Dublin, 24th November, 2016: Brian Mac Neill
Emmanuel observed the visitors to his tiny home near Kigumba, about three hours drive from Kampala, with some bewilderment. We had come earlier this year to meet the little two year old and hear about the support local health activists trained by ChildFund have been able to provide for Emmanuel and his mother Everlyne at a time when they badly needed assistance. Emmanuel was born with a condition that causes him to have a larger head that his little body can naturally support. This has made life difficult for Emmanuel and of course for his mother too, who is his lone carer with just limited support from a grandmother. Juggling full time care made it really hard for Emmanuel’s mum to cope, leaving both her and Emmanuel in a vulnerable position within the local community. Thankfully help was on hand. Home Health Activists trained by ChildFund’s local partner organisation have a committee that identifies children most at risk within the community, and in need of urgent intervention. They act as support and guidance for the family ,and as interlocutors, mediating bureaucratic channels, connecting children in need to such heath services that are available. Unfortunately, In Emmanuel’s case his condition was not something the nearest (regional) hospital was not equipped to deal with. The Health Activists however, were able to refer Emmanuel’s case to Katalemwa children’s home in Kampala, a dedicated treatment and rehabilitation care-facility supported by ChildFund, that is able to help children with specialist problems like Emmanuel’s. The hospital is renowned for its ingenious orthopaedic workshop where tailor-made appliances and rehabilitation aids are made from locally available materials.
After undergoing rehabilitation treatment and consultation with doctors, the orthopaedic team constructed a special chair and a separate device to help Emmanuel stand up while his head is supported, something that is extremely importation for his long term heath and development. It is also hugely important to his mum in enabling her to place Emmanuel in a safe construction(s) that can support his body weight. This intervention has been really important to Emmanuel, ensuring that his body grows correctly. It is hoped that when he is older he will able to walk and support himself ,as his body strengthens. Without proper care to support his physical development, he ran the risk of being an invalid. The new devices have also helped his mother, who can have peace of mind that he is safe while she attends to other matters in the house.
Salva is another boy who has benefited from the Home Heath Activist’s trained by ChildFund. The committee identified his family needed support and intervened to help him. Salva was born with a cleft lip and pallet disfigurement. There is much ignorance about these kinds of disfigurements in rural communities. Ignorance can cause unease which in turn can help fuel discrimination and ostracism, an unpleasant and upsetting thing for any child to have to endure. Its because of ignorance about diseases, disorders and disfigurements, that public awareness campaigns are important. It is also important to let parents know that their children are normal, and that there are sometimes very effective treatments available that can radically improve the child’s condition.
The Home Heath Committee invited a specialist from Katalemwa to come and speak on local radio to get the message out there across the community that there is no need to be frighted about unusual conditions and that they can be treated. Families will now know they can reach out for help and that there are positive things they can do to help their child. Hearing these issues discussed on radio by an expert lets people know that conditions such as those of Emmanuel and Salva are not abnormal, As well as providing hope, this intervention also helps to soften and ultimately change attitudes towards vulnerable children who have particular medical problems. Increased awareness helps take away the stigmatisation that children sometimes have to endure, and in its place comes optimism, and support. Now that people are aware that many conditions can be treated and that there is help available, its envisaged that more parents of children not already identified, will come forth and avail of assistance. This is one example of the organic way that ChildFund helps empower local communities, in this case by training local heath activists to identify, support and intervene in cases where children need particular help, and by supporting the work of Katalemwa children’s home in its priceless work to improve the lives of children in Uganda.
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