In August 2011, Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope Patron, Richard Bacon, and Trustee, Victoria Bacon, visited the Jaipur Limb Centre in Kagera, Tanzania – the first project which the charity is supporting to help limbless children abroad.
Watch a video made by Victoria about the trip, uploaded on the BBC News website on 18th September.
You can also find out about Victoria and Richard’s wonderful visit to Tanzania through the following links:
- The Eastern Daily Press, 20th September, front page article
- The Diss Express, Friday 23rd September
- BBC Radio Norfolk, Victoria is interviewed by presenter Helen McDermott
- Total Politics Magazine, November 2011 edition, Richard Bacon writes about the trip
Below is an account of the visit from Victoria:
Tucked away in the north-west corner of Tanzania, with Uganda to the north and Rwanda to the west, is Kagera, one of the poorest of Tanzania’s eight impoverished regions. It is home to a fraction of the millions of people across the developing world for whom life is about survival. It is also home to the first people who have benefited from the work of Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope.
I have just returned from a four day visit to Kagera, with my husband Richard. Our guide was Matthew McIlvenna from the Friends of the Children of Tanzania (FoCT), the first partnership organisation with whom we have formally entrusted a donation. We were able to see exactly how ELofH’s money is helping amputees in this corner of Tanzania. During our time in Kagera, we visited the Mugeza school for disabled and able-bodied children, the Tumaini children’s refuge for orphans and street children, the Kagondo Hospital (which houses the Jaipur Limb Centre we are helping to fund), a Muslim refuge for poor Muslim children, and a mobile clinic – which offers the only opportunity many people will ever have to see a doctor.
Many of the people to whom Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope is reaching out live in mud huts, deep in the banana jungles that dominate the landscape. We visited some of these huts, homes to noisy, smiling children – but many of them live with painful illness and disability, almost always a direct consequence of their lifestyle. Most of the children do receive some sort of schooling, but for many this involves covering long distances. The distances people travel – on foot or bicycle – are staggering. They seem to think nothing of long daily journeys to the market to sell bananas or home-made charcoal, or simply to collect their daily water ration. Such lives seem exhausting: physical pain, exposure to danger and hunger (there is not a famine here but food is expensive and many people are malnourished) is simply a part of everyday life. Yet we were greeted by warm smiles and, particularly from the children, with music and laughter.
We were profoundly moved by the determination which is the benchmark by which so many of these people seem to live; that is not to say social problems do not prevail – they do – for example, such poverty often results in theft, which is simply not tolerated and consequences for the assailant can be dire. People are beaten to death for less than stealing a chicken, but if the money they can get from a chicken might provide life-saving treatment for their child in hospital, what do they do if they haven’t got a chicken to sell?
The purpose of our visit was specifically to gauge the level of need for amputees in this region. There is a far, far higher proportion of amputees in Kagera – indeed across the whole of the developing world – than in the developed world. This is for a number of reasons. Road accidents are far more prevalent, because the lack of pavements means that pedestrians are at greater risk and driving itself is not properly policed. Minor cuts and wounds are often not treated or cleaned because of the cost of simple disinfectants like TCP; and lack of clean water can lead to infection, including illnesses such as osteomyelitis (an internal infection of the bone that often leads to amputation). Other causes range from muggings and deliberate violent attacks caused by stealing – usually to feed or house one’s family – to other random accidents such as crocodile attacks, falling out of trees, and severe burns to young children who stray too near the open wood fires where most food is cooked.
Some of the saddest of the amputee victims we met were albino children whose arms had been deliberately hacked off in a spate of attacks after witch doctors started spreading the belief that the bones of an albino child would bring the bearer of the bone good fortune. Such barbaric behaviour shocked Tanzanian society and has, we are told, now been brought under control by the government of Tanzania; but as a result, most albino children have had to leave their homes for their own safety, and now live at the Mugeza school.
First of all we were taken to Kayanga, a small town which is the administrative centre of the Karagwe district, some three and half hours’ drive from Bukoba, the capital of the Kagera region. We were invited to take part in an accident prevention programme and a mobile clinic, which was essentially a rudimentary accident and emergency service. Both of these services were funded by the Anglican church in the area, supported by Friends of the Children of Tanzania and Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope. The accident prevention training session was targeted specifically at young men who earn a small living driving motor bike taxis, where fare-paying passengers ride pillion. Some 40% of amputations in this region are a result of motorbike accidents, usually caused by careless driving – but also by driving in ignorance because they have simply not been taught or advised about driving carefully. I was invited to address this audience of about fifty young men, who actually seemed genuinely surprised and moved to learn that our family, too, had fallen victim to careless driving. I showed them photographs of my mother and Pollyanna and used our story to drive the message home that carelessness can wreck lives. And it can happen to anyone, even in England.
We then saw the work of the physicians at the mobile clinic, who worked non-stop from about 8am to 8pm to assess the stream of people that came to them from all corners of the Karagwe area. We saw people with breathing difficulties, stroke victims, those suffering from burns and sprains, at least ten people having problems with their prosthetics and a further five or six with osteomyelitis, the bone infection which leads to amputation if not treated. For example, we saw a boy who must have been about sixteen who had lost a leg in a traffic accident about six years previously. He did have a prosthetic, but had never had it replaced so his legs were different lengths. He wasn’t in pain, but his need for a new leg is increasingly urgent.
I saw other people’s prosthetic legs which were simply worn out. They didn’t complain, but I could see their discomfort and the gratitude on their faces as it was explained to them that help was at hand. This was the same for children and adults. Our money, I can see now, will go even further than I thought, because if our resources focus specifically on the needs of child amputees, this means that additional resources from the Anglican church and FoCT can go further in addressing many other needs too.
The following day, we travelled back along the dusty, stony, pot-holed road to Bukoba to visit the Kagondo Hospital. This struck me as a well run hospital which, unsurprisingly, struggles to achieve as much as it could due to a lack of resources. Most people probably stay in hospital longer than they need to because they aren’t fed properly – and if there are more patients than beds, then beds simply have to be shared.
Attached to the hospital, I was so pleased to see the Jaipur Limb Clinic, which ELofH is helping to fund. The clinic is so important to this area, as previously amputees had to travel to a hospital in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, in order to get prosthetics – and for many people, the high cost of the journey and the need for a passport made it a trek too far, as well as the fact that the cost of the legs was prohibitive. Now, with the help of our money, these many hundreds of limbless people will be able to afford the bus fare and a new leg, and the Kagondo Hospital will actually be able to provide them with what they need. At the time of our visit, the staff at the clinic were waiting for more equipment to arrive from India – including a kiln and moulding materials. I saw what they have used previously – a small, basic oven, tatty plastic moulds and ordinary kitchen scissors and plyers. The new kit will make such a difference.
Later that day, we were taken to the refuge centre for poor Muslim children. This is funded by a Muslim teacher who has devoted his life to helping impoverished children in this area. The fact that he makes sure they have proper food every day undoubtedly prevents many illnesses setting in. He also has a basic Jaipur Limb clinic at his centre, which is being replaced soon by the proper facilities that will be available at the Kagondo hospital. It was Ramadan when we were there, and we were invited to eat with the children when dusk finally arrived at about seven thirty – by which time the children were extremely hungry. The maize pudding we shared with them was quite delicious!
During next couple of days we visited several local dignatories, including the Mayor, the Mayor’s staff, and education leaders. However, the majority of our time was spent at the Mugeza school and at the Tumaini refuge centre.
The Mugeza school has 140 boarders who sleep in three dormitories. Almost all the boarders are disabled: they could not cope with a long walk to and from school every day. Some are blind, some are deaf, many struggle with amputated arms or legs or deformed feet. In terms of ELofH’s work, no other place could have illustrated more clearly the need for proper support for amputees. In many ways I found it a sad place because the children have no toys, just each other to play with, and apart from one teacher, the staff themselves were utterly worn out. It was, however, amazing to see blind children carrying those who can’t walk very well, with the physically disabled offering guidance and directions to the blind children. They respond to each other’s needs. We also had some inspiring conversations with the children; one boy, when it was explained to him by Matthew that Richard is a Member of Parliament, asked if there was a constituency-based system in England as in Tanzania; we also met Jeremiah, the triple amputee on the front page of our website who told me that he hopes to be a lawyer one day so that he can further the rights of disabled people.
Our visit to the Tumaini refuge centre was incredibly uplifting. It is home to around fifty children – orphans and street children who have nowhere else to go. It is run by a Lutheran nun, Sister Adventina, and a farmer who teaches the children how to grow their own food – essential for their survival. These children, most of whom ran around in ragged clothes but with smiles on their faces, sang and danced to us for as long as we wanted them to.
To be part of a world that belongs to other people is a profoundly moving experience; setting up Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope has taught us that helping other people is no longer an option. Our duty to help has been made clearer than ever, seeing the kind of challenges and hardship that so many face, in Kagera and beyond. Their needs are huge and varied – our work in helping amputees is a small but vital part of giving those who need it a much, much better life.