Often when working with people with disabilities, you work and work and slowly see progress. Change is not usually instantaneous. But today it was. And today I was reminded of the extreme power of occupation to radically change lives.
Today we went to a village with DIDP, a volunteer organization run by one director of Sandi on the weekends, where we saw clients from the area. I share with you one story among many:
After walking probably two hours to see us, a mom entered and laid her six year old daughter on the mats in front of us—a precious little girl with cerebral palsy that neither engaged nor participated in daily life. She spent her days laying on the ground outside their house fully dependent on others. Initially we were concerned not only about contracture and atrophy of muscles, but also cognitive involvement based on her lack of interaction with us. However, we grabbed a corner chair to try to improve positioning and we were blown away. Immediately we were taken back by the core strength she exhibited and delighted by the bright eyes and smile that now lit up both her and her mother’s face. She began to engage with us and as we added the lap tray and placed toys, we were easily able to engage her in purposeful activities, joint engagement, modeling, and pretend play! When we gave her a spoon she began to pretend to feed herself. Her mother had never even seen her really use her hands let alone do so purposefully.
That chair offered hope. It offered a whole new identity to a child whose life had previously been riding on her mother’s back or staring at the sky. She no longer has a poor forecast of a future, but can engage with peers and participate in daily life, learning from those around her. We gave her the chair and drove her home at the end of the day.
Today the gift of a chair costing not even fifteen US dollars completely changed the world of a little girl in a village in Malawi. It won’t always be so simple or so radical a change, but in the rural areas where the needs are great and the care is distant, simple things have significant impact. There are lots of kids like this little girl—lots that would benefit from chairs or equipment. Lots that have needs that continue to go unmet and potential unreached. But today, one need was met that changed many lives.