When Neema Crafts started working with physically disabled adults, most lacked access to disability aids and many had never seen any specialist or doctor. We took their medical histories to a hospital for disabilities in the capital, 500km away; the response from the doctors was that there was little that could be done since all were now fully grown. If they had been seen as young children, the doctors could have made a significant difference to their disabilities and many would now barely be disabled. The critical period to intervene in the life of a person with disabilities is in the first few years while bones, joints and muscles are still growing and contractures have not become fixed.
The number of adults who are classed as having a disability in the main district bordering Iringa town is 15% of the population, which is one of the highest in Tanzania.
If up to 15% of the adult population suffer from disability, where are all the children? It is a rare sight in a village to see a disabled child, but every year the figure of adults remains stubbornly high, so they are there somewhere.
While Andy,was working as a vet in the rural areas vaccinating chickens, he chased a reluctant hen, which hid in a large wicker basket normally used to store maize. When feeling in the basket, instead of grabbing the chicken, Andy caught the leg of a child. Inside he found a seven year old with severe cerebral palsy. The child had been hidden out of sight in that basket for all of its life, even the neighbours had no knowledge of the child's existence. Unfortunately, this is the situation of many disabled children in Tanzania.
No data exists for numbers of disabled children. They are extremely difficult to find. Most are hidden by parents or, in certain tribal groups, often abandoned in the bush at birth. As many will die before they reach adulthood without treatment, it is estimated that childhood disability percentages are higher than 15%. There are no services available for these children.
If a child born with a disability receives medical care, physiotherapy and access to surgery very early in their life, they can grow up with a much less severe disability. This is where we can really make a difference for the future of children in the Iringa region.
The Physiotherapy Department at Neema Crafts was set up to provide a reason for families not to hide their disabled children away but to bring them to receive treatment and help them live fulfilled lives. It also provides an opportunity for the parents to see there is hope for their child, through meeting and learning from our physiotherapist and seeing the adults with disabilities working at Neema Crafts, who support their families and live as fulfilled lives as anyone else.
The Physiotherapy Department now has over 150 children regularly receiving treatment and want to expand on this. We provide treatment and as much in the way of disability aids as we can afford to those parents without an income. We do not turn anyone away although we currently may not be able to provide all equipment necessary. We also provide a nutrition programme to help the most malnourished of our patients as many of the children who come to us are simply too weak to do the physiotherapy exercises they need to do to improve. Currently ten children receive monthly rations of fortified porridge mix and we would love to increase that number.