Dominic collected us bright and early this morning to meet and interview our very first amputee. Travelling along the red dusty road in the back of the truck we were excited to meet the family who lived in a rural part of The Gambia. Children came running out from houses to shout and wave, we passed a procession for the president, complete with a ‘government official’ dressed as a scarecrow waving machetes and even passed by some athletes training for the marathon – in soaring heat of 39 degrees!
As we pulled into the compound we were welcomed by the women in a flurry of bright colours, music and dancing. Banging makeshift drums and performing some booty ass shaking that would put Beyonce to shame it was all smiles with squeals of laughter as Tom and Caroline tried to join in the dance (Captured all on film by Craig and Alex, don’t worry!). This was followed by the children running around to meet us; all equally boisterous, keen to have their photo taken and high five their visitors. We handed out maoam to all 39 children and caps to the women of the village to distribute – taking it in turns to all have their photo taken. Everyone was very excited and keen to meet us. Everyone, except for one, a quiet polite boy who hung back under the shade of a tree waiting for us to go and meet him. This was Usman our 11 year old amputee that we had travelled a long way to come and meet.
What struck us all immediately was the noticeable difference in his characteristics to the other animated children. He shyly accepted our sweets and although was learning English at school was hesitant and nervous to speak with us; highlighting how the emotional scarring of losing a limb runs as deep as the physicality of it. Usman lost his leg 8 years ago when he was only 3 years old. He’d been playing near the road outside their home and had been hit by a truck. His father and uncle rushed to save him but it was too late – his leg had been crushed and had to be amputated from the hip. He’d therefore lived his life being the kid who couldn’t join in the games, who had to be helped to walk to school, who felt simply like he was a burden on his family.
After talking with him for a few moments it was clear that the attention of having a film crew and the whole villages eyes on him was all too much. So Tom took him and his Uncle to the back of the compound where they were able to relax him more and find out a bit more about him. He was at school and loved mathematics, his dream was to become an accountant. His favourite football team was Chelsea which bucked the trend of the rest of the kids who all loved various Spanish teams thanks to the local Spanish NGO’s influence. He explained how a new leg to him would mean making his long walk to school easier and being able to keep up with the other kids. Usman’s family and their compound are would never be able to afford a prosthetic leg and the average amount of legs donated to The Gambia is 15 per year.
We were hesitant to promise him that we could find a leg to fit him before the surgeon had met him so we kept that part a secret. On Tuesday we will unload the van and search amongst the 500 legs to find one to fit him perfectly… but shhh don’t tell him yet, we want it to be a surprise!