The Hos­pital and Reha­bil­i­ta­tion Centre for Dis­abled Chil­dren in Banepa, Nepal, is light-​​years away from the Boston hos­pi­tals where Maggie Gold­berg and Christa Rocco did their first co-​​ops in phys­ical therapy.

In Nepal, Gold­berg and Rocco tend to chil­dren with ail­ments vir­tu­ally unseen in Western nations, such as polio, club­foot and untreated frac­tures. Their hos­pital runs on elec­trical gen­er­a­tors most of the day. Nepal’s gen­eral health-​​care infra­struc­ture is, by Western stan­dards, prac­ti­cally nonexistent.

And the stu­dents love every chal­lenging minute of it.

The hard­ships they’ve encoun­tered while on co-​​op in Nepal have only served to sharpen their learning expe­ri­ence, they say, forcing them to be inno­v­a­tive in their treat­ment. According to Rocco, they have “to think out­side the box to pro­vide ade­quate care.”

A 16-​​year-​​old girl par­a­lyzed from the waist down offered such a treat­ment chal­lenge. The patient, who was recu­per­ating from hand surgery, needed to relearn fine motor skills, like grip­ping objects and brushing her hair, as well as how to slide from her bed to her wheelchair.

Typ­i­cally, for a case like this, we would use a slick board to allow the patient to slide from one sur­face to the other,” Rocco says. But the hos­pital didn’t have a slick board, “so we had to fashion a makeshift piece of equip­ment for this use.”

In the Banepa hos­pital, walkers are made from bamboo, and the pros­thetic lab has to be “cre­ative” to pro­vide simple, effec­tive arti­fi­cial limbs, Rocco adds.

The pair have also adapted to working with Nepali phys­ical ther­a­pists who lack formal training yet rou­tinely see many more prob­lems than U.S. phys­ical ther­a­pists have to face.

One of the phys­ical ther­a­pists we trained with has been doing the work for 19 years,” Gold­berg says. “Watching him, we learned what ques­tions to ask and what symp­toms to look for in dis­eases we were never trained to screen for.”

This has broad­ened the stu­dents’ pro­fes­sional knowl­edge dra­mat­i­cally, Gold­berg says: “The phys­ical ther­a­pists here have been able to teach us about issues we typ­i­cally take for granted in the United States,” such as patients who have little or no access to infec­tion treat­ments, ade­quate pre-​​natal care or vaccinations.

If the health-​​care envi­ron­ment is a far cry from Boston’s, so is everyday life in the Kath­mandu Valley. Gold­berg and Rocco, who live with a host family, eat dal bhat, a rice and lentil dish, two times a day. Their com­mute to work is a 40-​​minute walk through rice pad­dies, potato fields and wheat fields—and occa­sion­ally through mon­soon rains that cause local flooding.

Gold­berg and Rocco embraced the chance to work in Nepal, because it squared with their resolve to go where they could do the most good. After researching regions of the world with the most need for phys­ical ther­a­pists, they planned their co-​​op in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Projects Abroad, an orga­ni­za­tion that helps stu­dents pursue vol­un­teer intern­ships in the devel­oping world. Gold­berg and Rocco are the first phys­ical therapy stu­dents from North­eastern to under­take a co-​​op in Nepal.

Going to Nepal was the best deci­sion they could have made, Rocco says: “It’s enriched our edu­ca­tion. The expe­ri­ence is unforgettable.

It’s given us a glimpse into a cul­ture com­pletely dif­ferent from our own.”