Inspiring Bara physios change the status quo

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Having realised that while having limited resources can mean having limited opportunities in life - especially for those living with disabilities - a group of four physio therapists from the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital chose to do something about it.

Their Standing Boxes Project has since last year distributed over 80 assistive devices to children from Soweto living with cerebral palsy. The standing boxes provide adequate support for children with poor trunk control. They also have tray tables attached for play and feeding activities. 

Speaking to SAnews, Eliana Haarhoff said the project came to life after partnering with Sukumani Dream early last year.

An average assistive device, she said, costs about R3500, but their boxes cost R150 at the hospital.

While initially parents had to pay the R150 for each box, donations are now being sourced from private companies and individuals.

“We now have a project going where we get help from a non-profit organisation called Sukumani Dream where disabled people manufacture wooden boxes that cost R150,” she said. “We issue them to children in Soweto who would not otherwise be able to have that service available to them.”

“It is manufactured in wood. It looks like the children’s eating high chair, only they stand in it so they can wear it through their feet and we don’t experience problems with their hip joints not developing well,” she said. The legs of the invention can extend so they can grow with the child.

Haarhoff said the project came about when physiotherapists at the hospital were devastated by not being able to provide the standing frames to the affected children.

“So we started to look at possibilities. One of the physios that worked with us – Dalio Rooison – found this NPO and she contacted them. She started the project but she has since left Bara Hospital,” she said.

Chief physiotherapist Tracey Bulmer now runs the project with Haarhoff, Stacey Kennedy and Katie Davies, who all work in the hospital’s paediatric ward.

“They deal with sick and disabled children on a day-to-day basis,” said Haarhoff.

The project provides the frames in batches of 20 and they are distributed to accordingly.

“Eighty children now have devices they can stand on at home, play in and become functional human beings [while] we prevent complications for them,” she said.

The Sukumani Dream NPO relies on donors for wood but the team assists with finding such contributors.

The Good Samaritans were acknowledged by government for their commitment to improving the lives of the physically and visually impaired. They walked away the overall winners at the 16th Public Sector Innovation Awards for their Standing Boxes Project. The awards were recently held in Pretoria, held on the eve of the beginning of the Disability Rights Awareness Month.

The Standing Boxes Project won the main trophy accompanied by a R70 000 cash prize.

The second big winners of the night was a team from the North West Finance Department for their “accessible salary advice for [the] visually impaired”.

The invention came upon realisation that one of their colleagues, Andrew Mkhabele, did not have the privacy he deserved when going through his monthly salary advice due to his blindness.

“So we [then] started to develop a salary advice that is accessible to him. The project initially started looking at salary advice in braille [but] we are now looking at salary advice being emailed to beneficiaries,” Mompati Ngakantsi, project leader, said.

Rolled out to only Mkhabele in 2016, the project has since been extended to 11 other employees in the North West government department.

“We have now extended [the project] to the rest of the North West provincial government. In 2016 we managed to braille the first salary advice… [there are] 30 employees [who are] visually impaired in the whole the provincial government but only 11 are currently benefitting,” he said. 

A limitation in resources for equipment such as the braille embosser and gadgets for the short-sighted was the reason behind the 19 others not yet benefitting from the initiative.

“We are intending on extending the project to national [departments] as well as to other provinces,” said Ngakantsi.

Mkhabele, a transformation officer in the department, also formed part of the project.

“It makes my life easier because I don’t need a sighted person to read the salary advice to me. Now my salary is confidential, no one knows how much I earn. I now know all the deductions,” he said.

He has been employed by the department since 2002 but has been in the public sector since 1996.

“So in all those years, I never received my salary in a format that is accessible to me. I am really happy up to now,” he said.

The team walked away with a R20 000 cash prize as well as trophy. -