Theresia Reborn: Learning to Walk at age six


More than six years ago, Elysee Tshokolo became pregnant with twins. While many women in the Democratic Republic of Congo have their babies at home, Elysee knew that giving birth to twins presented the possibly of complications and so she chose to go to a health center. However, as the birth was underway, it become clear to Elysee that the midwife was not properly trained.

“The babies did not come out immediately, so the midwife started pulling out the children,” says Elysee. “One of the babies did not survive the delivery. And my Theresia was left with a disability.”

“When Theresia was a year and a half, my husband and I realized there was something very wrong. Unlike other children, she could not yet walk. A doctor suggested physical therapy, but we couldn’t afford that. Until recently, Theresia could hardly use her right hand—she couldn’t even hold on to a glass of water. And walking was almost impossible because she could only move one of her legs. She was in constant pain. I thought she would never go to school.”

We meet Elysee and Theresia at one of Handicap International’s mobile rehabilitation clinics in Ndjili, a poor suburb of the Congolese capital Kinshasa. They are there for a check-up. “Some months ago, a medical volunteer told me of the existence of the mobile clinics,” says Elysee. “I waited impatiently until they came back to Ndjili again and went there early in the morning with Theresia.”

To her great joy, Elysee learned that Theresia, with intensive and proper treatment, would probably make a full recovery. Her joy was even greater when she realized that Handicap International covers the cost of physical therapy sessions, operations, and walking aids for those who cannot afford it.

Handicap International’s six mobile clinics have already helped more than 1,000 children in Kinshasa. Volunteers trained by Handicap International travel throughout Kinshasa’s neighborhoods and refer children and babies with signs of injury, illness, or disability to the clinics.

Thanks to Handicap International, Theresia has already undergone several months of physical therapy and is now walking with the aid of an orthotic brace. At a meeting in her home, Theresia walks over to us and greets us enthusiastically. “It took me a month to get used to that thing (the orthotic brace), but watch me walk now—I can even run,” says Theresia.

Her big sister Jenny beams with pride. “I have seen my sister change so much,” says Jenny. “She used to be in a lot of pain and she was very shy and cramped in her movements. Now she is free of that pain and she is much more cheerful and self-confident.”

Theresia takes out her dolls and asks Jenny to play with her. “Look how subtle her movements are now,” says Elysee. “For the last few months we have been massaging her wrist to reduce muscle tightness. A physical therapist from Handicap International, who still comes by to give her massages twice a week, showed me how to do it. Actually, her hand is completely how it is supposed to be now.” Theresia also uses physical therapy to strengthen her leg muscles. If everything goes to plan, she may be able to walk without the brace.

“The school year has just started,” says Elysee. “I am still saving up money for a uniform and school supplies and I hope I can send Theresia to school next week with her sister.” Meanwhile, Jenny and Theresia’s dolls are having an argument in Lingala, the local language. But then Theresia’s doll suddenly calls out: “Stop! Look! I’m walking! I’m walking! The dolls make up and walk away together.

Elysee watches proudly. “From now on, my girls walk together.”