Local residents ‘helping people through prosthetic rehabilitation’ in Tanzania
Sherrie and Eddy Anderson of Nacogdoches have returned from their first trip this year to Tanzania where they carried “the life-changing message of Christianity and our passion to help people through prosthetic rehabilitation.”
Earlier this month, the couple and their mission — Step by Step Prosthetic Mission — collaborated with e3 Partners Ministry to share that message and to provide prosthetic services to people in Africa who are living with an amputation, according to the website for Step by Step.
The Andersons, along with e3 Partners, traveled to various regions of Tanzania to identify and help people with albinism who have suffered amputation at the hands of people selling the severed limbs for use in potions of witch doctors, the website states.
For the next six weeks, Sherrie will build the prosthetics for which she fitted patients while she was there in early June, and she will collect much-needed donations and items for amputees and albino children in orphanages and other impoverished people in Tanzania.
They plan to return to Tanzania in mid-August for the second phase of this mission.
The Andersons and a small entourage left for Tanzania June 2 and returned June 12, the time of which included a week in Africa and a couple of days travel.
A few years ago, Sherrie similarly took her expertise and certification in prosthetics and orthotics to Haiti to help those who lost limbs in the devastating earthquake. She is the sole practitioner at Professional Prosthetic Care in Nacogdoches.
Her trip to Tanzania was different.
“I wasn’t prepared for the conditions of everything,” Sherrie said. “The conditions of the town we were in were a lot better than the conditions in Haiti. So as far as that goes, I was prepared.
“But some of the facilities we went to and the access we had to things were a little shocking and concerning,” she said, explaining there are camps in Tanzania designed to keep safe albino children who have been attacked and suffered amputation for the purpose of providing the limbs for potions for witch doctors. The survivors of those attacks are in camps that are many miles apart. The mission group had located four of the children survivors, but traveling to see just one took an entire day for Sherrie’s group.
“To go see the other ones would have taken three days, and we only had a week,” she said. “And, they had lined up 30 other amputees for me to see. So we went to see only one of the individuals who had survived the attacks.”
The girl, Kabula, now 14, had her right arm cut off while she was sleeping when she was
12 years old. Living with her family when it happened, she was taken to the orphanage for her safety once she was healed and in good health.
“Just in my research, I had seen pictures of these camps of families with children with albinism,” she said. “But what we went to were orphanages.”
Sherrie learned that some families abandon their albino children at the gates of these orphanages, trying to distance the rest of the family from the dangers of being targeted by witch doctors. Other families leave their children at the safe camps after talking with camp officials to ensure the child’s safety and their family’s return access to visit the child.
These orphanages were filled with albino children, along with children who were deaf and some who were blind, Sherrie said.
“And we weren’t really prepared for that, and the conditions of the orphanages,” she said. “We have added to our goals to help the orphanage there.”
In traveling to Tanzania earlier this month, Sherrie and Eddy purchased tote containers to transport the hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, shoes, clothes and other items they collected locally for the first trip. The totes were checked on the plane and traveled with the Andersons. The items were declared and pre-approved ahead of time to go through customs, but accompanied the Andersons in flight. Whereas if they had shipped the items ahead of time, they would have been taxed. A similar process will be followed for the return trip in August. Each trunk costs about $100 to transport.
The Andersons and their group paid for their flights with personal funds. But donations paid for the items that were purchased and cost of transport, Sherrie said.
Again, the group is hoping the community will again step up to the plate with their generosity.
“If we can get donations to cover the cost of purchasing the trunks and getting them there, and if we can get the items donated instead of having to purchase them ... ” that’s the plan, she said.
“But we also have the cost of making the limbs,” Sherrie said. “That’s a very costly part of it.”
Phase II: The return trip
Sherrie evaluated about 35 people, but she’s making 28 prostheses. Some of the patients she saw were not candidates for limbs, or they needed additional surgeries.
During the next six weeks or so, in addition to seeing her local patients, she will be making the prostheses, hopefully accomplish that in time for a return trip in mid-August.
“I expect it will take me two weeks there,” she said, referring to fitting the patients with their new limbs.
One of the advantages of the June trip was meeting with officials, including government and hospital officials, directors of rehabilitation services and officials at a clinic that fabricates prostheses. The Andersons were told they could use that facility when they return to fit the patients with their new prosthetics.
“So I will have access to a lab and have technical support,” Sherrie said. “I’ll also be training them on the componentry we use, because they are not familiar with it, and equipping them with what they need, so that if people break something or have problems with their prosthetic, they can go to the clinic and have it fixed. That was a blessing.
“That means I don’t have to take all my equipment and can take things for the children instead,” she said.
During the last six months, the facility hasn’t made a prostheses because of a lack of materials.
“Looking around, they had tires that they would put on the bottom of wooden feet they would make,” she said. “They used any type of resources they had.”
Some of the people Sherrie evaluated came with prostheses they had been wearing for eight to 12 years, “that were just falling apart and that they would hold together in any way they could, because that was their only method of getting around,” she said.
The personal impact
“It was very sad in a lot of ways to know that people there just work so hard for their next meal,” Sherrie said. “The conditions of the orphanage were sad.
“We went to another place we were told was a home for disabled adults where I would be seeing 12 amputees,” she said. “And when I saw them, they all had leprosy. That was something I wasn’t prepared for. It was very sad.”
The orphanage they visited and the health challenges of the albino children also made a lasting impression on Sherrie.
“It was clean; they had beds and the basic necessities,” she said. “But there was about 140 children there, and I didn’t see one toy. There was no play equipment; there was nothing to do.”
Children from 6 to 13 go to school, but the younger ones have nothing to do during the day.
“They just seem to follow the shadows to stay out of the sun,” she said. “You’d see them against this wall, and then against that wall, because they are so damaged by the sun that they know to stay in the shadows or in the shade.
“So what we want to do is build soccer goals and swings to give them something to do,” she said. “And we want to take toys for them.
“For the children who are blind, I’d love to take something that plays music ... something they can hear,” she said.
Sherrie uses terms like “overwhelming” and “saddening” in describing what she saw.
“It was very different going to Haiti,” she said. “In Haiti, they had just had an event that changed things. So there was hope that it would get better.
“In Tanzania, it’s the way things are and most likely the way things will be.”