Wheelchairs Transform Life for Ethiopian Children

Four-year-old Bahiru in his new wheelchair.
Four-year-old Bahiru in his new wheelchair. A physical therapist, right, and a technician from Cheshire Services Ethiopia adjust the chair for a proper fit.
Robert Sauers, USAID
Persons with disabilities are enabled to lead more productive lives
“In just a short period of time, we see that the wheelchairs are decreasing the dependency on caregivers and nurses.”

May 2014—In Ethiopia, 7.37 million people living with disabilities face challenges related to discrimination, exclusion from mainstream society, and extreme poverty. In addition, the physical environment is hostile to people with disabilities, including inaccessible roads, few city sidewalks, and ill-equipped transportation, schools, housing, workplaces and public facilities.

Four-year-old Bahiru* suffers from cerebral palsy and global developmental delay, and is one of many in need. He is currently supported by an Ethiopian NGO, Tikuret Lesotoch Ena Le Histanat Mahiber, which means "attention to women and children." Founded in 2007 by Sister Asayech Yirga, the organization cares for 30 orphans and vulnerable children in Addis Ababa. Caregivers or nurses carry Bahiru everywhere he goes and his interaction with the outside world is extremely limited.

Children like Bahiru who are born with multiple disabilities are often abandoned by their poor parents, who cannot afford to keep them. They often live on the streets. Apart from the costs that make wheelchairs a luxury for the poor, getting a wheelchair in Ethiopia is difficult, because of limited local production and insufficient training for wheelchair technicians.

USAID is addressing the wheelchair shortage through its Improved Wheelchair Access through Empowering Local Initiatives project implemented by the International Orthodox Christian Charities and two partner organizations, the Ethiopia Center for Disability Development and Cheshire Services Ethiopia. The project also supports income-generating activities for adult wheelchair recipients.

In March 2013, Bahiru and four other special needs children living at the same facility received their first wheelchairs. Each chair needed more than four hours of custom fitting per child. Cheshire Services Ethiopia sends therapists and technicians on follow-up visits every three to six months to make adjustments as the children grow.

“Most of the children with disabilities were abandoned by their families before they came to the child care center,” said Muna Bayou, USAID’s project manager. “I now know what a wheelchair can do for individuals and their families.”

With his new wheelchair, Bahiru will grow stronger and healthier and have more interaction with people and his environment. The more he interacts, the better he can learn. The mobility and his upright position will make him more conscious of his surroundings, which will improve his quality of life, and as he gets bigger, it will make it easier for other people who provide support to move him around.

“In just a short period of time, we see that the wheelchairs are decreasing the dependency on caregivers and nurses,” said Asayech. “I would like to thank Cheshire Services Ethiopia, Wheels for Humanity and USAID.”

In all, 725 children and 2,175 adults will receive wheelchairs through the three-year USAID activity that began in late 2011. The recipients are the neediest, referred by hospitals or communities. With their newfound mobility, these recipients will be in a better position to find employment that allows them to lead productive lives with dignity.

*Full name not available.


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Last updated: November 23, 2015

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