In a turbulent world with many problems, I feel lucky to work in an environment where a problem can be solved. Our good news story is that clubfoot is treatable. We can give hope to families, we can tell them that it will be okay.
Lwandi was three years old when Sally Viljoen from Seeds of Africa contacted me, desperately looking for a solution to fix her untreated clubfeet so that she could go to nursery school with her big brother. Lwandi lives in an informal settlement west of Johannesburg. Her parents are unemployed and had no idea that she could have had clubfoot treatment as a baby. Lwandi had been spending every day at home with her mom, Amanda, missing out on the early development stimulation and socialising with her peers at pre-school, because she couldn’t walk or wear shoes. Thankfully for little Lwandi it wasn’t too late, and we made sure that she was soon receiving excellent treatment at one of our partner clinics in Gauteng.
Lwandi was shy and nervous when I met her the first day at the big, busy clinic in Soweto. By the end of her visit, she was hugging me. Amanda said that as soon as her first casts were applied, her little girl said that she is beautiful now, and asked her mom to please buy her first pair of ‘takkies’, the canvas sneakers that she was unable to wear before. Though still in treatment, Lwandi is now confident enough to go to a nursery school in Zandspruit and play with children her own age. She will soon be wearing her dream shoes and running with her new friends. Read more about Lwandi’s story.
Steps is the only organisation in South Africa focused on clubfoot support. We are the advocates for these children – around 2,000 new cases every year – and it is heart-warming to be able to change a life with an effective solution for what seems like an impossible problem. But there is still so much to do.
The challenge of working in an under-resourced sector to support the poorest of the poor is sometimes overwhelming. Our goal – to reach every child, no matter whether they are born in a city, or a remote rural area – is ambitious. But it has to be achievable. It isn’t fair or right that access to good clubfoot treatment is so dependent on where a child is born. Just a few kilometres can determine the quality of information that reaches the family, how the community reacts, and what support is given to the new parents.
On my clubfoot journey so far, I have visited all corners of South Africa and travelled to Tanzania, Ethiopia, Botswana, Namibia, Seychelles, Italy, Spain, and most recently, India. I know for sure that no matter where a child is born, we all want the same thing – a child walking on functional feet.
Steps’ 2017 focus was to consolidate and improve our clinic support programme before any more expansion, and to intensify our efforts for one of our four pillars – advocacy. Our advocacy goal is simple – to reach more people with the message that clubfoot is treatable.
Thanks to generous donors who supported our advocacy programme, our marketing and advocacy report has the numbers and content to prove that our efforts are succeeding. But for me, the power of advocacy is felt when a little girl like Lwandi can run in her new shoes and play with her new friends. At the time of writing, we are working on a treatment plan for another little girl who was born in the rural Eastern Cape and lives in an informal settlement outside Johannesburg. She is two years old and living with untreated clubfoot.
As Steps continues to grow as an organisation, I’m so proud of how our ‘Steam’, the passionate Steps team, has embraced the challenges. We have weathered the growing pains, developed new systems, redesigned our logo, signed up the wonderful Cameron van der Burgh to champion our cause, and we even won an exciting award.
Most important of all – more children are enrolled in the programme. Every single child who can have treatment, who would otherwise have faced needless disability, is proof that advocacy is vital – and it works.
I am so grateful to my talented team and our generous supporters. You all played a part in our celebration that many children’s lives have changed forever.
Most especially, I salute all the incredible children on this hero’s journey of clubfoot treatment. You are our champions.
Best wishes for a peaceful and happy festive season!
Founder and Executive Director, Steps
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