From Outsider to Influencer: How Ando Muscled His Way into Activism
Weight-lifting champion born with clubfoot is helping Malagasy children access treatment.
As a young child, Ando remembers having no one to play with. When he was two years old his parents bought him a little car on a string. It was his favorite toy and only companion. Now 28, Ando was born with bilateral clubfoot in Antananarivo, Madagascar. He says his condition made it difficult to join in games or keep up with other kids, and stigma prevented him from socializing or forming friendships.
“As a child, I could barely walk,” Ando recalls, “and people made fun of me, calling me ‘Ando bingo’ (which means bent feet). It was hard to stand.”
“It was tough on him,” said his mom, Voahangy, “but he has always had a strong positive mind.”
Ando’s parents sought treatment for his condition soon after he was born, but the surgery he received—at the time, still the preferred treatment for clubfoot—yielded limited success. Doctors now know that virtually all people with clubfoot benefit from the less invasive method of casting and bracing first. Some might still require surgery, but their outcomes are almost universally better with the Ponseti method.
“There was no clear pathway to correct clubfoot,” at the time, remembers his mom. “We tried everything we could with limited success—and it was expensive for us, the price of a house.”
After four operations, he experienced some improvement, but not full functionality.
“We went to the nurse, the doctor, the professor, the bone setter…” recalls Ando. “My last surgery was five years ago and, thank God I recovered the use of my feet. Not fully, but enough for me to live a normal life.”
After that, Ando started weight training seriously. Embracing his increased flexibility, first he worked to keep his legs and feet in good shape but didn’t stop there.
In 2019, Ando entered a local bodybuilding championship, and to his surprise, he won. Musclemania® which boasts 1.2 million Instagram followers, noticed his performance and reached out to him about participating in the 2020 competition.
With growing fame and success as a body builder, now he wants to conquer the challenge closest to his heart: helping Malagasy children born with clubfoot.
Ando began appearing on local TV talk shows to share his experience and spread the word about clubfoot treatment availability. He also uses his Facebook account (which has a growing audience) to post information about the Ponseti method and to engage with families looking for inspiration and guidance on how to address clubfoot.
“I received quite a lot of messages from the parents of children with clubfoot within the first week. Their situations are sometimes very hard.”
Ando recently visited the MiracleFeet-supported clinic, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire d’Appareillage de Madagascar, where he learned about the effectiveness of the Ponseti method from Dr. Randriamampianina Irène.
“I want to shine at the African Championship for the kids,” he says. “It will give me an even larger audience to share the message about the Ponseti method, and most importantly, I will spread hope to the families living with clubfoot and educate others about the condition.”
Ando’s dedication goes beyond online engagement. He genuinely wants to prevent other children from experiencing the pain and stigma he endured. When he found out about a family in his neighborhood whose son born with clubfoot, he told them about its treatment and connected them with the nearest MiracleFeet partner clinic.
“I don’t want him to live the hardships that I’ve been through. His parents are not able to afford treatment. Now that I know about the Ponseti method, and that it is non-surgical and free, I will be responsible for taking him to the clinic. I wish we knew about the method when I was a kid. It would have changed my whole childhood.”
There are more than 1,100 new cases of clubfoot each year and approximately 15,000 children and adults currently living with the condition who never received treatment—just in Madagascar. To expand access to treatment, MiracleFeet, in partnership with Madagascar’s Ministry of Health and Fondation Axian, has increased the number of facilities providing care from one to ten over the last five years and scaled up advocacy and awareness-raising efforts. But seeing and hearing from someone like Ando—someone who understands the challenges of not only living with clubfoot but also of finding quality care—has had a direct impact on several local families.
“Somehow, I believe that this is the reason why I had to endure all the harshness of clubfoot,” Ando reflects. “There’s always a meaning, there’s always hope. I don’t want any more children to suffer like I did. People trusted in me and helped me. I will do the same for those kids, so that they can also achieve their dreams.”