For many Welsh people, one of the biggest issues, when working with disabled people in Africa, is the low level resource available compared with Wales. The Welsh disability industry, of relatively high technology administered by specially trained staff, simply does not is unlikely to exist in Africa. Additionally, the professional training may not be as up to date, compared to what might be expected in Wales. Finally, in Wales, we are often constrained by Health and Safety Regulation. The sight of a teenage girl with Brittle Bone Disease, riding on the back of her brotherâ€™s bicycle, may well be regarded as â€œadventurousâ€ in Wales.
Updating professional training is a very popular, and highly effective, response by Welsh communities in supporting their African partners. However, a different environment, with different resources, produces different responses, and may require different ways of thinking. For Welsh disability professionals, a natural response is to reflect back to the equipment they have in Wales and arrange for this to be delivered to Africa. Whilst there are situations where cargoes of equipment may be a helpful way forward, it is not the only option.
Disability paediatric seating is a possible example. In Wales we would have a special chair to enable the boy in the picture to sit up. In rural Kenya, five to six hours drive from Nairobi, there was no such devices available. Nevertheless, there was a cardboard box. After cutting everything into shape, and applying varnish, you end up with a corner seat. Should there be a catchment reading â€œRight folks, what is happening todayâ€? There is a feeling that the child has â€œarrivedâ€ and his inclusion is starting to happen.
Of course there is nothing new about using a cardboard box to make a corner seat to assist a child to sit up. A former Occupational Therapist, from North Wales, assured me that she used to do the same thing in her time. Indeed the corner seat principle made my mother, when I was same age as this boy, place me on the family sofa. She would then surround me with cushions and leave me playing, enabling her to get on with other activities. Lagos, in the late 50â€™s was not renowned for its disability seating services.
When working in low resourced situations we need to go back to basics and ask what is an appropriate solution in this situation. The picture is taken from a larger one, which shows a typical Kenyan rural homestead. Although an aluminium based seat, with sophisticated padding may be therapeutically and medically better for the child, if it has an effect similar to walking with an elephant, through the centre of Cardiff, is it really fit for purpose? It could also leave the family vulnerable to burglary, as it m may imply they have wealth from a Mzungu (an outsider) to use the Swahili phrase.
Developing different technologies for different situations will possibly mean thinking outside our conventional box. It may also mean not going into Africa with the answers, as many people expect us to, but rather having more questions. Possibly, most importantly, we should not be too anxious to duplicate a Welsh scenario within Africa. Instead we should use our skills and knowledge to be alongside our African colleagues and help them find their own solutions to the problems they face.