I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to create something sustainable, most specifically in the context of this project. My most recent experiences in Ghana showed me just how much there is to supporting someone’s mobility. It is one thing to hand someone a pair of calipers and crutches. It is entirely another matter to support that person as they gain the skills necessary to successfully use that equipment and be truly mobile. From my many discussions with Carrie, Ford, and my board members, several goals have refined themselves, and I want to share those now.
First and foremost, The Patience Project will operate always under the principle of “Do No Harm.” As obvious as it sounds, I think Atlantic writer, Teju Cole, put it more eloquently and wisely than I ever could: “There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.”
Second and complementary to the first, The Patience Project will always remain a curious endeavor, asking the tough questions, learning from our mistakes, exploring cultural differences, and always consulting the experts–namely, the children, families, and Ghanaian disability advocates with whom we have the privilege to work. The minute we adopt the savior complex is the minute start failing to do what we are striving so passionately to accomplish.
Third, though we now have several adults for whom we have ordered/purchased prosthetic legs, The Patience Project needs to focus primarily on children if we want to facilitate a lasting change. The reality of the situation is that it is nearly impossible to teach a twenty year old who has spent his whole life on the ground to walk. Bones fuse. Muscles deteriorate. Unbreakable habits form. However, starting early physical therapy with children can help them build the muscular strength and flexibility to develop mobility from a young age. I know that had Richard been given the chance for therapy that Etornam, Gloria, Nina, and so many of our other children are now getting, he could have been up and walking. I was lucky enough to meet a young man, Calvin, who has cerebral palsy and walks more than anyone in town because someone recognized when he was young that he needed the right kind of assistance.
Fourth, The Patience Project is looking into funding trainings of various kinds to help mothers, families, and communities implement more inclusive practices for children with disabilities. For example, Carrie has informed me about a certain kind of equipment that can be made in-home with cheap supplies. We are looking into funding a training for mothers from various communities to learn how to make this equipment so that they are able to help other families in their area who may need something of the same sort. We met so many wonderful mothers who are so eager to help not only their own but other children, and we want to do everything we can to help people help themselves.
And last, The Patience Project always encourages input on how we could be doing better, ideas for future projects, and advice of any sort. If we aren’t good at listening, then what’s the point?
As far as updates go, our eyes in the field, Carl and Joshua, have informed us of eight more children from various areas of the Volta Region who would benefit from assistance of the sort we can provide. If we decide to support these children–and I don’t see why we wouldn’t, once we have more details–we will be supporting a total of 25 people in the Volta Region. For many of them, one year of support adds up to less than $150, which includes physical therapy fees, transportation to and from the hospital for therapy (which is often a prohibitive cost), equipment, and medication. The low cost of this means that we can continue to support these children for years to come as they grow and learn. Others, like Justine and Sedem, will need surgeries, which are pricier, but the lifelong impact of a heart surgery outweighs any price tag.
Everything is going well, though we are itching to get back to Ghana. We are so blessed to have such amazing people partnering with us in Ghana, advocating for our friends and checking up on them regularly.
We have a lot to learn, but we’re curious and we care, and that’s a start.