Weathering the storm

Anita holds her daughter Eliza

by Linda Hansen, Hope Walks regional director of Africa

Hope Walks runs a weekly clubfoot clinic at Beira Central Hospital in Mozambique. On Saturday, March 14, 2019, Beira was hit by Cyclone Idai, a devastating category 5 storm that wiped out so much of the city and its surroundings. The storm killed more than 1000 people in Mozambique, displaced more than 100,000 and inflicted an estimated $773 million in damage. Driving through Beira last week, and spending time at the clubfoot clinic, it is clear that so many lives were badly impacted, and that recovery is ongoing. Despite that, I was overwhelmed by the incredible resilience of the health workers, mothers, fathers and children that I met.

Dr. Dario heads up the Beira clinic, and he was on duty at the hospital when the cyclone hit at 4 p.m. Many hospital staff and their families took shelter in the hospital as the storm raged. By 6 p.m. he was treating the injured, without supplies, electricity, functional equipment or even gloves. Phone networks were down and at the time he didn’t know that his family was ok. It took a month for Beira to have electricity or phone networks again, but regardless, the medical staff soldiered on doing whatever they could for so many people injured in the storm.

Earlier on the day of the cyclone, Dr. Dario had treated many children at the weekly clubfoot clinic. He and his team had put new casts on Eliza and Lauren. I had an opportunity to learn more about these resilient families, and I share their stories below.

 

Beira clinic team including from left: Clinical Supervisor Tunelgas (3rd), Program Medical Director Dr. Matthias (4th), Program Manager Olga (5th), Dr. Dario (6th).

Losing everything

Lauren was three months old and at home with her mom Thereza, her father and two brothers when the storm hit that afternoon. When I asked Thereza what it was like, the tears instantly started to fall. “I will never forget it” she wept. The roof of the family’s house came off almost immediately, and as the rain came down the ceiling collapsed. The family of five took shelter underneath their kitchen table throughout the night. Somehow, heroically, Thereza kept Lauren’s cast dry that night, and again as the family cleaned out the water from their home in the next few days, and found some corrugated iron to replace the roof.

Lauren’s family lost almost everything that day, but the very next week Thereza was back at the clinic getting Lauren’s cast replaced again as expected. And even though the hospital had no roof, the staff were running the clinic out of makeshift tents outside. Today Lauren’s feet are perfect, with no signs of clubfoot and she is wearing braces at night. Thereza cried again as she expressed her gratitude to Hope Walks and the clinic staff. “I have nothing to give but I wish I could give something to show how thankful I am.”

 

Lauren's mom persisted with treatment despite amazing loss
Lauren now standing on her own two feet!

Restarting treatment; renewing hope

Eliza was almost one year old when she had her ninth cast put on the day the cyclone hit. That night, she and her family tried to take shelter in their home about 80 km (50 miles) from Beira. Their home quickly collapsed when the storm hit. There was nowhere nearby left standing, and so they ran onto the street along with hundreds of others and spent the night huddled together in the torrential rain and wind. Eliza’s mum, Anita, removed the soaking wet cast the next day, and they took shelter in a tent provided by a humanitarian organization. To this day they are still living in that tent and Anita hasn’t been able to afford to get back to Beira to continue Eliza’s treatment – until the day I was there. Eliza’s knees and ankles are now calloused from having to crawl instead of walk, and stand on the sides of her feet. The team restarted Eliza’s treatment and she should do well from here if they can keep attending the clinic each week. One of the medical team quietly gave the family some money to help them get back the next week. 

It was emotional but inspiring day meeting these incredible medical staff and families, so dedicated to seeing these children walk and run free from clubfoot, despite such enormous hardships faced along the way.

Eliza's calloused knees from crawling
Eiza's treatment starts again with castings

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