John Tells Alima Motingo’s Story
On the banks of the Lomami River, Bolaiti is one of the most remote settlements in East Kasai Province. The small community supports the bicycle traffic that carries agricultural produce to Kindu, 120 km further east.
During the TL2 bicycle tour (more next post), we stopped here to eat fresh oranges before we crossed the Lomami. While we were resting in the shade of a baraza, a young girl dragged herself forward on the ground through the crowd of people that gathered around us. Her withered legs poked out beneath her threadbare dress. A woman stepped boldly forward and identified herself as the girl’s aunt. “Can you help her”, she challenged, “Alima is first in her class at school.”
Alima Mutingo, now 12 years old, was just over a year old and already walking when she caught polio. She is fourth of 7 children. Pictured here at our house in Kindu with her mother, Johari, her youngest brother, Amisi, and her uncle, Omombo.
Alima responded, barely audibly to the greetings and smiles from our strange group. She had never seen such a gathering of white people in her life. Despite the crowds and the novelty of our group she remained solemn and dignified, sitting upright on the ground supported by her arms.
Obviously Alima was a polio victim. On questioning, her aunt explained she had never seen a nurse or left her natal village. Born in 1999 in the height of the rebellion, she was among a group of children that were never vaccinated.
“We are at the end of the road”, Alima’s father, the chef de groupement explained to us when we asked how long the village had remained unvaccinated. Vaccinations were resumed in Kasai Province after the war in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2008 that vaccination teams, on bicycles like us, reached Bolaiti from Mbuji Mayi, the provincial capital, over 800 km away.
Tom, with a big Hart smile (he’s my brother-in-law) walked over and carefully stretched out Alima’s withered legs. As a high school student Tom worked at a summer camp for crippled children. “She should have braces and crutches” he said, “but the longer she remains without these, the more difficult it will be to straighten her legs so she can get off the ground”.
It was quickly decided, Alima should come to Kindu where she could be treated at the Handicap Center established by the Catholic Church in the early years after independence. She would be carried by bicycle, 120 km, three days over the same track we were going to cross ourselves.
Early last Sunday, she arrived at our door in Kindu, wide-eyed on the back of her uncle’s bicycle.
Alima made the three day trip from Bolaiti to Kindu on the back of her maternal uncle’s bicycle. Her knees, swollen from the polio and years of crawling over the ground need surgical intervention to allow her legs to be straightened and fitted with a steel brace so that she can use crutches.
Over the past week, Alima has been carried to the Handicap Center for tests and evaluation. She will require surgical intervention. Once she heals she will be fitted with steel leg braces and given a pair of crutches.
Total estimated costs for the surgery are about $300. An additional $100 will be required for physical therapy, leg braces and crutches. Alima’s family can raise 100 dollars by selling goats; our TL2 project will seek the remaining $300. Alima’s surgery is scheduled for the end of March. We will add a post-surgery update and a photo of Alima on her crutches.
We invite our readers to contribute to help cover the costs of her surgery and recovery. Contributions can be sent to the project though our pay pal (Donate button in side bar). Drop me a note as well so we can tell Alima. Thanks.
terese AT bonoboincongo DOT com