Maya, now thirteen, has lived her entire life with cerebral palsy – a permanent movement disorder that can cause poor coordination, stiff and weak muscles and tremors
“She looked to me like a typical normal baby when she was born,” Vagigi retold.
“I did not even realise that she could not move her hands and legs herself, not even her father noticed this.
“At about a year old, we tried sitting her upright and that was when we realised she could not sit up straight.”
It was not until Maya was three that a health worker informed the family that she was born with a physical impairment that would be with her for life.
“I did not know what to do then,” Vagigi recalled.
“I asked if it was a condition she would grow out of, but the health worker said it was a lifetime disorder.”
More than a decade on, Maya needed support to sit upright and her father Steven would sit her on his lap for mealtimes or to rest, but after a couple of hours, she gets tired and needs to lie down.
Maya’s two younger siblings, Martha and Steven Jnr., helped their parents look after Maya when they are out working, gardening or at the river.
Steven walks the track as a porter to earn an income for the family while Vagigi sells food from their produce to trekkers.
Maya was reliant on Steven to carry her to get from place to place – usually transported on his back – but things were to change for the entire family.
In August this year, Maya was visited by a team from Callan Services for Disabled Persons during a disability pilot assessment for the Kokoda Track region.
The pilot was supported by the Kokoda Initiative – a partnership between PNG and Australia – and was integrated in to the regular maternal and child health patrols that occur throughout each year.
The assessment was conducted by Callan’s ear and eye trainer Brother Desmond Taboeya and project manager Peter Sindu, who said Maya’s case needed special care and attention.
“We were conducting ear and eye assessments,” Sindu said, “but when we saw Maya, we knew we needed to do something about it while we were still there.
“After an overall assessment, we identified that she had cerebral palsy.”
Sindu and Br Desmond took her measurements and constructed a chair using local resources as an immediate intervention to address her need to sit upright, but there was more to come.
Upon their return to Port Moresby, the Callan Services and Kokoda Initiative teams came together and agreed to access a wheelchair for Maya.
In September, her wheelchair was delivered. Vagigi was overwhelmed and filled with hope to see Maya sit upright in a wheelchair for the first time.
“I used to hope that Maya would receive help one day,” she said with tears forming in her eyes.
The wheelchair allows Maya to sit up comfortably and relax. A small attachable table supports easy access to food and water and her independence at mealtimes. She is more empowered than ever before.
Her parents say Maya is now able to move around in the community. Her family and friends love pushing her to church in her wheelchair.
“I see how happy she is when they push her around in her wheelchair,” Vagigi continued.
“I am so thankful that Maya was able to get help through this program.”
No everyone is born without disabilities; but everyone deserves to equally participate in social activities and have the opportunity to fulfil their potential without any barriers.
(Maya is delighted on her first ride around Kagi in her new wheelchair)