Manguzi (Kosi Bay) is an incredibly beautiful area in the far northern part of KwaZulu-Natal with minimal infrastructure and incredibly thick sand. It is frequently visited by the more adventurous traveller who is equipped with a 4×4 and enjoys exploring kilometres of deserted beaches and coastal forest.
However, this vast terrain is a nightmare for wheelchair users who live in scattered homesteads, some far off the main gravel arterials. Bush taxis service only a few of the sandy track roads and often charge extra for wheelchairs. Many wheelchair users can’t even navigate the difficult terrain to get to these taxi routes.
Ugly hidden in the beauty
In light of these challenges, many wheelchair users hire private vehicles to access services such as healthcare. For low-income families, this expense can cost up to 50 percent of the monthly family welfare income. And within the homestead, pit toilets, cramped shacks and floor mattresses make daily life a struggle.
Resources in the public health sector are strained and very few rural wheelchair users access dedicated rehabilitation facilities. The low-intensity rehabilitation services that are available and the lack of coordination between team members mean that some users are sent home without having mastered the necessary wheelchair skills and self-care knowledge.
If these patients had the opportunity for further visits, especially early on, many secondary problems such as pressure sores can be averted. While a monthly follow-up visit from a rehabilitation therapist can help, the mentorship, support and advice from someone with first-hand experience of a spinal cord injury are like gold.
Importance of peer support
Siletha Ithemba (bringing hope) is an NPO in Manguzi that strives to connect people to strengthen community networks, provide mentorship or practical advice, and advocate for the rights of people with SCIs by, for example, raising awareness. The group also works closely with public sector rehabilitation teams to provide new staff and students with practical examples of the challenges faced by people with SCIs.
The rehabilitation department continues to be amazed at the significant difference peer support can make and firmly believes in the potential of this passionate group to make a lasting positive impact. However, transport to the homesteads remain an insurmountable problem, with most peer supporters rather relying on telephonic conversations as follow-up.
Finding a transport solution
An initial attempt to raise funds for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) through BackaBuddy failed. Fortunately representatives of the Rachel Swart Fund took it upon themselves to visit Manguzi and learn more about the unique challenges that the wheelchair users face in deep rural environments.
They saw first-hand how essential it was to invest in measures that would strengthen home and community outreach for follow-up rehabilitation and psychosocial support. The fund kindly offered to donate a side-by-side ATV and provide peer supporters with a stipend for their time and expense.
The QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA) covered the costs of the purchase and the fitment of a hand control unit. It will also send a driving instructor to Manguzi to provide formal K53 training. GJ de Waal from Generator Repairs in Manguzi assisted with initial driving instructions and provided mechanical backup.
The addition of an hourly stipend has hugely motivated the peer supporters to expand their services in reach, type and frequency. However, the excitement and potential that this new ATV brings is not without its own challenges.
Driving competency is critical, and ongoing funding for running costs and maintenance will be required. Accessories such as helmets, a canvas cover, hydraulic arms for self-loading of the wheelchairs and a trailer are also needed. Further strengthening capacity building and ongoing support from the rehabilitation department will be vital too.
However, the team at Siletha Ithemba is eternally grateful for the support. It is amazing what the right combination of people can achieve in a short space of time. If you would like to find out more or support Siletha Ithemba, contact Maryke Bezuidenhout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about Siletha Ithemba in the video below, which was made for the organisation’s BackaBuddy campaign.