On Monday 9 October, Valerie Taylor came to talk to the club. She is not a stranger to us as she has been to the club before. She gave us a glimpse into her life and work in Bangladesh.

Valerie Taylor PhD, OBE and recipient of many other honours, is a remarkable woman. While training as a physiotherapist in London, she was inspired by reading of the work of a Christian medical college hospital in South India, and at the end of her course in 1969 she applied to do Voluntary Service Overseas. She was offered the choice of a 15 or 24 month contract in what was then East Pakistan. She opted for 24 months, was evacuated during the independence struggle, returning in 1971 when Bangladesh was established as a separate country. 54 years later, Valerie remains working out there. She ruefully remarks that in 1969 she was not much good at planning.

Planned or not, Valerie’s career has been energetically focused on improving the quality of life for thousands of people paralysed by spinal injury or disease, who in the past were often left to beg or die, being considered beyond treatment. Valerie determined to change that. After serving for three years in the medical college hospital, she devoted herself to establishing a specialist medical centre for rehabilitation of the paralysed [CRP], which opened in 1979.

In her first visit to the Club in 2016 Valerie told us how her CRP had grown from four patients in a disused warehouse to a 130 bed facility for spinal injury patients, seeing 15,000 outpatients a year. Rehabilitation was assisted by providing occupational training and resources to enable wheel chair users to generate an income. Valerie had established a Health Professional Institute running training courses for 14 different health care specialisms, including the only training course in Bangladesh for speech therapists.

Valerie visited our club again on a trip to the UK in 2018. By this time she had established three divisional centres around the country enabling patients to receive treatment without having to travel to Dacca. By tapping into the resources of expatriates from Bangladesh living in the USA, the CRP Trust was able to acquire a 13 story building, which is self funding from renting out the top floors. Valerie was also tackling the lack of government provision for people with mental health problems, and in March 2018 opened a mental health Day Centre where patients and families can access help from occupational therapists and counsellors, trained by the CRP. There were then 1,000 staff on the payroll.

On her latest visit to the club, Valerie described the continued development of the CRP. It remains the only rehabilitation centre of its kind in Bangladesh. Amputees are now added to the list of patients receiving specialist help, and those with cerebral palsy. CRP is the only training centre for occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, prosthetic and orthotic courses recognised by the University of Dacca. The staff has grown to 1,388 people, 88 of whom have disabilities and were previously patients.

Valerie showed us pictures and video which vividly illustrated the work of the centre,  and is energetically making future plans, which include producing many more therapies, raising awareness of the challenges of cerebral palsy, and forming a new training centre linked to a university in the north west of the country. It is remarkable that this growth has been sustained by voluntary contributions, many from Rotary clubs, now assisted to an important extent by the government.

Valerie paid tribute our own Rtn Jill Fisher, a neurophysiotherapist who has visited the centre on no fewer than seven occasions, sharing her expertise. Valerie also made honourable mention of other guests present at the meeting of the Club who have volunteered their services to CRP over the years: Jill’s husband Paul, a dentist, for his work in treating many patients at CRP; Dr Philomena Commons, an experienced specialist physiotherapist and  a lecturer at the CRP and at Leeds Beckett University; Dr Martin Schweiger and his wife Liz, who worked for many years in Bangladesh, Dr Jake Timothy, neurosurgeon and teacher and guide to doctors at CRP,  and other volunteers Julia Whitehouse [Physiotherapist] and Lana Northey.

In proposing a vote of thanks, Jill Fisher congratulated Valerie for creating and sustaining a thriving organisation with good professional standards and shared values of service.

Get in touch with Roundhay Rotary Club:

0113 266 6203