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to rebuild lives in a country rebuilding itself Byline: Ed Timms Credit: Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News Section: NEWS Edition: HOME FINAL Page Number: 1A Word Count: 1944 Dateline: MALANGE, Angola Art: PHOTO(S): (1-7 DMN: Joe Stefanchik) 1. AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Pinto MALANGE, Angola - Twelve-year-old Pinto Cruz spends his days in a battered wheelchair with two flat tires and a tin can wired on as a footrest. About two inches of bone, thinly covered by a translucent layer of skin, protrudes from the stump of his right leg. His left foot is swollen by edema and covered with sores. He tucks his pant leg under his toes to keep the flies away. There’s no school in his village, a few miles east of Malange. His family lives in a cluster of small mud-brick huts with no electricity or plumbing. Perhaps 30 feet away is a line of foxholes, obscured by brush - and probably more mines like the one that blew his leg off. His family cultivates a small plot of land nearby. Angola’s bloody civil war, which ended in 1995, left this southern African country devastated, ripping away any semblance of a safety net for its most vulnerable citizens - its disabled and its children. Today, an ailing economy hampers recovery efforts. Hundreds of thousands are displaced, living in crowded and unsanitary urban bairros. Many worry the uncertain peace won’t hold. Despite the bleak prospects, however, Angolans are trying to rebuild their lives and their country. Progress is measured, sometimes incrementally, against obstacles that are scarcely imagined in more developed nations. “There’s still a lot to be done. This is a country that’s been at war for 30 years . . .” said Beth Mathews, with Concern Worldwide, an international aid organization that works in Angola. “It’s going to take some time for it all to come together.” Ms. Mathews’ organization focuses its resources on what she describes as Angola’s “poorest of the poor” and most vulnerable. Included in that group are the country’s amputees. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that one out of every 356 Angolans - about 70,000 total - is an amputee. Thousands more have had their limbs twisted or withered by polio, another disease, or infection. For them, traditional farming in Angola -
typically cultivating a small plot with a hoe - is difficult, if not impossible. Carefully balancing on his only leg, Domingos Manuel Estevao, 47, saws a rough-hewn board on a rickety workbench outside a hut. Chickens and children scamper about the courtyard. He was a soldier for more than a decade, until he lost his left leg to an antipersonnel mine while clearing a minefield. For years, Mr. Estevao was unable to find work. To survive, he sometimes would beg for money. But he never had enough to provide for his wife and five children. He’s training to be a carpenter in Malange, working with tools that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to carpenters a century ago. Lifting heavy objects is difficult because of his disability, as is handling some tools. He hopes that his new skill will translate into a better future for his family. At a small tailoring shop in Malange, Manuel Domingos Kudiela is at work with other ex-soldiers using pedal-powered sewing machines. He lost his leg to a mine in 1988. Two friends at the shop, also amputees, were injured by shrapnel from artillery. When he was hospitalized, Mr. Kudiela thought that his pain would never end and that he would never be able to do anything with his life. He slowly discovered that he could deal both with his injury and the future. He learned his trade and opened the tailoring shop, which has become the main source of income for his two wives and three children. Even with training, the future for these Angolans is uncertain. Their new trades often rely on customers with enough income to purchase more than just the basics, in an impoverished country. Josefa Nyanga, 75, lost her left leg to a mine while collecting food more than 20 years ago. She is one of several disabled women who operate a mill in Malange. The mill helps a little, she says, but “no one is making much money.” Aid experts say the country’s disabled citizens may never be able to make enough money to fully support their families. “But it is something,” said Karin Gray, who manages Concern’s program to help the disadvantaged start businesses in Malange. “Most of them are living in pretty minimal conditions, so it helps with the basics - at least there’s not hunger at home. And it can help people restore their self-perception and self-worth.” Not surprisingly, many amputees in Angola don’t cope very well. They’re often unable to work. Their families often leave them. Those who live on the streets and beg are often shunned by the able-bodied.
“They drink, sleep on the street and steal,” said Junquiera Barroso, 22, an amputee who started the “Hope” shoe-repair shop in Malange with another disabled soldier. “They go to the market and ask for cigarettes and food and become an embarrassment to us. They lose their limbs and also lose their conscience.” Soft-spoken Joao Baptista, 32, is a former soldier who lost his right leg to an antipersonnel mine in 1993. His wife left him soon afterward. She didn’t like the way they were living, Mr. Baptista explained, and she found another man. “When a man is poor and disabled, women run from him,” he said. But rather than give up, Mr. Baptista is training to be a welder at the Kuito center. Once he has a job and a little income, he hopes to be reunited with his children, or at the very least get to see more of them. Even those who don’t sink into absolute despair still face a daunting future. Damain Bumba, 38, lost both of his legs when his car hit an antitank mine. He now does little and barely has enough to eat. He lives on a small pension from the army, less than $20 a month, and gets around on a tricycle wheelchair. He spends much of his days with other disabled veterans in Kuito. He hasn’t seen his family since 1993. He used to be a driver before he was injured; now he hopes for the opportunity to be trained as a mechanic. He wants to be able to provide for his family, when and if he’s reunited. “That’s the problem,” he said. “If my family comes tomorrow, I don’t know what to do.” Eugenia Maria, 24, carries a 20-month-old boy in a sling on her back and balances a small basket and a water jug on her head as she limps down a residential street. She lost her right leg to a mine in 1993. She has a prosthetic leg and walks with the help of crutches. But only so far. Otherwise, her stump starts bleeding. Later in the day, she rests on the sidewalk outside Kuito’s gutted and shrapnel-pocked cathedral. Ever since her injury, she has barely subsisted, relying on help from aid organizations. In July, she was abandoned by her husband, a former soldier and also an amputee. She has no family in the area. She lives in a tent, day to day. But she is more fortunate than many amputees, who have yet to be fitted with an artificial limb. The Bomba Alta Orthopedic Center in Huambo, supported by the International Red Cross, fits about 40 to 90 Angolans with artificial limbs every month. The staff estimates that there have
been perhaps 100 mine victims in the last six months in Huambo province. Most of the patients at the center are mine victims, although there are many other causes. “Minas tradicional,” or traditional mines, is the local colloquialism for gangrene. In the physical therapy room, Louis Faeitas, 68, walks haltingly using bright red parallel bars for support. He lost his left leg below the knee and his right leg above the knee to gangrene. He had used a wheelchair to get around, but the tires are flat. “He won’t take off on his prostheses,” said Gerald Fitzpatrick, a prosthetist at the center. “It may help him get around a little bit, moving from his wheelchair to his bed, things like that.” Getting a new wheelchair is almost impossible - the entire center has only four for use by patients. Mr. Fitzpatrick may try to get Mr. Faeitas’ wheelchair repaired. Getting a new limb transforms many patients. “First there’s the psychological effect,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said. “A person feels his whole body has more symmetry, is more whole. Also when they receive a prosthesis, they are able to get rid of their crutches, which frees up their arms. They get back the use of their upper limbs.” Jorgina Palmira Grivinda, 13, lost her right leg above the knee to a bullet. Fitted with an artificial limb only a week earlier, her stride is still tentative. The artificial limb swings out in a wide arc with every step as she negotiates something of an obstacle course for amputees in the center’s courtyard. The number of children who have come to the center is relatively small. The trauma caused by a mine is often too great for the small bodies to endure. “The fact is, the children usually die,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said. Most of the patients are “war victims,” Angolans injured by weaponry such as mines, bullets, shrapnel from artillery. But not all. Karl Hefti, a Swiss orthopedist, examined a 4-year-old girl whose legs are twisted by polio. He plans to fit her for a brace so she can walk without crutches. “This is a war victim also,” Mr. Hefti said. “People cannot get the medicine they need. This should not have happened.” Angola’s health care system, like many of the nation’s basic institutions, was a casualty of civil war.
At Huambo’s central 1,000-bed hospital, the staff lacks the equipment to screen blood. Basic drugs are in short supply. Electronic equipment is virtually nonexistent. The hospital has one small X-ray machine. Dr. Fernando Chicoa, the hospital director, said the staff does what it can. But many Angolans, he said, are dying from diseases that are treatable. Child mortality and morbidity rates in Angola are among the world’s highest. “Wherever you go, the Number 1 problem is malaria,” said Dr. Peter Eriki, the World Health Organization delegate to Angola. “Respiratory infections, measles, diarrheal diseases are common. . . . In the northern part of the country, sleeping sickness is a serious problem.” In some areas, the health care situation is improving. A health clinic in the town of Ekunha began offering services this year with assistance from Concern. It now handles about 3,000 patients a month, about 70 percent of them suffering from malaria. Before the clinic began operating, the closest medical help was 20 miles away, in Huambo. Distance is an enemy to health care. Public transportation is lacking in most areas. Women often must help with the farming, gather firewood, cook and get water. If a health facility isn’t close, the family often does without. Mary Murphy, area coordinator for Concern in Huambo province, said that many children have not received basic vaccinations, including those for tetanus, measles and whooping cough. “The first aim in life for mothers is to provide for the health of their children,” she said. “If services are close enough, they will come.” Dr. Eriki said aid organizations are working with the Angolan government to improve health conditions. More health care workers are being trained in an effort to improve basic health care. He notes that efforts to vaccinate children under the age of 5 for polio earlier this year are promising: The number of children vaccinated in some areas approached 90 percent. “If we can see those success stories, then it is possible to have things happen here,” he said.
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