Vusi Masinga (43) and Sebenzisa Ndlazi (53) are two dynamic wheelchair bound volunteers in a peer-to-peer outreach program for wheelchair users in Manguzi, in far north-eastern South Africa.
The initiative, headed by physiotherapist, manager and clinical supervisor at Manguzi Hospital, Maryke Bezuidenhout (39), aims to harness the experience and expertise of key community members living with spinal cord injuries and support fellow disabled individuals with the necessary tools to thrive despite their disability.
"Even with a rural active wheelchair, propelling through the thick sand for any distance is virtually impossible. Bush taxis only follow specific routes and often charge double for wheelchairs. This makes general day to day life, accessing health and welfare services, building a business, socializing and participating in community activities by wheelchair users a nightmare." says Maryke.
Through the 'buddy' program, new and struggling wheelchair users are paired with role models who maintain regular visits to assist individuals in coming to terms with their disability, facing and addressing social stigma, strengthening supportive relationships and problem-solving new avenues for income generation.
"The program plays a vital role in the community, especially for those who are unable to travel to get the support they need. Our volunteers also ensure individuals are linked to relevant medical care and social services, learn practical wheelchair skills, assist with repairs, give advice on goal setting and living a healthy active healthy lifestyle." - says Maryke.
The volunteers have faced their fair share of adversity, but have in many ways reached their full potential despite their physical challenges.
Vusi became disabled when he was involved in a taxi accident on his way to the sugarcane farm where he worked. Unable to cope, his wife deserted him, leaving him on his own during the early stages of his rehabilitation.
"Vusi had no one to take him to the nearby hospital during the early stages of his rehabilitation, leaving him to recover from pressure sores and major depression on his own" says Maryke.
Vusi now looks after both his sons on his own and his children attend the local high school, repairs wheelchairs, provides peer support and has a tract of land where he is growing gum trees for local production.
Maryke Hopes the public will continue to support their BackaBuddy campaign.
"In co-purchasing a quad bike, they will not only be able to improve their personal accessibility but will also be able to reach out further and to more people who need their support. Quad bikes will revolutionize their mobility and independence, open up social and economic opportunities and enable them to provide psycho-social support services, build stronger networks and advocate more effectively for inclusion within their communities. I hope the public will continue supporting our outstanding volunteers through our BackaBuddy campaign!" says Markye.
"Sebenzisa is very independent when it comes to fulfilling his role as a father and a husband. He herds his own cattle herd in a wheelchair, has put up the fence for a kraal himself, is supervising the building of an extension on his house, keeps a large flock of chickens and a herd of goats for additional income. All this he does in a very hospitable environment in a homestead that is a considerable distance from any support or basic amenities"- says Maryke
With general austerity measures and a dwindling hospital fleet, the outreach program has experienced a few obstacles in recent months, leaving role models to follow up telephonically or navigate the harsh terrain on their wheelchairs in order to fulfill their various duties.
Looking for a more sustainable solution, Vusi approached Maryke with a proposal to raise funds to purchase a quad bike for himself and fellow colleague, Sebenzisa, so they can continue to serve the disabled community more effectively.
Having saved up R10 000 each, the equivalent of six months welfare grant, Vusi and Sebenzisa have set up a campaign on donations based crowdfunding platform, BackaBuddy, to crowdfund the remainder of the funds they need to "Mobilize Manguzi".
The campaign went live on the 14 March 2019 and has thus far raised a total of R12 488.64 with contributions from 25 donors towards their target of R70 000.