The Rehabilitation Process
Photo credit: Reuters by Finbarr O'Reilly
With StandProud funding, ACDF maintains “rehabilitation homes” at all six brace-crafting sites to give beneficiaries a place to stay while they are growing accustomed to walking with their new equipment and are undergoing physical therapy (for those requiring it).
Staff accompanies new brace-wearers through a number of walking exercises every day, and trained physical therapists provide specialized rehabilitation services at regular intervals. As ACDF staff are mostly disabled and wearing braces themselves, they can easily relate to the initial difficulties beneficiaries face. They are particularly well-suited to provide the right mixture of firmness, persistence and encouragement.
Rehabilitation at a StandProud/ACDF facility involves much more than simply mastering the physical aspects of brace wearing. Aware that effective treatment for physically disabled persons usually includes extensive follow-up, peer support, confidence building, and attention to special psychological needs, ACDF provides beneficiaries with highly individualized care. Beneficiaries are treated as members of an ongoing association of mutual support—members of an extended family of friends facing similar special challenges— not as outpatients at a medical clinic.
Overcoming Stigma and Discrimination
Social stigma and discrimination have profound psychological repercussions for people living with disabilities. In the DRC, many disabled people become so self-conscious and lacking in self-esteem that they accept to live more or less on the fringe of society and associate only with other disabled persons.
In their more candid moments, virtually all disabled youth in DRC will admit to having frequent experiences of people staring at them, laughing at them, pitying them, mocking them, or consistently underestimating their physical and mental capacities. Unsurprisingly, this can deeply damage self-confidence and self-esteem.
Photo credit top left: Reuters by Finbarr O'Reilly
Stays at the ACDF rehabilitation homes can help to remedy much of this psychological and emotional damage. Surrounded by older, well-adjusted, highly positive staff who are also disabled—who just through their daily work illustrate quite concretely how disabled people can play useful roles in society—young impressionable beneficiaries receive the message that they should not feel excessively limited and that they should not worry about how other people react to them.
At the rehabilitation home, new beneficiaries are surrounded by a specially-selected resident core group of peer mentors. These youth have a particularly positive attitude toward life and have a demonstrated ability to infect others with enthusiasm, pride and self-confidence. They dispel self-consciousness by their willingness to dance, play soccer and go out in public wearing shorts with their braces fully exposed to public view.
As a consequence of this extremely supportive and empowering environment, rehabilitation home staff frequently observe dramatic changes in beneficiaries’ attitudes towards themselves and their disabilities in relatively short periods of time.
FootballPlaying football is one of the most popular activities at the StandProud rehabilitation homes, where disabled children learn to use their new equipment and to enjoy their newly enhanced mobility. Both staff and beneficiaries encourage each other to play. Football has become integral to the social rehabilitation and confidence enhancing process encouraged at the centers.
Pictured above: StandProud Staff and young beneficiaries enjoy a daily game of football together at the StandProud center in Bunia.
Below: A typical celebration following a goal by either team. On this occasion the goal was scored by Dieu Benit, a child new to the rehabilitation center. His leg is in plaster following orthopedic surgery and he is learning, for the first time, how to stand and run on crutches.
StandProud beneficiaries play football after school with a hand made ball at the Kinshasa StandProud rehabilitation home. Photo Credit: Reuters by Finbarr O'Reilly.
Follow UpPictured: A young returning beneficiary awaits a repair at the Kinshasa brace-shop.
During new beneficiaries’ stays at the rehabilitation homes, ACDF staff work to establish a strong enough relationship with them to ensure that they return regularly for visits. Thus all former beneficiaries leave secure in the knowledge that they are welcome to return to the rehabilitation home to spend a few days there without question whenever they need to.
These visits serve to:
• Allow staff to monitor a beneficiary’s progress and the condition and continued appropriateness of his/her braces
• Provide beneficiaries further opportunity to enjoy the highly supportive environment at the rehabilitation home and get a “recharge” of self-confidence and courage to deal with the non-disabled world outside.
StandProud/ACDF provide free repair—including the replacement of worn shoes—to all former beneficiaries. Whatever special challenges beneficiaries face surviving in the non-disabled world outside the walls of the rehabilitation home, StandProud and ACDF want them to rest-assured that their special needs in terms of mobility and dignity-enhancing orthopedic equipment are covered—that StandProud/ACDF will continue to keep the “playing field” as level for them as possible.
Formal follow up
For younger beneficiaries, if they do not visit the rehabilitation home or the brace shop in 6-8 months, ACDF will send a staff member to their homes.
These visits ensure that:
1) They continue to wear essential equipment,
2) The equipment still fits properly, and
3) They have not become withdrawn socially or developed negative attitudes about themselves
*In cases where visiting staff feel that there has been slippage either in equipment use or psychological well-being, they will recommend a brief return stay at the rehabilitation home.