Volunteering in East Africa
31 October 2022 00:00
As a small charity, we rely on the passion and dedication of our amazing volunteers to help us in our journey. Phil began volunteering with us in Haiti in 2021, and since then has extended his efforts into East Africa.
Currently working at New Hope Rehabilitation Centre in BidiBidi refugee settlement, Phil has shares an update on his work alongside the country team, as well as his personal reflections on the amazing work being done in East Africa.
This past weekend, we journeyed to South Sudan. It takes us 3 hours from BidiBidi, Uganda to drive to the town of Kajo-Keji, just over the border. The roads are rough and often muddy, meaning the journey takes longer than it would in the UK or US. Our team first visited three weeks earlier to meet a number of individuals we had established we could help, so our purpose this weekend was to fit them with artificial limbs, begin their physiotherapy and work with as many new patients as possible.
The limbs we provide are prepared beforehand at New Hope Rehabilitation Centre, so we just have to complete the final fitting, adjustment and aesthetics. Today, we fitted five legs, both above and below the knee, for primary (first-time) users and secondary (subsequent or replacement) users, as well as one lower arm.
Facilities in Kajo-Keli are severely limited since the conflict in South Sudan, so we have to take everything we need with us. On this occasion, we were based in a church community centre at the side of the road. It consisted of a wooden framework with a grass thatch roof, trimmed branches for walls, two open doorways and a simple lectern fashioned from a couple of pieces of wood. The floor was just earth.
We brought a generator, water, machinery (including an oven) and a whole heap of equipment and materials. From a hammer to a cordless drill, talcum powder to foam sheets, vaseline, bandages and shoes. Yes, shoes. Every prosthetic leg needs a shoe to protect it, so we also have a talented shoe-maker within the team!
When the pre-prepared limb is fitted and adjusted, tested, readjusted, refitted and tested again and again until it fits just right. We brought some parallel bars to help with familiarisation and gait training, but also helped construct a set outside the venue for ongoing support after we have left.
It’s honestly hard to believe that we set up an entire prosthetic workshop on the side of the road, in the middle of East Africa, in a village with no power, running water, or any other type of infrastructure that we typically take for granted in Europe or North America. We are endlessly grateful to our Swiss Limbs for partnering with us in East Africa.
It's humbling and inspiring to work alongside such a dedicated team who are changing lives every single day. We hope that in the future, we can replicate our work in Uganda in South Sudan with a new health clinic - days like today are gradually bringing us closer to achieving this dream.