Pay It Forward: the Unexpected Impact of One Young Man’s Journey
It wasn’t until Quraish, now 23, was four years old that his parents were able to find treatment for his clubfoot. “It changed my life forever,” he says. But this isn’t a story about how treatment transformed Quraish physically—this is a story about how his experience living with disability as a child shaped his aspirations for the future.
Quraish understands how finding access to clubfoot care—care that millions of children still need—drastically impacted the trajectory of his life. And he is profoundly grateful to the health workers in Uganda who helped him as a child. This group of providers, including Dirissa Kitemagwa, orthopedic officer at the Mulago Clinic in Kampala, formed the world’s first public health campaign for clubfoot to reach children with a then-new noninvasive method. Their work not only changed Quraish’s life, but revolutionized clubfoot treatment globally.
“I would really like to meet them and thank them because they really, really helped my life,” muses Quraish remembering the providers who treated his clubfoot nearly two decades ago. “If I hadn’t acquired treatment, I wouldn’t have acquired a good education and my story would have been very different.”
Quraish is part of a growing group of young people in Uganda who are keen on using their education and professional skills to improve educational and economic opportunities, health, and quality of life for others in their community.
Quraish graduated from Makerere University with a degree in accounting and went on to work as an auditor for an economic development organization in Uganda working to equip young women in Kampala’s slums with skills and resources to pursue new opportunities. It’s a terrific example of the compounding results treating clubfoot can have on an entire community.
Often, life spirals downhill quickly for a child born with clubfoot. They experience higher rates of hunger and malnutrition, poorer health, and additional barriers that make them less likely to receive basic services essential for healthy development.
Without treatment, it’s very likely that Quraish would not have attended school – either because he would have been unable to walk to the facility, unable to navigate a campus with no accommodations for physical handicaps, and/or because the stigma associated with disability can be so detrimental that parents often feel the only way to keep their child safe is to hide them from the outside world.
A recent UNICEF report finds that “at least 90% of children with disabilities in the developing world are denied the right to education.”
Every child deserves equal opportunity to fulfill their potential. While Quraish is a terrific example of what’s possible, the reality is that of the 9.75 million people alive today who were born with clubfoot, 8 million never received treatment. Most are likely denied an education and basic health care and are unable to join the workforce or become productive members of their community.
Today, approximately 240 million children and adolescents experience disabilities, and injuries for people of all ages are becoming more frequent due to conflict, rapid urbanization and motorization. These enormous unmet rehabilitation needs are concentrated amongst the poorest and most vulnerable populations in low- and middle-income countries and conflict-affected settings. Integrating assistive technology in physical rehabilitation efforts could provide real improvements in the quality of life, functionality, and independence for people living with physical disabilities.
Children and adults with clubfoot should not be left behind. Now is the time to commit to change and make the world more inclusive for people living with disabilities.