Now, I have a little confession to all our Legs4Africa followers. On Friday we posted that all the team, van and 500 legs were safely reunited in the Gambia. The fact of the matter is that whilst the team was very much here, our van and its contents were being held at customs waiting for government officials, the minister of health and the hospital team to approve of them being brought into the country.
Crossing borders is always difficult; but explaining 500 legs and a van is very tricky indeed. The guys experienced many hold ups on their 4000 mile journey down but this last one was the most complicated. We had to prove that we were a charity that was going to make no profit from the legs or the van and as Legs4Africa’s charity status is yet to be approved we had to rely on our contacts here. Dom’s father used to work in import/export and Bob who helped drive the van over from Senegal runs a NGO in The Gambia. Our fate was in their hands. The night before we had made plans; we would set off at 8.30am and whilst the paperwork was confirmed we would head to the hospital waiting for them to arrive by approximately 9.30am.
8 hours, lots of good patience, an unexpected £120 bill later and our van and all 500 donated legs, hospital supplies, teddies and books rolled into the courtyard of The Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital to cheers from the surgeons, technicians, L4A team and the local children who had been steadily gathering throughout the day with curiosity.
The time was not a loss at all though as it allowed us to meet and get to know the team at the hospital. The prosthetic centre is headed up by Gabu; our main contact. He works there with his right hand man Morro casting, fitting, shaping and rehabilitating amputees with new legs. Their clinic looks more like a technician’s workshop than a clinical setting. Nuts, bolts and other tools line the wall, workshop benches with plaster casts wait to find the appropriate prosthetics to fit them. Jamie, our mechanic felt right at home and got stuck in immediately helping the team in the Wheelchair workshop next door, led by C.Boy.
Speaking with several of the social workers from the welfare office and the repetitive theme is not only expressing the physical damage to someone who has lost the use of his limbs but the mental impact this has on them. Particularly in rural areas, when someone loses a limb they are often outcast from the family. They are treated with suspicion and as bad luck to the village. One amputee even told us of how the local community had told him he had lost his legs because of bad luck from standing on a snakes trail in the sand. For most they become very withdrawn and start to believe they are not worthy of a normal life. The government is currently not funding any counseling or mental welfare programmes.
After a day of meeting, interviewing and helping out in the hospital we heard the beeps of a van coming our way and finally our van and all 500 legs rolled into the yard. The look on everyone’s face as we opened the back doors and revealed the contents within was priceless. They rely primarily on donations from European charities and from collecting any redundant prosthetics from The Gambia. Typically they receive 15 to 20 donated legs a year, although the need is obviously a lot greater than this. 500 legs, Gabu tells us, will keep them busy for a year. Never before have they received such a large quantity of donations – and word has been spreading. For the last couple of weeks they have had people turning up to the clinic enquiring as the when the Legs4Africa van will arrive. They are always fair through and distribute the limbs on a first come first serve basis; there will be no cutting the queue on Gabu’s watch.
We return tomorrow to see the first legs being fitted to our first Legs4Africa amputee!