By Sr. Suzanne Marshall, O.L.M.
March/April 2009

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December is a busy month for us here in Vandeikya with World AIDS Day celebrated on the first and World Disabled Day on the third. For many years now the AIDS counselors who work with people both infected with and affected by HIV (clients, families, orphans, volunteers), and the Primary Health Care staff, organize a week of activities to mark both events in the town and surrounding villages where home-based care is established.

Sr. Suzanne Marshall with Doofan and baby Emmanuel, Vandeikya, Nigeria Sr. Suzanne Marshall with Doofan and baby Emmanuel, Vandeikya, Nigeria

The big celebration for the disabled was held at St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Centre with wheelchair races for both women and men taking place the day before. About 300 disabled people with their families and friends came to the Centre. It was a great party and one that spoke volumes about the capacity of children and adults with serious disabilities to come together and really celebrate.

For me it was a deeply moving experience. The disabled ranged in age from infants to seniors. Many came in wheelchairs, many more on crutches or using canes. Some were blind. One baby with no hands and only one foot was obviously the joy of her mother who held her proudly.

Other disabled persons who had heard about the celebration came for the first time, some crawling through the gates on hands and knees. All were determined to join St. Joseph's Association for the Disabled where, hopefully, they would be helped with obtaining a wheelchair or with other needs.

Most of the nine staff who work at St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Centre have some physical disability and some have received their education, including skills training, through the Centre, so they are happy to be able to contribute to improving the situation of their brothers and sisters. We continue to support this training and have three workshops, welding, tailoring, and knitting, with a fourth to be opened soon in computer repair. Our goal is to equip as many disabled people as possible so that they will be able to earn their living and take active roles in their local communities.

At the party, an announcement was made that free counseling and screening for HIV was being made available to all the disabled between 15 and 50 years of age in January 2009. The AIDS counselors from Pastoral Care would come to the Centre on the four days specified to carry out voluntary counseling and testing. The funding for this has been made available through Our Lady's Missionaries in Toronto. Because the disabled are so visible in the community it is hard for them to go privately to any centre where screening is carried out.

A highlight of the celebration was the presentation of a framed picture of Sr. Rosemarie Donovan naming her the founder of the Centre. The crowd was delighted to receive the picture and insisted that it be cemented into the wall of their meeting room. This was done a few days later, a reminder to both new and old members of the gift Rosemarie has been to the disabled of Vandeikya.

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