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DRC: young mine victim dreams of playing football again

17-12-2007 Feature

Following years of fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) the ICRC maintains its help for vulnerable civilian groups. A young boy who lost his leg in a mine accident tells his story to the ICRC’s Bernard Barrett.

   

  ©ICRC/B. Barrett    
 
  Ten-year-old Asukulu Bolimbe received an artificial limb with the help of the ICRC.    
     

" When I see my friends playing football, I would like to be able to play with them, " says 10-year-old Asukulu Bolimbe. Just a year ago, the boy lost his leg when a mine exploded. He is now being fitted with an artificial limb at an orthopaedic centre in Bukavu, Sou th Kivu.

Asukulu and his family had fled their home because of fighting near Fizi, in eastern DRC. He and some friends were playing football; when the ball rolled into a ditch, they ran after it – and triggered a mine.

" All I remember afterwards is crying, " he says. Much later he learned that three of his friends were killed in the blast.

The boy's father, Mmunga Musa, says his son changed after the accident. " When he saw other children playing, he was very unhappy because he could no longer do what he did before. " The father says his son has accepted his situation and he will be better now that he has an artificial leg. " But,” says Asukulu, “I can't walk normally and it hurts my hip. "

 “When there is a wound there must be healing”  

The father and son are spending three weeks in Bukavu, some 200 kilometres north of their home, while the limb is being fitted. Physiotherapist Jean Claude Chahihabwa is teaching him how to walk and tries to coach him to kick a tennis ball with his new limb.

" When people suffer such injuries, " he says, " we have to restore their confidence. We tell them that when there is a wound there must be healing. It is important for them to see themselves as a whole person once again. It's not the leg that matters, it's how you make it work. "

Chahihabwa says that many of the people injured by the remnants of the fighting in the region have been displaced by the conflict. " They are poor and often cannot afford to come to Bukavu for treatment and artificial limbs. "

   
  ©ICRC/B. Barrett    
 
  Asukulu Bolimbe learns to walk and kick a ball with the help of physiotherapist Jean Claude Chahihabwa.    
     

In South Kivu the ICRC covers treatment costs, including physiotherapy for people wounded or disabled by the conflict, such as Asukulu. It also provides the orthopaedic centre with imported components and raw materials while the centre procures locally-available items. The ICRC supports four other centres in DRC and has provided advanced training for orthopaedic technicians and physiotherapists.

 

Jean Claude Chahihabwa says he cannot accurately estimate the number of people injured by mines or other explosive devices in the region. " After ten years of war… if we have peace, we will be able to go out with mobile teams to areas we have not been able to reach so far. We will be able to get to these people and offer them assistance. "

 

" Most of these mines were placed years ago " , explains Beatriz Karottki, the ICRC's health coordinator in DRC. " They lie buried in the ground or are moved by heavy rainfalls. The danger they pose goes far beyond the actual time of the fighting. "

Asukulu is now able to move around, but still relies on a crutch as well as the artificial leg. He says he likes going to school and hopes to become a teacher or a doctor. " One day, " he hopes, " I will be able to play football again. "