Humanitarian support in South America

Physiotherapists provide humanitarian support in Ecuador, Colombia, and Guatemala

Daniel Wappenstein is a physiotherapist based in Quito, Ecuador, and a past president of the Ecuadorian Society of Physiotherapy

Daniel and his physiotherapy colleagues gave humanitarian support after the 2016 earthquake in Ecuador, the 2017 avalanche in Colombia and the eruption of the Fuego volcano in Guatemala in 2018.

“Just a month before the earthquake in Ecuador, I read an article from World Physiotherapy about how to deal with a disaster,” he said. Soon after, he found himself at the centre of an emergency situation, when the earthquake happened. 

UK physiotherapist Peter Skelton, who worked with the charity Humanity & Inclusion during the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, visited Daniel to offer his support immediately after the earthquake in Ecuador, with the epicentre some 100 miles north west of Quito.

Daniel used social media to put a call out for physiotherapists who could volunteer to help as part of an ongoing brigade team. He worked with them to decide on their role in the initial days and weeks of the disaster and then in the subsequent aftermath. 

He said: “First of all, it was the more acute part, in the initial days and weeks afterwards. Then we began a ‘Help to those who help’ approach.”

We live in a world where there is too much inequality. Being a member of World Physiotherapy gives physiotherapists a voice on the world stage.
Daniel Wappenstein, Ecuadorian Society of Physiotherapy past presidentTweet this

In those early weeks, his team concentrated on support to the emergency workers. As those workers came back from the emergency zone, the brigade teams provided them with physiotherapy.

In the next phase, the physiotherapy brigades travelled with other volunteers in a series of convoys, five vehicles at a time, to different areas affected by the disaster. The volunteers took their services to community centres and tented refugee camps, setting up clinics on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

The team’s humanitarian approach has since been used in other emergency situations. The brigades work with local colleagues in the affected countries and bring their experience of working in a disaster zone.

Daniel said: “I’m a very proud physiotherapist. The thing I am doing is to work for people. When we go out on a brigade, I start by reading the oath we took when we trained as physios.

“The first thing you learn is that we live in an unfair world, and disasters often adversely affect less fortunate people. We live in a world where there is too much inequality.

"Being a member of World Physiotherapy is important because it gives physiotherapists a voice on the world stage. It is the role of physiotherapy to be involved in political decisions."

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