In our quest for perfect solutions, we should not lose sight of pragmatism – finding a workable solution in an less-than-ideal situation.
Earlier this year, at the QASA Annual General Meeting (AGM), one of the attendees showed me a photograph of a ramp that was built to the back door of a house. The ramp was obviously too steep to navigate alone. The photograph was part of the feedback on a rural outreach programme conducted by one of QASA’s Regional Associations.
“How can they build something that is obviously inadequate and then have the nerve to brag about it!” exclaimed the attendee.
“We don’t know the whole story; perhaps it served the needs of the person, perhaps they had no other choice,” I countered. But he was adamant: “If you want to help someone, you cannot be half-cocked about it, you must provide a proper solution.”
It turned out that the photo only showed what was in the photo. What was not visible was that the ramp ended at the entrance to a backyard shack. And the ramp could not be built to run alongside the house, because another shack was in the way.
In addition, the child with a disability who lived in the house did not have the use of his arms, so his mother had to push him wherever he needed to go. The steep ramp replaced a 40-cm step. To the mother it was a huge improvement.
I recently read of a school in rural Kenya with a dormitory that houses 42 children with disabilities, but it has only one wheelchair. To get to school, those able to walk, walk. The smaller children are carried to and from school by older children. Some children have to be carted to and from school by wheelbarrow.
The headmaster said: “The sight of children with disabilities being carried in a wheelbarrow is not a pretty one, but what can the school community do when we don’t have enough wheelchairs and need to use whatever we can to move the children around?”
A standard seven (grade nine) 16-year old boy noted: “I can’t bear to see my friend struggling to get about on his own and that is why I don’t mind using my strength to carry him from the classroom to the dormitory and wherever else he wants to be taken.”
But then there is also the voice of his 15-year old friend, who pointed out: “I wish I had a wheelchair, because I cannot always depend on my friends to pick me up and give me a piggyback ride whenever I want to move around.”
In a refugee camp in Syria, seven-year old Amar is pushed around in a wheelbarrow, because he has cerebral palsy and cannot walk.
On the other side of the scale there was also Chaeli Mycroft and her troop of “Chaeli Kili Climbers” who scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in 2015, with Chaeli in a custom-built, lightweight and ultra-manoeuvrable wheelchair, being hauled up by her team.
Chaeli trained for months to become acclimatised to the lack of oxygen at high altitudes, but ultimately it was her team that got her to the top. A year later, Chaeli, who has cerebral palsy, and Anita Engelbrecht, who has spastic diplegia, participated in the 2016 Comrades Marathon.
They were pushed by their running partners, James Chevallier, Brett Glenn and Hilton Murray. They experienced the marathon, but the running was done by their partners.
The common factor between Amar, the Syrian boy, the wheelbarrow and piggyback rides at the Kenyan school and the wheelchair rides of Kilimanjaro and the Comrades, is that, in all cases, they could not go it alone. The people with disabilities depended on the assistance and sacrifices of others who loved them and cared for them.
Returning home after the QASA AGM, I was on a flight with three persons with spinal cord injuries (SCI). An aeroplane is possibly one of the most inaccessible forms of travel for a person with SCI. However, to see the professional ease with which the Bidvest PAU staff, who were trained by QASA, transferred and secured their charges, was absolute perfection in an imperfect environment.
So, what is my point? Just this: our world is not perfect; we often find ourselves in situations that are beyond our ability to deal with. Of course, we must agitate and advocate for improvement, but we must be careful that in striving for perfection we do not discard less-than-perfect, workable solutions.
We must be open to the fact that when structures are not perfect, equipment is inadequate and terrain is challenging, there are always people who care. Don’t be too proud to reach out.
To all of you who do care – our sincere thanks and appreciation. God bless you. You are special and you make us realise that life is worth living. And you awaken within us the urge to emulate you. To strive also to be persons of worth.
Ida’s Corner is a regular column by George Louw, who qualified as a medical doctor, but, due to a progressing spastic paralysis, he chose a career in health administration. The column is named after Ida Hlongwa, who worked as caregiver for Ari Seirlis for 20 years. Her charm, smile, commitment, quality care and sacrifice set the bar incredibly high for the caregiving fraternity.