Jesus calls us to help people with disabilities even in the toughest situations

I’ve been asked why cbm has chosen to be involved in bringing relief to the most vulnerable people of Gaza – young children, the elderly, those with disabilities.

It’s because we believe Jesus is calling us to serve those who can’t see, walk, hear, and those at greatest risk of sickness and impairment, in the toughest places. People trapped in poverty and disability are the poorest people in the world, and they’re also the most overlooked in the midst of crisis.

We work in many places in the world – countries and regions where governments, quasi-governments or regimes can be corrupt or even evil. In these cases, vulnerable people are not served by their leadership. In fact, the innocent and powerless end up suffering most. People with disabilities living under these regimes are doubly victimized – by society and by disabling attitudes around them. A deaf child, or family with a girl with CP, has no control over a local government.

cbm Canada does not and will not support such regimes. The easiest way to ensure this, indeed the easiest choice, is to avoid these situations altogether. However, I don’t believe following Jesus is often about making the easiest choices. I believe we can demonstrate the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable in these tough situations by choosing trusted and credible frontline partners who have clear and careful implementation strategies.

I believe God is calling us to make this choice – not the easiest choice but the one that brings a witness at a crucial time.


A Different Kind of Fashion Statement

Who would have thought I’d have an opinion about fashion!

Another blogger pointed me to a current show in Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) called “Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting”.

I haven’t gone to the show yet, but I did visit the ROM website.

It’s interesting, but not surprising, how fashion is normally designed around people who stand and walk. This show is about designing clothes around people who are in wheelchairs. What a fascinating subject to think about. I love that this is being thought of, and by being displayed at the ROM, hopefully it will get many people to change their views.

It’s great that Canadians are thinking about these issues. It demonstrates an evolution of attitudinal change – here in Canada, we’ve have gone from debating curb cuts and basic access to fashion statements. I know we still have a long way to go on some of the more basic rights for people with disabilities, but I think this show is a step in the right direction.

What struck me though is the existing huge gap between Canada and developing countries like Malawi, Zimbabwe or the Congo. For example, James Banda in Malawi was told not to go to school by his father because he had a disability. It’s a miracle that he went to school. I wonder what James and others like him would say if society began to change their attitudes on fashion for people with disabilities in Malawi!

I confess that we’ve had some negative feedback from a picture we’ve shown in our printed publications. It’s a photo of Prince in a custom-made wheelchair in Uganda (see below). The wheelchair is far from perfect – it’s a plastic chair mounted on wheels. We would love to give him a better wheelchair, but at least with this chair, he has mobility. He is not restricted to crawling or living in a one room hut. I agree that we need to get Prince a better chair.

When I think of Prince and his situation, I’m reminded of how many people are still forgotten in our world. How many people with disabilities are so far away from rights and luxuries we take for granted in Canada. Many children in developing countries, like Prince, need a wheelchair. I look forward to the day when people in developing countries like the Congo will have the luxury of thinking about fashion for people with disabilities!

Prince in his wheelchair


Why did God make Grandmother’s?

Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson, a friend and ambassador of cbm travelled with us on a trip – back to where she grew up – to Uganda. I wanted to share this blog with you because I feel she’s captured the vital role that grandmother’s play in Uganda, one of the world’s poorest developing countries. Enjoy the read!

At the end of a life filled with wisdom that was formed in the darkest of storms and highest of heights, Grandmas receive the gift of giving it all away to the offspring who carry their legacy forward long after they are gone. The empathy and love that Grandmas have garnered through both the tragedies and triumphs of the journey are now imparted through their words, their kindness, their patience and laughter to the precious little ones who gather at their feet.

In Uganda, the reverence and respect paid to the elderly is a beautiful experience to behold. Many Grandmothers are left to care for the grandkids after a painful loss of their own children through AIDS or sickness. Without thinking of themselves for a moment, they take up the charge and responsibility unselfishly to raise the grandchildren.

Setting aside their own personal dreams or desires, they work tirelessly to invest in a new generation. It may seem unfair to many of us in our culture, but the joy is seen in the Ugandan Grandmother’s eyes as they know they have a reward waiting for them in eternity and when they see their grandchildren gaining opportunities they may never have had, they are blessed to impart their powerful, selfless gift of love.

Grandmothers embody the beauty of sacrifice, family, commitment and honour that will be carried in the minds and memories of their children’s children and on into those same grandchildren’s final years when they will be Grandmas and take up the torch in shaping a new nation of youngsters. – Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson

Laura-Lynn with Catherine, a great grandmother, in Uganda

Laura-Lynn with Catherine, a great grandmother, in Uganda


A Toilet can be a Gateway to a Future for a Child!

It’s bad enough if a child can’t get to school because of lack of mobility or distance. Imagine the indignity of a child being denied access to school because he or she can’t use the school toilet.

It’s not a challenge – a humiliation – you’d wish on your own child or any other child, certainly not a sweet, smart kid like Shamiso.

When I met Shamiso, she didn’t say much but I could see determination in her eyes. “I want to be a nurse,” she told me, her voice barely above a whisper, a smile breaking over her beautiful face.

Roll back the tape a few years to when our community worker first found Shamiso. Legs limp after a battle with polio, Shamiso couldn’t stand; she crawled along on the floor.

But she dreamed of going to school. And she was willing to work hard for her dream.

Our dedicated physiotherapists worked with Shamiso to get her up and walking. They gave her parallel bars to help strengthen her arms. Slowly, slowly, they trained her how to walk. With sheer grit, Shamiso pulled herself up onto crutches and willed her legs to move, demanded her muscles to grow stronger.

Finally, she was strong enough to go to school! She was determined and so were we! Because her family couldn’t afford the fees, we stepped in and paid the fees. Because the closest school was two miles away – over of grueling terrain – we made sure Shamiso got a wheelchair.

We were ready to celebrate… Shamiso was going to school!!

But then, the door slammed shut.

Why? Because the Zimbawbe government wouldn’t allow her to attend school because her wheelchair wouldn’t fit into the school’s toilet stall.

Can you imagine that happening here in Canada? Can you imagine being told that your child can’t attend school because their wheelchair doesn’t fit into a school toilet stall? You’d take the school to court so fast their heads would spin. You’d call the media if you didn’t get action.

It’s not acceptable.

This is the difference between accessibility and inclusion. It’s one thing to add a ramp to the front stairs of a school. It’s another to ensure a child gets all she needs to be successful at school.

The story for Shamiso did not end there. I was inspired by the vision of the village – the community around Shamiso. They had a meeting and collectively said it was a “shame” that Shamiso could not go to school because of a toilet. They met with the Principal, and then met with several other local groups, and cobbled together enough money to build an accessible toilet.

When I visited the school, the toilet was almost completed. It may seem like a funny thing to say, but I was so proud to be paraded through an accessible pit latrine in the rural area of Zimbabwe. That pit latrine, with its wide door, was the gateway to a new future for Shamiso!

You can watch a glimpse of the construction.

This coming week, May 4-10 is the Global Campaign for Education’s (GCE) campaign “Equal Right, Equal Opportunity: Education and Disability”.

According to GCE, thousands of schools in over 90 countries will take part in this campaign.

These could have been our own words – GCE says that “it is the right of every child, regardless of disability, to receive a good education.”

In developing countries like Zimbabwe, a child with a disability like Shamiso is twice as likely to have never attended a school as a child without a disability.

We stand alongside GCE in wanting “world leaders to put into place the political commitment, planning, infrastructure and financing to ensure that children with disabilities have the chance to realize their right to education.”

How can you get involved?

Visit for ideas. Contact your MP and encourage them to influence the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development (DFATD).

Shamiso is on her on way to fulfilling her dream of being a nurse. Together, we can do this for more children like her who deserve a chance to shine.

Shamiso's wheelchair wouldn't fit into the school's toilet stall.

Shamiso couldn’t attend school because her wheelchair wouldn’t fit into the school’s toilet stall.


Do the Stones Need to Talk for Us?

In the Middle East stones are representative of protest. Whenever protest happens, it is accompanied by stones – usually being thrown. There are certainly many of them around. After living in the Middle East, seeing stones used in this way, I came to appreciate a new meaning to the story in Luke concerning Palm Sunday:

As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:37-40 RSV)

I remember speaking to a group of pastors in the Middle East during a very difficult time – a time of great protest. I used this passage and asked them – “Are you listening to the stones? They are speaking!” I went on to encourage these pastors to go home to the United States and not be silent about some of the difficult things they saw. If they were silent the stones would be speak louder.

I think of people with disabilities living in poverty and the injustice they feel as they are not valued, not included, left out. Who is speaking out for them? Are we silent?

One of my first messages as I began at cbm Canada was that we need to speak louder. The message of Easter is profoundly about Jesus demonstrating that all people have value in the eyes of the Kingdom. Let’s shout that message in everything we say and do. If people don’t listen, maybe we have to see what it means to pick up some stones and let them talk for us.

Ed visiting Masiyaleta in Zambia

Ed visiting Masiyaleta, a bright child with spastic cerebral palsy in Zambia


Opportunity Links Canada with Malawi

At cbm Canada we believe all people have equal value. This means that when given opportunities for education and leadership and employment, people with disabilities have so much to offer their communities.

One man, who believed this whole-heartedly, was our friend Paul Hutcheson. A devout Christian and long-time advocate for persons with disabilities, Paul faithfully served on the cbm Board for many years.

Our hearts were broken when Paul passed away five years ago. Inspired by Paul’s passion for the development of people who have a disability, we created the Paul Hutcheson Scholarship Fund in his memory. The purpose of the fund is to open new opportunities for a person with a disability who lives in a country where there is extreme poverty.

Finally, we met James Banda, a young man who was working with our partners in Malawi. Once we got to know James, we knew he was the perfect candidate for Paul’s scholarship fund.

I have personally gotten to know James over the past two years. He doesn’t want pity. He doesn’t want to be inspirational to anyone.

James simply wants the opportunity to grow as an individual, to serve Christ, and to contribute to his Malawian community.

Here is a strong young man who is firm in his faith in God, confident in his own abilities, and is already creating opportunities for himself. With further training in accounting, James will become an even stronger leader in cbm’s partner in Malawi.

Listen to his story and think how many other James Banda’s are out there – waiting for their opportunity to serve God and their community. We’re sure Paul would be delighted with our choice for the scholarship in his name.


Remembering Mandela

Yesterday Nelson Mandela passed from this earth. I cannot imagine another person in my lifetime who made a greater impact on the world. The passion for justice; uncompromising drive for freedom; humility; forgiveness; modeling of respecting each person as an equal child of God – all in one person. Amazing. Whereas it is a loss to the world that he is gone, there is so much more to celebrate and take into our lives.

Mandela said:

“If I had my time over I would do the same again, so would any man who dares call himself a man.”

I can imagine that at this last thoughts on this earth Mandela could look and say with the Apostle Paul “I have run the good race….”. He did all he could do while here. It is a challenge to us all. I hope and pray that I can say the same thing.

The challenge for us all is what Mandela said in his book “Long Walk to Freedom”;

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Let us all remember this great man by living our lives and work in way that respects and enhances the freedom of all!


Game Changing Technology

On a recent trip to Malawi I noticed a young man in one of our projects with an amputated leg. He was using crutches. And I was surprised to find out that he did have a prosthetic leg, but it fit him so poorly he never used it.

It reminds me how important a proper fitting prosthesis is in the lives of children.

In Africa, there are many limiting factors in making and fitting prosthesis for children. The child has to go to a center and be casted for a mold, return later for a fitting, wait at the hospital for adjustments, stay for rehabilitation and then return again to learn to use the prosthesis. All of this leads to a long, expensive process and a prosthesis that often doesn’t fit right.

We think there’s a better way! And we’re going to test it with the University of Toronto.

Imagine a field worker going to the village and taking digital images of a child’s limb, then sending these pictures to a program that can knit a blueprint of a socket that will fit perfectly to that child’s leg. Imagine that child never having to make a single trip to the hospital until their prosthesis is ready, and imagine when they get there, it’s a perfect fit!

With 3D printing, we can make this a reality. It’s faster, more convenient, and has far less room for error.

We’ve made an application for a grant to Grand Challenges Canada to test this model in Uganda. You can help us with this application by watching our video on the Grand Challenges Canada web site:

If you’re as excited as we are, please “like” the video. Each “like” gives us a better chance of getting this funding. And if you really want to help, send the link to your friends by email, Facebook and Twitter and ask them to “like” it as well.

You can help make a difference in the lives of kids with disabilities in the poorest countries. Get the word out!


God really did create us for relationship

Brian Hatchell, cbm Canada
Guest Blogger

Monday, March 26, 2012

The penultimate build day, hard to believe it’s coming to an end.

After taking Sunday off to go to church and relax for a day, it was back to the build site today.

Read the rest of this entry »


We knew the pain was the result of hard work, hard work on behalf of someone who needs assistance

Brian Hatchell, cbm Canada
Guest Blogger

Nothing makes you feel as sore as manual labour, especially if you are used to working at a desk all day.

Today was our first day on the build site, and I don’t think very many of us, including myself, had any idea how hard it is to build a house from the ground up.

Read the rest of this entry »

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