Occupational Therapist Maryanne Cook in Gunjur

I'd been back in Gunjur one day and it felt like I'd never been away, though my last visit was 3 years ago. My host Manlafi Jammeh and his family have given me a warm welcome to their compound as usual, and 12 days of my 4 weeks have passed in a heart beat. I am very fortunate to be here under the wing of Anita Bew, a well known figure in Gunjur, who is fondly greeted by everyone we meet as we walk around the village.

I am an occupational therapist (OT), a profession which does not exist in The Gambia, but I have been asked to link with the Gunjur Inclusion Project (GIP) as described by Ric Law in the January MBG newsletter. I am working with Jingal, who is taking the lead on the construction and development of the Gunjur inclusion centre for disabled people about to be built here. As a precursor to this, a play scheme for local disabled children has been running on Saturday mornings for 18 months at TARUD preschool.

I went on Saturday and 9 disabled children arrived, some with their non disabled siblings, and one with her mother, and some of them had travelled a long way on foot to the session. Toys, puzzles and skittles were laid out, along with outdoor trikes and sit on toys, and football and drums. Some of the children are clearly used to the event and joined in straight away, but a new girl, aged 7, was a little reserved and needed a little encouragement to get going. The play workers are excellent, and encourage the children to do what they can, and as they played I took the opportunity to observe and make any suggestions that might help them participate more fully.

We went to see a boy at home who was referred via Lamin, one of the play workers, who is disabled himself. Jingal carefully and painstakingly gave an outline of the service, explaining his role and my involvement, how he could help, and eventually the family agreed to allow us to meet the child in question. This boy is nearly 5 years old, and his right thigh is twice the size it should be, with 2 obvious oozing sores. He needs an x ray as as soon as possible to discover what the problem is and get some treatment to hopefully prevent long term disability. The GIP project has a budget for medical support and this has now been arranged to get him to Africmed for assessment.

I will attend for the next 2 weeks and assist Jingal with the play scheme, home visits, Africmed trips, and supporting the play workers in any way I can. I may have the opportunity to introduce the concept of OT and I have been preparing some information on OT principles which I hope will help the play workers maximise their involvement with the children to transfer skills learnt there to their everyday lives on the compound. It's a small contribution to a huge issue, where including disabled people in the community is an emerging concern for the village. I have already decided to come back to see how the project progresses.