Ghana: No Need to Hide
by Rudi Tinga
Christiana Gborzor at her market stall
IN some parts of Africa, children who have mental or physical disabilities can be seen as a source of shame. They are kept hidden away so nobody in the family’s village knows they exist. While visiting the villages to give medical help, The Salvation Army in Ghana tries to find and help such children.
The more fortunate ones are found when they are still young so more can be done to correct their disabilities. ‘Many children are born with deformed feet, legs or arms,’ says Australian Katharina Dale. Together with Ata Hayford she is in charge of The Salvation Army’s rehabilitation work in a number of villages. These are linked to the medical clinics which the Army runs in various districts.
Every week Katharina travels from clinic to clinic to examine children – and sometimes adults – and to develop and discuss personal rehabilitation programmes.
|Mothers and children wait to be seen at the Duakwa clinic|
|Making special shoes which will help children walk better|
|Katharina Dale with Samuel Afadzi at the clinic|
|Katharina and Ata Hayford discuss treatments with a young girl|
|Araba Sam in front of the stall she started with Salvation Army assistance|
In Duakwa The Salvation Army has a workshop where prosthetic limbs and crutches are made. Tens of pairs of special shoes are ready to be fitted by Katharina to her patients.
She praises the financial support given by the Lilliane Foundation in The Netherlands and The Salvation Army in Norway, which enables the workshop to manufacture and distribute these aids to children free of charge.
‘It is very important that we show mothers we can solve many of the problems if they come to us with their child at an early stage,’ Katharina explains. ‘When they are still babies we can adjust their club feet, for instance. More and more parents acknowledge this and come to us for help and advice.’
Outside the Duakwa clinic a number of mothers are waiting for their children to be examined. It is moving to see the feet of the children being shaped into a better position by shoes connected to a metal bar. Some limps are being corrected by plastic moulds, bandages and tape.
Katharina teaches parents how to put the bandages on. ‘In the past we used to take these children into our care, but it is better when they grow up in their own family. In that way the other villagers learn to accept disabled children.’
Twenty-three-year-old Christiana Gborzor was found by members of the Army’s medical team when she was 10. All three children in the family have the same disease, but the doctors have not been able provide a diagnosis. It looks like progeria – a condition that ages people prematurely – and her eldest brother died not long ago. She is used to people staring at her because of her looks.
The confidence she shows is a result of the 10 years she lived in the Army’s rehabilitation centre in Begoro. The Army helped her set up her own little store in her home village. It is a simple, painted stall, closed off with chicken wire. Behind the wire are groceries like rice, eggs and bread. She also sells soap and sweets.
Physically, Christiana is very fragile, so this is all she can do. Now the Army has offered to train her in dressmaking at one of its vocational centres so she has another way to earn a living.
Araba Sam’s story is similar to Christiana’s. She was hidden by her parents because she did not grow due to youth rheumatism. She is not very tall and, although she is 28, she looks much younger. Araba has a low IQ and has never been to school. The Salvation Army found a solution – it taught her how to do simple book-keeping and now she runs, with the support of the Army, a shop on one of the main roads in Duakwa, selling dried fish, fruit, vegetables and sweets.
Six months ago Samuel Afadzi (29) came to Duakwa from his village on the other side of the country. He had heard of the Army’s rehabililitation centre.
Samuel is paralysed from the waist down, having broken his neck in an accident. When he arrived at the rehabilitation centre he did not have a wheelchair and could not sit straight. Less than six months after his first visit to the centre he now moves from one place to another in his wheelchair. Through physiotherapy and with lots of patience and endurance, he has learned to stand on his own feet and he is determined to walk again.
His father has rented a little house near the clinic, where his sister looks after Samuel. Soon Ata Hayford is planing to take him to the head of the orphanage school, who is also paralysed and uses a wheelchair. ‘This contact will show Samuel that he can still live a dignified and valuable life,’ says Ata, ‘even if he is not able to walk.’
Katharina adds: ‘It is wonderful to see how these children, who at first were rejected and neglected, are now part of society. Every human being is created by God and he has told us to look after his creation.’ She picks up and hugs a little boy whose feet need to be corrected. ‘In six months’ time,’ she says, ‘he will walk as well as other children!’