This 3-day outreach in Alice and Fort Beaufort in the Transkei – Eastern Cape achieved a lot. Far more was accomplished than just fitting children into buggies and wheelchairs.
We spent most of our weekend at a residential home in Fort Beaufort for children born with profound cerebral palsy. Sivenathi is situated in a small village which is almost impossible to reach, the roads are so bad. Everywhere one looks there is rubbish: Children play in rubbish, animals roam in the same rubbish. Rats galore.
Sivenathi and the staff who run it do their best, but being so remote, proper medical care is not possible at all. The staff who look after the children only get a stipend each, but they care dearly for the children and love them. We brought 11 buggies and 9 standard wheelchairs of varying sizes to the home, and we did our best to fit all the children into them during the 3 days we were here. We took another 2 buggies and a wheelchair to a school in Middledrift, (a small village on the way to Hogsback).
The children at Sivenathi are either abandoned or are from families that are unable to care for them. Each child is beautiful, each one a little human being (with a giant soul) who was born into a life of terrible adversity. Their clinical picture is so pathetic, their limbs and bodies are so misshapen.
Their wheelchairs were ancient: broken and dilapidated. We took spare parts, we glued, pasted, drilled and problem solved. We restored many chairs to be used as spare chairs, having given each child a new device as well.
For the first time we encountered something terrible and unexpected – rats eating children. Not rat bites, rather rats taking chunks of a child’s foot off, and the tip of another child’s fingers and nails having been bitten off.
It was disturbing. Our team arranged antibiotics and correct dressings for the wounds, and then set about ensuring that the local councillor understood that living in a rubbish dump leads to rat proliferation.
We left the area knowing we had a lot more work to do to uplift this institution. We managed to raise money to repair a ceiling where rats lived, as well as to close up holes in walls where rats found their way onto the beds of children. We joined Sivenathi in submitting a complaint to the South African Human Rights Commission about municipalities who don’t clean up areas like this one, endangering residents. We are currently raising funds to send caregivers on a First Aid course.
We made a huge impact on this weekend, hopefully we left with the staff inspired to not be fearful of repercussions when it comes to the well-being of children.
We spent 3 days in impoverished KZN where we fitted over 20 children who were born with cerebral palsy, into buggies. As usual those children had been on the waiting list for their own buggy for a long time.
Things were different this time however, it was unfortunate to see that some of the therapists who are responsible for large departments were themselves not qualified, they were still doing their mandatory year of community service. Despite this they were expected to offer comprehensive therapy services to an entire area.
We worked hard to show these young therapists the basic principles of caring for a cerebral palsy child. Most were totally out of their depth with regards this, as well as not being able to fit children into buggies. In this way we ensured that many children be assisted going forward, far more than we saw in those 3 days.
One cannot understand hardship until one drives over an hour on terrible roads to the most inaccessible home, where we fitted a child of 12 years old into a buggy. She had slept on a blanket on the floor her whole life, her little body was scarred and emaciated.
Each child we fitted was a story of love and patience. How these caregivers loved their little angels with broken bodies. It was inspiring and overwhelming.
One child of 14 could barely move, he was so stiff. His mother told us that he cried when he saw other children playing. Life was different for him now, he made it clear through excited gestures that he knew that the buggy that we were renovating was his.
What a privilege it was to be part of this magnificent group of recipients. How lucky to be part of such a magnificent team of people.
Each caregiver who had electricity at home was given an electric blender so that the child could eat the same meals as the family (and not just butternut and pap).
We handed out many blankets to children in the clinics, as well as to passers-by in communities we travelled through.
We went to Thohoyandou, Venda, Limpopo on November 6, 2021, for a 3-day outreach. Here we custom – fitted 16 cerebral palsy children who were born with severe limitations, into buggies. Some of these children had waited for years for their precious wheelchair.
We were used to going to communities which are helpless and hopeless – not this one! What a community we went to, what an incredibly caring Occupational Therapist who worked with us.
There was a sense of ubuntu in Thohoyandou, fathers arrived with their children, a sight so rare. There was love and nurturing in this community
The weather was a sweltering 37 degrees Celsius outside. We generally do a home visit on our outreaches, and this time we went to Hamakuya village, a remote place very close to the Zimbabwean border. The area was so far away, caregivers would have really struggled to collect a buggy.
The next day we fitted umpteen children into buggies. We met the most loving beautiful caregivers, one of the recipients was a 20-year-old, he was totally helpless. His mother carried him on her back his whole life until that day, when he was wheeled away in his own buggy.
We saw love everywhere. Our team worked like trojans. An extra child arrived who was not on the list, she was exquisite, a little doll. Out came a buggy from the stores which was scraped down and cleaned up, ready for use. The lap straps didn’t have Velcro – no problem. One of the volunteers sewed all day until her fingers were raw.
Toys to stimulate sight, hearing and touch were made for each child. Children shook them in wonder, their expressions were priceless. Mothers were elated to have something to put into their child’s hand.
Not only did we fit, but we explained simple principles which changed lives. Showing parents that if you explain to a blind child what you are about to do with them relaxes the child and takes fear of the unknown away.
That weekend was truly inspiring.
We have returned from 4 days spent with the most beautiful children and caregivers in deep rural Zululand: Mbongolwane Hospital, Nkandla Hospital and Eshowe Hospital – all an hour away from one another, all in the poorest regions of KwaZulu Natal.
Our team of 10 spent long hours fitting such twisted and misshapen children into buggies, a gift of life actually. There were so many stories of courage and adversity in the face of such indifference from government. Children who had every odd stacked up against them yet they were still hanging on, all emaciated, all starving, but all so loved.
Our outreach was a huge success. We took along 40 buggies! Our biggest outreach ever.
These children and their caregivers had waited a lifetime for these precious buggies: There
was a family of 3 brothers who were all born with severe disability, the oldest was 17 years
old. They lay on a bed all day long staring at the wall. Not anymore, they are now mobile.
One young man had waited 30 years for his buggy, his body had twisted and contorted over
all the years, but 2 hours later (and a whole team working on his buggy), he was seated.
Many had never sat properly before, their spines were C-shaped and their hips didn’t flex at
all from bring propped on old couches at home. We sat them all in buggies!
We didn’t just gift buggies. We brought along 20kg of e’Pap porridge for each child (vitamins
and nutrients for an entire year), as well as heaps of blankets.
What an amazing end to 2022.