Angel for the Paralysed
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,"
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.