Photos and Story: Matilde Simas
In many countries, like Ethiopia, a child with a physical disability is often isolated and hidden in their home. Misinformation has led to people believing that supernatural forces, evil spirits, exposure to an eclipse, or black magic are the reasons for disability. This stigma has led to children being disadvantaged in many areas of their life such as education, employment, marriage, and is worsened by barriers to healthcare.
In an effort to document this issue, I traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Over 5000 physically disabled children wait for healthcare at the CURE Children's Hospital. CURE Children’s Hospital is the only pediatric orthopedic hospital in the country. The hospital offers free care for orthopedic, cleft palate, and burn victims.
“Ethiopia: Children with a Disability Hidden from Society” is an ongoing documentary series on children who have suffered isolation as a result of amputation, limb difference, and deformities related to burns. The children reflect on their experiences, the way they have been impacted, and the challenges they face ahead in society. The project aims to advocate for increased funding to support these children, to change attitudes, and to give others a fresh look at the abilities—not disabilities—of these kids, is paramount.
As a result of this project, I learned Ethiopia is a country with a low literacy rate, most view a child with a physical disability as a curse. These children tend to be less visible in their communities and are more likely to be missing from official records. Many parents even go to the extreme measure of leaving a child born with a disability at a hospital. In a nearby orphanage, there are over 100 abandoned children with a disability.
Pediatric physician Dr. Yodit Enkossa at CURE Children's Hospital says, "Ethiopia is a poor country with a low literacy rate, many view a children with a deformity as a curse. The majority of people here use traditional medicine." She explained how she had a patient who bumped into a close friend at CURE and discovered they both had a child with cleft lip. Although they were friends for many years, they never shared this with each other because they felt ashamed. "Often children with a disability are separated and hidden due to shame and the shortage of healthcare further deprives these children of their right to an education and family life. One of the challenges is to find them. There are many reasons for this but often a parent is afraid of how a child will be accepted socially."