One of the many important activities in Pina Palmera is the home follow-up visit. They are usually requested by a family member or a friend but sometimes by a concerned villager contacts a member of the staff with concerns. The problems signalled can range from a little baby that is behind in his development to a child or an adult with an obvious disability. The visits are not quite as simple as driving to someone’s house, ringing the bell, and then proceeding with the inquiry and suggestions.
Many times the address is vague: “a brown house close to the small food store” when all houses are brown and there are at least 5 small food stores in the area. Numerous questions about the location are needed, in a village where so many people have the same first and last name and streets have no names or numbers. Afterwards, the team members armed with paper and pencil on which they write and rewrite directions and suggestions regarding the address, start their quest. They walk uphill, downhill, through someone else’s yard, in the sun and dust, followed by various dogs, goats, chickens, and the occasional curious neighbour, arriving at their destination after an unpredictable amount of time. I am always impressed by their perseverance and positive attitude and not least by the infinite patience with which they explain for the hundredth time who they are, what they do, and who they’re looking for.
After arriving at the destination, introductions and explanations follow. The little boy we visited on this trip is an adorable 4 year old with cerebral palsy, cared for by one of his aunts (pregnant herself) as the mother works 12 hours/day for 6 days /week.
The house is one big room housing 3 adult women and 4 children, all of them working in some capacity to make ends meet (selling homemade food mainly); the men have either “separated” or are “working and not living here”. This little client is relatively neglected most of the time but otherwise healthy. He is very shy but soon responds to our efforts and turns out to be extremely smart and very knowledgeable for his age, with a lot of enthusiasm for the standing frame we have brought; overall he is starved for attention and stimulation. With infinite patience, Sofia and Mariana (physical and speech therapists) involve the aunt and the other 2 older children in setting up the frame and some basic reaching and standing games that will help our little man develop his leg strength.
We are hoping that with repeated visits, the family will become more knowledgeable and less burdened by the care they need to provide. He has great potential and could possibly walk short distances with some help.
We had a tough time reaching this house from the main road so it is not likely the boy will be taken to preschool but the therapists will return and try to find some way to eventually include him into the school system.
Our next visit involves a man with a brain injury following a blow to his head. He is now blind and unable to speak but making progress in his walking. Last month the team built a set of wooden parallel bars to help him walk in their absence as they can only visit every 2 weeks at best. Today we decided to increase the challenges and had him walking with our support and ultimately with just a little bit of hand guidance. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be for a blind, weak man to walk across a yard full of obstacles, on very uneven terrain, led by some strange women and constantly being asked to do “just a little more”.
This is just a small part of what is happening here and unfortunately words and pictures can’t capture the tremendous effort displayed by everyone involved in the visits. What most impresses me though, is the sense of satisfaction when, after a long day, everyone returns dusty and sweaty, talking about what they have accomplished and their many plans for the next visit. And you can be sure it will happen, as long as they are wanted and asked to return…and as long as the car will cooperate!