Days at the S4S Rehab Training Centre and office are always busy and sometimes develop slightly chaotically. This day is not different. We have set times for caregivers and their children to come in for various services. Theoretically this would leave us certain times for office related work, such as report writing, training and programme development. In practise, caregivers and their children stop by when they are in Town and near our centre.
On this particular day we spent the morning having one meeting after the other. As we are about to round up our staff meeting there is an unexpected visit from a mother and her child. They are new to S4S and have been referred by a nurse from one of the clinics where we regularly conduct disability awareness campaigns. These campaigns are important as many parents ignore or do not realise that their child is developing differently. They might not know what symptoms to look for, they might be ashamed or they might be in a state of denial. As a result they seek medical attention late, sometimes years later. It is those crucial early years in a child’s life that medical attention is important and can make a massive difference in how the disability of the child develops over time.
Our awareness campaigns are starting to have their impact. Nurses and people attending the clinics are referring caregivers and children to us. In this case it is Mitchel and her mother Tinashe. Rumbi, our Rehabilitation Technician (RT), assesses Mitchel and conducts an intake with both her and Tinashe. This is done with all children and their families who join S4S. We assess the disability, collect information about their education, general health, family situation and living conditions. Families get explained what they can expect from S4S and what we expect from them. After this a rehabilitation plan is developed for the child. This always includes strong involvement from the direct caregiver and family.
Whilst Rumbi is busy with the assessment, a few other caregivers and their children drop by the centre. They have been called to collect their assistive devices; wheelchairs and corner seats. There are two children for their new wheelchairs; Vimbai and Keith. It’s a good opportunity to talk with them, whilst we wait for Rumbi to finish the assessment. Keith is a young boy, aged 7, and he has cerebral palsy. He cannot sit independently or stand and has poor motor skills. His mother, Florence, carries him on her back most of the time. For her it is the only way she can do things in and around the house. Being 7 years of age Keith is now getting too heavy for her. Soon she would have to leave him in the house with nobody to look after him. The wheelchair, although not a special CP version, will bring her respite from carrying him. Florence can now take him with her to the market and he can sit in the garden, whilst she does some chores. Imagine what a difference it makes to Keith. Instead of lying down or being tied to his mother’s back, he can now sit up and be part of the day-to-day life of his family.
When Tsitsi, Vimbai’s mother, tells her story it feels especially touching. She has Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as ‘brittle bone disease’. Speaking with Tsitsi we come to know that Vimbai has had over 50 fractures in her lifetime. She is only 8 years old. Her last fracture happened just a few weeks ago, and she is still wearing a cast. Her mother is extremely happy with the wheelchair as now she does not have to carry Vimbai on her back anymore. Sometimes when she would put Vimbai on her back she would break a bone. With the new wheelchair Vimbai could go to school, however the school she is meant to go to cannot take her. It’s a school for girls with physical disabilities but they do not have the staff to help Vimbai to use the toilet and help her in and out of bed. So, for now she is stuck at a pre-school near her house. Since we work with this primary school and with the special needs department under the Ministry of Education we will look into these things and hopefully can work something out for Vimbai.
Giving handouts to people is not what we stand for. But providing appropriate and correctly measured assistive devices to the child’s individual needs, such as wheelchairs, can make a huge difference in the live of a disabled child and their families. It could mean the difference between being housebound and being able to attend school. The two mothers leave the centre happy, pushing their children back home in their wheelchairs. Difficult stories, and we realise these are just two of them. But, we don’t have much time to think and talk about it. We can quickly eat a sandwich and jump in the car. It’s time for home visits.