Monday, November 05, 2007

St. Julie Centre - Week 40

A mother holds her son as he gets two plaster casts on both legs

At the St. Julie Centre, a few of our staff members have returned from their scheduled leaves and now it seems that we have a full staff again. Angela has returned from her maternity leave and the staff, last Friday, went to visit her in her home to see her new baby boy for the first time. Novice Joy, who had worked at the Centre as a volunteer earlier in the year, took her vows as a Sister of Notre Dame in August. She has returned to the Centre, now as Sister Joy, and also as a new staff member. Neto, a student volunteer has been able to continue his classes locally, instead of in Nairobi, and has been able to stay on as part of the staff. During the months when it seemed like the staff was dwindling away there were a few days when the Centre was being run by only two or three people and everybody had to be strong and fill in for those on leave to keep it going, but now the staff members are all in their respective roles and things are once again running smoothly.

David prepares a cast for the left leg

The St. Julie Centre is open for therapy Monday through Thursday and each client typically comes once a week. While the day on which any client comes is based simply on their availability, not on the disability of the child, Tuesday is somewhat of an exception. Tuesday is the day on which the children with clubfoot come for plaster and many times it is the busiest day of the week.

Mama Javan shows her son's left clubfoot

Clubfoot is a disability that a child is born with in which one or both feet are unnaturally curved down and inward. A clubfoot generally looks like it has an extremely high arch. A child that suffers from clubfoot typically has trouble placing his or her foot flat on the ground when they are walking.

A mother and father remove an old plaster cast

The good news about clubfoot is that if it is diagnosed early it can be treated without surgery. This is done so by putting a plaster cast on the foot while it is still growing. The cast will slowly straighten the foot before the bones have fully developed. In many cases, a child with clubfoot can make a complete recovery from their disability.

A mother plays with her child after the casts have been set

On Tuesdays, there is fear in the air for the children that I see for play therapy. Each child that I engaged in a play activity is continually distracted by the screaming, shouts, and crying coming from the occupational therapy room. This is where the therapists are twisting the feet of the children with clubfoot in order to set the plaster casts that hold them straight. Once the cast is set it is usually not painful, but before the plaster hardens, the foot must be held in an uncomfortable position. One by one the children go in and come out with tears in their eyes. While there are still some cases that are not coming for plaster on this day, all of the children are struck with fear when the occupational therapist opens the door and calls, “next.”

The last volunteer meeting of the year

In October, I had my last volunteer meeting of the year. We began on a somber note by praying for the eight children that have died this year. Two children had died since our last meeting, Emmanuel who suffered from hydrocephalus andspina bifida and Bernard who suffered from cerebral palsy. As usual I spoke to the play therapy volunteers about keeping up with their duties and gave them some advice on how some things could be done more effectively. Then we shared our stories about some of the children from the past couple of months at the Centre. But it was when I told them the news that in December I would be leaving that I really knew how they felt about me. I thanked them for their service and told them that I enjoyed my time working with them, but I also said that I would soon have to go and that there would be other volunteers coming in January. They very graciously told me that they really enjoyed me as their supervisor and really wished that I could stay longer. It was when they told me this that I remembered that they said the same thing to Cindy, the volunteer supervisor last year, before she left.

Emmanuel suffered from hydrocephalus and spina bifida

Bernard suffered from cerebral palsy

When I began the position as play therapy supervisor back in January and I kept hearing how much they liked Cindy as their supervisor the year before and I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to fill her shoes. I was told that when they heard that a man was coming to take her place, the volunteers were all very concerned because they thought that Cindy, as a woman, knew them so well. But what I’ve come to see in these last few months, is that the staff and I have also worked very well together and that they will also be sad to see me go. We have developed our own relationship with each other and in many ways it will be tough for me to leave. I struggled in the beginning to carry on what she started, but in the end, I now realize that I didn’t need to be like Cindy, I just needed to be myself.

We are quickly coming to December and there is still so much to do before then. On December 3rd the Centre will be celebrating World Disability Day. It will be an opportunity to create some awareness of disabilities in this community and help to remove the shame for which sometimes they are hidden away or seen as outcasts. It will also be a last farewell for me to those parents, children, and staff members with which I have spent this blessed year.


Anonymous said...

When are you coming home?

Anonymous said...

You have done a remarkable thing for Gods people. I am very proud of you and honored to call you my friend. looking forward to having you come back home.

Your brother in Christ,