THE WHEELCHAIR PROJECT, TAMALE, GHANA.
Br. Trevor’s workshop in Tamale, Ghana.
A reminder of Br. Trevor’s work in West Africa from 2009. The work continues day by day, quietly and effectively as God’s love.
The project began in 1992 when myself and Fr. Dermot Sheehan M/Afr. Realized that there was an urgent need to provide mobility and dignity to the many disabled people in the area who were either on crutches or crawling in the dust.
I had recently opened a new workshop to provide a service to the local church and to train young men in metal work and welding. This new workshop was ideal for making the wheelchair tricycles. Fr. Dermot went to Accra to get plans from a similar project run by an SMA priest, Fr. Jean Thibault. Soon the first tricycle was produced in Tamale from water pipes and bicycle parts. Over the years this work has become the chief occupation of the workshop that now produces the tricycles in batches of twenty five or thirty, with over a thousand now in use.
Most of the users are victims of polio and have lost the use of their lower limbs, though some have had accidents and are amputees. We had a case recently of a builder who was working in a trench when the walls caved in on him. He survived but suffered a broken back and even after treatment could no longer walk. He now gets about in one of our wheelchair tricycles. Nowadays road accidents cause severe injuries often leaving the victims crippled, and even people falling from trees whilst picking fruit.
Imagine if you can, the difference it makes to a person’s life when they are suddenly free to move about independently and with dignity after many years of being confined to the house or compound.
There is a woman in a village not far from Tamale who is paralyzed from the waist down and has a good arm and partial use of the other. She never left the compound for twenty years but when she received her tricycle and learnt how to handle it, there was no stopping her. Not only was she going about her own locality, but she was also loading her tricycle into market lories and visiting neighboring villages.
Many of the tricycle users are still young and as they now have mobility, they can go to school, no longer dependent on a family member to carry them there. Others have some sort of a trade and now with mobility, can extend their business. There are hairdressers, barbers, cobblers, radio repairers, wood carvers and even a couple of teachers. Once these people are used to the freedom and independence a tricycle gives them, they would be lost without one. So they take care to maintain them.
It costs $250 to make a wheelchair tricycle, an impossible sum for the disabled person to raise. But still we do not give them away for nothing, each one who applies for a tricycle is expected to participate in the cost and contribute about ten percent and even that is sometimes difficult for them to get together. Keep in mind that the daily minimum wage is between one and two dollars!
So where does the rest of the production cost come from? Generous benefactors who know what we are doing are very keen to participate. Many of them are individuals like retired missionaries, or small groups who raise funds through various activities like coffee mornings and pub quizzes. Without this generous support it would be impossible to continue. Materials and bicycle parts have to be paid for, as do the wages of the workshop staff who, I must say are very dedicated to their work and get a lot of job satisfaction, especially when they see the smile on the face of someone receiving a new tricycle.
There is never a shortage of applications. We are currently making thirty wheelchair tricycles and they are all spoken for. When we began, we were just serving Tamale and the surrounding villages, but as we became known, requests came in from far and wide and now there are wheelchair tricycles throughout the country.
With over one thousand tricycles delivered and applications still coming in we hope and pray that with God’s help and people’s continuing support we can produce many more and so give mobility and dignity to those who are worse off than ourselves.
In addition to making wheelchair tricycles the Mechanical Training Centre also manufactures furniture for various church projects. These items are made from metal profiles welded together to the required design and paneled with plywood, for example tables, chairs, wardrobes, beds etc. recently completed for the house extension of Haskew House at Bolgatanga.
This work gives an excellent practical training in metalwork and welding that can be put to future use by the workers when one day they have their own workshops. The training in metalwork has also given one of our trainees the skills necessary to repair calipers and crutches and also do minor repairs of artificial limbs.
We have also assembled solar cookers sent out in kit form from Austria and we are currently making 12 cookers with only the reflectors imported. These have been distributed mainly in the Tamale and Wa areas and are being put to good use. The photo shows us cooking marmalade in the workshop.
The workshop has evolved from a garage, which was opened in 1988 when I came from Wa, where the demand for car repairs became very small to the services which we now provide as described above.
Br. Trevor Robinson. M/Afr.
Tamale, Ghana, West Africa.