Mary is from South Sudan and is over 100 years old – though she’s not sure of her exact age! When she was 30, just after she got married, she was struck by polio – and hasn’t been able to walk since. She has never before had a wheelchair.
Mary has lived not only through the current ongoing war in South Sudan, but also the war for independence from North Sudan – Africa’s longest-running civil war. She lost two of her sons as a result of the conflict, and last year, carried by her remaining children and grandchildren, she fled her country, leaving her whole life behind. She said: “I don’t miss South Sudan, there I saw my friends and sons being killed. And after all I’m just happy to be alive and looking back never helps.”
She is a vibrant, plucky and optimistic woman with a huge smile and a wonderful outlook on life. When we asked her the secret to her happiness, she told us: “Dancing and making love.”
Joel is 24 and living in one of the largest refugee camps in Northern Uganda.
After surviving polio as a child, Joel lost the ability to walk and did not have access to a wheelchair. Even without a mobility aid, Joel was not without hope. He would crawl every day to school and then university, determined to fulfil his dream of becoming a doctor. He only had two years of studying remaining when the war in South Sudan reached his village and he was forced to flee his home, carried on his family’s back.
Though he is unable to complete his education whilst living in a refugee camp, Joel hasn’t given up! Instead he aims to participate in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Regardless of the difficulties he faces as a disabled man living in a refugee camp, Joel remains optimistic and motivated, training every day in order to bring him one step closer to his goal.
A tenacious, bright, strong-willed young man, Joel does not see limits when it comes to his disability. Walkabout feel privileged to have been able to give him a tricycle that will truly transform his life.
Emmanuel is an adorable 12 year old with an incredible smile. He was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, which has meant that he has never been able to walk. When his father found out about Emmanuel’s disability when he was just 6 months old, he abandoned his family, leaving Emmanuel’s single mother alone and unable to afford to look after her son. His uncle, who already had 5 children of his own, took Emmanuel in and raised him as his own child.
Because he’s never before had a wheelchair, Emmanuel is often left at home alone while his cousins go out to school or to play with other children. He was so excited about his new chair that he had spent the past few weeks telling everyone in the village about it – and that he’d finally be able to join his cousins at the local school. A real charmer, he clapped our team for every adjustment we did on his chair – and didn’t stop beaming throughout!
We have just returned from Northern Uganda, one of the poorest parts of the country and the heart of one of the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. With hundreds of people crossing the border every day, fleeing conflict and famine in South Sudan, Uganda is now host to over 1 million refugees.
Last year, we distributed 290 wheelchairs to refugees and local Ugandans that are currently subject to enormous pressure in what is a naturally deprived and low resource environment. This year, thanks again to Euromonitor International, we returned to take our mission one step further. As well as distributing a further 300 wheelchairs, we trained 13 local volunteers, many of them refugees themselves, in how to provide and maintain wheelchairs in a safe and sustainable way.
The possibilities for change in this region are endless. Now that we have started to create a skilled team of locals, we can continue to make a difference all year round, but we need your help to make this change last.
Selina is the youngest of 7 children. She was displaced from her home in South Sudan two years ago; her loving parents travelled for three days, her mother carrying her on her back, to get to safety at the Ugandan border. Born with cerebral palsy, Selina has never been able to walk, therefore relying on her older siblings to carry her to school. As she grew, she became too heavy for her sisters to bear her weight on the three hour walk, so they would often leave her on the side of the road and only pick her up on their way back home. Now, thanks to her first ever wheelchair, Selina will be able to return to school, and she’ll be able to play with her siblings rather than being left inside alone. For Selina, her wheelchair means the opportunity to have a childhood – something that every little girl deserves.
Richard arrived at our distribution dragging himself along the dirt floor with the help of a rice bag underneath him. He had suffered a serious hip injury a few years before, dislocating it and leaving his right leg extremely difficult to move. Without the help of any medical attention or physiotherapy, his condition worsened and rendered him immobile and unable to stand, let alone walk. He has never had access to a wheelchair.
Richard has lived in Palorinya refugee camp in Moyo, Uganda, since he had to flee his home in South Sudan when the war broke out. He was overjoyed with his first ever wheelchair, which means that he will be able to regain the dignity that he has lacked for so long.
Northern Uganda is the epicentre of one of the biggest refugee crises in the world. With thousands of people flooding into the country every single day, mainly fleeing conflict in South Sudan, life in the sprawling camps is a constant battle for survival. Just imagine living in one of these camps without mobility.
Thanks to the corporate sponsorship from Euromonitor International, we travelled to Northern Uganda in November 2017. Together with our local partners Hope Health Action and World Action Fund, we distributed 250 wheelchairs and 40 trikes to refugees and host communities.
This is one of the poorest parts of the country, and the additional strain on resources resulting from the refugee crisis meant that almost every person we met had never had a wheelchair before. That said, the atmosphere throughout the two weeks was one of joy and hope, and every distribution was filled with smiles, laughter, and even singing!
Sofia had just given birth to her son Quima when we first met her back in 2014. She has been paralysed since she contracted polio at a young age.
Sofia lives with Quima, her parents, 10 siblings, and 12 nieces and nephews. The family used to own a large coffee plantation and lived comfortably, but when the crops were hit by a disease, they were left with nothing. Sofia’s parents must now support the entire household on very little, growing their own food and selling the small amount they don’t consume.
When Sofia received her Walkabout wheelchair in 2014, it gave her hope – both for herself and for her son, who was just weeks old at the time. Now that we’ve given her a trike, this hope has been amplified; she will be able to help her parents on their farm, as well as go further afield to search for other work and provide for Quima.
Mariam lives in Uganda. She is 21 years old, and a single mother with a 9 month old baby boy. She contracted cerebral malaria at the age of 1, and has been unable to walk since. She has never before had access to a wheelchair.
In spite of spending her entire life on the ground, Mariam clearly gets on with life as best she can. She shares a small patch of land with her mother, which they farm together to grow the food they live on. She even dragged herself to school every day until she was 11, determined to get an education. When we met her, she had travelled all the way to the distribution alone, taking a boat and then a three hour motorbike journey, having fashioned a sling so that she could carry her son on her back.
When we gave Mariam her first ever chair, staying true to her independent and determined character, got into it completely alone, keeping her son strapped to her back the entire time. She was delighted to finally be sitting in an upright position, at the eye level of others, and immediately began sharing her plans to rent a sewing machine and earn some money to support her small family.
In December 2016, Team Walkabout travelled to Uganda, where we distributed 200 wheelchairs and 20 tricycles with our partner Soft Power Health. Izzy, our Programmes Manager, and Isabel, our CEO, were joined by Heather Williams, our star volunteer physiotherapist, and two students, Luca and Manuel, from Wetherby Senior School in London.
Every day the team would return home, after hours of travelling on bumpy roads, exhausted and covered from head to toe in red dust, but feeling incredibly thankful that they could really change the lives of people in need on these trips. In the words of our young Wetherby volunteers: “Above all, the best experience has been seeing, meeting and communicating with the beneficiaries.”
As always, we met some wonderful people, including Paul (pictured), who is 17 years old and an avid Manchester United supported (in spite of Luca and Manuel’s decisive efforts to transform him into a Chelsea fan while he waited for his chair!). Paul has been unable to walk his entire life, and is delighted with his new chair because it means he will be able to continue with his education.
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