Humanity & Inclusion’s regional logistics manager, Tilahun Abebe, shares the highlight of his recent visit to Tigray, Ethiopia.
I was able to visit Tigray for a week this summer. No one had been able to visit our team in Tigray for quite a long time due to security constraints.
One morning, during breakfast with my colleagues, the silhouette of a woman appeared in the distance and caught my eye. I could see her making her way across the cobblestone pathway, fading in and out of my view between the many passing pedestrians in the road, crawling on her hands and knees. We crossed the street to find her propped up on some stairs leading to a roadside shop, with one hand supporting her weight, and the other stretched out to ask for money. Neither the man in the shop nor the people passing by seemed to pay her any attention. I was not surprised, as I had already noticed an overwhelming number of people soliciting assistance in the street since my arrival in Mekele: from small children to elderly persons, clearly internally displaced from other parts of Tigray. You could tell from the looks on their faces that many were new to this way of life and were living very differently only a few weeks or months earlier.
I am an Ethiopian citizen, still living in Addis Ababa, and I have traveled to many regions of the country. The desperate situation of the people I saw on the streets of Mekele that week is something I will never forget.
The woman sensed us standing next to her and turned toward us. I still remembered some Tigrigna language from childhood friends and social media, so I greeted her and introduced myself. She returned the greeting with a smile and kindness, and shared her story with us.
Her name is Freweyni, which means “grapefruit” in the local language. She is a mother to three children and she was born with a physical disability. In the previous years, she was displaced from her home and has since been staying in various shelters around the major market area of Mekele. Her oldest son left home when the war began, but her two younger children still live with her and she is their sole provider. She spends her days asking for money around the market to try and support her family.
Since meeting with Freweyni and learning about her situation, I put her in touch with our teams. Humanity & Inclusion has provided her with a new wheelchair. This means that for many months or years to come, she will no longer have to crawl on her hands and knees to move around. She’s one of 50 people to recently receive wheelchairs from Humanity & Inclusion in Tigray. Having served in many humanitarian organizations for over two decades, this experience remains at the top of all I have encountered. It’s part of what makes me love working at Humanity & Inclusion.
Tilahun Abebe, Humanity & Inclusion’s regional logistics manager
Aisha has been using a wheelchair for more than 10 years because she has post-polio paralysis and a lower limb discrepancy, in which her right leg is shorter than her left. Humanity & Inclusion gave her wheelchair a makeover.
Aisha sells groceries in a local market in her town, a suburb of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. She travels about three miles in her wheelchair everyday, pushing it herself.
Worried about the state of her worn out wheelchair - its cushion torn - Aisha visited Humanity & Inclusion’s workshop.
During an assessment, Humanity & Inclusion found that the front castor wheel wheel was small and wobbly, and the rear tires were thin and worn, making it more difficult for Aisha to push her wheelchair. The chair was also too small.
Humanity & Inclusion didn’t have a new wheelchair available to fit Aisha’s needs, so the team gave her existing wheelchair a major overhaul.
The team made a new cushion, adjusted the seat width, replaced the rear tires and changed out the front castor wheel to an appropriate size. The brakes were also replaced.
After her wheelchair was re-assembled and checked for proper fitting, Aisha was re-trained on its use and maintenance to reduce of chances of it breaking down.
Aisha was overwhelmed with joy when she saw her revamped wheelchair.
“Wow, I am now going to enjoy my ride to the market since my worries have been sorted,” Aisha says.
Like Aisha, many wheelchair users have difficulty getting an affordable wheelchair that meets their specific needs, is suitable for their environment, fits properly. Making custom wheelchairs available not only promotes mobility, but it allows for people with disabilities to have independence and be more involved in their communities.