Inspired by her experience with children with Cerebral Palsy and Down’s syndrome she met when younger, Marriam Lally initiated an organisation offering rehabilitation, physiotherapy and nutrition to children with such conditions around Mpemba in Blantyre. She saw the stigma attached to these conditions, which is what motivated her to help. Her vision is to see a change in the lives of the children that have now become an integral part of her life. Brenda Twea spoke with Lally.
Wumi Wumo Foundation is a charity offering rehabilitation and physiotherapy services to children with cerebral palsy, a condition that affects part of the brain that controls muscle movements.
The majority of children with this condition are born with it. Although it may not be detected until months or years later, early signs usually appear before a child reaches three years of age.
Apart from that, Wumi Wumo is also empowering women, especially mothers to children with cerebral palsy that it works with through a farming programme intended to produce a revolving fund for loans.
The rehabilitation programme is held every Saturday afternoon.
The founder, Marriam Lally’s main inspiration stemmed from her experience with a Down’s Syndrome schoolmate in primary.
She recalls how the boy was treated like an outcast and no pupil in school wanted to associate with him because of his condition. However, she remembers one day approaching him and made friends.
“He was resistant at first. He probably thought I wanted to bully him just like the rest of the children, but eventually he opened up,” she recalls.
Wami Wumi has close to 30 children coming for free physiotherapy every week at Mpemba Health Centre. Lally says she has two friends, physiotherapists Takondwa Bakuwa and Beverly Laher who voluntarily help with the cause.
When asked what her motivation to volunteer was, Laher who graduated in physiotherapy from College of Medicine last year indicated that she sees a lot of children with that condition at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) where she works, but most do not have access to health facilities.
“It is sad that most of them do not have access to health facilities. Some of them live very far and have to walk long distances to get to the health facilities,” she says.
Lally points out that the children were previously taken to Queens once every month for rehabilitation.
“The mothers would claim to leave their homes as early as four in the morning and walk for about two hours to get to the hospital. So, having the rehabilitation at Mpemba is a relief for them.
“Now they can get the service four times a month and the health centre is a short walking distance from their homes. Apart from that, we give them nutritional supplements, Chiponde,” she says.
Lally says for the short time that they have been running the rehabilitation; they have seen progress in the children.
“Some of them can now sit properly, others can roll over or lift up their heads. Most of the mothers appreciate the change and would like us to continue with the exercises.
“Once we source funds, we plan to train the mothers in home-based care so that we can reduce the time they have to come to the centre. We can use that time to reach out to others in areas we plan to spread to,” says Lally.
Apart from that, she says they plan to equip the women with vocational skills besides the farming programme they introduced.
In the agriculture programme, they are providing the women with farming materials and helping them cultivate, sell and put the proceeds in a revolving fund which can then be lent out among them, interest free.
The young woman says she has made it her lifelong quest to help children with cerebral palsy.
“I think that children with this condition are left out. You will appreciate that there are many organisations focused on the welfare of children in general while some organisations look after children with disabilities in particular. Cerebral palsy is an extreme case, but little has been done for children with such conditions,” she says.
Wami Wumi’s main challenge is the lack of funds. For a while, the founder has been funding every activity herself.
But thanks to Urban Boardroom, a local company which is helping the foundation. Apart from that, it has been promised free furnished offices at Mandala to facilitate their activities.
“She is championing a cause worth assisting. She is helping children of different religions who are going through this problem from natural causes.
“They (the children) cannot do anything about it. So we are coming in with this assistance,” says Urban Boardroom chief executive officer, Nurmohomed Kassam.
As the organisation commemorates its first anniversary this October, the founder says they will hold sensitisation campaigns to the stigma surrounding children with cerebral palsy and will also promote safe motherhood as the root cause of the condition.
“We will also sensitise communities on how they can assist children with this condition,” adds Lally.
Lally was born and raised in Blantyre. She graduated from Chancellor College in 2012 and holds a degree in arts and humanities. She is currently pursuing a master of business administration with Eastern and Southern African Management Institute (Esami).
She is married and is mother to two-year-old Wumi. She attributes her spirit of compassion to her mother; Clara Mwafulirwa who she says instilled a spirit of compassion for others while growing up.
“Growing up my mother taught her to always think of the less privileged. She cultivated this spirit in me from a very tender age,” she says. n