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25 Nov 2020

year-old Atlegang Makowa loves to listen to soft music at night. He responds to applause by laughing and gesticulating, cries when he’s sad and puts his hand up to let his mother, Diatile, know when he’s tired.

Atlegang has cerebral palsy. Last week, at Afrika Tikkun’s Wings of Life Centre in Diepsloot, he was his usual smiling self, responding to the excitement around him in his own particular way. And although Atlegang may not have understood exactly what all the fuss is about, he was correct that the event was about him and three other children with cerebral palsy.

The scene was a testament to the power of collaboration, with several organisations committed to supporting children with disabilities, coming together for a shared vision.  Adam Bottomley of Sitwell Technologies, specialists in the provision of mobility and assistive aid equipment, handed over four wheelchairs to Afrika Tikkun. Prior to the handover, the mothers also received exercise tips from a physiotherapist at The Paige Project, a charity organisation that raises funds to supply equipment and training to vulnerable families with children with mental and physical disabilities. These exercises are designed to assist the children to loosen their joints and in doing so, improve movement.

Cerebral palsy is understood as “brain paralysis” and a disability that affects movement and body position. Studies have found that South Africa has a high rate of cerebral palsy (10 for every 1 000 births as compared to the global average of 2.1 per 1 000 births). Cerebral palsy may result from developmental problems in the womb, such as an infection, or may be due to a difficult or premature birth. In some cases, there is no clear cause for the condition.

For many families, in particular, vulnerable families, securing mobility devices to address their children’s varying postural support needs is very difficult. In 2018, Diatile, discouraged by the long wait for a government wheelchair, resorted to buying one second-hand on the street for R700. “It was okay but it was too big for him,” said, Diatile, who works as a caregiver at Wings of Life. While the second-hand wheelchair provided some relief, children with cerebral palsy, particularly those with scoliosis, risk worsening spinal problems if the correct equipment isn’t available.

In addition to the wheelchairs, the mothers were happy to learn they would also receive buggies. Buggies, which will be largely for home use, also provide postural and full body support to help control spasms, muscle weakness and imbalances. There is also an adjustable tilt-in-space feature. Ruth Stubbs of The Page Project measured the children in order to ensure the equipment would be adjusted and/or built specifically for their particular needs.

“We’re helping mothers to empower themselves,” said Tammy Greyling, Operations Director at Clothes to Good, a social enterprise that recycles used and new clothing to create economic opportunities for low-income communities with a focus on people with disabilities. “We know that according to the moms, the three biggest wishes for their children are schools, wheelchairs and nappies.”

On the day of the handover, two of the donated wheelchairs proved suitable for two of the children, one being Atlegang who quickly looked relaxed and comfortable as he was strapped in. For the other two children who have severe spinal scoliosis, their specifically built wheelchairs will be delivered before 15 December 2020.

With November’s focus on disability, Afrika Tikkun is grateful for these types of partnerships that focus on a specific type of disability and the need to support families, many of whom are on the margins of society. “At Afrika Tikkun, we believe in the holistic approach,” said Birgit Vijverberg, the organisation’s Chief Operating Officer. “We see children as full human beings and so recognise the need to provide comprehensive services such as social services and primary healthcare. We are therefore dependent on incredible partners such as Sitwell, Clothes to Good, Shonaquip and The Paige Project. We’re extremely appreciative for this donation.”


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