Catching up on childhood with two straight feet

November 23, 2022

When Chérif was born with clubfoot his father believed it was the doing of a higher being, and, as such, nothing could or should be done about it. His mother pleaded, begging her husband to look for treatment, but he refused. 

Chérif was born in a rural village of Kolda, a region in the Casamance — the most tropical and lush territory on the southern border of Senegal. It was Chérif’s aunt Kadjiatou Kande who ultimately persuaded his father that treatment could transform Chérif’s life, but it took some convincing.

The cultural beliefs of Chérif’s father outweighed the promise of western medicine, a common dynamic for those growing up in rural communities not only in Senegal, but throughout Africa and in many lower-income countries where the rate of neglected clubfoot is exceptionally high.

“Because I didn’t want my nephew to grow old this way—a life with no hope, no dreams, no possibilities for a future,” shared Kadjiatou, “I went to ask my brother to let me bring Chérif home with me. I literally had to beg. He finally agreed to let me take Chérif under my wing.”

Kadjiatou recalls that when Chérif was just starting to walk his mother would optimistically buy him shoes, but he could only wear one as his other foot was too severely twisted. As he got older, he begged her to give him the other shoe, just so he could have it – a heartbreaking request for a relic of normalcy.

I didn’t want my nephew to grow old this way…no hope, no dreams, no possibilities for a future.”

Chérif’s aunt, Kadjiatou

Kadjiatou often thought about Chérif’s future and how difficult it would be for him to follow in the family footsteps of farming and cattle raising. Chérif never attended school since, amid other difficulties, getting to and from the local school every day without scorching his foot on the hot Senegal sand was impossible. Kadjiatou wanted more for him and knew that would only happen if she took him under her wing—and found treatment for his clubfoot.

Earlier, Kadjiatou had learned about a clubfoot treatment program in Dakar – a partnership between DAHW and MiracleFeet – where Chérif could receive treatment free of charge. After making many calls and finalizing the arrangements, Kadjiatou’s oldest son accompanied Chérif on the dangerous 500 kilometers journey from Kolda to Dakar so Chérif could begin treatment – a journey that would ultimately require him to live away from home for two years.

“I couldn’t go with Chérif because, as head of my household (a single mother), I had to keep making a living for the rest of the family,” explains Kadjiatou.

As it turned out, the extended family Chérif and his cousin were planning to stay with weren’t fully prepared to take on two growing boys, especially one with a disability. In the end, Chérif and his cousin had to find alternate living arrangements. Fortunately, a DAHW employee, knowing that if Chérif had to return to Kolda he would never complete treatment, stepped in to help the boys find boarding.

Seeing is believing

After two years of treatment, all while living far from home and trying to navigate the world as a pre-teen, Chérif’s feet were fully corrected and today he’s one of the most active teens in the village – making up for lost time. He loves running, climbing, playing soccer, and especially biking. When Kadjiatou first saw Chérif after treatment, she exclaimed, “He went with one foot and came back with two!”

Since completing treatment, Chérif has not returned to the village where he was born, but word is traveling quickly that the child who everyone once thought would never walk is now climbing trees, riding a bike, and running on two perfectly straight feet. “People are still wondering and curious,” says Kadjiatou, beaming. “I get calls almost every day asking if this story is true.” It is.

Chérif is now a legend in his home village, and those who haven’t seen him since he was a baby are eagerly awaiting his return so they can see the transformation with their own eyes.

Your support this #GivingTuesday could radically change the trajectory of a young life affected by clubfoot. A $500 treatment ensures that children like Chérif can walk, run, attend school, play with friends, and revel in the childhood they deserve.

A $500 treatment

ensures children born with this common birth defect are attending school, playing with friends, and pursuing their dreams.