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Doctors said there was nothing they could do. Untreated malaria was causing little El Shaddai's legs to lose strength. It was just the beginning of a very long journey for El Shaddai's vulnerable family.
El Shaddai undergoing physiotherapy exercises to improve her mobility. Photo: CBM.
Little El Shaddai from Adama, Ethiopia, was only nine months old when she fell ill with a high fever. After being told by doctors that they were unable to help, El Shaddai's mother Buzinesh noticed her daughter's legs were losing strength.
As El Shaddai grew older, her legs didn't develop fully - and by the time she reached the age of five - one leg was significantly shorter than the other. Still, her mother was convinced that there must be something she could do to help her daughter.
"I spent all the money I had. Every doctor told me that El Shaddai couldn't be treated," she told us.
It then became apparent that it was malaria that had first struck El Shaddai. It is certainly a dangerous illness, but not untreatable. If left untreated though, malaria can cause disability. Buzinesh wondered why the doctors had said there was nothing they could do?
In school, El Shaddai's disability was a cause of huge emotional pain. Unable to keep up with sports and lagging behind her friends between classes, El Shaddai often ended up alone and regularly came home in tears.
Then the unthinkable happened - her father suddenly died. Buzinesh was left to look after the entire family alone.
"Looking after El Shaddai was not hard when my husband was alive. After he died I had to start another business just to feed my family."
Taking her daughter to and from school soon became impossible with Buzinesh's long working hours, so because school had also been very difficult, El Shaddai pulled out and stayed home.
It was then that a CBM project partner began conducting a survey of homes to ensure that children with disabilities were getting the help and rehabilitation they needed.
A field worker found El Shaddai at home and offered a free assessment.
Trying to convince Buzinesh there was reason to have hope, the field worker returned a second time, and a third and a fourth. Finally on the fifth visit, Buzinesh decided she would give CBM's partner hospital a chance.
It took months of exercises and physiotherapy, but over time, El Shaddai's legs were healed to the point where she could walk, play and go to school without difficulty.
"She used to walk on tiptoes and complain about the pain. Now she is able to play, walk around, stand on one leg - even help me at home. I am so grateful" - Buzinesh
El Shaddai is grateful too, to be back in school with her dream of becoming a nurse.
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