Interview With Leslie Schwab
Lesley Schwab is an Orthopedic Physiotherapist from Prince George, BC and has been a CBL tutor in the MSK block for the past 4 years. Her passion for physiotherapy and physical rehabilitation has taken her as far away as Koppal in South India. Lesley’s friend, Hillary Crowley, also a physiotherapist, created a not-for-profit organization in 1994 called SODA – Samuha Overseas Development Association. Lesley has been vice president of the group since 2001. SODA works closely together with SAMUHA, an Indian organization that offers many different services that help vulnerable people in remote villages. They offer physiotherapy for people with disabilities. They support early intervention programs, vaccination programs as well as income generation and vocational programs.
SODA is a very unique organization in that 100% of all the funds obtained through different fundraising events in Canada go straight to projects in India; there are no administration costs. All the money is used to pay the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) workers wages, to pay for crutches and prosthetics and to build facilities, such as the recently opened Spinal Cord Unit. The most amazing part is that it only cost about $8,000 to build a whole treatment center that has just recently taken in its first spinal cord injury patient(s).It is also a very unique organization in that it strives to make each project self-sustaining. For example, when SODA was first created, polio was a common problem in the villages of South India. Hillary trained illiterate people to become CBR workers to treat polio through physiotherapy. The CBR workers started working in 3 small villages, and now there are approximately 30 CBR workers to cover over 200 villages! Polio has been declining as vaccinations become more routine practice, so CBR workers are now being trained to treat other conditions, such as spinal cord injuries, cerebral pic3palsy and rickets.
Every year, Hillary and a group of 3 or 4 physiotherapy and occupational therapy students from UBC or Queens go to India to work with the CBR workers, where they both help to deliver new information and learn from the CBR team and Hilary. This allows the Canadian students to get a new perspective on physiotherapy and global health.
Lesley is more involved in fundraising here in Canada than training new workers in India, as her field of expertise, orthopedic physiotherapy, is not as much in demand in India as neurology-related physiotherapy. She is now working on her next fundraising project, which will involve photography that she has taken during her travels in India. Lesley demonstrates really well how one can be involved in global health in your own home country. She urges students who want to get involved with global health to not get scared by expensive traveling costs, as you can get involved right here in BC!
Here are some ways you can get involved with or learn more about SODA:
- Attend the annual fundraising dinner in Prince George in November.
- Buy someone a gift voucher from the SODA catalogue, such as one year of home based rehabilitation therapy for $100, custom leg braces for $40 or a 6-month tailoring course for a person with a disability, including their own sewing machine, for $250.
- Read more on this website