Having recently returned from our Falls to Joburg overland camping safari in Africa, Tara Rossow got in touch with us here at On The Go Tours to tell us about her experience in Boro Village in Botswana. After meeting a child with a disability called Liena, Tara and her group were determined not only to offer immediate support, but to make a long-term commitment to Liena and her village by starting the Hope for Boro fundraising campaign.
Ensuring that our tours benefit the local communities we visit is a key part of our ethos, and we couldn’t be more delighted to hear about Tara’s experience. Here she reveals what happened when her group visited Boro Village.
We recently visited Africa on a group tour and had the chance to visit local communities in the areas we went. As a group, we were looking forward to meeting and interacting with the locals. Many members of our group had brought colouring in books, sweets, pens and pencils for the children.
Whilst in Botswana we met a young girl named Liena. Liena is 3 years old and lives in a small village in the Okavango Delta with her parents, grandparents and siblings. She was initially introduced to us as ‘the disabled child of the village’ as she was unable to walk due to what appeared to be a foot malformation. Liena’s movements around her house and village were restricted to walking on her knees, and there was a significant lack of muscle in her calves.
Deciding to help
We spoke to the local guide and asked him if it would be appropriate to offer our assistance and take a look at Liena’s legs. Once consent was gained from her parents and Liena herself, through the local guide translating what we wanted to do, it was established that Liena may be able to walk with the support of appropriate equipment.
Liena’s parents, the local guide and our tour guide all asked if we could offer any help. It was explained to us that lots of tour groups drop off sweets and books, but this does not help her to move about like her siblings and peers.
In a discussion with the group and Liena’s parents, it was agreed that the most appropriate piece of equipment would be a walking frame. I had previous experience of building a wheelchair out of piping and explained that with a trip to the local hardware store we could whip something up that afternoon.
Building the walking frame
We were able to source shin pads to protect her knees while she is learning to walk and build a walking frame out of copper piping. What was special was that it was not just one person helping, but everyone wanted to be involved.
The tour guide arranged the materials, the group purchased the materials, the campsite management organised two workers to cut and weld, as well as transport to and from the village, and the village got behind and supported the family. It really does take a village to raise, and support, a child.
As a group, we decided from the beginning that we did not want to just support Liena and her village for one day. Our overall goal is for Liena to be able to access education with her peers. We hope that we can continue to be involved with Liena and her community, and support the whole village in their journey.
After learning about Tara’s experience, we were fortunate enough to ask her a few more questions about her time in Boro Village and what’s next for Liena:
What first motivated you to take a look at Liena?
When we met Liena and she was presented to us as a ‘disabled child’, this raised red flags for me as a Paediatric Occupational Therapist. Considering the location in a fairly remote part of Botswana, I wondered if she had had any support or assessment.
I have worked both in the UK and Australia with children with many different disabilities including developmental such as Autism and physical such as Cerebral Palsy. In my experience, there are often lots of little things that can be done to help.
Occupational Therapists are focused on meaningful and functional outcomes for the person, helping them to do what they need and want to do during their day. Often we are creative in how we do this – especially when there are limited resources or funds.
How did the rest of your group find the experience?
Before we decided to do anything for Liena, myself and my husband talked with the tour leader and local guide to make sure it was appropriate. After we agreed, we talked with our group to make sure that everyone was happy to a stop at a hardware store – as these people were on holiday of course!
Everyone was really receptive to the idea of building a walker and providing shin guards for Liena. They were also happy to contribute money, time and anything else we decided we needed for her.
It was challenging to make sure we didn’t go overboard and buy loads of stuff as we wanted to this to be a sustainable, long term solution rather than buying lots of things and then forgetting about it. Many of our group felt emotional about what we had decided to do for Liena, and there were lots of tears when we delivered the walking frame.
Since returning home, how have you continued to support Liena?
I am in regular contact with Martin, our cook and tour leader for the village, as well as Jonah, our local guide who gives me regular updates on Liena. We have started the Hope for Boro Facebook page and made a video to share Liena’s story and help raise money to support her further.
What are the next steps for helping Liena?
The next steps are to raise money for Liena and her family to fund a full medical assessment in Botswana. Boro Village is remote so we would not only need to fund the assessment itself but also transport and accommodation for her and her family.
A full medical assessment is crucial to understand what Liena’s diagnosis is and the appropriate treatment for her. This could be anything from corrective surgery to specialist equipment. Once we can understand what is needed for her treatment we can then start to fundraise for that specifically.
How can other people get involved?
Find out about our sustainable travel initiatives including our Change for Children and tree planting programmes.