Archive for the ‘From the Field’ Category

Denis Is Walking Tall

March 4th, 2016 by CBM Australia

By Tobias Pflanz, CBM Field Communications Manager
Denis before (left) and after (right) his operation

It was a morning like any other when Denis began his journey towards walking free from Blount’s disease. Denis, who was eight at the time, sat watching his carer – half-sister Rora – prepare their breakfast in a pot over the open fire. They were having maize and cassava, mashed with groundnut sauce.

A cock was crowing. The smells of jackfruit and burning wood filled the air.

But this was no ordinary morning.
Denis and Rora make beakfastHaving lived with Blount’s disease for most of his short life – a condition which bowed the bones of his lower legs outward, making walking extremely painful – Denis was about to receive an operation that would change everything.

Denis was full of smiles. He was ready.

Denis and a CBM worker

A life-changing operation

At a CBM partner hospital just outside Uganda’s capital, Kampala, Denis met the doctor who would operate on his legs.

The doctor explained he would perform corrective surgery on Denis’s right leg – which was more severely affected – to straighten the bones. He would then fit Denis with a fixator, a device that would temporarily sit on the outside of his leg and continue to align his bones after he left the hospital.The doctor looks at Denis's legs before the operation

On the left leg, the doctor would implant a small metal plate below the knee joint to stop the leg growing in the wrong direction. As Denis grew taller, the doctor explained, the leg would straighten itself. Denis smiles form his hospital bed after the operation

A brave boy

Everything in surgery went according to plan and the next day, an exhausted Denis learnt it was time for his first round of physiotherapy.

It was at this point Denis showed everyone just how brave he was.

Denis bravely takes his first post-operation steps Physiotherapy continues for Denis

Despite an intense surgery and a rough first night, Denis gathered the strength to do his first exercise: walking between a set of parallel bars.

Slowly, despite the pain, Denis clenched his teeth and took a step. Then another. Holding tightly to the bars, he began to walk forward.

Life couldn’t be more different!

One year on and life couldn’t be more different for nine-year-old Denis.

Following several months of checkups and physiotherapy exercises, Denis is on his way to a complete recovery.The doctor shows Denis the difference between pre- and post-operation xrays of his legs

And he loves everything his new life has to offer.

He can run. He can jump. He can bend his legs and kneel down. And after years of watching other children play, he can now join in!

Denis can also walk to school without any pain and take part in all school activities. He’s now in year one and his teachers report he’s not only doing well with his studies but is happier and more confident too.Denis runs and plays with his friends

For all children like Denis

Denis’s story shows just how much of a difference your gifts to CBM make. When children face the dual challenge of both poverty and disability, it can be difficult for them – and their families – to see a way out. When you partner with CBM, you create opportunities for children like Denis.a smiling Denis shows the difference we can make in the life of a child

I pray that every time you see his face on the calendar this March, you remember your support continues to help children all around the world, just like Denis.


Signature of Tobias

Tobias Pflanz – CBM Field Communication Manager

Learning the Value of Australian Aid in Cambodia

February 2nd, 2016 by CBM Australia

This blog is written by CBM Australia Senior Advisor of Program Development, David Brown, who accompanied a delegation of Australian politicians on a learning tour to Cambodia from 17 to 22 January 2016. The delegates visited a range of development and humanitarian agencies to see firsthand the type of projects supported by the Australian government’s aid program.

Phnom Penh is a city of two million people. It is the centre of Cambodia’s growth projects – its housing and construction boom, and the face of Chinese investment in new townships and large casinos. The normal daily scene would leave an Occupational Health and Safety officer in Australia pale – two men ride by on a motorbike, the passenger carrying a three metre ladder, at high speed a helmetless adolescent weaves in and out of SUVs, tuk-tuks, bikes and pedestrians – watched by a group of three men in wheelchairs who lost limbs to landmines placed during the terrible internal conflict of more than thirty disability, years ago.

A delegation of Australian politicians visit Cambodia to learn the value of Australian Aid in the country.

A delegation of Australian politicians visit Cambodia to learn the value of Australian Aid in the country.

Cambodia has reportedly the largest percentage of population with a disability in South East Asia – and the rapid growth in access to motorised transport without safe infrastructure means that road traffic accidents now account for more than 10 times the physical impairments still occurring through unexploded landmines.

I’m here with a delegation of six lower and upper Australian parliamentary house members. They are visiting as part of a Gates Foundation grant to enable Save the Children to set up a series of visits with development and humanitarian agencies supported by the Australian Government’s aid program, of which CBM Australia is one.

Since 2010, CBM Australia has partnered with the Cambodian Development Mission for Disability (CDMD), with funding support from the Australian Aid Program. CBM Australia supports CDMD to provide a comprehensive and empowering approach to disability inclusion in Cambodia across five provinces, and supports more than 140 Self-help groups of people with disability and their families.

Participation in CDMD Self-help groups leads to positive psychological and economic changes, as well as increased household incomes for people with disability. And this is what the delegation is coming to see.

The plastic chairs have been covered with brightly coloured material – a normal custom for weddings and other important events in Cambodia. Even some old electric fans are wheeled in to keep the politicians comfortable – and the normal offerings of drink and fruit are generous. Everything is set as the Australian politicians arrive at a commune outside of Phnom Penh.

The visit aims to set the context in which Cambodian people with disability live and the ongoing challenges related to income, access, participation and rights. Also, it aims to give a glimpse of the kind of ongoing community work led by CDMD and its committed staff and volunteers.

The Self-help Group of 12 women and men are part of CBM-partner CDMD’s network of empowering people with disability to problem solve and support each other in finding solutions to the challenges they face in their lives. Also present is the Vice-President of the Commune – a local politician – and the Australian politicians congratulate him for his response to meeting some of the needs of people with disability.

After we give a contextual overview of challenges facing the broader population of people with disability in Cambodia, the delegation hear the personal stories of three group members who had benefited through increased commune support and loans to assist in livelihood activities: small businesses and chicken farms amongst others.

A CDMD volunteer advocate, Chenda, gives a very moving account of her own commitment to changing attitudes, looking for greater educational opportunities, and the promotion of rights for all people with disability.

Chenda was born blind, as was her younger brother, and through the encouragement of her family and support from organisations such as CDMD and Handicap International, she was studying psychology at the Royal Phnom Penh University.  Through working as a disability rights advocate, she has learnt much about engaging with authorities, and her speech is a great indication of her skill.  She is extremely diplomatic but also able to communicate clearly the challenges of access to education and to fulfilment of rights.

“You gave a really inspiring talk. Thanks so much”.  A group of women politicians gathered around Chenda to congratulate her on her part in the meeting.

I was very impressed with this delegation – the politicians sat patiently during the translations and listened respectfully.  They asked intelligent questions and seemed to genuinely try to fit this scene from semi-rural Cambodia and the Self-help group’s stories into a way of thinking about the Australian Aid program.  The constant movement of chickens and the local itinerant salesmen’s tuk-tuk loudspeakers provided a dose of reality that seemed to be appreciated by all. And their words of thanks and appreciation – particularly to Chenda and to the commune’s vice-president – were very sincere and heartfelt.

In 2015, CDMD with the support of CBM Australia and funding support from the Australian Aid Program, changed lives by:

  • 12,271 people with disability referred to health services
  • 339 children with disability enrolled in school
  • 542 people with disability improved their income through livelihood schemes, vocational training and participation in Self-help groups
  • 51 non government organisations and commune councils integrating disability inclusion into development plans
  • 274 awareness-raising events


Politicians who attended as part of the delegation included:

Mr Dan Tehan MP

Ms Gai Brodtmann MP

Senator Linda Reynolds CSC

The Hon Darren Chester MP

Ms Lisa Chesters MP

Ms Sharon Claydon MP

Thank you to Save the Children and the Gates Foundation for making this visit possible.

Disaster Risk Reduction: a disability focus

March 18th, 2015 by CBM Australia

Luke Purcell is a International Programs Officer at CBM Australia and is this week in Japan at the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. In this blog, Luke shares his experiences at the conference working with CBM partner organisations and meeting a young woman with disability who now works in her community to ensure people with disabilities aren’t forgotten when disasters strike:

We are now half way through our time at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. The CBM crew here includes
Valerie Scherrer (CBM Emergency Response Unit (ERU) Director), Gordon Rattray (CBM ERU Communications Coordinator), Benjamin Dard (CBM Technical Advisor for Accessibility), Elizabeth Lockwood (CBM UN Advocacy Officer) and myself. Additionally, we are privileged to be accompanied by our valuable in-country partners, networks of organisations and people that support our messages for disability inclusion and inclusive disaster risk reduction.

 One of CBM’s key partners is the Centre for Disability in Development (CDD), a National Disability Organisation from Bangladesh. It’s been wonderful having them here with us and has provided opportunities to learn together, share ideas and reflect on topics that the Centre staff can apply to their work. We also have the pleasure of being accompanied by Kazol Rekha from Gaibandha, Bangladesh, who received support from CDD a few years ago through a disaster risk reduction project. Many of you might recognise Kazol from our End the Cycle video.  

Presenting at the conference alongside CDD, Kazol briefly told her story and spoke about her work and participation in developing resilience within her own community, to better prepare and respond to extreme weather – notably floods. She described how she’s been involved in flood risk planning, raising awareness and promoting the rights of women and people with disabilities in all aspects of community life. But as she exemplified during the conference, women with disability are critically important to building resilient communities and ensuring that no one is left behind. Kazol is now a member of the local government’s disaster risk reduction committee.

Kazol Rekha and  Centre for Disability in Development Assistant Director Gopal Saha Broja present at the UN World Coference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Kazol Rekha (centre) and CDD Assistant Director Gopal Saha Broja (L) present at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.


It’s incredible to see how far Kazol has come since she first received support from CDD a few years ago. She now speaks with conviction and unwavering confidence, wholeheartedly passionate about her cause.

 Reflecting on Kazol’s achievements, I realise she is testament to the increasing perception and attitudinal shift that’s been evident during the conference. People with disability have previously been thought of as vulnerable groups during emergency and disaster situations. In times of emergency and disaster people with disability are at increased risk, but through inclusive disaster risk reduction you reduce the vulnerability of all people in a community and that includes women, children and people with disability. Through inclusive approaches you reduce the risk of impact from disasters for everyone. 

The increased visibility in disability inclusion at the UN conference is especially timely given the recent devastation brought upon Vanuatu by Cyclone Pam. Many people with disability in Vanuatu found it difficult to reach safety and found themselves in life-threatening situations. Emergency relief  efforts will need to involve people with disability as key stakeholders in planning and implementation to ensure everyone in the community receives support.

 Now people recognise and actively seek the positive contribution people with disability bring to all forms of development, including disaster risk reduction. People with disability are ‘key stakeholders’ in the post 2015 disaster risk reduction framework.

Typhoon Haiyan – one year on…

November 7th, 2014 by Steph Gaut

One year ago this week, Typhoon Haiyan swept through the central pay someone to do essay Philippines. It was one of the most powerful storms on record, killing over 6000 people and affecting another 14 million.

CBM and its partners were on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the November 8 disaster to provide emergency support, and one year later we’re continuing to work in the hardest-hit places to make sure people with disabilities are included in all areas of relief efforts and rehabilitation.


With CBM support, four Special Education school centres have been rebuilt, and seven more are on their way.

With CBM support, four Special Education school centres have been rebuilt, and seven more are on their way.


How CBM has helped: a breakdown

Since Typhoon Haiyan struck, CBM and our partner organisations have been working to provide immediate relief support, as well as working on long-term strategies to ensure local communities are prepared with strategies for future disaster situations that will include people with disabilities.

During the past year, your support has:

  • Helped over 62,000 people receive vital support
  • Ensured more than 3800 vulnerable households received emergency supplies, such as food and clean water;
  • Rebuilt and refurnished four school resource centres, with seven more in progress;
  • Helped repair 135 damaged houses, supporting over 800 people;
  • Ensured future houses for 100 families will be typhoon-resilient and accessible, with appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH);
  • Trained six local partner organisations to understand and promote accessibility;
  • Started a Community Mental Health program, providing services to 250 people with psychosocial disabilities, and training over 100 local health professionals in community mental health.


14-year-old Benjillo (left) and his family were left with nothing after Typhoon Haiyan. They're just one of over 3800 households who received a CBM emergency supplies.

14-year-old Benjillo (left) and his family were left with nothing after Typhoon Haiyan.

They’re just one of over 3800 households who received CBM emergency supplies.


We’re hearing from people about just how grateful they are for the support they’ve received through CBM. Perlita, a mother of nine whose home was destroyed in the typhoon, says “Good thing the president of the persons with disabilities organisation (DPO) in our barangay told us that CBM would distribute relief packs. It was a huge blessing to us. We were short on rice and CBM was able to provide it to us.”

While it will most likely take a few years for communities to fully recover from the effects of Haiyan, CBM is tackling the need to rebuild as an opportunity to rebuild better. This means rebuilding not just houses and schools, but making sure employment opportunities, communities and services all become more accessible to people living with disabilities.

5 things I learned in Bangladesh

July 12th, 2012 by Anna Gaskill

For a few short weeks late last year, I exchanged daily life in the CBM office in Melbourne for a hot, hectic, vibrant, welcoming land that I love – Bangladesh.  I was there to collect stories from people with disabilities as part of CBM’s End the Cycle campaign.

This week, we’ve gone public with those stories, sharing them on End the Cycle’s new website. I know these stories are going to be popular and powerful. But for now, I have been reflecting on what I learned during my time in Bangladesh. Here’s my top five things:

The video crew sets up the shot as a crowd gathers to watch. Photo © Adnan Wahid, DRIK Bangladesh

1. Pull out a camera, the crowds will come.
We had a local film crew working for us and we thought that might make us more able to blend into the scenery. But if you watch this short clip of Kazol telling her story, you’ll see that despite our efforts to remain inconspicuous, we still caused quite a buzz!

2. CBM’s local Bangladeshi partner, Centre for Disability in Development, does fabulous work!
All the stories from Bangladesh are from people who’ve participated in this organisation’s projects, which are supported by CBM. And our team on the ground was headed up by local staff member and person with disability, Russell.  Read Russell’s story and all the other stories to see the results: empowered people who are leaders of their communities.

3. Team work is a beautiful thing.
In Bangladesh, we had lots of people involved: our partner, Centre for Disability and Development; key people from their village-level partners; the film crew from DRIK Bangladesh; AJ from Room 3, our production partner usually based in Melbourne; and me. There were some challenging moments, but between English, the local language Bangla, and sign language, we had lots of interpreting and somehow all understood each other.

Behind the scenes. Photo © Adnan Wahid, DRIK Bangladesh

4. Who better to tell a story than those with firsthand experience?
We believe that people living with disabilities are the best placed to explain the issues they face and help others understand the cycle of poverty and disability. So the people in the End the Cycle stories are real people, telling their own stories in their own words, and they’ve made the final decision on which parts of their story they want to share with the world. We’re pretty proud of these stories, and hope you will want to share them with your friends and family once you see them.

5. Curried vegetables with roti and a cup of tea makes a delicious breakfast.
There’s not much more to say on that one – except that adjusting back to muesli was no easy task!

I think the videos are awesome! Have a look–I’d love to hear what you think.

Anna Gaskill is the Manager of Community Engagement at CBM Australia. She’s a big fan of social justice, riding her bike, and curried vegetables. Keep up with Anna on twitter: @annagaskill77

Meeting Diana

June 1st, 2012 by CBM Australia

Diana at CCBRT

I met Diana during the second half of my visit at CCBRT, CBM’s partner hospital in Tanzania. I was there to take photos and hear the stories of people with disabilities, and how their lives had been impacted by the work of CBM.

The first few days we had spent in the field meeting people in their homes in and around Dar Es Salaam. But now we were in hospital, in the fistula ward.

As I prepared for this interview, I wanted to make sure that I stayed most sensitive to the issue. Not that that’s unusual, but I was operating in a different culture, through a translator and was, as a male, going to talk to a woman who had gone through the most horrific birthing injury, who was likely to be deeply affected by this experience, and who could possibly – in addition to all the above – have lost her child in the process.

The rooms in the fistula ward have windows all around  – warm daylight shining inside. A few ceiling fans were chugging away, mosquito nets hanging from the ceiling above each of the beds. Diana sat on her bed, knitting, chatting to the woman next to her, laughing and smiling. The atmosphere was more that of a dormitory than that of a sterile or impersonal hospital. Clearly the women here were bonding in ways that you wouldn’t see in an Australian hospital.

Inside the Fistula Ward

I was right about a few things. Diana’s story was heartbreaking. Losing her first child at birth due to a prolonged, obstructed labour without timely medical intervention she acquired Fistula and for lack of proper medical care had to live with it for the last 22 years! It’s hard to image what life would have been like day to day.

“I constantly needed to wash my clothes and clean myself – several times a day, to get rid of the smell. Sometimes neighbours came by, but I didn’t want to be seen, I was so embarrassed. Many of my friends shunned me over time. I stayed at home a lot. I never socialised, never went to the shops. The only place I went to was church. I prayed to God that he might help me.”

What impressed me most was Diana’s strength and courage to move on in life despite of all this.  She learned how to overcome the embarrassment and how to hide the fact that she was still leaking urine uncontrollably. Wearing multiple layers of clothing and changing often, no one noticed. She found work as a maintenance supervisor in Dar es Salaam: “I was the supervisor of a team of 16 cleaners. I have never told anybody about my condition, and nobody ever realised anything.

In early 2012, Diana’s husband heard an announcement on the radio that women with fistula could get surgery at  the Disability Hospital. He encouraged his wife to take the offer. “That’s how I got here to CCBRT. I just could not really believe that I would finally find help. But then I met so many women on the ward who had been in the same situation as myself – and who had already received surgery and were happy again”.

As we’re finishing the interview I asked her about what she thinks will be the biggest change for her life. “Freedom, not having to hide anymore” and she summed it all up in her last comment – “It really is the start of a new life.”

Diana at home

Learn more about CBM’s work or Donate to Help Prevent Fistula


East Africa food crisis – 29 July [video]

July 29th, 2011 by CBM Australia

CBM’s Linda Mwania reporting from the East Africa food crisis.

Our visit to this area has drawn to a close, and as we begin our journey I reflect on our time in this border town.

This area has a natural beauty, the community warm and welcoming. I have been touched by the strength of the people living in the interior despite experiencing a currently difficult period. Even more so, the many people who have shared their lives with us particularly those living with disability. I feel that we have a responsibility to stand alongside them during this time. And to work together as partners on the ground to ensure that whatever help is available reaches them quickly.

So pray for CBM as we respond to the situation in Kenya and horn of Africa countries, and work with partners including the Kenya Red Cross and others to bring help where it is needed. Pray for the Emergency Response Unit headed by Valerie that they will find the support necessary to implement CBM’s response. Pray for the people affected by the drought and famine that they will not lose hope, and that help will reach them quickly. And pray especially for persons with disabilities that are also affected by this drought, for their courage as they try to rebuild their lives in the following months and years.

East Africa food crisis – 27 July

July 27th, 2011 by CBM Australia

CBM’s Linda Mwania reporting from the East Africa food crisis. Moyale.

Today at the hospital I met a few mothers and their children that had been admitted in the ward in order to receive supplemental feeding. Among them I spoke once more with Hawai, whom we had met two days before. At that time she had just come into the hospital with her granddaughter, a two month old weighing 2.2 kgs on admission.

She had walked from the village of Elu, 3 kms away, worried for the baby’s health. When the baby’s mother died while she was one month old, Hawai took on care of her granddaughter. Due to the drought most of their cattle had died so there was no cow’s milk. They tried feeding the baby on goat’s milk but she reacted after some time and started vomiting a lot. She was not well. When the little baby was received at the hospital she was immediately put on supplements and milk resulting in a visible difference in just two days.

The Nursing Officer in Charge at Moyale District Hospital informed us that as a result of the current drought, despite feeding centres in the community, cases of malnutrition are on the rise. This is affecting not only the children but the adults too. When children are discharged from hospital they are provided with food packages for supplemental feeding. These packages end up being utilized by the entire family due to the gravity of the situation.

However, it is encouraging to see how as in the case of Hawai’s granddaughter, necessary assistance can turn this situation around.

Images © CBM Australia / Greg Low