Polio Helps Others With Mobility
Helps Others With Mobility
Deeply religious man, he has not accepted his fate in life sitting down. Instead, he has taken matters into his own hands and made it his life's work to help fellow Polio survivors lead more dignified lives.
He does this by giving them what they lack - Mobility - in the form of free wheelchairs.
Sitting in his workshop surrounded by dozens of freshly painted blue and red wheelchairs ready to be delivered, Gufwan said: "A lot of children have come down With Polio in Africa in general and in Nigeria in particular. There is no way to help them unless you start With mobility."
Nigeria is one of four polio-endemic countries in the world, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Gufwan's project is different from many other Polio projects in that it targets people still living With the disease as opposed to programs focused on eradicating it, although Gufwan is involved in that effort as well.
Marking World Polio Day on October 24, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its partners called for increased commitment and greater accountability from political leaders to end polio. The disease killed or paralyzed 350,000 children a year worldwide two decades ago. Vaccines have dramatically reduced its spread - cases have decreased by 99 percent since 1988 - but recent outbreaks in places such as China and Chad have raised concern that persistent eradication efforts must continue.
Change of Fate
Gufwan's life was altered irreversibly when he was paralyzed by Polio at age four, rendering his legs effectively useless. As a youngster, he was forced to stop his education because his rural village was five kilometers away from the nearest primary school - too far to travel on two arms and two wooden pegs for legs.
But Gufwan's fate changed again when he was 19 after his uncle bought him a wheelchair and he could return to school. After finishing his education, Gufwan considered studying law. But after reflecting on the challenges he had faced as a disabled person in a country where the rights of able-bodied citizens, much less disabled ones, are often not provided for, Gufwan changed course.
"As soon as I graduated, I started looking at what I passed through in life. I went through a lot and realized that a lot of people had suffered more than me because they were not as privileged as me," he said.
Gufwan believes that the best way he can help other Polio survivors is by providing them With wheelchairs, not only to help improve their mobility, but to help them live normal lives. "Getting a wheelchair is a foundation on which any other support [must] start," he said.
Bearing this in mind, 12 years ago Gufwan began using his own limited funds to build wheelchairs and sell them at-cost to fellow Polio survivors. But the plan fell through. Polio survivors didn't have the money, often because they lacked financial support from their families, many of whom were struggling to get by.
"The reality is, in Africa, people With disabilities are not paid much attention, including by their parents," Gufwan said. "Once you come down With any form of disability, you are pretty much written off."
Impoverished parents often depend on their children to help the family make a living. Children With disabilities are seen as a further drain on scant resources. They can be seen in the busy intersections of most African cities, hobbling from one car to the next looking for spare change. Some use small wooden blocks to protect the palms of their hands as they scoot along the street; Others wear flip-fops on their hands instead of their feet. Some, such as the handicapées plying the river trade between Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa, become wealthy.
After Gufwan's first approach to provide wheelchairs failed he came up With another plan. He decided he would offer them for free but With two strict conditions: the recipient must be willing to attend school or learn a trade to become self-sufficient.
As he spread the word about Wheelchairs for Nigeria, Gufwan found support from Christian missionaries in Nigeria and in the United States, who began providing funds for his budding efforts to build wheelchairs and distribute them throughout central Plateau state.
Gufwan's wheelchair project so far has distributed at least 3,800 wheelchairs. His workshop employs 22 staff, five of them Polio survivors who work in their own wheelchairs as they weld, paint and assemble new chairs. Rotary clubs from the United States to Singapore have provided support, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Gufwan says that unlike diseases such as guinea worm and HIV/Aids, where programs to help people living With these diseases are as prevalent and well-funded as the efforts to defeat them, Polio programs are largely directed toward eradication With the needs of those With the disease taking a backseat.
Although his primary focus is on those living With polio, Gufwan has been a tireless advocate for mass vaccination campaigns in central and northern Nigeria. A religious dictum issued by an influential Islamic council in the region in 2003 instructed Muslims to avoid inoculating their children out of fear of the vaccine's safety - a major setback to Nigeria's Polio eradication efforts. The campaign has subsequently resumed.
Gufwan gives the impression of a man who can help make sure that it continues. Driving his minivan With his young son chirping from the backseat, he takes calls from his wife and organizes meetings With politicians. He urges them to make campaign pledges to extend better services to disabled citizens.
"In Nigeria, we're not at war and we don't have vaccine failure," he said. "We have some infrastructure and manpower. It's ignorance - there's no other reason."
Polio Helps Others With Mobility
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