Afghanistan is a mountainous country in Central Asia, whose people traditionally live in village areas, making their livings through agriculture and animal husbandry. Wars and other conflicts have destroyed the country’s infrastructure, further impoverishing the people, and leaving them at an increased risk of disease and insecurity.
There are a significant number of people with disabilities in Afghanistan. An estimated one out of every five households has at least one person with a disability. The causes of disability in Afghanistan include congenital conditions; birth injuries; diseases like polio and measles; war-related disabilities from bullets, bombs, landmines, and work; home or road accidents. Disability has a dramatic impact in Afghanistan including loss of livelihood, lost opportunities for education, training and employment, and social and religious exclusion.
The Orthopedic Workshop and Physiotherapy Center (OWPC) opened in June 2004 in Faryab Province in northwest Afghanistan, an area beyond the reach of established services available in larger places such as Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat. The OWPC is a program of a partner that has been at work in Afghanistan since 1966. The OWPC team works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the provincial and national Health Ministries for protocol and services, and the Institute of Health Sciences for professional training of physical therapists and orthopedic technicians. The OWPC facility, situated on the grounds of the provincial hospital and generally accessible and well known, is open five days a week. Two physical therapists treat clients at the center and in the hospital. Home visits are made to certain homebound people, as well as occasional visits to rural areas served by the team. Six orthopedic technicians (including trainees) fit prostheses and make and repair assistive devices (corsets, adapted chairs, walkers, etc.).
To ease the hardships faced by people with disabilities, the OWPC is developing rehabilitation services by capacity-building and partnering with people with disabilities (PWD), their families and communities. The Center has the capacity to provide physical therapy to 1,300 clients a year and to provide orthopedic and assistive devices to approximately 1,200 clients. The Center is expanding to serve the broad geographic area between Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat, along the northern border of Afghanistan.
In addition to providing services, the OWPC also is concerned with ensuring rights for people with disabilities. They encourage the formation of Disability Committees, Disabled Peoples Organizations, and family support organizations. These organizations advocate for rights, give emotional support, and provide the impetus for the continuation of community-based services. The OWPC also networks with national and regional government and organizational partners to share experiences, research, and training opportunities in order to improve practical and professional rehabilitation services.
The OWPC is working toward the transfer of all physiotherapy services to the provincial hospital by the end of 2012. To do this, OWPC is working to ensure that the hospital has a fully staffed and equipped physical therapy department. This includes sending students to the Physiotherapy Institute, another project founded in 1987 in Kabul, which is the only physiotherapy program in Afghanistan and a program which has been supported by Global Ministries. The OWPC also is offering workshops to provide additional skills-training and education, using local materials wherever possible, and negotiating fees with patients to finance their self-sustainability.
Below is a list of special ways in which your gift can help the Orthopedic Workshop and Physiotherapy Center:
- $50 can make a trunk brace for a child with spinal tuberculosis
- $75 can provide training materials for continuing education
- $100 can help to build an artificial leg for a person who lost his or her leg through a landmine explosion or other injury
To read the report from the Physiotherapy Institute in Kabul, click here
During 2012, The Orthopedic Workshop and Physiotherapy Center continued to serve people with disabilities in Faryab province for its eighth year. Direct support to two Disability Committees was completed. These committees are now functioning independently to identify, refer, and support people with disabilities in their areas. This has allowed the project to expand to new areas in the province. It was planned that two new districts would be added to the outreach work in 2013.
A disabled woman was hired as a staff fieldworker for the workshop and four disabled male fieldworkers were recruited from their local communities in 2012. This increased the percentage of people with disabilities serving in the project to 48 percent in 2012. The newly hired woman staffperson contributed a significant boost to the work among disabled women in the villages, especially in the area of vocational rehabilitation for disabled women. Seventeen disabled women participated in vocational training during 2012. Disabled women also received literacy training.
OWPC shared the story of one boy. His father owned a shop in the city and was able to provide for the needs of his son and his three siblings. All this changed when the stove in his neighbor's upstairs apartment caught fire. The neighbor threw the stove out the window, and it landed right where the four year old boy was playing, leaving him with severe burns. Numerous surgeries were required by doctors. A few years later his father died, and his older brother left to find work to help support the family. Since his brother now has his own family to care for, the boy's mother supports the family with income from their cow. This boy is now in grade 11 and hopes to become a lawyer. The most recent surgeries on his leg were complete and follow-up care was provided through the Orthopedic Workshop.
At the age of 19, the boy was captain of the Maimana Wheelchair Basketball Team that took first place in the first Afghan National Wheelchair Basketball in 2012 while competing against seven other teams from cities much larger than Maimana. He was presented with the Most Valuable Player award and it is hoped that he may be able to join the Paralympics team of Afghanistan. Despite his disability he is moving ahead toward a hopeful future. The Maimana Wheelchair Basketball Team practiced diligently three times a week, managing to secure fourth place at the national wheelchair basketball tournament held in Kabul. Two of our teams were chosen to join the national team, and hope to compete in international tournaments.
In 2012, 710 clients (137 male; 573 female) received physiotherapy; 2003 clients (1709 male; 294 female) received assistive devices; 641 clients (450 male; 191 female) received specially made orthopedic appliances; 13 villages have Disability Committees (DC) which identify and refer people with disabilities as needed.
In 2013, new clients receiving artificial limbs, braces, wheelchairs, walking frames numbered 1,382. 913 previous clients received repairs to their devices. 1,575 clients received physiotherapy services. Seventy nine persons with disabilities in the local prison received orthopedic appliances and physiotherapy services.
The Orthopedic Workshop and Physiotherapy Center (OWPC) also expanded its Community-Based Rehabilitation services into two urban areas and one rural area while continuing extended support to three additional areas. Surveys were done to identify the people with disabilities; referrals were made to OWPC by the fieldworkers, provincial hospital, and local clinics. A preschool was held twice a week to provide basic math, literacy, and physical therapy for disabled children, and doubled in attendance by the end of the year. Fifty three children with disabilities in Faryab were enrolled in local schools. Four Disabled People Organizations were established to increase community awareness of rights, potential, and needs of people with disabilities; 49 people with disabilities attended literacy courses and by the end of 2013, 13 had graduated from their courses; 48 people with disabilities attended vocational training courses and by the end of the year, 17 of them had graduated.
“Rahim,” a 2 ½ year old boy with spina bifida, was referred to the orthopaedic workshop from one of the CBR coverage areas. His elderly grandmother, who had severe visual impairment herself, brought him to the workshop. A special chair was made for him at that time which allowed him to sit up for the first time in his life. He was then referred to Kabul for surgery on the huge growth on his spine. When he returned, he was followed up by the workshop personnel, and is now learning to walk with the help of the government physiotherapist, using a small walker fabricated by the workshop staff.
“Rabia,” a young woman from one of our rural areas who was disabled from birth, was working as a tailor in her community. She was hired by our project to train other young women with disabilities in the area. During this period she came to the workshop for an evaluation of her own disability. There she was fitted with a back brace, and provided with a walking frame. She was able to take her first steps at the age of 25!