In Northern Liberia, a stone’s throw from the Guinean border, there is a bustling city called Gompa, or more commonly known as Ganta. It is a hub of activity and music, filled with the hum of people travelling to and fro across the border and down to the capital, Monrovia.
But nestled away from all the hustle and bustle is a quiet oasis which has been providing care to people with leprosy and other neglected tropical diseases for 100 years. Ganta Leprosy, TB and Buruli Ulcer Rehabilitation Centre, or Ganta Rehab, is an inpatient facility where some people spend their lives, receiving treatment and even raising their families.
Ganta Leprosy, TB and Buruli Ulcer Rehabilitation Centre, Ganta City, Nimba County, Liberia
The centre is situated up a long drive bordered by homes where children can be seen playing and adults are weaving rushes to make into brooms to sell to visitors. The compound itself is made up of multiple buildings comprising offices, treatment and consultation rooms, testing labs, the orthopedic workshop, lodgings for residents and guests and churches. The small orthopedic workshop on site provides prostheses and orthoses to those who have lost their legs to a range of causes – from amputation due to ulcers, gunshot wounds from the civil war, to the most common cause today, motorbike accidents.
We greet residents weaving bowls outside their houses to be sold at the onsite craft shop. We see decorations being put up in the meeting space ready for a retirement party, and step into the Methodist church to hear the touching tributes to the life’s work and dedication of the staff who are retiring. And everywhere we see colourful signs reading “Welcome to Ganta, Stef and Chris!”.
We travelled to Ganta for a long-awaited project visit in December 2023, to meet the staff and discuss our future plans for the development of the orthopedic workshop. Since 2020, Legs4Africa has worked with the orthopedic technician, Martin Dolo, to supply donations of our rescued components which are fitted for free to people with limb loss, as well as providing materials for prosthetic sockets and machines through our Rehabilitation Centre Upgrade Project, such as a prosthetic oven, a suction machine and a prosthetic router.
The team: Wilhelmina, Martin, Joe, John and Rita
Across West Africa, sourcing essential materials for making prosthetic sockets (which we do not reuse) such as resin and hardener is a common challenge. Because of this, the Ganta Centre has had to pause production of prosthetic limbs for the past few months. But we are looking forward to resuming production in Q2 of this year when a solution is agreed.
We are also excited to be in discussions to provide a training scholarship to a new female apprentice, Rita, a high school graduate who is currently volunteering in the workshop – so watch this space!
Between Martin and Rita, and secondary school volunteer Joe, they will try to fill the very big shoes of Prosthetist/Orthotist John, who is about to commence his much deserved retirement. John came to Ganta Rehab when he was just 6 years old to receive treatment for leprosy. He was later sent to Sierra Leone to get his diploma in orthopedic technology, and he has been working at Ganta Rehab’s orthopedic workshop for the last 41 years.
Roots go deep at Ganta Rehab. Everyone has a story of how their lives have personally been touched by the causes that they have dedicated themselves to – from personal experience, to parents and relatives. Due to this, and the facility’s inpatient setup which has lodgings for long term residents, it’s clear that this is much more than a rehabilitation centre; it is a home and a community.
Here on the core team of Legs4Africa, based in the UK, we are not on the front line of service delivery. Sitting in front of our computers, dealing with spreadsheets and emails, logistics and budgets, it can be easy to lose touch with the true impact of what all that administration is for. So when we have the privilege to be able to make one of these visits, it’s with a huge wave of emotion and gratitude for the work that is being done on this front line. We get to sit with people and learn about what issues affect their lives, like the lack of information available for people who are newly amputated and the absence of any significant emotional support. We listen and learn about life through the civil war from those who took refuge in Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea and then returned home to a levelled city, where Ganta Rehab kept on going. We get to hear about their self-determination and entrepreneurship, creating amputee-led income generating activities such as pig farming, honey cultivation, snail farming, as well as sports groups like amputee football. And we watch with respect and communal pride when a man who has received prostheses for both his amputated legs slowly stands up and walks with dignity and strength in demonstration of what these mobility aids mean for his life.
So here’s to a 2024 which can offer this same opportunity for more and more people in Liberia, working in partnership with Ganta Rehab, the National Catholic Health Council, and the German Leprosy Relief Association.
The whole team at Ganta Rehab!