tuition-free program that allows newly admitted undergraduates to begin their Princeton experience with a year of community-engaged learning at one of five international locations. Bridge Year participants study the local language, live with carefully selected homestay families, and take part in a variety of cultural enrichment activities, while learning with and from community partners through their community engagement.


Application to the Novogratz Bridge Year Program is open to all incoming first-year Princeton undergraduate students.”

Learn More