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Rehabilitation in Suriname: A Success Story 

When Dr. Timothy Kauffman began volunteering with HVO’s rehabilitation project in Paramaribo, Suriname shortly after it launched in 1999, there were few practicing physical therapists in the country. Before the start of the HVO project, students all trained in the Netherlands, and most decided to return there to practice. Dr. Kauffman met Mr. Frits Hunsel, a Surinamese physical therapist living in the United States, at the APTA meeting in 1999. After learning about Dr. Kauffman’s expertise in geriatrics, he asked if Dr. Kauffman would teach in Suriname. Mr. Hunsel introduced Dr. Kauffman to Tony Chang, PT, director of the physical therapy program at Anton de Kom, who became instrumental in coordinating the HVO project. Together, they worked to identify HVO volunteers with the appropriate skills and knowledge to meet the educational needs of trainees.   

The HVO rehabilitation project in Suriname concluded in 2015 because the department was thriving. Volunteers had helped develop a working curriculum and master’s degree program, physical therapists were getting advanced degrees, and retention rates had climbed. There was enough staff capable of teaching and a strong system in place for support.  

Dr. Kauffman recently reached out to some of his colleagues for news on how they and the program at Anton de Kom University in Paramaribo have been doing. Several of the physical therapists he worked with have attained doctorates, published research, and are seeing many of their trainees remain in Suriname to practice.   

Dr. Chang earned his PhD in geriatrics from a university in the Netherlands. He said it was Dr. Kauffman’s training in geriatrics that had motivated him to take this next step in his education. He was a featured speaker at an international conference in Geneva on international development in 2019. 

Another colleague Dr. Kauffman worked with, Nancy Ho-A-Tham, went on to earn a doctorate in Belgium. She is continuing with remote learning after returning to Suriname to practice. She has published her research, including a paper on females in Suriname with chronic lower back pain

Se-Sergio Baldew, the physical therapy program director at Anton de Kom University in Paramaribo, says that of the eighty graduates of the physical therapy program since 2003, most have stayed to practice in Suriname. Dr. Baldew recently published research on the measurement of physical activity and sedentary behavior in national health surveys in South America.  

Dr. Kauffman is still an active volunteer, and recently presented two online lectures on “Pain Management for Ageing Persons” as part of HVO’s project in Nepal.  

Dr. Chang shared some of his memories of the partnership, including a tale of one of HVO’s very first virtual volunteer experiences, now commonplace, but at the time very unusual: 

“One of the unforgettable and remarkable moments is when it turned out that HVO volunteer Dr. Diane Madras could not travel to Suriname. In a time when communication was only possible by phone and e-mail, no WhatsApp and Zoom yet, this was a challenge to find a solution in the short-term. Internet and Wi-Fi were not yet fully accessible and reliable. In the evening by phone I introduced, instructed, and taught Diane how to use Skype. Skype was only recently introduced and not yet well known. After having practiced a few times, we dared to implement this with the students. As long as the students were busy with the online classes with Diane, the Internet was not accessible for 3 hours for the entire faculty for a few weeks (3 times a week). The image was enlarged on a screen with a beamer and the sound was amplified with an amplifier. This was so unique for Suriname, that we made the local news as the first ‘distant education class’ in Suriname. Nowadays programs such as FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, Meet, Teams etc. and streamline of meetings are normal and can be conducted and even recorded.” 

Online education has certainly come a long way. Now, HVO has dozens of virtual projects around the world with multiple ways for partners and volunteers to engage and share resources. HVO volunteers and partners have always found innovative ways to share their knowledge and support each other. This dedication to improving education had long-term effects on rehabilitation training and practice in Suriname. Dr. Chang also shared his view on the influence of the HVO partnership with Anton De Kom University: 

“In the end, this project has resulted in a cadre of physiotherapists, among which some are also scientists at PhD level. These physiotherapists are at a level that they deliver presentations at world congresses and publications in peer-reviewed journals…The current faculty consists now of dedicated physiotherapists, who were all trained at our program. They know all HVO volunteers because they once received education from them. [To go from] 9 PTs in 1995 [to] more than 75 PTs in 2023 working in Suriname, almost all of them having graduated in Suriname, is a success story.” 

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