During the summer break, Elisabeth and Annette were invited to visit the family of one of the new girls at the centre for the first time. They spent time with the family over lunch, inclding the three children – aged 13, 9 and a baby girl. The middle child, Zorah*, most probably has a condition called hemiparesis, which is a weakness down the entire left or right side of the body.
Zorah’s handicap means that it is a significant challenge for her to walk. One side of her body is extremely weak and her eyesight is very poor. Yet, she has age appropriate intelligence. In North Africa where they live, shame is associated with disability. The community blames the parents for the child’s sickness or the husband may blame it on the mother and leave the family if he can’t bear the weight of caring for the child or carry the shame.
However, this mother says her daughter is extremely precious to her. She tries to encourage other mothers of children with disabilities to value them and to take them outside and not be ashamed of them.
Elisabeth and Annette brought some materials to help Zorah do some exercises through play. The plastic tube and marbles were fun to use and Zorah enjoyed using the tube as a steering wheel, as something to step over, and to drop the marbles through. She was working hard, using both hands, which is so good for her balance and co-ordination. At times, she was so intent on the activity that she held her breath for long periods and Annette had to remind her, ‘Breathe. Breathe.’
As she was getting hot Zorah took off her outer shirt and the therapists saw lots of little scars like burns all over her shoulders and arms. They were old but obvious scars and some of them were festering.
‘What happened?’ asked Annette.
The mother said she didn’t know how to explain it to her and that she wouldn’t understand. After a while she explained that she had taken her daughter to a special doctor when she was about 4-years old. He had ‘treated’ one side of her body with burning sticks in an attempt to cure her. The mother said it was to scare away Jinn or bad spirits that may have been causing the child’s ‘sickness.'
Elisabeth said that this was an eye-opener for her as she had never seen and heard of such a ‘cure.'
The mother obviously had great love for her daughter yet she was willing to subject her to pain in the hope of a cure. The visitors were shocked at the scars and how much pain the little girl must have been in when the burns had been administered. They wondered whether this is just a custom because of the family being from the countryside or whether it is something more widespread. More than anything else, it showed the family’s desperation in wanting their daughter to be well.
Please pray for Elisabeth and Annette, and other Christian therapists like them in North Africa, to be able to show the families of children with special needs that there is hope. Pray that they will have the opportunity to speak biblical truth into the lives of these families.
This account is documented by OM worker Mary May, who has lived in the North Africa region for many years and who enjoys reading and writing about what God is doing.
Published: Thursday, 26 October 2017
Credit: Mary May