Steve Harknett, Programmes Officer for Africa, writes about his trip to Nigeria at the end of 2013.
‘Physical rehabilitation’: rather a dry-sounding, medical term, but one which conceals the wonderful service that is really is. Rehabilitation is actually restoration – restoring basic abilities to people who have lost them through leprosy or other disability. It’s restoration of their God-given dignity and their ability to do all the things in life that most of us take for granted.
This became very apparent to me during my recent visit to the Chanchaga Orthopaedic Workshop in Nigeria, which we have been supporting for the last year. Chanchaga is one of the few functioning rehabilitation workshops in the country, providing orthopaedic and mobility aids, including prosthetic limbs, orthotics, adapted shoes, crutches and wheelchairs, to people affected by leprosy.
These services are expensive and there’s need for people affected by leprosy, who are often among the poorest of the poor, to be helped to receive these services. We work with TLM Nigeria to ensure that such services are delivered to people affected by leprosy in eight states of the country.
I met several of the workshop’s beneficiaries during my visit. One woman, Binta, was at the nearby leprosy hospital getting treatment for ulcers on her right leg. Ulcers had already led to her left leg being amputated, and now her right leg also needed amputating. Binta is unable to walk at all, and can only move around by dragging herself around on the ground, getting dirty and increasing the risk of infections in the process. Everyday tasks such as going to the toilet are a tremendous ordeal for her. It’s hard to imagine a more undignified way of living.
Binta and her husband Hassan, who also has leprosy and walks with crutches, have four young children, only one of whom is in school. Binta is unable to do all the things a mother would normally do for her children, which forces the children to do domestic work and miss school as a result. Having such a severely disabled mother brings shame upon the children, and other children in the village call them ‘the leprosy children’.
Binta asked for financial assistance for the amputation operation, which is far too expensive for the family to afford. Following the operation, the Orthopaedic Workshop will give her a wheelchair. By restoring her ability to move around off the ground, the wheelchair will help keep Binta clean and avoid further health complications, and enable her to do more domestic work herself, taking some workload off her children. This will enable her to hold her head high in her community.
There are so few orthopaedic workshops in Nigeria and the reputation of Chanchaga has spread, so that other disabled people, not just those affected by leprosy, have also started coming. One such person is Yousif, a young man whose leg was amputated following a football accident. Yes, that’s right – he lost his leg through playing football. He broke his leg, and rather than seeking help from professional medical services he sought treatment from a traditional healer. The healer’s negligence caused the leg to go septic and it needed amputation to save Yousif’s life.
This young man, so proud of his physical ability and sporting achievements, has had his sporting career needlessly cut short. Everything is difficult to do when you’re an amputee, Yousif told me, plus there’s the stigma of looking different. But now with his artificial limb Yousif looks and walks like any other young man. “You would never know he had this accident,” his friend told me proudly. His pride and dignity now restored, he can now start hoping for the future again – completing his studies and marriage are on the horizon.
Nigeria is a country from where we hear so much bad news – much of the north of the country is under a state of emergency, leading to many deaths and a tragic breakdown of relations between the country’s Christian and Muslim communities, so we must pray for peace and reconciliation in this troubled nation. But we must also give thanks that The Leprosy Mission is providing a valuable service of restoration to people like Binta and Yousif, restoring their ability to walk and to move, their dignity as human beings in God’s image, and their hope for a better life in the future.