BY Ryan McDougall | February 1 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Scottish charity wins battle to bring Gambian boy to the UK for treatment

An African boy living with a treatable form of deafness has had his UK medical visa approved thanks to the efforts of a charity in Motherwell Diocese.

Project Gambia has fought for 13-year-old Mohammed Cham since he was refused a medical visa back in June, and after a long process they have succeeded in their efforts to gain permission to bring the boy to Scotland to be treated by experts.

The charity, which provides clothes, food and hearing aids to St John’s School for the Deaf in Gambia, first encountered Mohammed a few years ago when the organisation was in its infancy.

Mohammed, known better as ‘wee Alieu’ by his friends, was born without external ears, but his inner ears work perfectly.

Project Gambia discovered the youngster’s condition could be improved through two operations that would allow him to have a hearing aid installed, which will ultimately grant him a better quality of life.

The appeal process proved difficult for Project Gambia, who had to provide countless forms of paperwork in order to prove the youngster’s case.

Now that they have succeeded, they are looking forward to bringing him to Scotland where a top surgeon will treat his deafness.

Charity co-founder Paul Lafferty and his wife Sharon will assume guardianship of the boy during his one-month stay in Scotland and are looking forward to hosting young Alieu, believing he will ‘fit right in.’

“He knows us all well through visiting his school so it’s not like we’re strangers to him—we got him a bike a couple of years ago,” Mr Lafferty said.

“My wife and my daughter, Rebecca, have met him as well, so he’ll be one of the family while he’s here.”

Initially, only one of the operations was to take place in Scotland and the surgeon was to fly out to Gambia at a later date to carry out the second as by that point Mohammed’s medical visa would have expired.

However, due to Mohammed’s age (he is older than most children who have the procedure), the Laffertys are hopeful both operations can take place while he is in Scotland so that he can return to his family with a new lease of life.

Mr Lafferty said: “After the first operation he’s to be given stitches which will come out in 10 days.

“It’s normally a two-to-three month wait before the second part, but with his age—normally they take kids at around four years old—there’s the possibility to do the second op before he goes away.”

There is a stigma surrounding deafness and other disabilities in Gambia, making life for those with the condition difficult.

Mr Lafferty explained: “The kids, when they’re born deaf, it’s looked at as a curse, so some people just wash their hands of them.

“Education’s hard enough over there, a lot of people there aren’t educated at all, and often the parents of the kids who are deaf haven’t been educated either.”

This makes wee Alieu’s treatment all the more crucial, as his future in employment and wider society relies on having the ability to hear as many do not understand sign language

“When you’ve got a deaf kid, how do you communicate with them?” Mr Lafferty asked.

“You have the kid going to a deaf school, mixing with others, learning sign language as they should be taught and you’re trying to get parents to come and learn, but it’s like everything else, they’ve not got the time because they’ve got to find food for themselves and their child so they don’t starve.”

Mr Lafferty credited the kindness of Scotland’s Catholic community for allowing Project Gambia to help youngsters such as Mohammed.

While here in Scotland, the boy will celebrate his 14th birthday, and Holy Family Church in Mossend has donated its parish hall for them to celebrate the happy occasion.


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