Twenty-​​three North­eastern phys­ical therapy stu­dents con­cluded a good­will care mis­sion to Cuer­navaca, Mexico, this August amid tearful ges­tures of grat­i­tude from those they helped.

They also received an unprece­dented award from the local governor’s office.

During a tele­vised cer­e­mony held on August 26, the wife of the gov­ernor of Morelos—the Mex­ican state that includes the city of Cuernavaca—honored phys­ical therapy fac­ulty mem­bers Lorna Hay­ward and Susan Lowe and their stu­dents for the care they gave to in-​​need pop­u­la­tions during a three-​​week trip to Mexico.

It was such a sur­prise,” Hay­ward says. “It was a some­what formal pre­sen­ta­tion, which was tele­vised to the local com­mu­nity, but it was full of hugs, and some tears were shed.”

In Mexico, the North­eastern stu­dents worked with chil­dren and the elderly at two government-​​run facil­i­ties, and with home­less young­sters at the Over­coat of God orphanage.

They helped patients develop their gen­eral con­di­tioning, flex­i­bility and strength, and taught exer­cises that improved patients’ ability to walk, sit or stand.

There were people with ampu­ta­tions, stroke and dementia,” Hay­ward explains. “At the orphanage, some kids had devel­op­mental delays.”

After working closely with elderly patients, Alexandra Gatti,of Peabody, Mass., who isinthe­sixth year of Northeastern’s doctor of phys­ical therapy pro­gram, says she can’t wait to do her last clin­ical assign­ment at a nursing home.

I per­son­ally spent a lot of time working with a man with one leg, who sat in a wheel­chair all day,” Gatti says of her expe­ri­ence in Mexico. “He’d actu­ally become too weak for a pros­thetic leg. By the time we were done with his exer­cises, he had improved so much that he’s now using a walker, and strong enough for a prosthetic.”

She adds, “I feel like the work I did really made a difference.”

Stu­dents had a chance to gain valu­able in-​​the-​​field training during the inter­na­tional mis­sion, which Hay­ward has estab­lished as a reg­ular pro­gram for her stu­dents. It included inten­sive Spanish lan­guage instruc­tion, com­mu­nity ser­vice at three loca­tions, and expo­sure to major cul­tural land­marks in Mexico City and Cuer­navaca, says Hayward.

The award and the trip high­lighted North­eastern, Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences and the phys­ical therapy depart­ment,” Hay­ward says. “Our kids pro­vided a really big lift and a valu­able ser­vice to the sick and needy.

And, in return, they had expe­ri­ences that deep­ened their edu­ca­tion and knowl­edge of the world.”