How Horses Provide Relaxation in the Difficult Life of Severely Handicapped People Living in a Poor Town in South Africa.
7am, cold and the road seems to disappear before my eyes. If you think you've seen holes before, please come and visit Diepsloot; a town in North Johannesburg.
Driving is almost impossible, but with some expertise behind the wheel we make it around this densely populated area that is home to around 200,000 people.
We soon assembled two cars full of disabled children. They sit mostly on secure car seats, some with the help of older, slightly more capable children. They were taken to the Diepsloot Disability Center; Bona Lesedi, where they are cared for and prescribed therapy and treatment every day.
Once a week, a small group that has cerebral palsy is taken on a short drive from the town to the ShumbaShaba Therapy Center where they receive hippotherapy. It is a form of physical therapy through riding and close contact with horses. Careful assistance and guidance is provided by a small team of occupational therapists, the passionate owner and trainer of the Center and a group of volunteers.
Life with severe disability, poverty (in some cases extreme poverty) in the depths of the city, no transportation – even a wheelchair – and little chance of change in the future may be too much for most people, but for these children the support by Bona Lesedi and Shumba Shaba is the bright light in their day.
A weekly trip to the Riding Center provides a physical and emotional connection with the professionals who care for them and the volunteers who care for them. Children also experience the joy of horseback riding, which even under normal circumstances, would probably not be possible for them.
Horses are often used for physical and emotional therapy and are carefully selected and trained for use with children with disabilities; the connection between horse and child and the effect on the infant body and mental well-being can be profound.
Over four months, I spent time in Bona Lesedi and ShumbaShaba, filming and documenting the daily interaction between families of children with disabilities and the support structure provided by volunteers, assistants and therapists.
I was constantly amazed and moved by the power of this collaboration. This is a wonderful initiative that blurs and breaks both racial and economic boundaries. It provides dignity and beauty to an often ignored group of people. When you live in a 3m x 2m shed assembled with scrap and cardboard, with no or little basic service, this intervention in life is essential not only for children but also for their families.
For this community, this is only possible through the pro-bono work and dedication of ShumbaShaba and its volunteers who turn to work with the children every week. The connections between children, carers, volunteers and horses are quite magical; embracing the "new South Africa" by helping and giving children with disabilities their love and patience.