Kofi looked like any other five-year-old boy bored out of his mind at an event for adults: dressed in a striped button-down and slacks, his feet swinging inches above the floor as he fidgeted in his seat. Occasionally, he whispered to his friend next to him, and they dissolved into giggles. Only from a certain angle might you have noticed something different, as he played with the loose shirtsleeve where his left arm should be.
Kofi has been an amputee for most of 2019. In January, in the small village of Ahomfi, central Ghana, his stepmother punished him for misbehaving with a machete gash to the arm. Although she claimed the cut was an accident, meaning only to strike Kofi with the handle, no medical care was sought for the boy. Instead, his parents resorted to various homoeopathic remedies and creams, while his arm grew increasingly infected. Within weeks, the skin and muscle had completely rotted up to Kofi’s elbow.
The police was informed of the situation when two visitors to the village caught sight of the boy and became alarmed. Kofi was immediately taken to the Cape Coast Teaching Hospital, where doctors amputated his limb. His father and stepmother were taken into custody for child neglect.
Nearly seven months later, Kofi’s world looks completely different. Last week. he sat in an air-conditioned room in Accra, surrounded on either side by his foster-mother and best friend from the group home in which he now lives. The event was a partnership between Western New York STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Hub, the Hand-in-Hand summer camp, and African Rights Initiative International.
Having survived his trauma and escaped an abusive household, Kofi is soon to receive a free prosthetic arm.
The series of events leading to this moment began halfway across the globe. The “Hand-in-Hand” programme’s outreach to West Africa is a testament to the power of science and technology, and social media’s ability to foster human connection.
The story began in 2017 when Cynthia Tysick enrolled her daughter Mara in a summer science camp for high-schoolers in New York. The “Hand-in-Hand” camp, hosted by Western NY STEM Hub, gives students a crash-course in anatomy and engineering by teaching them to 3-D print prosthetic limbs in two weeks. The recipients are local children partially missing hands and arms. The prosthetics – lightweight and cheap, compared to professional devices – assist the kids in normal activities like getting dressed, tying their shoes, and riding a bike.
Following her daughter’s enrollment in the camp, Tysick scrolled through the Western NY STEM Hub’s page on Facebook. There, she noticed that the organisation was looking to expand its donations to children in Africa.
“They knew of my travels to Africa,” said Tysick, who had explored the continent throughout her career as Associate Librarian of the University of Buffalo, New York. “So, when the opportunity came to make a prosthetic for an African child, I reached out.”
Tysick spoke to former colleagues in Ghana, who put her into contact with African Rights Initiative International.
“It’s really amazing to think that this whole thing really began from one child to another,” said Tysick, tearing up as she reflected on her daughter’s involvement.
After months of fundraising and planning, Tysick returned to Ghana this July. She brought two weeks of clothes for the trip, and one customised, prosthetic arm.
At the conference on 18 July 2019, officials from Africa Rights Initiative International, along with Tysick, announced their plans to open a Western Africa STEM Hub branch. In the crowd sat three young boys missing arms, all of whom will be helped by the new programme.
The branch will provide tools and training to schools to implement STEM programmes around the country. Officials believe better understanding of science and technology at a young age will help African students succeed in the future, as well as increase Western Africa’s development.
A new site for the Hand-in-Hand summer camp will also be opened in Ghana in July 2020. Ghanaian high-schoolers will soon be responsible for creating the prosthetics for African children, instead of relying on aid from the American programme.
For hundreds of children like Kofi, this means a chance at a brighter future.
ETV Presenter Paul Anamokodie believes the programme is a huge step in improving the lives of those with disabilities. Anamokodie has been blind since childhood, and understands, firsthand, the hurdles that disabled children face.
“I feel very excited,” Anamokodie said. “This initiative will give the child the confidence to go to school, to play – like everybody else.” He pledged to use his voice to spread the word about Hand-in-Hand, in the hopes that it will pave the way for more programmes like it.
The Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Cynthia Morrison, also attended the conference. She spoke both from her official role and a personal one—after hearing of Kofi’s story on the TV, she decided to foster the boy. Now, she represents parents across the country who hope for brighter futures for their children.
“Kofi is my angel,” she said. “God knows how much I love this little boy.”
Addressing the room, she said: “This is a very important issue. Thank you for helping these children be a part of society and not feel so left out.”
Kofi will not receive his prosthetic arm until next January—nearly a year since the incident that left him permanently disfigured. Measurements still need to be taken of the growing boy, before the limb is printed this summer at the New York Hand-in-Hand camp. By the time he receives it, Kofi’s life will most likely look very different again. He may be back in school, living with his father again, or adopted by a new family.
On the day of the Hand-in-Hand conference event, only one prosthetic was presented, to 13-year-old Isahaku, who was born with only part of his arm developed. The boy shyly attached the robotic arm to his limb, with the help of Tysick.
As the room burst into applause and camera flashes, Isahuku smiled. An emotional Tysick handed him a water bottle, which he gripped awkwardly in his new, plastic fist.
In the audience, Kofi clapped with his hand against his thigh. His time would come soon — and when it did, everyone in the room would be there to clap with him.