Recent Training Gives One Young Technician A New Beginning
by Dave Evans, CP
November 2018, Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo
It’s a long trip. After 32 hours of travel I am greeted at the airport by Polus Center Program Director, Adrien NZUZI and Centre pour Handicapes Physiques (CHP) Manager, Sylvain SYAHAVA who run the facility where I will be working. They welcome me back with warm smiles and the same friendly courtesy I receive from all the people I meet in Goma. This is my second mission to the DRC and while I am excited about the impact our work will have on the people who visit the center during the next 5 weeks, the trip from Guatemala is exhausting, and right now I am ready for some serious shut-eye.
Monday morning, I awake refreshed and ready for a busy day at the Center. I arrive, armed with the usual two packs of cookies and tea for our mid-morning break – Goma can be Chaotic, and Sgt. Evans, USMC always comes prepared. Truth be told, I never know who or what will come through the door while I am here. They seem to save the toughest cases for me, which I can understand. Most of the amputations here are field amputations, saving the life of the patient, but leaving a very bad stump for the prosthetist to work with. This makes fitting difficult and often painful for the patient if not done properly and with great care.
The workshop is immaculately clean, and I am greeted by the familiar welcoming faces of the technicians, all former students of mine, with one obvious addition, Julienne PayPay our first female technician.
When I see Julienne my initial reaction is, “she painted her toenails!” This would not be unusual except for her prosthetic foot - Julienne is a patient of mine, and her foot is the one I had fitted her with last year. The first time I treated Julienne she said she wanted to be a technician; it is clear to me her enthusiasm has not dwindled, and I am thrilled.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a woman in the treatment room when working with children and women.
One morning I passed a young girl walking out in the courtyard. At first I didn’t notice she was an amputee, then I saw she had two prosthetic devices – she was a bi-lateral trans-tibial. Since she spoke Swahili, I asked Adrien to come over and translate for us. I asked her who had made her legs, and she replied that Julienne had. Actually, Matthew, CPO, the chief of the workshop had made her legs and Julienne had assisted, but as far as this girl thought, it was Julienne.
Having Julienne working in the center has made a huge difference in treating our female clients. They feel much more at ease with her in the clinic and in treatment areas and respond well to the confidence and sense of empowerment she brings to their experience.
Like so many other patients, Julienne is a single mother who lost her leg in a landmine accident while working in the coffee fields of Congo. She says it is difficult to be seen as having value in your family if you don’t have a job and her limited mobility made finding work and raising her daughter nearly impossible. With her new prosthetic leg she now has full mobility. In the treatment area Julienne works hard and is determined to continue her study as a technician. She sees the impact her work has, not just on her family, but on the patients at the center, and she feels valued as a person.
At the end of each mission, I leave a lab coat with my name embroidered on the pocket for the technician who I feel is most deserving. This time it could have been Matthew or Juan Batista, both excellent ISPO Category 2 Technicians, but Julienne commitment and dedication to the disabled people of the DRC stole my heart, and she now wears the starched white coat with pride.
From patient to bench technician in only a year, I am so proud of the progress Julienne has made. With online coursework now becoming widely accepted, opportunities for women and people with disabilities are growing. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before Julienne is not the only female technician at the Center.
Promises Made – Promises Kept since 1997.
Consider this your after-action report - Dave
About the Author