Why is our Work Presently Focused in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)?

Addressing the special needs of people with disabilities is difficult in many developing countries, but the situation in DRC is among the worst anywhere.

Left: located in the city centre, one of Kinshasa’s many disabled youths crawls across one of DRC’s few well paved roads.

Right: A disabled youth looks up at a passerby. One of the greatest sorrows and frustrations of many of the disabled people we work with is their inability to stand and communicate at eye-level (to cease to be looked down upon). Our orthopedic braces and rehabilitative services make it possible for them to StandProud.

Disability in DR Congo

DRC, a country of approximately 55 million people and geographically the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River, never achieved a high rate of polio vaccination and is one of the last bastions of wild poliovirus. Its population thus counts a disproportionate number of polio-affected disabled persons. In addition to polio, frequent meningitis epidemics and risky, ill-advised medical practices (such as injections of quinine to the hips to treat malaria) have added to the large numbers of people living with physical disabilities.

Photograph: Maki, a young boy handicapped by polio, crawls along a typical DRC street

Lack of Access to Needed Services and Equipment for Disabled Youth in the DRC

According to several United Nations indexes people in the DRC are among the poorest in the world. Medical services are expensive and totally inaccessible to the majority of the population. There is an unprecedented lack of access to essential orthopedic equipment and services for those who need them. Few individuals or families have the resources to pay for equipment like canes and orthopedic leg braces and thus they never attain mobility in their lifetime.

Furthermore, of the few people with disabilities that have managed to get some initial treatment, even fewer have the resources to return for essential, periodic follow-ups. For example, among the older adolescents with badly deformed limbs frequently seen around Kinshasa today, many actually received braces or other walking aids.

as young children before the economic crisis set in, but were afterwards unable to replace outgrown or worn-out equipment necessary to maintain their mobility and prevent deformities from worsening.

Social Stigma

Photographs - Left Copyright of Finbarr O'Reilly: www.finbarroreilly.com, Right Copyright of Marcus Bleasdale: www.marcusbleasdale.com

In addition to having virtually no place to go for affordable treatment, persons with disabilities in the DRC face, like those in many under-developed countries, a serious problem of stigma. The general population remains largely misinformed about the origins and nature of disabilities. This ignorance results in general marginalization or even ostracism of the disabled.

There is a common tendency for much of the Congolese population to view the disabled as “ruined” and incapable of contributing to society.

Common beliefs and actions include:

• Avoiding all contact with persons with disabilities for fear that they are dirty or that their affliction is somehow contagious.

•    Believing that the disabled are “cursed” and that physical disability is a supernatural “punishment” to the person or his/her family for some misdeed.

•    A preference not to have contact with persons with disabilities so that one is never forced to imagine how much more challenging life is for them.

Clearly, these attitudes on the part of the non-disabled often lead to:

• Discrimination,

• Diminished opportunities for persons with disabilities in terms of education, employment, socio-economic integration and social participation

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