Chance Meeting in Liberian Village Changes Henroy’s Life

August 12, 2019
Two years ago, this Liberian child faced lifelong stigma from a treatable disability. Now he’s reached a once-impossible goal.

In early June 2017, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof visited Liberia to report on our work, when a shy 9-year old boy, named Henroy, approached his group. It was an unlikely meeting that changed Henroy’s life forever. Neighbors came with him from a nearby village when they heard there were visitors interested in clubfoot (or “turtle foot” as it is called in the local vernacular), the same painful disability Henroy was growing up with. His head hanging, he approached Kristof as the other children in his remote Liberian village gathered around snickering.

Read Nicholas Kristof’s article about meeting Henroy here.

He lived in a mud and straw hut with his mother, Mary, and ten siblings. His father passed away many years ago. Henroy did not spend much time with the other children in his family or his village. He could not attend school, because walking long distances was impossible. His mother wanted him, as the oldest boy, to be the “head child” of the family—an expectation Henroy had been unable to meet because of his disability.

Watch video of Henroy’s first encounter with the MiracleFeet team

Treating Henroy: traveling away from home for a chance to walk without pain

Fortunately, the team at Liberia Clubfoot Program (LCP) knew they could help the moment he arrived. Despite a decades-long struggle to bring critical health interventions to Liberia, punctuated by civil wars and a devastating Ebola crisis, clinicians at LCP have succeeded in reaching nearly 100% of children born every year with clubfoot, the condition affecting Henroy. The LCP staff vowed to return the following month to enroll Henroy in treatment at Faith Clinical Orthopedic Rehabilitation Center (FACORC) clinic where his feet could be corrected.

The team kept their promise and, one month later, traveled the long, muddy road to Henroy’s home in remote Grand Bassa County.

Watch video of Henroy’s journey to the clubfoot clinic

After some convincing, Henroy’s mother agreed to let him go to the clinic for treatment. He had never been away from home and was quite nervous. With his sister and uncle, and the clinic staff, Henroy navigated the log bridge spanning a creek that separates his family’s home from the road. After several hours along a bumpy and muddy road, he arrived at the clinic to begin treatment, receiving his first cast the very next day. Because it was the rainy season and traveling to the remote location of his home was difficult, Henroy lived at the transit home attached to the clinic until his treatment was complete.

Watch video of Henroy’s first cast

A dream coming true: once isolated from his peers, Henroy now receives an education

After completing treatment and being discharged from the clinic, Henroy went home to a new world of possibilities. He was thrilled by what would be routine and mundane to others—walking home for the first time, on his own, and in regular shoes.

During treatment, Henroy said he wanted to be the first in his family to be educated past elementary school. Of the 4.6 million people living in Liberia, near 3 million live in poverty—and almost 1.4 of those in extreme poverty (on less than $1.90 a day). The statistics in Liberia are grim: 75% of Liberians are illiterate. For someone like Henroy, born with a leading cause of physical disability, rising out of poverty is even more difficult. Social stigma, isolation, and painful mobility would make it nearly impossible for him to receive an education.

But Henroy is proving that such statistics are no match for his dreams. Several months after he returned home with his feet corrected, FACORC director Augustine Chiewolo again visited the remote village in Grand Bassa County to help make the child’s dream of education a reality. Thanks to a scholarship program, funded by MiracleFeet and FACORC, 80 children treated for clubfoot also receive full tuition for their school fees, and Henroy is one of them.

Augustine and Henroy walked hand in hand down the village road and into the school office to enroll him in classes, joined by the children who once taunted him for his condition. One little boy accompanied Henroy into the headmaster’s office, sharing a chair with Henroy as they completed his registration. It was his friend, Henroy said. The two boys sat fidgeting in the chair, smiling nervously. What had once seemed a far-fetched dream—going to school, making friends—was now happening for Henroy.

Today, two years after that fortuitous meeting with the treatment team, and one year after beginning his education, we are excited to report on Henroy’s latest milestone: being promoted to first grade.