Kampala — EIGHT-year-old Grace says she will forever be indebted to Katalemwa Cheshire Home. When the young girl reported to the centre in February, she could not talk properly, saliva was oozing out of her mouth and she had other disabilities which doctors say were caused by cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects muscle tone and the ability to move in a coordinated way. It is caused by brain damage that occurs before or during a birth or the first three to five years of a child's life.
The story for Grace is now different as she is hoping to start school next year after learning to speak and write from Katalemwa Cheshire Home.
The home located on Mpererwe Hill, 8kms on Gayaza road was founded in 1970 as a charitable organisation. It caters for children with disabilities aged below 18.
According to Connie Kekihembo, the executive director of Katalemwa Cheshire Home, Grace is an example of the many children with disabilities that are kept in their parents' houses due to society's negative attitudes.
She adds that such attitudes are traced from deeprooted cultures where children with disabilities are looked at as a curse. "The situation worsens if the child is a girl," she says.
In many cases it, is the women to suffer with them as the fathers will put the blame on the mothers and disown the children.
Kekihembo explains that whereas some parents do not know what to do, others are too poor to facilitate their children's rehabilitation programmes.
Katalemwa Cheshire Home has embarked on a community-based programme to aid children with disabilities. In Nangabo and Nabweru sub counties, they discovered that in every three homes you get one child with disabilities. Records indicate that a field visit will identify between 100 and140 children with disabilities.
"These cases require intensive rehabilitation. The children need to be admitted but we fail due to limited space in our dormitories," Kekihembo says.
She estimates about 85% of children with multiple disabilities to be living in the communities.
About 52,610 children were supported by the centre last year and Kekihembo expects the number to shoot up to about 80,000 children this year.
She says most disabilities come as a result of poor nutrition, malaria during pregnancy for the mother and after birth for the child, domestic violence where the baby may get injured while in the womb.
However, the home, which was planned to carter for 95 children is at times forced to accommodate about 300 due to the increasing number children according to Kekihembo.
Lack of funds
The centre brings a doctor from Butabika Hospital every Monday to work on epilepsy cases which contribute to about 50% of the cases found at the centre. Each child must be kept on drugs estimated at sh100,000 per month to contain the disease. However, lack of enough funding fails this programme according to Kekihembo.
"We request assistance from the Government because the drugs are too expensive for us," she appeal.
She adds that funding on such drugs will end in December.
Katalemwa Cheshire Home's contribution
Katalemwa Cheshire Home's programme officer, Kenneth Nangai says the first five years of childhood are very crucial.
"During this time the child must go through the milestones of growth including, crawling, sitting, walking and feeding," Nangai explains.
However, things like malaria, infections and injuries sometimes interfere with a child's growth making them disabled.
The good news is that even with such mishaps with the help of the centre, a child will acquire a range of skills which can make them self reliant in future.
He says 18 children have successfully passed through the centre and are fully rehabilitated. The children get access to wheelchairs, crutches and other assistive devices.
"These are children with multiple disabilities who need routine therapy to gain something fruitful," he says.
Nangai explains that a three-year-old boy who joined the centre unable to sit or stand because of cortical and cerebral palsy has shown improvement. He can now sit in a chair. A girl who was oozing saliva is now fine after oral mortal exercises. With making her hold water in the mouth for a few minutes and spit in a bottle, she has learnt to close her mouth, he says.
Nangai says the centre helps stimulate dormant senses.
"If a child is paralysed on one side you may find that the brain is intact and only needs arousing to function," he explains.
Osteomyelitis, a challenge
The sight of children hoping around on crutches or wheelchairs or legs with metals inserted in them is common at Katalemwa. Emmanuel Odhiambo, the marketing manager, explains that many of the conditions are caused by 0steomyelitis.
Osteomyelitis is an inflammation of bone and bone marrow caused by staphylococci bacteria.
He says the centre receives over 30 cases of this nature although lack of space cannot allow them to handle all cases.
When Moses Muyimba, a pupil of Lugasa Parent's School in Buikwe district was growing up, one of his legs would continue growing longer forcing him to use a walking stick for support.
"My mother brought me here to see whether the centre could help me with surgery and put my leg in a proper position," Muyimba says.
Odhiambo explains that Muyimba's bone supporting the thigh was eaten up by bacteria which forced the leg to keep shrinking.
"He has undergone numerous surgeries where a bone fragment from the same leg was fixed to replace the eaten bone, "he says.
Walking for the children's good
The Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda has planned a charity walk for Katalemwa Cheshire Home, according to the president of Narendra A. Thakkar. There is need from both the Government and the public to come to the aid of the children of Katalemwa.
As a part of its corporate social responsibility, the institute has organised a charity walk to raise sh200m for the construction of a 40 bed dormitory.
The walk is scheduled for October 31 starting from Kololo Airstrip at 8.00am through Lugogo by-pass, Kabira County Club, Naguru, Ntinda then back to Kololo.
In and interview on Tuesday, Thakkar said the construction estimated to last a year will put in place a self-contained dormitory with a room for the matron and sick bay.
"Parent's should stop neglecting children with disabilities because it is not their fault that they are handicapped," he advised.
Thakkar suggested that the Government should reduce taxes for companies that donate to charity.
"Since the Government has no budget for the needy, the trick of reducing taxes to the donating groups may work," he said.
Thakkar added the accountants, move should be a wake up call to other professions to aid the needy. "Let doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals put up a building at the Katalemwa home to show solidarity," he advised.