SOUTH AFRICA – Six years ago, Moses Mlombo was shot in the chest when he went out to collect his sister from a party. Now the 24-year-old South African from rural Mpumalanga is using a specially adapted Nokia C5-03 to communicate with the world, and run a small business recycling printer cartridges.
“I’m paralyzed from the neck down, but I can still have a meaningful life,” Moses says.
When friends started to get messages from him on social networks they asked, “How are you doing that?”
Moses can’t use his hands, and used to feel frustrated that someone had to hold his old cellphone for him, and type messages and numbers:
“At a deep level, my independence and privacy was compromised.”
Now he uses a prosthetic on his wrist to hold the phone, and controls it himself with a mouthstick. The phone also has a plastic screen, so it doesn’t break if he drops it.
“Believe me, as soon as I could communicate with the world – all hell broke loose!” he says.
Ama-Wheelies is the only home for quadriplegics in Mpumalanga Province, and it provides outreach, and job training, for people with spinal cord injuries.
The charity’s co-founder, Barry Botes, was a 35-year-old builder and entrepreneur, when he was shot in a car jacking six months after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994:
“I’m a prisoner in my own body, and I can’t use my hands. After I left hospital my wife and I couldn’t cope and our marriage was disaster. I set up Ama-Wheelies to help people like me in all aspects of their lives – not just job training, but also counseling.”
Providing people with phones that they can use themselves is partly about helping them to reclaim independence, Barry says, but its also vital in working towards establishing an independent income:
“Nokia has helped us pilot our training program, and hopefully we have a long journey ahead of us together. Most of the jobs we are training people for involve work on the phone, but we don’t just train people for menial jobs. We want to train people for meaningful jobs that they can be successful at, and enjoy.”
The result has been a slow but profound transformation, according to Barry: “There is life, even if you are in a wheelchair you can carry on.”