Late in 2016 the Legs4Africa team boarded a plane from rainy London destined for the heat of the African sun and to meet some very special people. This series takes a look at how amputees in The Gambia deal with disability, their fears and their hopes, and how Legs4Africa is helping them lead more fulfilling lives.
What do you think are the causes of limb loss in Africa? most people will say, landmines, than road traffic accidents and, the more informed will suggest type 2 diabetes. It is often easy to forget that Africa isn’t just inhabited by the African people, there is also a spectacular variety of flora and fauna which is striving to survive alongside humans under the saharan sun.
Ten year old Adama was out herding cattle when he startled a snake that was basking in the heat. The snake bit Adama’s leg which immediately began to swell. His parents, fearful for their son, rushed him to hospital by which time the wound had become infected. As is so common with issues of infection, without the resources of a European clinic, the doctor had little option but to amputate the leg or risk Adama’s life.
It is hard to imagine being an active ten year old, running with his friends, playing football and having the world open to him, to suddenly having severely restricted mobility and relying on walking sticks to get about. Adama found it difficult, but there was hope.
A man said he could get me a leg. Adama says and, though the patron in question may have had the best intentions, the leg never materialised. In societies where support services are both rare and unreliable, disappointment is common.
Fortunately there are exceptions to this rule. Adama finally received a prosthetic limb and is now very adept at getting around, playing football and even dancing.
I can move about and no one knows that I’m an amputee. He explains with a wide smile.
Now Adama is twenty, he has a wife and is a proud father. When asked about his wife and year old daughter, tears fill his eyes.
“They are both very beautiful, my daughter is more beautiful than me or my wife, she is more beautiful than all of us”
He goes on to talk about his worries for the future and how he wants to support his young family.
“I can’t do a physical job because the leg might give way” but he has a plan. He wants to become qualified as a computer expert, pointing out that his disability means that office work is much more accessible for him.
Adama is actively seeking a sponsor to help with the costs of the course. He’s eager to get back to work so he can start earning money and be able to send his daughter to school in five years time.
When we ask how Adama thinks Legs4Africa is helping he tells us
“People can’t get out without a prosthetic leg, they sit outside the compound and sometimes people laugh at them. Legs4Africa is a help because legs are costly, and they mean things can be done for free”.
There are means for people like Adama to retain dignity, to contribute to their community and to support their families, but it takes a lot of hard work. Legs4Africa’s work enables African’s with physical disabilities to help themselves, to develop their own independence and their place in the wider community.
But this is not the end of the story. There is still the struggle of low income, living costs, medical bills and the lack of accessibility in public and work spaces. Legs4Africa is just one part of this journey, a single means of support for amputees and people with physical disabilities but, even in such a short time, we have helped many gain mobility, given hope and, best of all, provided a means for people to take back control of their own future.