Physical Therapy Volunteer

Patronato Nacional de Rehabilitacion - Santa Ana, Costa Rica
Quick Facts: Placement ID: IND-171 Location: Santa Ana, Costa Rica Sector: Health Care Category: Rehabilitation and Therapy Min Duration: 2 weeks Lodging: Host Family / Lodge Language: Intermediate
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Volunteer Job Description

It was estimated in the year 2000 that Costa Rica's population was nearly 5 million people and 5.23% had disabilities. Of this percentage, 40% had disabilities that required consistent physical therapy.

General hospitals in Costa Rica, as in most other countries, do not have the financial means or infrastructure necessary for long term treatment of patients with neuromusculoskeletal disorders. Thus patients in Costa Rica, are transferred to the National Rehabilitation Institution where they receive, (by trained personnel), the required physical therapy necessary to improve their quality of life.

The first 24 hours after the patient's admission to the center is spent in assessing the extent of his/her disabilities and then developing a physical therapy program that is directly related to that individual's needs. However, the institutional staff are hard-pressed to accomplish all their tasks in any given day due to lack of trained personnel. Therefore, physical therapists and/or students in the field are most welcome.

A physical therapy volunteer would help patients who have movement difficulties due to injury or disease, by assisting the staff with therapies designed to: improve mobility, relieve pain, prevent or limit permanent physical disability and promote overall fitness and wellness. Patients may include accident victims and individuals with short and/or long-term disabling conditions, such as: low back pain, fractures, head injuries, arthritis, heart disease, as well as cerebral palsy etc.

A physical therapy volunteer, at this placement, would have the educational experience of working at an institution devoted to the care of physically disabled people, as well as the opportunity and satisfaction of helping physically handicapped patients and overworked staff. Volunteers interested in working and learning at the National Rehabilitation Center must be qualified physical therapists or students of an accredited physical therapy course, with a minimum of 2 years of studies. Volunteers must also be capable of a conversational level of the Spanish language.

Volunteer Tasks Required

Electrotherapy Support

Physical therapy volunteers would be expected to assist the physical therapists with electrotherapy treatment, which is a medical technique using an electrical current to stimulate muscles to perform a wide variety of tasks associated with pain, neurological disorders and muscle-related conditions.

Neuromuscular Re-Education

A physical therapy volunteer would assist the patient in doing consist and repetitive movements and posturing; that are designed to stimulate and reinforce the nerve signals for improved functional movements.

Muscle Building Program Support

Volunteers would be expected to help patients to learn different exercises that are designed specifically for their individual injuries or challenges. As a physical therapy volunteer at this placement you would be asked to develop individual programs for patients based on what exercises would be most beneficial to them.

Hydrotherapy Support

Upon the direction from the main physical therapist of the center, volunteers would take patients to the hydrotherapy room where they would receive hydrotherapy sessions to stimulate blood circulation and treat the symptoms of certain diseases.

Cleaning Areas

A physical therapy volunteer would be expected to help with the daily cleaning and disinfecting of the equipment, as well as the area after every session with a patient. Volunteers should not leave the center without helping with the cleaning tasks first.

Host Organization Details

Patronato Nacional de Rehabilitacion

It is estimated that Costa Rica has a population of nearly 5 million inhabitants, which according to statistics of 2000, 5.23% of the population has some type of disability. Of this percentage, 40% have a serious disability which must be treated consistently by physical therapists or occupational therapists. Of this population 95% use state institutions, through Social Security, to receive necessary medical attention.

Immediate medical care is performed in hospitals where few have the infrastructure necessary for developing programs that will allow the patients to have proper treatment to improve their capabilities. Thus, patients are transferred to the National Rehabilitation Institution that has the basic infrastructure needed to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.

This institution within the first 24 hours of the patient's admission summarizes his/her disability and sets-up a treatment program specifically developed according to that individual's needs.

The National Rehabilitation Centre, (Patronato Nacional de Rehabilitacion), is an institution that has been committed since its conception to assisting people with neuromusculoskeletal disorders, (a disorder which affects the system where the nervous, muscular and skeletal systems interlink with each other). The Center developed and now implements a very intensive program that provides physical rehabilitation care for all Costa Ricans afflicted with this disorder. The Rehabilitation Center's philosophy is to achieve the highest level of functional independence and autonomy for people with neuromusculoskeletal disorders. Putting strong emphasis on the development of the institutional principles which are: equal opportunity, participation and inclusion, discrimination and personal autonomy.

The National Rehabilitation Center's staff focuses on maximizing their knowledge and skills with the most current techniques available to provide services that promotes rehabilitation geared towards each individual's needs. Keeping in mind their living conditions at home and the situations they will need to address when at home in order to achieve their highest personal autonomy and maximum limit of flexibility. Thus, striving towards becoming active participants in the work force,(if possible).

They offer the following services: physical therapy, work therapy, nutrition, and general medical care.

Does this organization have any religious affiliations?

As a Costa Rican Institution their bases are on the Catholic Philosophy. There is a small church inside of the institution. However, in Costa Rica, there is no pressure to practice any form of religion, as long as, people respect each others norms.

When They Were Founded

Polio, for decades prior to 1950, was a disease that was known for its impact especially in Africa and Latin America. However, in Costa Rica before 1954 there had been only a few cases. In February and March of 1954 the situation drastically changed and produced in the country the largest polio epidemic to shake the world in a ratio of one per thousand. The total afflicted was approximately 50,000 children in a population of less than one million inhabitants, leaving paralyzed 1,000 children and 152 dead over a period of three months.

For the physician-hospital system polio meant a great convulsion in the absence of trained personnel. There were no medical specialists, technicians, physical therapist or equipment to treat victims, as well as no infrastructure to house those afflicted with polio. The plague exposed serious deficiencies that existed in the hospitals in Costa Rica, for the treatment and rehabilitation of neuromusculoskeletal disorders..

Dr. Don Humberto Araya Rojas, addressed the crisis resulting from polio and the serious concerns about the large number of people who were disabled not only due to Polio but for many other reasons, as well and were not offered rehabilitation treatment or any form of medical treatment for their handicaps. The doctor upon becoming aware of the extreme crisis, took immediate action aimed at combating this situation. However, the problems became more and more complex with numerous patients filling the hospital wards and no trained personnel to treat them.

In Mexico, doctors were teaching courses regarding the emergency and long term treatment of polio. Therefore, In August 1954 Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas, traveled to Mexico for such a course, returning in January 1956. After his return, the doctor wanted to implement in Costa Rica, everything learned in the year and a half course he attended at, Children's Hospital in Mexico. However he would face new obstacles; there was a strong fear by his peers regarding the spread of polio, to the extent that the polio patients were installed in the basement of the hospital. Due to this situation, the doctor requested that he be allowed to move the children suffering with polio to an old house adjacent to the hospital. This building known as "La Casa Verde", (the green house), was made of wood and was over 60 years old. It had previously served as the residence's of the Director of the Psychiatric Hospital.

In August 1955 Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas, created the National Rehabilitation Center. The spirit of its creation was due to the need to ensure the rehabilitation of all disabled persons, however, the most pressing cases at that time were Polio victims. His goal was to get a more suitable and safer building in the medium term, but while this was not achievable in the immediate future there was no alternative but to try to improve conditions at the Green House. The risk of fire in this old building was high and added to this dangerous situation was the difficulty of evacuating quickly the children with disabilities. The fire department had informed him that the house, in case of a fire, would reduce to ashes in just five minutes. Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas was distressed to see very ill children placed in an unsuitable house, that provided no rehabilitation equipment or supplies to help boost the spirits of these long term patients. He was also aware that most of these children had been abandoned by their families which only added to their emotional distress.

In 1960 a more modern building, with better security, was built outside the offices of the Board of Social Protection. The new structure consisted of an out-patient department with all its services: waiting rooms, doctors' offices, a therapeutic treatment room, a gym, a hydrotherapy room and a cast room. On the second floor were ten bedrooms with capacity for 70 patients, as well as, a nursing station. When polio was at a more controlled level in Costa Rica and some patients were through the critical period of the disease, a new problem became event. Many children were not being returned to their families. Some were simply abandoned and/or their relatives did not have the economic resources to front a situation of this nature. Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas argued that it was unfair for the children to have to stay in a hospital setting once their treatment warranted otherwise; moreover, it was much more expense to do so. His new struggle was to build a home for convalescent care and rehabilitation.

Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas plan was to purchase land located in an area near San Jose, that had good climatic conditions. Then to build a home on said property for those patients, who could not return to their families for various reasons, but still required long term convalescent care and rehabilitation. Responding to this need in a kindly manner Mr. Aguiluz Marcial, in 1960 donated a farm, in Lindora of Santa Ana, a town west of San Jose, that included three and a half acres of land. The construction of the home was made possible by the contributions of the people of Costa Rica, through: different marathons, the help of the Lions Club, Rotary Club and the Government of Costa Rica. The home was completed in 1961 but, due to lack of hospital equipment was not inaugurated until the following year, on the 9th of September 1962, "A Day of the Child." The home is surrounded by landscaped gardens and Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas dream became a reality. The patients on the second floor of the Green House who had more than five years of internment were moved into a setting where fields, flowers, trees and animals were the norm, as well as, the wonderful fresh air. The days of the, "Rats Hospital," was finally coming to an end.

The home also allows the children of rural areas to stay here while their treatment period lasts. The residence had a capacity to admit 50 children for permanent and/or temporary residency. The house contains: a primary school, a living area, a sewing and craft area, a library, a auditorium and a machine shop. There is a farming agricultural section of land, a basketball court, a football field and a pool.

In 1962 Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas traveled to the United States to advise and observe the latest techniques of physical medicine and rehabilitation services. On his return he set-up, for the first time in Costa Rica, an occupational therapy department and significant progress was made in the manufacture of orthopedic devices. In 1967 he traveled for a period of two months in Brazil, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela to take courses in rehabilitation training and the administration of such hospitals. The lessons learned during his travels he implemented in the current institute facilities in Costa Rica.

How Are They Funded

The National Rehabilitation Center receives funds from the government for every patient they treat. They also receive donations from local and international organizations. They have expanded their services to include people with spinal injuries and require physical therapy. The money charged for these services goes to the institution.

Donation Requests

They do not receive donations of money. They need help with construction supplies, medical equipment, clothing for patients and bed sheets for the hospital.

Other examples include: Adult diapers Pillows Enterex protein supplement Proteirex protein supplement Hygiene products for adults

Placement Location Information

Santa Ana, Costa Rica

The Rehabilitation Institution is located in Santa Ana, also known as "Valle del Sol" (Valley of the Sun). It is a very enchanting town, where you can see how nature has blended perfectly with the residential/commercial aspects of a town that is growing rapidly. The town is not only warm due to its weather but also because of its unique and friendly people. This town will make you feel welcome.

Volunteering in Santa Ana provides you with a great opportunity to see more of Costa Rica - surrounded by green mountains and so close to San Jose - Santa Ana is an oasis away from the city. This location is ideal for those seeking an opportunity to expend their energy on an extremely worthwhile cause and at the same time be situated at a site where you can readily explore an exquisite part of the country.

The National Rehabilitation Institute helps people with disabilities (mental and/or physical), who have no family, have been abandoned by their families or are living in poor conditions. The programs, for the physically disabled, are designed to help develop the neuro-muscular-skeletal systems to the highest level possible for each individual; with the goal of ultimately obtaining a functional level of independence (if possible). The organization's institutional principles emphasis: non-discrimination, equal opportunity and personal worth.

Institutional efforts aim at providing rehabilitation treatment to the disabled focusing on their individual needs in respect to their home environment and work capability with the goal of helping them to reach their maximum level. The organization is extremely sensitive to the many difficulties that all disabled people encounter.

The National Rehabilitation Institute has 12 resident patients but could accommodate 50. There are two rooms with 15 beds in each room; one for women and one for men. The Physical Therapy Room has three beds for massages, and five tubs for hydrotherapy as well as one hydrotherapy pool generated by solar panels. The Occupational Therapy room is small. There is a small church, green areas, offices including offices for the main doctor, psychologist, social worker and nutritionist. They have a tree nursery area as well.

Transfer From BaseCamp

Take the bus to downtown San Jose and get off at the last stop. Turn to your left and walk two blocks to Entral Avenue. Turn to the right and walk nine blocks to the end of the walking street where you will need to take a right for two blocks. There will be a line of buses and you will need to take the bus that goes to Santa Ana, Forum 2.

Get off at El Lagar in Santa Ana, this store is on the right side once when the bus goes out of the main road.

Just after the store, turn right, and walk for about 50 metres. The center will be on the right hand side, with the sign prominently visible.

Distance & Time

Distance from BaseCamp: 20 km
Travel Time from BaseCamp: 1:15

Weather in the Area

Santa Ana is one the warmest towns in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. Temperatures range between 23-32C. The seasons in Santa Ana are the same as in the whole of Costa Rica, with both rainy and dry seasons. Santa Ana gets more sunshine during the rainy season than any other location in the Central Valley. Santa Ana is 900 meters above sea level but it often feels like you’re at the beach. As parts of Santa Ana are very mountainous, there is usually a nice breeze to cool things down a bit. If you plan to walk around town, make sure you bring your sunscreen, drink plenty of fluids and wear light clothes.

City/Village Description

Santa Ana, also known as "Valle del Sol" (Valley of the Sun), is a very enchanting town, where you can see how nature has blended perfectly with the residential and commercial aspects of a town that is growing rapidly. The town is not only warm due to its weather but also because of its unique and friendly people. This town will make you feel welcome and provide you with a great opportunity to see more of Costa Rica - surrounded by green mountains and so close to San Jose - Santa Ana is an oasis away from the city in an exquisite part of the country.

Santa Ana was traditionally known for its onions, clay pottery and horses. Onion production is being pushed out as real-estate prices rise and the farmland is converted to residential developments; but locals are still often called “Cebolleros” (Onions men).

There are several large equestrian centers (e.g. La Caraña), shops and animal supply stores. Following this cowboy theme, there are several Tico-style steakhouses and Tex-Mex restaurants. Even though the town is seeing explosive development and you can see luxury condos springing up all over the place; right next door to these you will still find the small frugal houses of residents that have lived there for decades or a farmer working his field. Even in the downtown area, it’s not uncommon to see houses with chickens, horses or rabbits in the back yard. In some neighborhoods you can still see, in the mornings, a handful of cattle going up to pasture.

Santa Ana is now one of the most exclusive places in Costa Rica. In the last ten years Santa Ana, due to a series of private investments in the area, has developed an atmosphere of exclusivity. Among the first important buildings in the area was the Free Trade Zone (tax free) "Forum" where initially Procter & Gamble settled. Today in the Free Zone other multinationals such as Hewlett-Packard, Western Union, Maersk Sealand, Cisco Systems and even the National Stock Exchange have established themselves at this site. "Forum" has created jobs for more than 7,000 people and "Forum 2" is now built about a mile away. The company, Oracle, was the first to settle in the second Forum. One of the focuses in development has been the road, "Santa Ana-Belen Radial" where they have recently installed four shopping centers along the route. The area is also known for its exciting nightlife.

Nearest Medical Clinic

Clinica Integral Santa Ana
Street 2 Santa Ana
Santa Ana
TEL 1: 2282-6890

Placement Address

Patronato Nacional de Rehabilitacion
Pozos De Santa Ana
Santa Ana
Costa Rica

Accommodation and Meals

All of our volunteers begin their stay in Costa Rica at our BaseCamp Center in San Jose. Given that this placement is more than a 1 hour 15 minute commute from BaseCamp, volunteers here will be living with a host family after your orientation. Living with a host family is an awesome experience for a person looking to really experience Costa Rica and its culture.

The following information outlines a brief description of life at BaseCamp and also what someone can expect living with a host family in Costa Rica.

If you think that living with a host family is not for you, then this placement might not be the best fit with what you are looking for. You should try completing our application. It's totally free and will allow our team in Costa Rica to come up with a list of exactly which placements they would reccommend for you based on your personal preferences, background, skills and interests.

BaseCamp Costa Rica

BaseCamp Costa Rica
BaseCamp Costa Rica Address

Ave 16 St. 39&41
Los Yoses Sur
San Jose, Costa Rica

BaseCamp Costa Rica Contact Details

Tel: 506-8763-9595
Tel: 506-4030-1891
Mobile: 506-8763-9595

Take a Tour of BaseCamp
Accommodation in Costa Rica

All volunteers on our program in Costa Rica start out at our BaseCamp Center. The center is located in the capital city San Jose, and is a fantastic place from which to start your adventure.

Once volunteers have finished their orientation, where they live depends largely on the location of their placement. If their placement is more than a 1 hour 15 minutecommute from BaseCamp, then the only accommodation option may be host families or volunteer lodges in the national parks. However, if the placement is within a 1 hour 15 minute commute, then volunteers can choose whether or not to stay with us at BaseCamp or live with a host family.

BaseCamp Costa Rica is located in the province of San Jose at Los Yoses area. This is a fantastic area closed to the University of Costa Rica, San Pedro Mall, banks, supermarkets, restaurants, embassies and stores. Walking distance to down town and only 30 minutes away from the Juan Santamaria Airport.

BaseCamp has four bedrooms and three wash-rooms. The beds are mainly bunk beds in dormitory style rooms. Pillows, sheets and blankets are provided. There is a large common area where movies, books and games are available to our guests and there is a patio with a nice set up. This is an ideal setting for reading, studying Spanish or just some quiet relaxation.

BaseCamp is where volunteers first come when they arrive in Costa Rica and where they live for at least the duration of their orientation and training. The meal plan at the centre is based on a 14 day rotating schedule of a variety of traditional dishes from around the country. This meal plan allows volunteers to gain comfort and familiarity with both Costa Rican food and meal etiquette before making the transition to living with a host family.

Orientation and language training sessions take place in the BaseCamp Center. Each day of orientation blends some workshops and lessons with a mixture of outings to explore and become familiar with transportation and knowledge regarding the city.

Living With a Host Family in Costa Rica

Living with a host family in Costa Rica is a fantastic way to gain a deep understanding of and appreciation for the people and customs of the country. Each home-stay will provide a bed and three meals per day for our volunteers. The majority of host families offer private rooms with only one or two volunteers living with the family.

In the case of a volunteer lodge or ranger station (which is often the only option for placements within a National Park), volunteers will be living in dormitory type accommodation and meals will be provided in a mess hall or dining area.

Living with a host family can greatly enhance your performance at your placement. For one, it will have a huge influence on the speed with which you gain familiarity with the local language. This, along with your deeper understanding of cultural practices and beliefs that you are likely to gain in this environment, can go a long way to improving or strengthening your relationships with your team mates at work. Furthermore, a significant percentage of our host families are closely affiliated with the organizations with which our volunteers work. As such, even the evening meal or hanging out around the house can become valuable time during which volunteers can share their ideas and continue their support of their host organization.

All of this being said, living with a host family is not for everyone. It is very important for volunteers to honor the house rules in their host family and to be punctual. Also, depending on how remote your placement location, host families can be very rustic. Our staff in country can give you a better idea of what exactly you can expect from a host family in any particular community. However, in general, if these things sound like they might pose a challenge for you, we strongly suggest that you look at a placement within commuting distance from BaseCamp Costa Rica.

How the Program Works

Our program structure and costing is completely flexible which lets our volunteers ensure that they only pay for exactly the degree of support that they want.

Option 1 - Free Services

Some volunteers prefer to coordinate their own accommodation, meals and other support while overseas.

Anyone is welcome to use our volunteer placement search tool to help in finding a placement that is well suited to their interests. Once someone finds a placement that they wish to work with, they are welcome to make all the rest of their arrangmeents on their own.

As well, our team of staff overseas are often able to offer a few helpful pointers for volunteers 'doing it on their own'. Just send us an email with your questions and we will put you in touch with our team abroad. We only ask that you keep your requests fairly general, as this type of advice is exactly how our team earn their living. :)

Option 2 - Placement Support - 250 USD

Other volunteers would like assistance in selecting and confirming their placement, but they plan to manage their own accommodation and other expenses on their own.

These volunteers have the option of choosing to only have our assistance with selecting and confirming their placement. This option also includes ongoing placement support while abroad, so a volunteer would be able to ask our team for help if things at their placement were not working out.

In providing Placement Support, our team works with each volunteer through email, telephone and either Skype or Google Hangouts, to ensure that each volunteer has a clear understanding of their placement options. Our in-country staff will put together a custom list of placement options for each volunteer that they believe are the most appropriate matches with the volunteer's background, skills and interests. Then each volunteer can work with our team both in Canada and abroad to go through each of the options and narrow-down their selection.

Option 3 - Full Program Support

For most volunteers who are volunteering for less than a year, they are looking for an option that includes their accommodation, meals, airport reception, country and program orientation and placement support. This is what our Program Fees are designed for.

We are proud of how over the years we have ensured that our program fees are amoungst the most reasonable of any program in the world while we continue to provide exceptional volunteer support both at home and abroad.

Our Program Fees and listings of what these do and do not include are listed below:

Program Fees

Program Fees - Costa Rica

  Registration Fee
  1 Week
  2 Weeks
  3 Weeks
  4 Weeks
  5 Weeks
  6 Weeks
  7 Weeks
  8 Weeks
  Additional Weeks

Costa Rica wildlife and conservation placements require an additional $7 USD per day fee to cover park fees and accommodation. All program fees are listed in US Dollars.

What is Included
  • Pre-Departure support
  • Placement consulation
  • Airport reception & transfer
  • 2 Day orientation
  • Accommodation (BaseCamp or host family)
  • Breakfast and dinner
  • Emergency & placement support

What is Not Included
    Before Departure
  • International flight
  • Travel medical insurance
  • Visa costs where required
  • Work permits where required
    While Overseas
  • Daily transportation to and from placement
  • Transport to airport on departure
  • Placement fees if requried

Program Dates


The following is a list of all months during which this placement is not available.

Our regularly scheduled program start dates are the first Friday of each month, every month of the year. We strongly recommend beginning your program on one of these dates as this will allow you to go through our orientation alongside other international volunteers.

If you would prefer, our application will also allow you to select a custom start date for your program. Keep in mind that there is an additional fee for a custom start date which ranges from 50 to 75 USD.

Oct 01, 2021 Nov 05, 2021 Dec 03, 2021
Jan 07, 2022 Feb 04, 2022 Mar 04, 2022
Apr 01, 2022 May 06, 2022 Jun 03, 2022
Jul 01, 2022 Aug 05, 2022 Sep 02, 2022
Oct 07, 2022 Nov 04, 2022 Dec 02, 2022
Jan 06, 2023 Feb 03, 2023 Mar 03, 2023
Apr 07, 2023 May 05, 2023 Jun 02, 2023
Jul 07, 2023 Aug 04, 2023 Sep 01, 2023


These dates are the day that volunteers should plan to arrive on the ground in country. We can accommodate arrivals in-country at any time day or night on these dates.

Give us a Call
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UK 866-646-4693 (toll free)
Australia 866-646-4693 (toll free)
International 613-353-3000
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