Friday, August 31, 2007

St. Julie Centre - Week 30

Orpa rides the tricycle to help strengthen her club foot

The Kenyan equivalent to the long and dreary winter in Michigan is the long and dreary rainy season of Western Province. It has been raining heavily in western Kenya nearly everyday since May. The dirt roads of Malava become rivers of red muddy water in the late afternoons and early evenings and by morning there is a sloppy, sticky path all the way to the St. Julie Centre. When I arrive at the Centre my shoes each weigh two pounds heavier and I shuffle across the grass to lighten the load. As I sit on the benches out front retracing the pattern of the tread on my soles with a stick, I can see that my newly washed pants now have a red speckled finish. As the rest of the staff arrive, one by one, the routine is the same. On these mornings it’s cold and the children and parents will come late. Everybody seems to have a similar tired look about them. Despite the slow start, all are ready when the children finally walk through the front gate and it’s business as usual at the SJC.

The sloppy, sticky road next to the SJC

Baba Ephraim brings his son, Ephraim, who suffers from
Epilepsy and Cerebral Palsy, to the Centre on his bicycle

My work in play therapy seems to be going well, but it is not without it’s struggles. Sadly, their are parents who bring their children to the Centre that have no interest or desire whatsoever for their child’s recovery. It’s true. While there are some parents who are very good with their children and remain closely involved in every step of the therapy and treatment, many times there are others who seem to be merely waiting for their child to die so that they can be relieved of the burden of their disabilities. I have been told that some of the parents will actually use their disabled child merely to obtain the benefits of the St. Julie Programme for use by their other “normal” child, since some of the families receive food and money for transportation and school fees. Then when the disabled child dies from being neglected, the family feels only relief and they are content in thinking that, although they have been a curse, their lives were able to at least serve some purpose.

Wincelet is paralyzed on her left side and is stringing beads to
help increase the fine motor control in her hands and fingers

My greatest struggle of all, even though it’s not always in my hands, is to try to prevent this very thing from happening. It is my job, not to cut the parents out of the process of their child’s recovery by doing the play therapy as everybody sits and watches, but to involve them in it by showing them how the toys can be used in helping their son or daughter. At the Centre, we always try to keep in mind that if the children only comes for play therapy once a week, what they do away for the Centre might be even more important in their overall recovery. But it is a healthy parent to child relationship that makes this “home therapy” possible and, in most cases, is easier said than done.

Bevan, who has Cerebral Palsy, uses the "popper" toy to help him walk

As is expected, some days go very well, but it is the tough days that make me think about my work more closely. While I think that some doubt is normal for everybody in this type of experience, it is on these days that I seriously wondered if my work here would bear any fruit. It was not until recently that I would realize that it would.

Sylvia, who has Down's Sydrome, uses the parallel bars to help her walk

Besides my duties in play therapy, I have recently been given a new role at the Centre to collect membership fees from the parents of the children. This small registration fee of 200 Kenyan shillings per year (equivalent to just under three U.S. dollars) is not meant as a payment for our services, but rather is used to allow parents to play an active role in their child’s recovery. It also helps to motivate them to attend all of the therapy sessions when they know that it is costing them something. Many parents choose the option to pay this fee off over time. When they come to the Centre, week by week, they pay just a little bit more. For some, it may take months until they are paid in full. When they have cleared their balances, I then take a photo of each child and place their pictures on a board in the play therapy area. It is a fun way to show everyone which children are full members of the St. Julie Programme.

The "members" board at the St. Julie Centre

Mama Rael and her daughter, Rael, play together at the Centre

Up until recently, this job of collecting registration and taking photos for the picture board was a tedious task for me. It was awkward to ask parents, who seemed to have little next to nothing, for their next payment, but frustrating to see others, who seemed more financially able, make excuses why they couldn’t contribute anything. Some of the children are also called by many different names which always made it more difficult to locate the record of their previous payment to obtain their current balance. I would have to look through dozens of carbon-copied receipts only to find that I was looking for the wrong name. When I finally found the correct name, I would have to write out a new receipt by hand and then search for the proper change, which was not always available. When the balance was paid in full, I would then take on the laborious task of trying to make their mentally disabled child look at the camera and smile for the photo. The process always seemed long and arduous.

Mama Joseph removes plaster casts that help Joesph's arms and legs grow straight

Naomi uses the standing box to help her stand and walk

Last month, in July, I was instructed to focus more of my attention on collecting registration and encouraging parents to pay off any remaining balances, now that the year was half over. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to that job and at first, with some cases, it seemed like just another futile effort, but as one parent completed their registration fee they all began to come. The ones that did so became full members of the St. Julie Programme and began showing off to the other parents their child’s picture up on the board. Other parents began asking about their child’s photo and what they needed to do to get it up on the board. It was then that I really began to see their level of commitment. They began to pay off their registration balances left and right. And I began printing more and more pictures for the board.

Mama Lucy and her daughter Lucy use a flute and a puzzle to help her speak

In the end, it was this very task that I dreaded that helped me to put some things into perspective. I have been told that some work isn’t always about bearing fruit and reaping the benefits. Some work is about planting the seeds and waiting patiently. This type of work seems to be the most difficult of all because, without immediate results, there is always an opportunity to fall into doubt along the way. Then it is very possible to quit even before one has reach their goal.

Priscah, who is paralyzed on her left side, strings
beads to help increase her fine motor control

Until a couple of months ago, the board was pretty unimpressive. There were about twenty to thirty pictures filling scarcely one-third of the board. The staff pictures alone took up a great portion of that. But this week, I put up the last few of a bunch I just printed and then stood back to have a look. There are now eighty-six pictures on the board! I really couldn’t believe it! It was over two-thirds full! I took a moment to think about just what this meant. I was actually seeing the results of some of my work. It went way beyond a mere picture board. I was seeing how I, and many others, have touched the lives of these eighty-six children. When the programme started several years ago, there where only six. Now there are eighty-six. In the tiny village of Malava that’s huge! And what’s more, it’s not even close to being finished. There are many that are still showing their commitment little by little and new parents continue to come and bring their children with them everyday. Angela, one of the therapists, said that the board will be filled very soon and we will have to find another place to put the new pictures. I, with a renewed spirit, took this task and without hesitation. I now renewed my own commitment to the St. Julie Centre. I was seeing it through different eyes. The seeds I helped plant were beginning to grow.

Mercy rides the tricycle to help increase the
gross motor control in her arms and legs


Anonymous said...

Tim, Great job on the SJC Member Board!!! You are making a huge difference there. Positive actions set off other positive reactions. Each child is a precious gift and I learn that more and more every day as I see Dominic and Miles grow and change before my eyes.

I hope the board you have worked on continues to get more parents involved and excited in their own child's therapy.

Take Care,

tim said...

Thanks Jennifer!

Just remember that it's you and everybody back home that keeps me going everyday. You're interest has kept me involved and excited in the work I am doing. Thank you so much! And remember your support has made you as much a part of these child's lives as I am.

I can't wait to see both of my nephews when I get home. I just hope I will be able to recognize them from their photos.