360 degrees: lifting Emmanuel Chilufya off the ground

This story originally ran on the Washington Post as A 360-degree immersion showing what it’s like to live without mobility in Zambia

May 13

Shot from the perspective of people who live on the ground in Zambia, this 360-degree video provides a unique immersion into what it’s like to live there without adequate mobility, and the obstacles endured trying to navigate the country’s rugged terrain. But it also highlights one solution that is, quite literally, lifting people such as Emmanuel Chilufya off the ground.

Born with cerebral palsy, Chilufya found it difficult to walk as a child. Then, as he grew older, walking became impossible. As an adult, he told us, his hands would bleed from crawling on the ground.

Sitting on what looked like an all-terrain tricycle, Chilufya described how his mother used to dig a vertical hole, bury his legs up past his waist and leave him that way for hours. Without access to orthopedic devices in Zambia, it was one mother’s desperate attempt to try to straighten her son’s bent legs so he could walk.

Chilufya is just one of 66.5 million people who lack access to wheelchairs, according to the World Health Organization. And even if they did, wheelchair wheels are too thin to navigate some terrain in undeveloped countries. So some people with disabilities drag their bodies through the mud, sharp rocks and trash.

Emmanuel Chilufya on his trike, which gives him mobility on the rough Zambian terrain. (Courtesy: Rick Shaw, International Pictures of the Year)
Emmanuel Chilufya on his trike, which gives him mobility on the rough Zambian terrain. (Courtesy: Rick Shaw, International Pictures of the Year)

Chilufya’s trike is called a “PET,” which stands for Personal Energy Transportation, a three-wheeled, hand-cranked cart. The PET project started in 1994 after a missionary accidentally stepped on a woman crawling through the African bush. The Rev. Larry Hills pulled back the weeds and noticed a woman on the ground scooting on her belly.  “She was crawling with a baby on her back,” Hills said.

PETs, mostly built by volunteers in the United States, are now in more than 100 countries worldwide, providing mobility options in places where wheelchairs can’t go.

“Yes, I can walk,” Chilufya said, beaming as he sat atop his trike.

Sarah Hill is a 20-year veteran of the broadcast industry. Before starting StoryUp, she built a successful TV feature franchise and the world’s first interactive news program based on Google hangouts. Hill’s reporting has taken her team around the world covering stories about the human spirit in Vietnam, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and now Zambia.

From Sarah Hill: Here’s a blog post that describes how to view the story in Google Cardboard on Youtube.

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