Large humanitarian team heads to Kenya

A Kenyan boy with disabled arms can now type at a computer because of the ingenuity of Central Alberta therapists.

A Kenyan boy with disabled arms can now type at a computer because of the ingenuity of Central Alberta therapists.

They fitted the elementary school student with a standard head lamp apparatus that had been retro-fitted with a long wooden dowel. The boy learned to use the dowel extending from the apparatus to hit keys on a computer keyboard.

“They did some amazing things. I couldn’t believe what I saw,” said Eric Rajah, co-founder of A Better World Canada. “The boy was so excited to be able to type and communicate.”

The Lacombe-based charity sent its largest-ever humanitarian team of 37 people to Africa last month. This included a 26-person medical team. Eight doctors, as well as nurses, pharmacists, physio and occupational therapists, went on a humanitarian mission to Kenya from Nov. 4 to 20 to assist with a wide variety of health needs.

From receiving treatment and medications for illnesses such as malaria, to learning how to stretch muscles after surgery and to better cope with various disabilities, nearly 2,000 patients from more remote regions of the country were seen by the Alberta team (which also included an obstetrician from California).

It was the most people A Better World has ever helped in a single trip, said Rajah.

He was particularly please with work done by local therapists, including pediatric physiotherapist Mona Walls, of Red Deer, who was on her first medical mission to Kenya.

The local therapists saw 20 to 30 children daily and were exhausted by the end of each day — “but it was a good kind of tired,” said Walls, who considers the boy with the head lamp one of her most memorable patients.

Walls was told about the disabled child, who was learning to write with his feet, before going to Africa. She conferred with occupational therapists from the Aspire Special Needs Resource Centre about what kind of device would be most useful for typing and they jointly came up with the design in Red Deer.

“We found a 1980s head lamp that had a pivot feature that we could use,” recalled Walls. This allows the dowel to be flipped out of the way when the boy is learning and doesn’t need it.

The apparatus was an instant hit with the child, who is about 10 years old. “He really took to it and was beaming. He was very, very excited because he has a computer in front of him — which is virtually unheard of” among African students, said Walls. The boy accessed the computer through a school for disabled students.

Kenyan mothers were taught by the therapists how to stretch their disabled children’s muscles to give them better function and control. Many of their children had spina bifida, due to a folic acid deficiency, or cerebral palsy, due to a difficult birth or high fever.

The mothers were very receptive to the recommended therapies, said physiotherapy team co-ordinator Karen Leoung, who met a Kenyan child this trip who had made many improvements since her last visit to Africa. The child’s mom had continued doing stretching exercises until the six-year-old attained more head control, an ability to help feed herself, and interact with others.

“The child came back and the differences in one year were unbelievable,” added Leoung, who believes this kind of early intervention is crucial.

A Better World’s humanitarian teams are always met by long lineups of Kenyans who would otherwise be unable to afford health care, said Rajah, who knows the patients come from a wide area.

On this trip, the charity ran eight days of health clinics with the help of medical professionals from Central Alberta. This included a local doctor and his wife and daughter, who are both pharmacists. “So many people signed up (for the medical mission) we could run double clinics each day,” said Rajah.

Providing training for Kenyan doctors and therapists was part of the group’s mandate — as was bringing pharmacy supplies and used medical equipment, such as walkers, crutches and wound dressing materials.

“It was a very unique experience,” said Walls, who was moved by the “bright smiles on the kids’ faces when we were able to achieve something . . .

“They liked seeing something new, like when we took over (bubble solution) and started blowing bubbles. It takes so little to make them happy.”

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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