Our experience working with local communities on the ground has provided us with a firsthand understanding of the impact supporters and donors have on individual lives.
This understanding has helped us to harness the expertise of rangers, staff, volunteers, and partners we work with in our areas of operation. As a result, we can implement conservation and development programs that focus on collaborating with locals.
When we work together with existing facilities in rural communities, the possibilities are endless and the results have a lasting impact.
To date, our community programs have supported school children through scholarships; providing access to safe water, developing and maintaining roads and access to healthcare resources.
The parents, children and communities we have met on the ground have motivated us to keep carrying out a variety of programs that they can adopt and use to their advantage for future generations.
Gracie’s story is an example of what is possible when we join forces with communities.
2 million children live with the pain and stigma of untreated clubfoot, a condition that affects at least 1 in 800 globally. Clubfoot describes a range of foot abnormalities usually present at birth in which a baby's foot is twisted out of shape or position. Left untreated, clubfoot limits a child’s mobility and makes it difficult to play or go to school.
Gracious Sampino (Gracie) was born with clubfoot condition. At birth, she had 32.6 degrees between her legs. For the first few months of Gracie’s life, Vivian went without a diagnosis of her condition. With limited funds and no access to transport, she would walk long distances to the clinic between her rural home in Binga, located in north-west Zimbabwe, in hopes of finding medical solutions.
Gracie’s reality before treatment:
Gracie's mother remembers how she felt during the first few weeks after Gracie was born.
"When Gracie was born, I could not come to terms with what was wrong with my child, I did not have the information I needed and this used to frustrate me because I could not help her," she said.
"We used to feel embarrassed about our child because of the stigma Gracie faced due to her difference."
"I never felt confident going out in public with her, so for the first few months before we started treatment, we found it difficult to adjust."
Families that don't have access to healthcare facilities in rural areas often resort to alternative methods for treatment. The burden often falls on individuals to seek out solutions on their own. But when a community comes together, the burden is lifted.
For children like Gracie, it means she has a better chance of walking and being able to run and play with other children. It means one day she will have the chance to attend school and can make her own way there by either riding a bicycle or walking.
Hope restored through collaboration:
When we work with communities, our objective is to maximize what's already available to them and build lasting relationships with service providers. We first met Gracie in 2019; her mother had already taken the initiative of putting plasters on Gracie’s legs. But due to Gracie’s complex condition, she would need more than just plasters to recover.
Collectively, our team was able to facilitate a treatment program with a well-established children’s hospital in Bulawayo that specializes in orthopedic care for disabilities such as clubfoot, bowed legs, and knock knees for children regardless of their economic status.
With the distance required to travel from Bulawayo to Binga, transportation costs were also covered by this program, allowing for ease of travel between the hospital visits.
Upon arrival at the children's hospital in Bulawayo, Gracie received her first corrective surgery when she was 2 years old and received another surgery 2 weeks after.
That was the beginning of a new journey for Gracie and strengthening our relationship with the hospital providing her the long-term care she needed away from home.
The surgery was followed by intensive physiotherapy, she was provided with a clubfoot brace; the brace consists of a metal bar and special shoes that attach at each end. The bar is the same length as the distance between Gracie's shoulders and is used to support her recovery.
Her mother was empowered with the knowledge of how to use the brace, as Gracie would be required to wear it at home as part of her recovery. The brace keeps the manipulated clubfeet in the corrected position so that she doesn't twist her feet back to where they were before the casting phase.
Mags Varley General Reserve Manager said she is pleased with the progress Gracie is making and hopes to continue facilitating more treatment programs to build and strengthen relationships with medical facilities and practitioners.