caring4mobility: Brit, Project manager of C4M introduces herself

As I will be writing a monthly column for My Gambia to tell you about my work as a volunteer for caring4mobility I think it’s good to introduce myself first.

As a four-year-old, I first moved abroad. My dad worked for an international company and was regularly sent overseas. If possible, the whole family would come along. This is how I partially grew up in Zambia. I have precious memories of living in Zambia, I felt at home and absolutely hated it that we went back to the Netherlands.

“I was not born in Africa, Africa was born in me”; my passion for the continent stayed. I’ve always travelled a lot. I also worked on projects in various countries, mainly in southern Africa. Among other things, for orphans with HIV/AIDS in Zambia and children from the slums in South Africa.

I became the mother of a fantastic, now 28-year-old son, who suffered a birth injury. Many years of physio and occupational therapy, major surgery and rehabilitation followed. Despite his physical challenges, he is a champ of a nurse!

In the Netherlands, I worked in a prison for adult, male, illegal immigrants, for Immigration Services and at the IETA foundation that offered education to rejected asylum seekers so they could build a future after returning to their country of origin. I have also worked as a trainer for a long time.

At the age of 32, I was diagnosed with severe double-sided hip dysplasia. Necessary hip surgeries went wrong and I was wheelchair dependent for years. After 15 hip surgeries and many therapies I’m ”back on my feet”.

It also turned out that I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. EDS is a rare hereditary progressive condition that affects connective tissues and nothing can be done. I had to accept I am physically challenged (very difficult!), but I am happy with what I can do and do things that make me happy.

When I became single 7 years ago and my mum passed a year later, I knew I wanted to go back to Africa. But I was almost 50, single and physically challenged, so how and where?

In December 2017 I went to The Gambia on holiday, not a long flight and great weather. I immediately felt at home and came back in March 2018 for a few months to get to know the country better and worked as a volunteer at a nursery school. In September 2018 I was going back to volunteer for 8 months, but I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do. 

I rented a house and went to Bennie Helptgambia to have some items shipped and met warehouse master Wim, who gave me a tour. Several mobility aids were stacked in a corner. Wim said that they did ship these, but that it didn’t work out well, as distribution in The Gambia wasn’t supervised. I wrote a plan of approach that same evening to set up a medical equipment centre and with support from Bennie Helpt The Gambia the project caring4mobility started. In 2019 we became a foundation.

I know from my own experience how incredibly important it is to be able to have suitable mobility aids and I was lucky to live in the Netherlands where everything is well arranged. And even then, life with physical challenges, to say the least, is not easy. In terms of physio / occupational / rehabilitation therapy and mobility aids, I dare to call myself an expert by experience.

In The Gambia there is no government support, mobility aids are rarely available. If they are available, they are often ill-fitting, which causes a lot of problems.

For me, contributing to caring4mobility as a volunteer is a unique way to get to know The Gambia and its residents. I travel all over the country, really come into the homes and lives of people, gain insight into their way of life, religion, culture, problems and (im)possibilities and enjoy the wonderful people, beautiful nature and the sun!

So, this is why I am passionate about people with physical disabilities in The Gambia. When you are physically challenged, everything starts with mobility; therefore: 𝗰𝗮𝗿𝗶𝗻𝗴𝟰𝗺𝗼𝗯𝗶𝗹𝗶𝘁𝘆!

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