Disabilities and Africa

I have this deep emotional response to people with disabilities. I would guess that this comes from my mom's work as an ASL interpreter and perhaps from medical training. Maybe it's just some innate part of me. It certainly is not pity, rather something more complex.

I got to watch something beautiful yesterday. I was riding the bus home from the hospital, and at a particular stop, about a dozen people with various physical and mental disabilities got on the bus, with some assistants. One of the gentleman already on the bus, whom I had not noticed before, apparently also had some mild disability. As soon as his friends got on the bus, he lit up and greeted each of them with an enthusiastic hug, asking them if they would sit with him, and promising them that he was going to teach them how to dance. And for some reason, I just sat there watching, overwhelmed with joy.

I'm no expert opinion on the matter, but my limited experience and observations makes me think that to live with a disability is to live a high stakes life. The joyful moments seem hearbreakingly joyful and the sorrows are heartbreakingly sorrowful. Either way, the heart is always breaking. Such depth seems to make a beautiful life, and reminds me of the emotional responses of children, and that reminds me of Jesus' words about children inheriting the kingdom of God.

What does this have to do with medicine and Africa? I have often thought that working in Africa is also high stakes. For instance, we have looked into working in South Sudan, possibly moving there permanently after some extra training in 2011. Around that same time, South Sudan is set to hold a referendum as to whether they want to secede from the North. So, either we could be in on the ground level of the world's newest sovreign nation, or maybe it could devolve into the 3rd Sudanese Civil war. High Stakes. Great joy or great sorrow. Either way the heart is breaking.

My friend Luke traveled to the Ukraine and worked briefly with the disabled there, finding that only minimal physical care was given, and more or less no thought was given to try to improve their quality of life and instill the dignity due to each man and woman. I can only begin to imagine what I might encounter in this arena in Africa, but I imagine the stakes might be even higher.

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