Bangladesh: from disability to ability
After losing his legs in a railway accident, Faizul Haque used a pair of footstools to get around, as the cost of artificial legs puts them out of reach for those on low incomes in Bangladesh. Now, thanks to the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed and the ICRC, he has finally received the prostheses he so badly needed and is learning to walk again.
At the age of 23, Faizul Haque worked in a garment factory to support his young family. Every morning he commuted by train from Kaliganj, a village outside Dhaka, to the factory in the capital city. One morning, Haque's train crashed head-on into another. The accident cost Haque one of his legs, and left the other badly damaged.
For someone as poor as Haque, a wheelchair is prohibitively expensive. So he invented a way of moving using two footstools. He would put one stool in front of the other, sit on one and then heave himself onto the other. He could only move slowly, but at least he could get around.
Defying all the stereotypes about disabled people, Haque started a poultry farm, which he later sold so he could open a roadside shop. The story of the footstool-propelled shopkeeper soon spread around the village, bringing customers flocking to his shop. With his business flourishing, Haque was able to pay for his children to go to college.
But at the age of 48, Haque realized he was getting older. Moving around on a pair of footstools was getting more difficult. Fortunately, he was able to obtain treatment at the Prosthetic Unit of the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) in Savar. For Haque's wife, seeing him stand for the first time in 25 years was a miracle. "Now everyone in the village is waiting to see him walk. No one can believe it! After so long … it's amazing!"
Haque's family could not afford to pay for artificial legs. "Ten years ago, I looked at the possibility of applying for prosthetic limbs. I tried hospitals and spoke to several NGOs, but I still couldn't afford them," explains Haque. Now, with financial and technical support from the ICRC, the CRP is able to offer a subsidized rate to people who need treatment but cannot afford to pay the full cost. The centre provides high-quality, low-cost prosthetic and orthopaedic appliances, combined with physiotherapy. The ICRC also pays for CRP staff to undergo training in prosthetics technology.
Christoph Vogt heads the ICRC's Bangladesh delegation. "The ICRC has been cooperating with the CRP for 12 years," he explains. "Last year, the two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding, to ensure that support will continue for those people with disabilities who are most vulnerable."
Haque hopes to be back home soon, and is looking forward to carrying supplies to the shop himself when his sons are not around!