Nicaragua Trip 2024

March marked a major milestone for 99 Balloons… the relaunching of our Global Trips post-pandemic!

 First up was a weeklong trip to Nicaragua, where we sent a wonderful team of four physical therapy graduate students, led by their UAMS professor Andrea Myane. Working directly with our partner organization, the women assisted the staff by providing therapy to children experiencing disability at the clinic and offering in-home care for those unable to travel while also educating the center’s physical therapists on new clinical skills and services. 

We were fortunate to be able to sit down with the team shortly after they returned to Fayetteville to hear about their experiences, and we were thrilled – although not surprised – to discover that their time in Nicaragua was filled with impactful moments from the get-go. 

On the first day, the five women were tasked with a home therapy session to help a mother and her son, who was not mobile and nonverbal. Having developed outside the womb, the boy, known in the community as “the miracle child,” was not expected to survive long after birth. In fact, medical professionals recommended that the mother have an abortion, but she refused. Her son is now 15 years old. 

Drawing back a thin curtain that served as the front door, the women entered her small mud house and were immediately greeted with enthusiasm. Yes, they were there as physical therapists, but as they reflected on the visit, it became clear that their purpose that day was something bigger than their occupation. 

“Most of what we did that day was listen,” said Lizeth Martinez-Lopez, a 25-year-old graduate student who grew up in Prairie Grove. “The mom was very diligent in telling us about her son’s story, and I think it was healing for her to go through all the experiences she’s had. She’s proud of the work that she’s done, and we encouraged her to continue doing what she’s doing.”

Although a translator always accompanied the team to bridge the language gap, Lizeth’s first language happens to be Spanish, and they found that her bilingualism proved even more beneficial in establishing common ground and building meaningful relationships with the local people. In this instance, her interaction with the mother was direct, detailed and personal.

She learned that the father had left upon discovering the pregnancy complications. She also learned that the woman couldn’t afford the specific milk that she was supposed to buy for her son, and she worried that he was losing weight because of it. Even still, his size, as a full-grown adolescent, was difficult for her to bear, and as a result, he spent most of his time lying on a bed that was propped up by rocks to avoid flooding during the wet season.

Only after she finished telling her story did the team provide hands-on treatment. They demonstrated some positioning changes that would allow the teenager to sit upright, using a rolled towel around his neck for support and placing a can of beans on his knees to promote stretching. The women were innovating and educating, just as they would in the coming days at the clinic. 

 “Being a single mom and not having the necessary resources, she still considers herself to be blessed,” Lizeth said. “That was impactful to me because I think if she considers herself to be blessed, the things that I’ve taken for granted are just,” she paused, shaking her head ever so slightly. “There are no words.”


How can you be a part of our mission to change the story of disability around the world? 

  • Our next Global Trip is coming up, and we will be serving our partner organization in Uganda. We are in need of occupational, physical, and behavioral therapists, as well as special education professionals and a visual impairment specialist.  

The trip will likely take place June 21-30, 2024 with an estimated budget of $4,000. 

If you or anyone you know is interested in joining us, we would love to have you as part of the 99 Balloons team. Please find additional information and submit an interest form through our website here.

  • If you are not able to travel with us, YOU CAN STILL CONTRIBUTE BY GIVING TO OUR GLOBAL PROGAMMING. Any amount helps fund the necessary supplies that we take with us, support our partner organizations, and ultimately provide life-changing opportunities for children with disabilities in developing nations. GIVE HERE.