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Life-changing crutches

Democratic Republic of Congo

Raphaël’s specially adapted crutches have made it easier for him move around and be more self-reliant – including walking to school by himself.

Raphaël walking using his walking devices on a dirt trail beside vegetation to Selembao inclusive school in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Raphaël walking to Selembao inclusive school in DRC. | © T. Freteur / HI

Raphaël, 12, lives in Selembao, a district of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Raphaël was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease. Children with this genetic disease have soft bones that break more easily. 

HI began to care for Raphaël in 2018 after his mother attended an awareness-raising session in an inclusive school in Selembao. Raphaël used to walk around using “just a stick” entirely unsuited to his needs. Using specially adapted crutches provided by HI, he can move around much more easily now and walks to school by himself.

An extraordinary life story

Raphaël, wearing a uniform, sets off to school from his home. © T. Freteur / HIRaphaël was born in Congo-Central province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Until the age of four, he was able to walk without a problem.

One day, one of his friends was riding his bike when he fell and hit one of Raphaël’s legs, breaking it on the spot. “We took Raphaël to hospital, but we don’t have much money so we couldn’t pay for his operation,” explains his mother Félie. “The doctors applied salves to his leg to ease the pain.”

Raphaël and his family moved to Selembao, one of the poorest districts of Kinshasa, in 2017. Soon after arriving, he broke his other leg when he fell while walking. Now both of his legs have been injured and his family is unable to afford proper treatment.

Before HI supplied him with crutches, Raphaël walked with a wooden stick completely unsuited to his injuries. When he was given a technical mobility aid adapted to his needs, he was delighted.

“My crutches are great. It took a lot more effort to move around with a stick. Now I can walk to school by myself. Sometimes I take short breaks on the way, but it doesn’t take me long to get there.”

Raphaël writes on a green chalk board during a math lesson in Selembao inclusive school. He stands beside his walking devices. © T. Freteur / HIHI began to care for Raphaël in 2018, after Félie attended an awareness-raising session organised by HI in an inclusive school in Selembao. She is extremely grateful to the organization and was over the moon when she learned that Raphaël could enrol in school and join other children his age.

His favorite subject at school is Civic Education. Twelve-year-old Raphaël already takes an interest in social issues and how we live together in society. He understands the importance of respecting others. He also says he likes to use his phone to take photos - he wants to be a journalist when he grows up and his dream is study journalism in Belgium

HI works in the region to make schools more inclusive, supplies technical mobility aids to the most vulnerable individuals and helps provide rehabilitation care in health and hospital centers. People who benefit from assistance are given follow-up care specially adapted to their situation. Passion, an HI physiotherapist, for example, visits Raphaël once a month: one of her responsibilities is to check the wear of his crutches and to provide him with a new pair if he needs them. 

Raphaël, having received care and support, is now able to live a more fulfilling and independent life.

Date published: 01/18/23


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