Centre pour handicapés Shirika la Umoja, Goma
Shirika la Umoja comprises a hospital, a training school for assistant-physiotherapists and a specialised school for disabled children. The school aims to offer mentally or physically disabled children improved opportunities e for self-development and integration by means of an individualised curriculum.
The city of Goma is situated in Eastern Congo’s North-Kivu province, the stage of bloody wars between the different rebel groups and government troops of Africa’s Great Lakes Region. Although peace is returning to the area, the socio-economic consequences of these conflicts are still tangible. The region is still confronted with thousands of displaced people and it has the lowest literacy rate in the country. The acts of war and the subsequent hardships took their toll. The number of people with a disability (amputations, rachitis, malformations, …) is extremely high. Many people are still fighting the consequences of the stress and traumas they experienced during the war. The eruption of the Nyiragongo Volcano in 2002 deteriorated the situation of the people in Goma even more. Hot streams of lava destroyed most of the city. Even large buildings such as the cathedral had to give way to the lava. Dozens of people lost their lives. Many of the victims were children or adults with a disability.
In this severely hit region, the Brothers of Charity have been managing a centre for people with a physical disability since 2005. A unique project for North-Kivu.
Shirika la Umoja
The Centre pour Handicapés Physiques (CHP) Shirika la Umoja ( Community leads to unity) was founded in 1964 by the Belgian physiotherapist Louis Martin and his wife Geneviève. Initially, the centre focused on giving care and counselling to children with a physical disability due to polio. Later on, patients with other disabilities were also treated and a ward for children with a sensory disability was added. Physical rehabilitation and vocational training for people with a disability are still the two main objectives of the centre. Shirika la Umoja has currently a staff of 114 people. These are the main activities of the centre:
In 2005, CBM (Christian Blind Mission) set up a new workshop for the manufacturing of prostheses. The workshop, staffed by eight people, is a reference centre for the International Committee of the Red Cross. Some 300 prostheses and 50-100 orthopaedic shoes are produced annually for this organization. Besides orthopaedic material, wheelchairs and tricycles are made in the workshop as well. The latter are an important means of transport for people with a physical disability in Goma.
CBR stands for Community Based Rehabilitation. It’s a sensitization programme aimed to encourage the community to take care of people with a disability or chronic disease. A mobile team of the centre (including a doctor, physiotherapist, nurse and social worker) visits different villages in the region and explains how to prevent disabilities. The team also tries to trace people with a disability and refers them to specialized services. In total, about 700 people receive assistance through this programme.
The CBK hospital, situated at about 6 miles from the centre, has built a new orthopaedic operating room. But this hospital doesn’t have any facilities for physiotherapy and rehabilitation. That’s why the patients, both children and adults, are sent to Shirika la Umoja for further treatment after having undergone an orthopaedic operation at the CBK hospital. Shirika la Umoja has about 100 beds, of which 12 are used for paralyzed patients. Each individual patient is professionally guided through his or her rehabilitation process. Annually, about 1,500 people follow a rehabilitation programme. Many among them are victims of landmines. Next to the workshop, a functional garden has been laid out with different soils (gravel, sand, stone) and different levels (stairs, slopes) that simulate the obstacles the patients will be confronted with on the street. They use this garden to learn to walk with their prosthesis without the assistanance of other people.
Education and training
The centre has its own primary school (Ecole de Vie, Goma) for children with a mental disability. The school has 120 pupils.
Physiotherapy Assistant Programme
In order to give people with a disability the opportunity to reintegrate in society and to become financially independent, the centre offers a training in physiotherapy. With a Physiotherapy Assistant degree, they can develop an independent and dignified life, notwithstanding their disability. Some twenty students follow this training, which is really unique for the African Great Lakes Region.
This centre provides an education to become a (male/female) nurse.
Goma, DR Congo
Care for people with a physical disability