"The wheelchair has brought huge change in terms of attendance to church activities and social meetings with friends and relatives"

A ‘Global Age Watch Index’ by Help Age International ranks countries in relation to the quality of life experienced by its older population – people who are aged over 60. Malawi ranks 95 out of the 96 countries on the list making it one of the most challenging places in the world to grow old.

Not only do older people in Malawi face more health issues, but their average life expectancy is lower than any other country. Disabled people like Etta fair even worse.

Etta lives with her husband, two granddaughters and five grandsons on the outskirts of Blantyre. At 86-years-old she has already defied most statistics, despite suffering from a serious stroke in 2007, which left her unable to walk. Following her stroke, Etta was discharged from hospital with no support to help her overcome and readjust to her lack of personal mobility. Incredibly she survived without owning a wheelchair for seven years. 

Etta’s strength of character is plain to see. Although her pragmatism and resilience enabled her to get on with life, her main complaint was that she was unable to pay her respects when members of the community passed away:  

Life was difficult because, I could not leave my home due to mobility problems. I used to miss church events and services. I could not visit friends and relatives during bereavement times.

80% of older people in developing countries have no regular income and like many of her peers, Etta is heavily reliant on her immediate and extended family. Whilst she and her husband look after the seven grandchildren, her own children work away doing what they can to provide financial support from afar.

Etta’s experiences as a grandparent are not unusual. In countries like Malawi, many children live in grandparent-headed households and in these situations, grandmothers are often the main carers. If, like Etta, a grandparent is disabled this places huge pressure on the whole family unit. 

When we met Etta seven years after her stroke, we were able to assess her condition and explain that not only did she urgently need an appropriate wheelchair to help her to be independent, but she deserved one too.    

Today, Etta cherishes her Motivation wheelchair and takes great pride in keeping it in pristine condition. Not only is she able to carry out daily chores and cook for the whole family, she can also attend social gatherings – an integral aspect of upholding her position and responsibility as a respected elder in her community:  

The wheelchair has brought huge change in terms of attendance to church activities and social meetings with friends and relatives

We know that the prevalence of disability increases with age, but this should not mean that disability is an inevitability of growing old. As Etta has shown, with some practical support she can continue to play an invaluable role in family life, bring up her grandchildren and take part in community life.

This project is generously supported by UK Aid from the UK Government, as well as a donation from the Swarovski Foundation.

To find out more about Motivation's work in Malawi, click here.