By Dr Emily Ling, Kiwi CMFnz-er living and working in Ethiopia | May 25 2020
Evie is a 6-year-old girl with spina bifida. She lacked bladder and bowel control and was shunned by other kids because of her smell. Recently we were able to start her on a bowel and bladder programme, with suppositories and intermittent catheterisation. This has dramatically improved Evie and her family’s quality of life, as she can now stay clean without constant leakage. She has now started going to school, something which the family did not think would ever be possible. We also arranged a wheelchair for her, and her mother is now able to start working to provide for her family.
Evie is just one of the 80 or so children that we serve at Hidden Abilities in Northern Ethiopia, a day centre providing physical therapy for children with disabilities. The majority of our kids have Cerebral Palsy, and if it were not for Hidden Abilities would never be given the opportunity to learn how to sit, crawl or walk. Instead, they would be left in a dark room for the rest of their lives to avoid bringing shame on their families, as having a disabled child is considered a curse from God. Many disabilities in Ethiopia are due to inadequate birthing facilities and resources which we take for granted in the Western world. Hidden Abilities is currently in the process of starting an Early Intervention Program to identify and correct birth injuries early, which can prevent some of the permanent disabilities which are much harder to correct later on. We also provide tutoring and nutritional support for the poorest families. But above all, the families at Hidden Abilities receive unconditional love and care that they may never have received in their lives. It is pure joy to see the smiles on these kids faces as they discover their “hidden abilities”, and to show them that God loves and values each and every one of them.
Unfortunately due to Covid-19, we were forced to temporarily close our centre from mid-March until at least October. Although there are still relatively few cases in Northern Ethiopia, the restrictions in place due to Covid-19 have already had a big impact economically, especially on the poor communities. We feel for our kids at Hidden Abilities who are not able to get regular therapy and love to continue developing their abilities. For our family, we are back in Christchurch temporarily but hope to return later in the year.
If you would like to know more about Hidden Abilities, check out http://www.simstories.org/all-stories/2019/4/24/video-hidden-abilities. In Ethiopia there is no OT or SLT training, and very few physiotherapists so if you would be interested in coming to do some workshops or experience life with us on the field please email me on [email protected].