Published: March 16th 2013March 16th 2013
Off-Grid Ferris Wheel
An important part of any celebration is rides for kids. In Bangladesh that includes a wooden ferris wheel, powered by the two guys standing by it.
Bangladesh is choc-full of charities and NGOs. It’s a volunteer’s paradise because there is an endless number of organizations that need help. This weekend I visited the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed (CRP), which is a very well-known organization in Bangladesh. Hospitals and clinics all around the country refer people to CRP for services, which are usually provided for free. Few people can afford health care here, and fewer have any form of health insurance. If you break your back in Bangladesh, CRP may be your only hope.
Every year they host an Open Day, welcoming in neighbors and thanking sponsors. I was invited to attend as part of a group, which has worked with CRP inpatient children for years, helping them with physical rehabilitation in a swimming pool. We were greeted warmly by one of their volunteers and led around the campus, which is huge. I was so impressed by how much they have built and how many different aspects of paralysis and disabilities are cared for there.
One of their programs that has the most participants is a two-week program for new mothers of babies with disabilities. On top of being a new mother and
The Centre for for Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed
CRP has an extensive campus, complete with school and model villages, to physically rehabilitate people and also teach them how to integrate back into the world outside.
needing help caring for a baby with special needs, many women are thrown out of their homes and rejected by their villages. Some communities still view disability as a curse, as a problem caused by the mother, or as something to be afraid of and banish from their homes. CRP not only teaches women how to care for and nurture babies with special needs, but also teaches them about organizations around the country that can help them find a place to live and get a job. This is a huge undertaking in a country where many able-bodied and independent adults cannot find work or adequate shelter.
After meeting some of the women who are staying at CRP for a couple weeks, and hearing their stories, we went to see the medical wards where paralyzed adults are cared for. The volunteer showing us around was apologetic that he wasn’t one of the doctors and couldn’t answer many of our medical questions. He was able to answer most other questions, though, and translate for us when patients only spoke Bangla; we learned a lot. He explained that most modern technology is still unavailable to CRP, because of the cost. Some of
I've tried to play basketball in a wheelchair before, as part of a camp in Idaho. It's really hard and I'm always impressed to see people going for it.
the methods may look archaic to us, he cautioned, but it is all medically sound treatment and they best they can do.
The first ward we saw was for patients who are receiving treatment the initial back and spinal cord injuries, most having recently had surgery. A few could sit up in wheelchairs and had neck braces on, but most were laying prone, some with vices or other devices to keep them from moving their heads or necks. They had attendants sitting with them, turning them to prevent bedsores and caring for them if they had no family. It was heartbreaking to hear how they were injured doing manual labor, fell off a roof or were in a motorcycle accident.
The next ward was for patients who had recovered from the actual injury, but who were starting physical therapy to try to regain as much movement as possible. Some never would, but many work on upper body strength so they can learn to use a wheel chair. Some have intensive physical therapy to learn to walk again, or how to use a cane or braces. They had a few old stationary bikes and some other exercise equipment, mostly
There were several metal workshops and assembly shops inside the CRP campus. They use all locally sourced materials, including wheels manufactured by a Bangladeshi bike company.
for core and arm strength. It may look shabby, but is kept in perfect working condition by their dedicated staff.
Most of the mechanical expertise is devoted to making wheelchairs, prosthetics and braces. Every physical aid is made specifically for each patient. Sometimes the lack of mass-production can be an advantage. It takes a lot of time and effort to make each device by hand, with minimalistic tools, but the results are perfectly suited for each person’s needs. They not only measure a person for size, but also take into consideration what they need the device to do, and where they will be using it. A person who lives in the city and has to navigate sidewalks and roads needs a different kind of chair from a person who will go back to a village where there is no cement or asphalt.
One unique aspect of CRP is the model villages, which are open to patients after they have gained enough mobility to leave the hospital rooms. They are replicas of typical Bangladeshi villages and patients learn how to function in a world designed for people who can walk. As I mentioned before, living in Bangladesh is not
Personalized and Tailored Chairs
Each CRP wheelchair is made specifically for somebody, according to their height, weight and intended uses for the chair. You can even choose the fabric for your cushions.
easy, and trying to make a living and survive when you are paralyzed is all the more challenging.
To cheer us up after seeing the hospital side of their operations, since it was an open house, the next part of our tour was the fair. There were activities for kids, face painting, balloons, cotton candy and a ferris wheel. I didn’t know what it was at first, since it is so completely different from any ride I’ve seen in an amusement part in North America, Europe or even North Africa. It was made entirely out of wood and natural fiber rope. It didn’t need electricity, since it was powered by two men who reached up to the closest bucket seat and pulled it down, gaining momentum until the whole thing was creaking and groaning around in fast circle. There were only four seats, which made it more of a square than a wheel. We weren’t offered a ride, and I didn’t ask. There was a line of kids waiting for a turn and I didn’t think it proper to take time that could go to children who would probably never go to an amusement park. Actually, it crossed my
Beyond Chairs: Prosthetics
After the wheelchair workshops, we saw where prosthetics and braces are made, all by hand.
mind that the whole thing could fall apart and anybody riding it could fall and break their neck. After seeing up close the consequences, I didn’t want to risk it. It may be a while before I do anything that could result in injury.
Next we went past the basketball court where a group of men were putting on jerseys and preparing for a game. Behind the court was the school, which is inclusive and not only provides education to patients at CRP, but also to children who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. It was a cheerful place, full of bright murals and kids’ artwork. Since we were visiting on a weekend, the classrooms were empty and we could poke around without interrupting anybody.
The last part of the tour was the art gallery, where paintings and drawings made by CRP patients were displayed. Each one was accompanied by a short bio and photo of the artist. Most of them explained how the person was injured, such as a car accident, and also told how the artwork was made. Some of the artists are quadriplegic and hold the paintbrushes in their mouths. There were also displays of wooden
After touring the hospitals and model villages, we got to see the school. How is this for a differentiated classroom? The students' stats on the bottom of the board are: Autism 4%, Cerebral Palsy 87%, Down Syndrome 2%, Learning Disabilities 5%, Other 2%.
carvings, puzzles and sculptures. I got a brightly painted wooden parrot on a perch, which looks cheerful on my balcony and sways in the breeze.
As depressing as it must be to be paralyzed, I think that CRP does a good job of lifting people up. I was very impressed with how thorough they were in every aspect of rehabilitation, and how they make the most of what is locally available, especially when they are completely reliant on donations. They just secured a 5 year grant from the Government of Canada and have a partner-ship with the University of Queens and several medical schools. Local donations are mostly made through the sale of artwork and families who have benefited from CRP services. I plan to be involved in their work and am exploring ways to help with fundraising. If you want more information or would like to visit, go to their website: http://www.crp-bangladesh.org/
There are more photos below