Late last year Legs4Africa, an amputee charity exporting prosthetic legs to Sub-Saharan Africa, spent a very pleasurable week meeting the people that their work is helping get on their own two feet again. This series looks at the lives of those amputees along with the people who are helping to change those lives.
Legs4Africa were lucky enough to get some time with Gabu, the man that makes Legs4Africa work in The Gambia. The prosthetist kindly gave us half an hour from his very busy schedule to sit down and have a chat.
For the last twenty-two years Gabu has been fitting and training amputees with prosthetic limbs and, even now, he is the only certified prosthetist and orthopaedist in the whole of the country.
“I feel overworked sometimes,” he explains, though, from speaking to other members of The Gambian Amputee Association it is evident that his hard work does not go unnoticed and that he is a very highly respected patron of the amputee community.
The impact of Legs4Africa’s work is plainly evident in the clinic. Since our first visit back in 2013 the number of prosthetic limbs and components has increased ten fold. At that time Gabu saw some components reused more than ten times. The handful of prosthetic legs that Gabu did receive were from private European donors and others which were recycled within Gambia itself.
Gabu, standing in his workshop, surrounded by the equipment of his trade, has, until now, been reserved, speaking with quiet competence, but as the questions turn to his patients and what a prosthetic leg means to them, he becomes animated.
“When you have given them a limb, it is like you have given them the whole of the world.”
Gabu explains that the patient has to deal with many things, loneliness and depression being just two of them. “They are people who thought that they would never walk again”. He says.
He goes on to tell us about a man who was engaged to be married but, after he had lost his leg, his fiance had told him that she couldn’t marry an amputee. Possibly a cruel thing to say but the harsh reality is that without a leg, amputees find it hard to provide for themselves, let alone their families. But now, since receiving a prosthetic leg, the man in Gabu’s story has married the woman he loves and now attends the Gambian Technical Training institute.
“It’s a ripple effect” he says, “A leg means so much, it relieves the burden on families and allows the amputee to go back to work”.
When we ask him how the work makes him feel he talks about the great burden on his shoulders, knowing that the work he does is so important to so many people but he has limited time and resources.
“I want to see more people being trained so there is someone to take over when I retire. We need people to travel up country too to people who can’t get to Banjul”.
The pride that Gabu takes in his work is overwhelming. He humbly explains how important his job is:
“You look at the life of someone who could have been in a wheelchair and because of your skills they are now walking, because of your skills they are now married, and I feel good because I can do that for humanity”.
Gabu, though not an amputee himself, is an active member of The Gambian Amputee Association, a initiative that Legs4Africa set up last year. He loves the fact that it gives a platform to amputees to discuss how they see themselves in the world, to give support to one another and to prove that life doesn’t end with an amputation.
At the end of the interview he turns to the camera to speak directly to the people who support Legs4Africa, people like you.
“Legs that have been sent to Africa, especially The Gambia have made tremendous changes in lives, it is shaping lives, it is changing communities and it’s changing families, I just want to ask you to continue the support. It is remarkable to see a child of ten come in and get back on their feet and it gives us so much joy when they can walk again by the end of the day”.