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“Now she touches everything. She even scares me sometimes!”


Inclusion | Rehabilitation | Chad | PUBLISHED ON August 31st 2023

© HI

Mireille is a two-year-old baby with intellectual disabilities. Severely malnourished, HI has taken her into its care.

Alone with six children

Mireille has just finished her seventh and last session of stimulation therapy. The little girl has intellectual disabilities. Her mother, Sophie, in her thirties, is the only breadwinner in the family, as her husband is away finishing his studies.

To feed the six children in her care - her own four children and her two younger brothers who she took in when her father died - Sophie runs a small shop from outside her house. But she doesn’t earn enough to feed all these hungry mouths.

Like Mireille, many children are treated at the Notre-Dame-des-Apôtres hospital's outpatient nutrition unit in N'Djamena, where they receive Plumpy'Nut rations from Unicef - food bars formulated for the nutritional rehabilitation of severely malnourished children and adults.

To complement Unicef's support, HI provides malnourished children with stimulation therapy sessions. The therapy comprises seven sessions designed to stimulate the psychomotor skills of children who have been severely affected by malnutrition.

Sophie tells us about the first sessions with HI’s physiotherapist, Angeline:

“At first, Mireille would cry. She was afraid. She didn't even want to enter the room. Angeline was very patient. She reassured her. Now, Mireille is happy as soon as she sees the room, she rushes in and can play non-stop. Before, my daughter had difficulty walking, she could barely stand, and she was very reserved. Now she touches everything and even scares me sometimes. Whenever she sees something, she picks it up and plays with it. She isn't talking yet, but I think that'll come. I'm very proud of my daughter's progress.”

The importance of play

Play is very important for children's psychomotor development. Despite her household chores and business, Sophie still manages to find a little time to devote to her daughter in the evenings and mornings.

As a result, her relationship with Mireille has changed a lot. The playtime spent together has strengthened the bond between mother and daughter:

"Now she cries when I leave the house. Her relationship with her brothers and sisters has changed too. She's less shy and wants to play with them all the time."

What is stimulation therapy?

Severe malnutrition delays the growth and development of infants. These developmental delays can lead to irreversible disabilities if left untreated.

Stimulation therapy complements emergency food aid. It is a set of activities that stimulate children’s motor skills and cognitive development. The therapist uses toys to encourage them to join in and gives them individual attention.

Each activity plays a specific role in development: holding a toy above a child's head will help with arm extension, while drawing with pens and pencils will help develop a better grip. Simple actions, such as kicking a ball or pushing a plastic car will help develop movement, interactions and reflexes.

Famine affects many families in Chad

In June 2022, Chad, the third least developed country in the world according to the UN, declared a "food emergency" due to the "steady deterioration in the nutritional situation".

According to the UN, 5.5 million Chadians - more than a third of the population - needed "emergency humanitarian assistance" in 2021. The situation has been worsened by the war in Ukraine and its impact on the global grain trade.

The project is being supported by the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO) until June 2024.

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