He was born a normal child and appeared to be developing properly. But when Prince reached the age of three, he was still not able to sit down on his own and when they took him to the hospital, the parents were advised to start physiotherapy.
Prince is not the only child as his mother also has twins and seeing the minimal care he was getting, the grandmother Chrissy Damba decided take complete charge of the boy when he was five.
The frail looking 53-year old stated that she has seen improvements following the exercises and it is apparent he now understands when she talks to him but is however unable to speak.
She confessed that taking care of the 11-year old is a struggle as he constantly needs attention.
“The child just urinates on himself neither does he say it when he wants to relieve himself and I always have to monitor and clean him up after he makes a mess. As if this is not enough, he beats up his friends and breaks other people’s stuff and sometimes we are made to pay
“Everyday I have to be on my guard making sure that I prevent him from messing up and my life literally revolves around him as I can’t go anywhere but to keep watch over him,” she explains.
Her major worry is on his education since he cannot interact with his peers because he beats them up and she is not sure what the future holds for him.
Damba depends on well-wishers and farming from where she sells the produce and at times gets assistance from the child’s parents who survive on selling fritters (mandasi).
She explained she does not do the actual work in her field but engages other people so that she can fully concentrate on minding the boy because she cannot leave him alone with anyone.
“Because he relieves on himself and droops saliva, this makes people around him to be uncomfortable but I have accepted him as my own therefore it is my duty to protect him from the insults he gets. Honestly, most people are not happy with him.
“Although people despise and shout at him, he is mine and I show him love so that he is not worried and knows how much I love him and want the best from him,” she adds.
For Catherine Mwale, her child who is four years old does not walk or stand.
She explained that the problem started in 2018 after a malaria attack and since then, he has been undergoing rehabilitation.
Together with her husband, they have been to many hospitals for physiotherapy and he is now able to sit on his own.
“I’m frequently going to the hospital with my child therefore it’s hard for me to do any meaningful business venture and instead of concentrating on my business, I'm attending to my child; in the end I don’t make much progress. For those who can assist, my desire is to learn tailoring to enable me effectively assist my child,” she said.
Mwale also acknowledged that due to her child’s condition, she faces discrimination.
According to experts, learning difficulties can develop during pregnancy, birth or as a result of a serious illness at a young age. They can make every day activities very difficult such as walking, dressing, eating and washing.
Experts further say it is very difficult to classify learning difficulties and special needs as they can occur as a result of other conditions such as: Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Asperger’s Syndrome and epilepsy.
Kenny's helping hand
Kennedy Kadewere opened Active Life Physiotherapy, a private clinic in Lilongwe's Area 49 in 2020. After interning for an NGO, he developed a passion for voluntary service and provides free therapy for children with special needs.
He and his staff come to Chiuzira Primary School twice a week to do rehabilitation therapy on kids such as Prince and is welcomed by smiles of the faces of the parents who will save on costs of travelling to Kamuzu Central Hospital.
According to Kadewere, providing physiotherapy is not the only help the children deserve, as they also need well-balanced diets for their development.
Currently he is able to manage the patients at his Area 49 clinic but in future, when it will get busy, together with his team they are preparing on how best to continue offering treatment to the needy children.
He is planning on raising funds for therapists who will be only responsible for the Area 23 outreach programme at Chiuzira.
“I don’t see ourselves just stopping from giving the therapies to these kids. This goes to each and everyone for example some people have got physiotherapy clinics, some are well educated physiotherapists, rehabilitation technicians, occupation technicians; we have to hold hands so we can help these kids in whatever way. So we have a plan that we are instituting with the team that will enable us to sustain the programmes that we’re having,” he said.
His clinic conducts individual sessions providing speech, occupation and special learning therapies to the kids.
Kadewere pointed out that in the communities there are beliefs which perpetuate discrimination against mothers of these kids who are considered different.
“We have a lot of beliefs a lot of people think the mothers maybe it’s witchcraft or something, superstition those kinds of beliefs because they’re thinking that because this family did this to their kids, we cannot socialize with them.
“The discrimination is really there its starting with the mothers and the children themselves. They’re being discriminated in a lot of ways and to address this, there must be a lot of awareness to sensitize the masses so they can respect the rights of these children living with disabilities”
He admitted physiotherapy and rehabilitation has not been exposed enough and people don’t appreciate its benefits despite helping in overcoming disabilities.
“We have helped a lot of people make something out of themselves; we have changed lives of people in rehabilitation. We also have occupational therapy for example that seeks to bring back the functions and the independence these people have in their communities. So I would say take physiotherapy, rehabilitation very seriously because it’s one of the measures that have been put in place to help avoid disabilities.”