Charity opens door to ability

Nonprofit distributes mobility equipment in developing countries

Christy Steadman
Posted 5/1/20

In 2006 while in Uganda, David Talbot met a 9-year-old girl with an amputated leg because she had broken it falling out of a tree. “She had a compound fracture, and they didn't have any way to fix …

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Charity opens door to ability

Nonprofit distributes mobility equipment in developing countries


In 2006 while in Uganda, David Talbot met a 9-year-old girl with an amputated leg because she had broken it falling out of a tree.

“She had a compound fracture, and they didn't have any way to fix it,” Talbot said.

Following that initial meeting, Talbot and his nonprofit organization called Crutches 4 Africa kept tabs on the girl and provided her with a pair of crutches every few years as she grew.

About a year ago, she had reached full growth and Crutches 4 Africa arranged for her to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, to receive a prosthetic leg paid for by the government there.

The last Talbot heard about the girl is that she is now attending boarding school. But Crutches 4 Africa intends on following up with her to find out how the prosthetic is working out.

“Lifting somebody up off the ground and giving them an opportunity to participate in life is what it's all about,” Talbot said. “It's valuable equipment — anybody who has ever been on crutches gets it.”

Talbot, a Washington Park resident and Rotarian, survived polio in the mid-1950s. In the early 2000s, he began to suffer from post-polio syndrome, affecting primarily his left leg. About that time, Talbot began to research the need for mobility equipment in developing countries and found that at least 20 million people in Africa were in need because of some sort of disability that made them immobile.

And in 2005, he and his wife, Candice, who serves as the organization's director of operations, got Crutches 4 Africa started.

Charity serves 30 countries

Crutches 4 Africa is a volunteer-run nonprofit that collects used and surplus mobility devices and distributes them free of charge to people in need in developing countries. It currently serves 20 countries in Africa and 10 countries outside of Africa.

The four main mobility devices the organization focuses on are crutches, wheelchairs, canes and walkers, Talbot said. But the organization also collects equipment that can be modified to meet an individual's need such as ankle boots, prosthetics and bike trailers.

“Every other household in America has mobility equipment they're not using anymore,” Talbot said. “The other thing about this is, the equipment would likely end up in the landfill. (But) there's people literally crawling on the ground who need that stuff.”

Having traveled to Africa several times in the past to work with people suffering from polio, Audrey Leavitt of Denver's Lowry neighborhood was already aware of the African people's need for mobility equipment, she said.

“But I was taken aback after seeing how many people,” Leavitt said, adding she has been involved with Crutches 4 Africa for about three years, hearing about Talbot's work through her Rotary club. “You don't get the full scope until you see the other side.”

Leavitt said some of the recipients travel for miles to reach a distribution site — some on foot with their makeshift mobility equipment, such as a tree branch serving as a cane; some are carried, such as on a stretcher; and others are crawling on their hands and knees.

“The people are very creative and some are little hesitant to give up these (makeshift) devices because they had become such a part of them,” Leavitt said. “But many are willing to try something new, and when they get a real pair of crutches, they are very appreciative because it opens up a whole new world for them.”

Rotary provides connections

Talbot said that in using his connections with the Rotary Club, mobility equipment collection drives often start out as Rotary projects put on by clubs across the United States.

Therefore, Crutches 4 Africa's biggest expense is shipping the equipment overseas, Talbot said. It costs $3,000 to $5,000 per container, but about 3,000 pieces of equipment can fit in one container, Talbot said.

He and a group of Crutches 4 Africa volunteers travel to Africa, on average, twice a year to make distributions at number of various sites within the vicinity of a destination.

The most recent trip took place from Feb. 28 to March 19. Though the arrival of COVID-19 in Africa “threw a wrench” in the distributions scheduled in Uganda for March 13 and 14, all seven of the U.S. volunteers made it home safely and self-quarantined for the 14-day period, Talbot said. No one had contracted the virus, he added.

Nicolas Ricca of Jefferson County's Applewood community near Golden traveled to Africa for the first time during that trip.

“It was a completely different experience than anything I had done before,” Ricca said, adding that the only foreign travel he had done prior to the Crutches 4 Africa trip was to Canada.

Ricca met Talbot through church, was inspired by his story and got involved with Crutches 4 Africa about a year ago.

He described the trip to Africa as “uplifting and humbling.” The African recipients of the mobility equipment were so grateful and wanted to shake everybody's hand, Ricca said, and used all of the limited English they knew to express their gratitude.

“The worst part of the trip,” Ricca said, “was not having enough equipment for everyone in need. But, luckily, there will be more going out.”

Throughout 2019, seven distributions were made in developing countries, and as of the end of 2019, Crutches 4 Africa had donated about 133,000 mobility devices.

“The good hearts of people are shining through,” Talbot said.

Now, the organization is working toward accomplishing a goal of getting one million pieces of mobility equipment to those in need.

The mobility equipment truly provides its recipients with opportunities to provide for their families and be a contributing member of society in ways they would not otherwise have the means, Talbot said. For example, if a person is disabled and immobile, they are not able to travel to nearby villages or towns to sell their goods, he said, much less gather the resources and/or produce the goods.

“We have seen people in such harsh conditions, it rips my heart out. And while you can't fix everything,” Talbot said, “mobility is freedom.”


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