Overcoming Disability Barriers

The rural Eastern Cape (Transkei) is one of the most under-serviced, poorest and forgotten parts of South Africa. Since 2006 the presence of rehabilitation therapists has brought hope and relief.

The area around Madwaleni Hospital is a nightmare for wheelchair users. Gravel roads, steep grassy hills, muddy footpaths and rivers are unchangeable barriers to mobility. Because the cost of transporting people in wheelchairs in taxis is so high most hire a private vehicle, from R200 to R600 per trip.
Local schools are not wheelchair friendly. Children with disabilities move away from their families to Umtata (100kms away) where there is one accessible school.
There are few toilets here, most just squat in the bush. Most PWDs lie on the ground, in the grass, to relieve themselves. Environmental and transport barriers can cause severe social isolation. People tend to remain confined to their homes, unable to leave unless family members carry them to the top of the hill where they can use their wheelchair.

Lungile (23) supports his six person family with his R900 disability grant; and travels by wheelchair for 5 hours each way to visit his local hospital. Aviwe (26) travels a 3 day round trip for one hour of basketball practice. Bongani uses wooden sticks on the foot pedals. Peter crosses a river by ferry every time he leaves his village.
But things are improving. Last year Aviwe got an all terrain wheelchair and Madwaleni Hospital Rehab volunteers built him a toilet but expense prohibits them from providing this for others without community and government involvement.
When 17 year old Simphiwe returned to her local school after 8 months of rehab her therapists built ramps and adapted her desk. Her school principal welcomed this opportunity to make the school wheelchair accessible.

Wheelchair basketball was birthed at Madwaleni in January 2008. Once a month players make the long journey to come and spend a couple of hours with friends. Thandile (48) has been living with an above knee amputation for 23 years; he came to the hospital to get a new pair of crutches. His life changed when he realized it was possible for him to play sport.

As a community service physio-therapist I have been privileged to work in this forgotten part of South Africa. These incredible people who show me that nothing is impossible. I have seen personal courage and determination in the face of tremendous challenges, be it toilets, ramps in schools, community support or access to rehabilitation services. Having a disability in this community will never again mean that your life is over.
Keryn de Bruyn
Madwaleni Hospital

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