<%-- Page Title--%> Achievement <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 136 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 2, 2004

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Valerie Taylor

An Angel for the Paralysed

Kavita Charanji

Widely known for her pioneering work on the frontiers of care, treatment and rehabilitation for the paralysed, Valerie has earned plaudits both from the international community as well as Bangladeshis. The award of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) to her is testimony to her outstanding efforts to provide holistic treatment for the paralysed, which includes vocational training and addressing their physical, emotional and socio-economic needs.

At the personal level too she has dedicated herself to the disabled. She has assumed legal guardianship of two girls with cerebral palsy. Joyoti and Poppy are 26 and 19 years old respectively and they could not have hoped for a better care giver than Valerie, a physiotherapist by training. Today it is because of her untiring support that they have earned a place in society. Joyoti studies in the open university and works as a trainee in the CRP office, specialising in computers. Poppy, now in Class 8, had trouble in gaining acceptance in the mainstream school but Valerie's efforts saw her and two other children from CRP join the Radio Colony Model School.

There are other achievements too. The latest chapter in the CRP saga is the opening of a new centre at Mirpur, Dhaka. A visitor to this 13-storey complex is struck by the patient friendliness of the building. On the first six floors is a ramp on which the paralysed can take their wheelchairs and access a gamut of facilities--physiotherapy, occupational therapy, medical diagnostic services. Other facilities, which include an operation theatre, will open to the tenants on the seventh floor and upwards.

The reasoning behind this huge expansion is that Valerie seeks to gradually reduce CRP's dependence on outside funds. "The aim of the Mirpur centre is to provide a solid, long term facility for the paralysed. Foreign funding could stop at any time and it is a challenge for us to maintain CRP's high standards," she says. As her co- workers will testify, Valerie's forte is fundraising for CRP's various projects. CRP has strong supporters in the Friends of CRP in UK and Germany as well as donors such as the Royal Norwegian Embassy, the Royal Danish Embassy and the US Department of Labour.

Among the milestones on the funding front, says Valerie, are a generous sum of 65,000 Euros chanelled by Friends of CRP in Germany from a German company called Otto Versand. Then there are the Bangladeshi expatriates in the UK who have shown great interest in raising funds for CRP. In the financial year 2002-2003, CRP garnered a hefty sum of Taka 132 million of which the Hong Kong-based Kadoorie Charitable Foundation provided the largest donation of Taka 64 million.

CRP, as Valerie points out, has been a major catalyst in bringing about change among the disabled. Asked for a case study, she talks of Mahua and Lovely. The former is paralysed from the waist down as a result of spinal cord injuries and confined to a wheelchair. Yet she is a dynamo of energy as she moves among the disabled and a source of inspiration to thousands of disabled people in Bangladesh and all over the world. Says Valerie:"Mahua may have been an ordinary housewife in Chittagong but because of CRP she has travelled extensively and demonstrated that there is life for the disabled. She can cook, play the guitar and swim in Cox's Bazar." And Valerie tends to be modest about her own role in CRP. "If I say to the disabled that they have the ability to do this or that, they don't believe me. But Mahua is an incredible role model which I can't be," she says.

Another major case study is that of Lovely, a tetraplegic (paralysed from the neck down), who has carved a niche for herself as a talented artist. Though she is unable to move without a wheel chair, she has developed the skill to paint with her mouth. Just back from the Abilympics in New Delhi, India, which is akin to the Olympics for the disabled, she has won a bronze medal for her art. Lovely's life story is a backdrop for a film called Bihongo, which depicts the ability of the paralysed to develop their potential given an enabling environment.

Valerie draws inspiration from the little acts of kindness displayed by the disabled. She recounts the story of Poppy, whose hair was looking particularly untidy one day in school. Another girl called Moyna, seeing Poppy's disheveled state, pulled out the latter's hair clips and fixed her hair. "Moyna's act was like that of a mother. It just goes to show that children can love and help each other. It is wonderful to see the disabled with the able-bodied," maintains Valerie.

Valerie, a physiotherapist by training, finished her studies at St Thomas Hospital in London. Attracted by the prospect of working in the Indian subcontinent, she came a Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) in 1969 to what was then East Pakistan. Working as a physiotherapist at the Christian Mission Hospital at Chandraghona in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the adjacent leprosy hospital, she went back to England in 1971 when the war broke between East and West Pakistan and VSO volunteers were evacuated from East Pakistan. Returning to Chandraghona in time for the momentous Liberation Day, she dedicated herself once again to the care of the disabled in the newly independent country of Bangladesh.

It was while she was in Chandra-ghona that she came across several people who had suffered spinal injuries. Quick to recognise that Bangladesh lagged miserably behind the UK in the treatment of the disabled, she recalls that at that time there were hardly any wheelchairs, leave alone comprehensive treatment for patients. Returning to what was now Bangladesh, she spent two years before going back to the UK to get financial backing for a rehabilitation centre.

Valerie came back to Bangladesh in 1975 as a VSO with a Dhaka-based government orthopaedic hospital. Providing treatment and rehabilitation to the paralysed, she focused her attention on setting up a non-government centre for these patients. Her efforts, and those of three Bangladeshis with whom she had joined hands, were rewarded when they started a facility for the paralysed on the premises of the hospital--a precursor to the present CRP. Starting out with four patients in 1979, the number increased to 35 and there was a fuelling demand for its services. During the next 10 years, CRP moved its premises three times, the last move in 1990 to the present site at Savar, 25 kms west of Dhaka.

Today CRP has treated 3,997 people with spinal injuries and has a medical/ nursing facility for 100 patients in Savar. "Until CRP opened its doors to the disabled, many paralysed people couldn't survive," recalls Valerie. "In Bangladesh many would die from septicaemia caused by pressure sores. There was a widespread ignorance of the need to change positions of patients," she says. Having come a long way from its humble start in 1979, Valerie believes that one major achievement is the establishment of the Bangladesh Health Professionals Institute. The organisation, set up by CRP at Savar in 1992, seeks to provide training to health professionals and overcome the shortfall of physiotherapists, occupational therapists, teachers of children with special needs and nurses in the country.

Now that she is nearing her sixtieth birthday in February next year, Valerie plans to continue fund raising in UK and hopefully divide her time between England and Bangladesh. The small indicators of public support give her the impetus to continue in a major role at CRP. Among the memorable occasions which she recalls are the donation of 5,000 tilapia for CRP's fish culture pond by the Lions Club of Dhaka . Then there are the plants and cash provided by other institutions and individuals.

Drawing on solid support both from the community and individuals, CRP has embarked on a phase of innovation and consolidation. The new facility at Mirpur in Dhaka along with sub-centres at Gonokbari (Savar)and Gobindapur (Moulvibazar District) are proud testimony to the effectiveness of Valerie's leadership and a firm reminder that there is life after disability.



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