20 Years working in Ladakh
It started with a young German medical student. Her name is Johanna. She visited Lingshed in 2001 to teach Buddhist nuns English. She found this little disabled girl and promised her mother to get help for this child. She wrote an article in the German journal for physiotherapy which appeared in August 2002: Physiotherapists were sought to help the little three-year-old girl Rigzin struck with cerebral palsy with professional care.
Karola Wood and her husband have always wanted to visit the Himalaya and go hiking. Karola is a physiotherapist working in a neurological clinic. They had many years of mountain experience, so they applied for the job. Together with Johanna’s help they meticulously prepared one long year for the operation. Their friends wanted a part in this work, so they urged them to start an official registered non-profit organization. In June 2003 gratefully Mrs. Wood and the founding members birthed the German NGO Ladakh-Hilfe e.V. (Ladakh-Help), the base for all operations now.
Toward the end of August 2003, they started their five-week journey to Ladakh, North India, a country in the western Himalaya. With them they carried many aids for the poor mountain people: children's shoes, clothes, medication, useful gifts, food, toys, and therapeutical aids for the treatment of the little Rigzin. For the couple it turned into a journey into medieval ages. They met the friendliest people on earth, encountered the Buddhist religion everywhere and fell in love with the country of high passes, its culture and its inhabitants. Saying goodbye was difficult, especially leaving Rigzin behind. They had grown very close by then.
Rigzin lived with her mother, her healthy older sister, and the grandmother in extreme poverty in a small village only to be reached by a four-day trek.
Because of the therapeutical success with the Lingshed girl other parents brought their children and asked for help. Karola Wood promised to do so. Contact with the "Namgyal Institute for the Handicapped", the only organization caring for the disabled back then in Ladakh, was established. Back in Germany they tried to adjust to "normal" life and started to create a chain of events: Karola wrote newspaper articles, held many slide-presentations and a radio interview to spread information. She organized Physiotherapists volunteering to continue their work in Ladakh.
In February 2004 an e-mail from Cynthia Hunt reached them: Another severely handicapped child had been found in a remote village. She had been hidden by her parents for 17 years because they were ashamed.
Would they please come and help this girl? They immediately said yes, and their friends supported them. With lots of public relation activities the finances for the new trip were generated, and they even won money in a lottery, enough to support the trip.
So it happened that June/July 2004 found them back in Ladakh. Only nine months had passed since they left the country. The parents came from everywhere bringing their disabled children with the plea for help.
Karola Wood made contact with the many NGOs and organizations who were able to link up with the vision and started to help. A book with many explaining pictures for parents with disabled children was printed by Cynthia Hunt.
Our goal: Help them to help themselves.
"Give the hungry a fish and you save him from death today. Teach him to catch fish! He and his family will be taken care off the rest of their lives."
Working with the people in the remote areas requires a lot of patience and sensibility. To try to apply western standard will cause frustrations and problems. The last years they had been confronted with many new things out of the west, new ideologies and they are very confused. Their wonderful ecological structures are endangered. Those very practical people will be able to change a lot themselves in behalf of the handicapped with a little help.
To describe the totally different situation of the mountain people we will use Rigzin's problem: She is three years at this time and still small enough to be carried on her mother’s back. She cannot walk or sit on her own. On her mom's back she still gets around the very steep mountain village, meets people, and get stimulated and trained this way. But soon she will be too big and heavy to be carried. In Germany one would think about proving the child with a wheelchair, basically a good idea. But it is impossible to push a wheelchair around in the mountains with all those rocks. But a little donkey with a special saddle to hold the child may move up and down those steep slopes. The craftspeople in Lingshed were able to make such a saddle. As a matter of fact, a donkey only cost about 60 $ and a saddle about the same. This aid is still much cheaper than a wheelchair in Germany. The animal may also be used for fieldwork by the family, and this pays for his own fodder.
2006 Rigzin’s mother moved with her family to Leh. She found a job working for our NGO, later she worked for REWA Society. 2006 we also started employing local staff. In 2009 we rented the building of the Lions Club in Leh and started the REWA Ability Center. The local NGO REWA Society was founded in 2011. 2011 we started another therapy center in Kargil, in collaboration with the Munshi Habibulla Mission School, which also includes a special education program for all specially abled children.
2012 was also the year when Barara Forst, a very experienced PT from Hamburg, Germany, joined the work in Ladakh. She took over the teaching of the technical staff, installed international standards for therapy and coordinated all the volunteers for proper teaching of local staff. Karola Wood was now free to care for organizational work and fundraising. Both travelled to Ladakh almost every year.
Since 2011 we also had many indian voluneers come and help with the work. There were speech therapist, psychologist, physiotherapist and many others.
2016 REWA added a special ed class to their program. This way the children may learn and study and receive therapy. This effort has been advanced largely and it is supported by the local government in 2022.
2020 we started building the new CTC (Comprehensive Therapy Center) on a plot of land that the government gave to REWA Society for this purpose. 2022 REWA Society moved into the new building. 2023 we are still working on the completion of the construction.
During all those years the public awareness of the plight of the specially abled children increased and other NGOs started working in this area. Also the government institutions got involved in an incredible manner and much has been accomplished in the disability sector in Ladakh and much more will be done.
We feel that we were at the right place at the right time:
1.With the RAC, the REWA Ability Center, the home for the handicapped in Leh and Kargil, the parents have a place that helps them. Prejudice and superstition are being substituted with healthy and practical thinking. The daily life situation of the family is being changed to integrate the child more.
2. During the first years locals had been educated by our German volunteer physiotherapists, local doctors and medical trained personal to become so called "physio-aids". They had gained a solid theoretical and practical knowledge about the subject. Additionally, we have send most of the staff for professional training to Delhi. Local people need local staff, trained local staff.
Selected professional volunteers from all over the world still came to Ladakh for teaching and instruction until 2019. Then the corona-shut-downs brought everything to a screeching halt.
3. Educational material had been printed, informative flyers about the work of REWA had been distributed
4. Stanzins mother still works for REWA, her elder sister was sent for training as a MARehabilitation Science by sponsors from Germany. She will return to Leh with her degree in May 2023. Another local girl from a poor family was sent to be an audiologist. She also works for REWA now.
5. REWA Society has recognition of all local government institutions and NGOs in Ladakh. They do a professional and reliable work. Many children are sent to them for early intervention.
We want to encourage you to browse through the pages of our website. Escape into a world so different to ours and allow yourself to look through the treasures of information to discover many hidden secrets, of which some of them may be unbelievable, yes, even close to a miracle.
This story is a story of miracles and human compassion. Maybe you also get infected by this virus; it has infected so many of us. It causes enthusiasm and dedication in your soul for this land and its people and it will enrich your own life immensely. It will be fun to work with and support the wonderful people of Ladakh. The story is not finished yet. 20 years of involvement, of improvement, of heartache, of laughter and joy – it has changed my life and it will change yours also. There are many more lines to be written, miracles to report, incredible involvement and shows of human compassion to be reported in the future.
Johanna is now a medical doctor. She has supported Karola all during the last 20 years as a founding member. In 2023 she became a board member of Ladakh-Hilfe.
Report Karola Wood
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