Wheeling Jesuit University’s Physical Therapy Students Reflect on 15 Years of Service in Yucatan Peninsula

By Philip Stahl, Public Relations Officer, Wheeling Jesuit University

Above: A handicapped man from Merida gets physical therapy instructions from Wheeling Jesuit University student Christy Shaneyfelt. (Photo courtesy of Wheeling Jesuit University)

Above: A handicapped man from Merida gets physical therapy instructions from Wheeling Jesuit University student Christy Shaneyfelt. (Photo courtesy of Wheeling Jesuit University)

For nearly two decades, Wheeling Jesuit University’s (WJU) physical therapy (PT) students have participated in an annual service-learning course that provides rehabilitative services to thousands of people in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

Students and faculty from WJU’s PT program travel to the cities and surrounding pueblos of Merida, Izamal and Valladolid in the Yucatan to work with a number of community partners.

This spring, ten graduate students provided free PT services under the supervision and guidance of licensed clinicians from both the United States and Mexico.

WJU PT student Clayton Kubrick said, “The trip to Merida, Mexico was an incredible experience and made me realize what it is like to be engulfed in another culture. Some of my most cherished memories were educating students, working with the compassionate patients, and being able to live in a culture much different from ours.”

In fifteen years, a lot has changed on the annual trip to the Yucatan, said Dr. Mark Drnach, a WJU faculty member who has coordinated the course since its inception.

“There has been a recent transformation. Some of the ‘veterans’ who we worked with have moved onto other jobs or positions in their religious communities. There are new staff members and new community partners, but, what is important about change is that we continue to serve and have developed relationships with the people in the Yucatan. This makes our efforts sustainable and strengthens our bond with the local people,” he said.
Drnach added that this year was emotionally difficult for the group after the death of Sr. Claire Hubert, OBS.

“Sr. Claire was one of our interpreters in the Yucatan and a vital member of our team since 2001. We missed her, but knew she was with us in spirit,” said Drnach.
Sr. Hubert died on January 26th of cancer and was a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict in Erie, Pa.

Rev. William Rickle, S.J, WJU’s senior vice president for mission and ministry, accompanied the students on the trip for the second straight year. Rickle said a number of things struck him during his week with the residents and students.

“Each day begins with the group gathered together for a reading of a reflective text...The leadership team understands the importance of helping the students reflect on their experience [with] caregivers, companions, teachers, and the learners. I was struck by the transparency of both faculty and students in their reflections and observations of their own reactions to situations they encountered during the day,” said Fr. Rickle.

After they return to Wheeling, WJU students report that they are eager to get back to Mexico and further enhance their experience by helping even more people in need of physical therapy.

“Simply put, the trip was incredible. A perfect balance of learning and fun. I learned a lot from all of the other staff members and was able to experience some once-in-a-lifetime moments.

The entire week is one that I will not soon forget,” said WJU student Kyle Updyke.
Student Amanda Althouse added, "This trip to Mexico was a heavy dose of perspective. There are so many people in the world who appreciate our help and even though I couldn't speak their language, compassion is a universal language that is easily understood."

"As Christians, we often see holiness in people who lack in material items. We look at them in awe and at times feel blessed to have so much, when we see others who have so little. Rarely do we act like Simon the Cyrene and walk with them, engage with them, and help them to carry some of the burdens of life, if only for a brief period of time. Our service learning curriculum invites our students to see Christ in others and in themselves through acts of service and engagement. We do this on a local, regional and international level, which clearly reflects the Jesuit mission of being men and women in service to others," said Drnach.