Reused canes, walkers get people moving
Mobility devices are unloaded from an Icelandair plane for distribution by Crutches 4 Africa in Kenya and Tanzania in February and March. On this trip, David Talbot collaborated with Steve Baroch, of the Rotary Club of Castle Rock High Noon, Colorado, USA, who shot the winning photo in The Rotarian 's annual photo contest.
A woman in Tanzania who has lost both of her legs above the knee crawls on her hands and stumps, begging at the side of the road.
A disabled grandmother in the Usa River Valley is unable to leave her house and yet has to take care of 12 grandchildren, many orphaned by AIDS. A carpenter living nearby needs crutches before he can walk.
These are images that stay with David Talbot, a professional photographer and member of the Rotary Club of Mountain Foothills of Evergreen, Colorado, USA.
The founder of Crutches 4 Africa, Talbot is committed to collecting discarded crutches, canes, walkers, and wheelchairs and delivering them to disabled people in need. Because of the program, the Tanzanian woman now has a wheelchair, the grandmother has a walker, and the carpenter has crutches and the supplies to produce them for people in his community.
The organization has distributed 6,000 mobility devices to people in Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Uganda over the past four years, with a goal of one million units within 10 years.
"The need is obvious to anyone who's been to Africa," Talbot says. "You just open your eyes and look, and you see these people everywhere."
By conservative estimates, 15 million people in Africa lack adequate mobility devices, he says.
A polio survivor, Talbot first witnessed this need in 2005, when he went to Uganda to work on a documentary film. Back in Colorado, he began partnering with Rotary clubs, schools, and businesses -- some as far away as New York -- to collect crutches.
In the United States, Talbot notes, doctors often allow patients to use only new equipment because of insurance requirements and malpractice concerns. As a result, devices that are no longer needed pile up in homes across the country. "I see crutches at yard and estate sales all the time," he says.
Many U.S. hospitals have a surplus of used crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs.
"I met a guy who works at a landfill in Denver who told me that they had buried a whole trash bin full of crutches and wheelchairs that had come from a hospital," Talbot says. "The stuff we throw away can be used."
Crutches 4 Africa ships the devices by ocean liner, and Talbot and other volunteers fly to various countries in Africa -- often with dismantled crutches packed into their luggage -- and work with local Rotary clubs to manage distribution. Each pair of crutches costs about US$3 to ship, Talbot says, but the clubs and other connections can help lower that amount.
The organization's most recent distribution to Kenya and Tanzania in February and March got a boost when a Denver business associate put Talbot in touch with a member of the band Steppenwolf. The rock star was going on safari with high-end tour company Abercrombie & Kent and arranged for 350 units to be loaded at no cost aboard the tour's chartered Icelandair plane in unused cargo space.
Talbot looks over an image of two brothers in Uganda, one pulling the other along on a scrap of old blanket because he couldn't walk.
"It's not a good way to travel," Talbot says. "We have what they need -- let's give it to them."
Talbot collaborated with Steve Baroch, of the Rotary Club of Castle Rock High Noon, Colorado, on the Kenya and Tanzania trip. See Baroch's winning photo in The Rotarian 's annual photo contest.