October, 2019.

This morning, after breakfast in guest house, you go to Babadogo to visit one of the peripheral gyms inside the slums.

Alessandro, thirty years old, a fifth year medical student, accompanies me. I am helping him to prepare his degree thesis which will have as its subject the treatment of club feet in a context of marginalization and poverty. I care a lot about this research because it represents the synthesis of many years of my work and in addition Alessandro is the same age as my son Andrea.

Boniface is driving the minibus that passes with difficulty in the narrow streets of the slums due to the presence of holes and puddles. A sewage drainage channel defines the two sides of the road, between two continuous lines of small ones shops ramshackle where everything is sold. We proceed at a walking pace among a multitude of people who go in every direction: Boniface drives carefully because many, especially children, suddenly cross the road. Sometimes it is a few goats that get in the way of the vehicle.

After a good half hour we arrive at our destination: a gate opens for us and we enter a small oasis of greenery. It is rare to see trees in these environments, around a low brick building there are some banana trees and eucalyptus trees: that is our physiotherapy. A penetrating smell and many white feathers scattered around reveal the presence of a shed about ten meters long, used as a chicken farm, on the opposite side of the path.

We enter the small gym whose floor is covered with mats on which the children to be treated are laid out. Our two physiotherapists Catherine and Yvonne are already present. They are working with mothers and children. We take off our shoes in the doorway. This morning the little patients are fourteen, suffering from infantile cerebral palsy and other neuro-muscular diseases, all under four years of age. Almost all children, some more or less, show signs of mental deficit, some look sideways with wide open eyes; others with half-open mouths and a trickle of saliva dripping from their chins; still others are stiff with legs and arms in unnatural positions.

Observing the gaze and facial expressions of these children, one wonders what thoughts are hiding in them without being able to go out. Someone communicates with their eyes: a small grimace of pain, a hint of a smile if called by name or after a caress.
I admire the courage these women, physiotherapists and mothers have, who follow them with tenacity in the hope of a recovery that in most cases will never happen.

What is the use of everything they do? Frankly I don't know how to give me an answer.

Catherine and Yvonne visit a different center every day as the aim of the health project, as well as treating the child with their competence, is to teach mothers the basic exercises to counteract stiffness and stimulate their children to move.
In Babadogo, Tuesday, that is, today, is dedicated to the supervision of children and the conversation with mothers to address the problems of managing young patients. The exercises include muscle control of the neck and torso for sitting, the urge to "crawl", which for a healthy newborn is the prelude to walking, but which is not present in these little ones, in order to arrive, in the most fortunate cases , to walk properly. Some "special chairs”In wood on which it is possible to place the children in the correct position with back and neck supports, as if they were at a school desk. Seated, with their arms on the support surface, they can perform manual skills and motor coordination exercises with colored balls and cubes, in the form of a game.

A child, who could have been five years old, dressed in a worn and frayed red T-shirt walked in and out of the gym, ran across the courtyard, hid behind the trees, called me "daktariAnd smiled at me, inviting me to play.
Catherine told me that that baby had made great progress since they had taken care of him as a baby just a few months old for cerebral palsy. It had become the "mascot”Of physiotherapy because its liveliness was an example and stimulus to mothers who had their children under treatment.

I went out into the yard to play with him for a while. Brian, this is his name, was tireless, in his smile there was a contagious happiness that struck me. The ball of rags did the rest. Between chases and shots with the ball, time passed quickly, too fast: it was time to go back to the Neema.

"Bado kidogo, daktari". Brian asks me to stay a little longer ... but now I have to go, see you next time: "kwa heri, Brian!"
We go out into the dusty heat of the slum, the minivan sways between the holes in the dirt road, I attach myself to a handle above the window to avoid the headboards and the tossing. With me I have the memory of that child, his smile and his liveliness.

What will become of him in the hell he lives in ...

Antonio Melotto

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