Meet the New physiotherapy centre serving children with disabilities in Rwanda

Inside a building in rural Rwanda, there are new exercise balls and wooden staircases for youngsters to use. Here at the Ubumwe Community Center, children with physical disabilities will finally receive regular physiotherapy that they so desperately need. Opening this past April, the physiotherapy centre sponsored by A Better World Canada is anticipated to change many lives.

Physiotherapy is hard to find in Rwanda, partly because of what happened 24 years ago. Rwanda suffered one of the world’s worst genocides and since that time, rebuilding has been occurring on many fronts. While schools are being built and other needs are being focused on, helping the disabled has lagged behind. “Most of the children were born (after the 1994 genocide) but the facilities weren’t there,” said ABW co-founder Eric Rajah. “We’re branching out to help the disabled in Rwanda… we have the experience, resources, and the need was there.”

Over 10 years ago, ABW began working on projects scattered across this tiny nation. During one trip in search of potential projects three years ago, Rajah learned of the Ubumwe Community Center catering to children with various needs including blindness. He observed that it was being run well, but it lacked physiotherapy services for children with physical disabilities. ABW created a rehabilitation program initially. “We had local physiotherapists working, but they didn’t have the space,” said Rajah. A physiotherapy team from Canada assessed the children in February 2017 and helped determine what kind of building and equipment, and further training was needed.

The Canadian rehabilitation team assessed children in 2017 and helped determine what kind of building and equipment was needed.

Several Canadian sponsors stepped forward with the project. Construction got underway in late October 2017 on the brick stone building of about 1,000 square feet. Before, all the children, whether blind, deaf or with some kind of mobility issue or mental disability, were in one area for treatment. Now, the physiotherapy centre allows rehabilitation to occur more easily for those with physical disabilities. The room is divided into two areas, one for supplies and the other for treatment purposes. The centre also has equipment now. Without this kind of centre, Rajah said it would be hard for these children to markedly improve as treatment would be slower. Some may not have received surgery because they didn’t have access to follow-up physiotherapy. “With physiotherapy, you need to be in treatment regularly,” said Rajah.

The physiotherapy centre will assess children first and then, if needed, decide what kind of therapy is required. “More and more children are starting to come, knowing that we have these services,” said Rajah. “They’re staying in school and are able to come for treatment.”

Red Deer physiotherapist Mona Walls greets families during a trip to Rwanda in February 2017.

News of increased demand is so rewarding for an organization helping to bring people out of adverse conditions within East Africa. As for the next step, ABW plans to perform surgeries within the area that’s close to Lake Kivu, one of the African Great Lakes.

When Rajah was there recently, he met an 11-year-old boy named Peter who faced leg amputation. Through Rajah’s direction, ABW paid for an operation and Peter’s leg was saved. Now he’s able to walk and will receive physiotherapy at ABW’s new centre. Surgeries will help mainly children under 10 years old. “We’re looking at helping those who cannot walk, who have had various birth defects,” said Rajah.

Rajah anticipates visiting the physiotherapy centre in November. “I’ll go there probably for the official opening and see the completed building,” he said.

ABW will also invest more in Umutara School for the Deaf in northwestern Rwanda, considered its flagship project for the country. It has built a water catchment system, classrooms, dormitory and a library there, with plans for another dormitory and additional toilets. About 130 students attend the deaf school.

Written By Laura Tester

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