Church in Ethiopia Giving Hope to Children with Disabilities
CANAA || By Makeda Yohannes, Addis Ababa || 04 May 2017
The ministry of healing is entrusted to the Church by the Gospel through Our Lord’s practical example. The Catholic Church in Ethiopia has been faithfully delivering this ministry to the people for more than a century and half now.
One of the challenges addressed by the Catholic Church is cleft foot among children, which affects not only the body but also the social and psychology of these children.
Some people in different parts of Ethiopia mainly the rural areas have club foot, cleft lip, limb deformities and other disabilities due to complications during pregnancy or at infant stage; they are subjected to these challenges, bearing the different forms of discrimination and stigma mainly due to traditional beliefs.
Even though some of these challenges can be treated medically, many children in rural areas do not have access to such treatment and end up living unfulfilled lives.
Taking this situation into consideration, the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian Fathers) took over from ‘Terre des Hommes’ Netherlands the Alemachin Children Rehabilitation Convalescent Center in Addis Ababa where children with deformities and other disabilities from all over the country come to get the treatment.
Since its establishment in 1972, the center has been working with different health institutions to provide medical treatment for the children. The center’s fully equipped physiotherapy rooms and playgrounds, learning and recreational sessions, healthy and nutritional diets, very clean environment and dedicated staff combine to make sure the children go back to their families fully cured not just physically but also psychologically and with good manners.
According to Father Girmay Abraha, C.M., Director of Alemachin, so far 3,569 children with disabilities and deformities have come to the center and 98% who received the service have gone back completely cured.
He explains that the remaining 2% could not be completely cured due to additional challenges such as nerves and other related problems.
“At Alemanchin we are dedicated to (providing) our children a holistic care; we want them to feel at home so we all give them not just physical care but also love. The children with club foot, cleft lip and other deformities and disabilities need to know that they are not different from other children and deserve a bright future just like any other healthy children. We teach them how to treat others with care and respect and we make sure they become eager to learn and work for a well learnt and successful future,” Father Girmay explained.
Emphasizing the center’s priority for quality service, he said, “We never compromise on the quality of our services; even when funds are low we always strive to maintain the standard of our care for the children for as long as it takes to fully heal them, that is why our rate of success has never changed.”
Father Girmay also noted that the service for the children does not stop with the treatment. The personnel at the center make sure that the children are integrated back to their family and community.
He further said that the most important task is the final stage, which consists of making sure the children go back to their home to enjoy a normal childhood with the care and love of their families.
He also clarified that Alemachin works not just with the children but also on the attitudes of their families as this is very important for a sustainable holistic healing of the children.
The cooperation of families is also very important since the children might need to come back to Alemachin for follow up treatments even after they are healed and have gone back home.
He witnessed to the fact that the children are very happy at Alemachin, they treat each other with kindness and that they are all eager to go back home healed. “Volunteers share with them different games and give them advice on various life issues. As children from different parts of the country, they are also experiencing the Ethiopian culture of offering love of friendship and living together in harmony with people of different backgrounds,” he explained.
Merima is a 6 years old girl who came to Alemachin from the predominantly pastoralist and Muslim dominated area of Afar Regional State. When she arrived at the center she had club foot and was subjected to living with fear and discrimination thinking that she was destined to live with an abnormality for the rest of her live. Now with the treatment and constant follow up she got at the center she is ready to go back home with healed feet. She can run, play, walk to school and just enjoy a normal childhood.
Tariku Adinew Maru was also living with a club foot for so many years before he came to Alemachin from the rural part of Gonder in Northern part of Ethiopia. After receiving treatment, he went back to his family totally recovered. Now he is back to the center for a follow up treatment. “Everyone at my community was astonished when they saw my feet, they had thought it was incurable and I would be doomed to live like that forever. In fact, when I first came to Alemachin my family did not believe whole heartedly that the end result would be like this, they just thought it would not hurt to try,” said Tariku excitedly. He continued to explain that even his neighbor and friend the 11 years old Adinew who has the same problem as Tariku insisted on following him to Addis Ababa and ask Alemachin for the treatment.
According to Adinew, when he saw his friend come back home with a normal foot he was filled with hope so insisted that his parents bring him to Alemachin and give the opportunity to run like his other friend. “I knew Tariku before he had foot just like mine. He had been away from home for a while and when I saw him again he had come with normal foot like all the other healthy children, I instantly decided I want the same opportunity so I asked my parent to contact Alemachin,” explains Adnew how he arrived at the center.
Abush Tadesse is another child who is currently at Alemachin following up treatment for club foot. He is studying in grade 5 and after witnessing the importance of the healing ministry in his own life is aspiring to become a doctor himself. “A neighbor of mine who knew about the services of Alemachin brought me here after talking to my parents, as you can see my foot is almost normal now but you would not believe your eyes if you had seen me before. I just thank God and the Catholic Church for this opportunity and for the love and care they give us here every day. After seeing the difference such a care can make in a person’s life I now dream to become a doctor myself. I will work hard in school to achieve this and I will be a dedicated surgeon,” the excited young Abush said.
The center works with different Parishes, Catholic Health institutions, Catholic schools, Religious Congregations and other Catholic institutions as well as other organizations and communities to identify children who need the services.
Alemachin is constantly changing the lives of many physically disabled and deformed children and yet many more children need similar services. That is why the staff and the children at Alemachin call on partners and volunteers to collaborate with the center in continuing to witness the healing ministry.