By Tobias Pflanz, CBM Field Communications Manager
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.
Having 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tobias Pflanz – CBM Field Communication Manager
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.
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.
CBM’s Church Engagement Lead Rob Nicholls reflects in this fourth instalment from Kenya on the impact cataract surgery can have not only on the individual, but on the whole family and entire communities.
Today, a fellow grandfather looked at me as we parted and said, “I like your job!”. I replied that I did too, especially today. We had a common bond – he grew coffee and I love drinking it! But we also shared a sense of enormous achievement as we gazed at his granddaughter, Leila, and great-granddaughter Lacy.
Lacy had been born totally blind with cataracts in both eyes. After some months, Leila’s mother and aunt both expressed concern; Leila’s aunt took Lacy to Sabatia Eye Hospital, a specialist eye care hospital in Vihiga County, Western Kenya, which today we visited. Just this month, both of Lacy’s cataracts were removed and replaced with lenses; now her mother describes her as a happy and active girl “doing all the things I saw other babies do”. As we sat in the room with three generations the emotion was palpable, and we were thanked for our part in this.
CBM was present at the inception of Sabatia Hospital and has been strong partner throughout that time. In fact, CBM’s support enabled children like Lacy to have vital surgery at no cost, when it would have been beyond the resources of the family to pay the full cost.
We spent a number of hours with Dr Annis Orlando, the CEO and paediatric ophthalmologist, who introduced us to almost all of the staff and spoke with great passion of the importance of this work and of ensuring that everyone had access to good eye care.
40,000 people per annum receive treatment through the hospital, and they train doctors from Kenya, Uganda, Ruanda and Tanzania to expand the number of people impacted by this great work. We saw everything from eye testing, assessment and diagnosis, prescription, surgery and even spectacle-making, as we walked the hallways of this beautiful place. We chatted with men and women as they had their eye patches removed after their surgery the day before. They ranged from 16 years old to over 80, and we also met very young babies with their mothers as they waited for or recovered from surgery. I loved watching the warmth of the interactions between our group of Christine, Wendy and Dona with those people.
Of course, not everything happened at the hospital; we had heard of the outreach work to visit schools and remote community where, following screening, people were bussed to the hospital for surgery.
I had a long-held wish fulfilled as I stood in the operating theatre and watched three adults have their cataracts removed and new lenses put in their place! A very young baby even had delicate surgery done to correct his glaucoma-affected vision. I watched, amazed, as miracles literally took place before my eyes! We were fortunate that large screens had been linked to the microscope used by the surgeons as they worked. Their deftness working with such small instruments in such a delicate part of the body was professionalism at the highest level. That is not an experience I will ever forget.
The home visits that followed helped us experience the impact and see the importance of that surgery. Seeing young Lacy was a beautiful experience, as was visiting an older couple Joaquin and Esther.
Joaquin was a farmer with cattle and crops who was the breadwinner for his family at over 70 years of age. For 18 months he was unable to work because his eyesight had deteriorated to the point of not being able to go anywhere without Esther’s help and not being able to read his bible, a significant loss for him.
His crops had shrunk to a fraction of their normal size when he finally had both cataracts removed this month. He is now able to get back to work, be mobile and read his bible. Esther was very happy because she could now get on with her work too and not have to lead Joaquin everywhere. They were a joyful couple who wanted to wish us and CBM many kind blessings.
It was hard to leave the conversation I was having with my fellow grandfather, Mohammed. We managed to communicate that we both believed in our brotherhood, whatever our beliefs, and loved our families. I left with his words ringing in my ears and thanking God for my job and the opportunity to meet such genuine people who knew how to be grateful.
All this week we’ll be sharing insights from our team who’ve travelled over to Kenya for a Church Engagement field visit. In this post, Rob, Church Engagement Coordinator, shares about his first impressions, his inaugural Kenyan church experience and what he’s looking forward to visiting CBM projects and meeting CBM beneficiaries.
I’ve arrived in Nairobi with great expectations. We’re visiting a great range of work by our partners in Nairobi, Kajiado, Kisumu, Kakamega and Kijabe. More about all of those places as the week goes on but we will get to see lots of community based work in urban and rural locations amongst people disadvantage by the combination of poverty and disability.
At CBM Australia we’ve been planning to take church leaders to visit CBM projects for about 4 years! We do understand the impact we can have on our field partners, country and regional offices and so we’re very grateful for the time and effort they have made to welcome us to Kenya. Linda Mwania, my colleague at CBM Australia has made the difference because of her deep knowledge of working with all of these groups and her skills at planning and negotiating such a visit. I’m also excited that we have Rev Dona Spencer from Southport Uniting Church and Wendy Campbell from Paradise Point Uniting Church part of this first church leaders’ field trip.
Our first day served to help us adjust to life in Kenya and connect as a team. Linda’s church in Nairobi, Nairobi Chapel, is an exciting church and very hospitable. I loved the passion of this community and the beauty of the relationships we experienced. The afternoon was different in a number of ways as we visited a local market where we met trade was brisk and sometimes brutal. Fortunately, humour was also found in the midst of commercial negotiations. I was offered all the contents of one stall in exchange for my camera!
After meeting our photographer extraordinaire, Guilio, we met up with Kirsten Bostelmann, CBM Regional Director East Africa, who briefed us on our trip and some important cultural guidelines that would help us not offend those we were visiting. It reminded me of the intrusion we make when we visit people with disabilities and the families and CBM’s partner organisations. They have important work to do and lives to live so we need to tread lightly and understand the privilege this is. Tomorrow we will meet people living in urban poverty and hear their stories.
CBM Australia’s Content Lead, Amanda Warrick visited our field partners in Bangladesh, to collect stories and images for Miracles Day. Here she reflects on her meeting with 80 year old Shanti and how her life has changed after her cataract surgery.
In July, Melbourne was in the middle of the coldest winter for the last two decades; it was definitely not the greatest preparation for time spent in Bangladesh – where temperatures were at a constant 33C with 90% humidity.
The rivers were fast-flowing due to monsoon season, and traffic was barely moving due to the congested roads. It was very hot, very muggy and in places by the river where wild boars roam, it could only be described as very fragrant.
It was with this back drop that I gained a deeper insight into the flow-on effect of CBM’s work and how treatment is just the start.
I was privileged to meet Shanti at her home, approximately three hours out of the capital city, Dhaka. As I sat with her on the muddy ground outside her home, the local community crammed in to see the strangers who had travelled to the middle of nowhere, to visit their neighbour.
Shanti had cataract surgery six months ago, before surgery she had spent eight months living in total darkness.
“When the days were black, I was very unhappy and passed the time away alone in my home or in the yard, as everyone else was busy with their work – without sight I lost my world…” Shanti said. She was completely dependent on her family for everything; collecting and preparing food, eating, cleaning her home and herself, doing her washing, walking, going to the toilet. She felt helpless and like she was a burden.
Since having her sight-restoring surgery through a CBM partner, she’s back to her best. She contributes to her family home, by helping with cooking and cleaning. She also enjoys the simple pleasure of sitting with her grandsons, playing games with them and seeing the smiles on their faces.
When I’ve thought about cataract surgery in the past, I’ve focussed on the actual surgery – which is awe-inspiring: 12 minutes and someone has their sight restored, how amazing! But it was when I met Shanti that I truly understood the difference this one surgery made; not only to Shanti, but also to her family, and her whole community. The flow-on effect is huge and has many positive outcomes.
A simple surgery through CBM means someone like Shanti will get their world back. Shanti is able to meaningfully contribute to her family. She is now independent and self sufficient. And because Shanti no longer needs constant care, her family can go to work and earn money for food, or go to school, without fear or concern for her.
It’s more than just surgery; one treatment flows on to positively impact the whole community.