Over the last week in Uganda, we hosted the Walkabout Foundation to distribute 200 Tough Rider wheelchairs to people in need. These chairs are made in Kenya by disabled people and specially made for African (Ugandan) wear and tear. This distribution was months in the planning as we tried to reach as many recipients as possible in faraway places as well as in our local area. In general, people with disabilities are not treated very well in Uganda, often neglected and severely malnourished. The majority of people with disabilities that we have seen out in the field and in the clinic fall into one or both of these categories. There are some surprising cases of parents taking really wonderful care of their disabled children even with no knowledge of how best to care for them, however this is the exception not the rule. Some parents think their children have been cursed, some parents are ashamed of their children and some parents think they have done something wrong to end up with a disabled child.
It’s hard to describe adequately how hard the parents of disabled children work to take care of their disabled children alongside caring for a number of healthy kids. They face the same daily survival struggles as any average family in Uganda such as collecting water, gathering food to eat and making fire to cook, as well as digging in the garden, but they have the added burden of having to be a full time caretaker for one child, which is very hard work! Many people with disabilities here have been left in the same position for a very long time and their bodies can form a fixed shape if they are never moved. When this happens, physical therapy can help them but they cannot usually sit in a wheelchair. Luckily, we did not encounter too many people with this problem though we did see two heartbreaking cases – one of whom we can follow up on as they are living quite close to the clinic and the other came from an island in Lake Victoria and thus will be very hard to keep track of. It’s incredibly disappointing not to be able to offer people like this something, especially when you know they have made a Herculean effort to come to us.
The good news is that the majority of wheelchairs were placed during the week. We worked with a number of NGOs including Soft Power Education, Family Life and Education, Arise and Shine, Ekisa Ministries and Home of Hope as well as organizing some of our patients to receive them as well. In addition, we had an army of volunteers to help us as there is no way any of it would have been possible without all the extra help. Since the wheelchairs come in different sizes and had been pre-sized per recipient, sorting out how many we needed each day for each distribution was a mammoth task and required a lot of muscle. In addition, each recipient had to be fitted into a chair as well and this takes time and many adjustments. Luckily, in addition to the Walkabout team of Bryony, Stefanie, Heather, Tom, and Kevin, we had three Soft Power Health volunteers, Caitlyn, Lucie and Susan, several Soft Power Education volunteers Carin and Marie, and we had the Jackson clan, which included Kristine, EJ, Dane, Alec, Kalob, and KC. Thank goodness because we loaded, unloaded, loaded, unloaded and loaded and unloaded nearly 60 wheelchairs on the first day! In hindsight, there is no way we could have made the distribution happen without all this help.
The second day we did the distribution from the clinic which was great because we did not have to transport the wheelchairs anywhere but home to recipients’ households and we were able to give members of our home village wheelchairs which was really great. One woman in particular who has AIDS and cannot walk had not left her home for the last year and seven months. She was very grateful to receive the wheelchair and the next morning we saw her out with her mother visiting people on our way up to the clinic. The next three days, we visited three neighboring districts to reach groups of people that were quite far away. Of the 200 wheelchairs, we distributed 153 and have homes for 28 more that will go out in the coming week. Of the remaining wheelchairs, we have been compiling a list of people who want wheelchairs and their measurements. In six months, we are planning to follow up on the recipients and see how they are doing with the wheelchairs. With any luck this will be the first of a number of wheelchair distributions here in Uganda that we do with the Walkabout Foundation.