An Account of CBR from the Founder, Mary Ellen Sellers

On a hot and dusty day, my colleague Silas and I arrive in front of a small house in a rural village in Bihar.  Silas and I, working with Duncan Hospital’s Community Based Rehabilitation Project (CBR), have come to meet a child with a disability who lives with her parents and her extended family in this small, simple house.

We have travelled here by motorbike, with Silas driving as I sat behind as the passenger.  The route to their home has taken us through the congested streets of Raxaul, Bihar where rickshaws, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians and motorbikes jockey for position. From there, we turned onto a quieter road, where Silas had to dodge potholes on the road and give wide berth to buses carrying passengers on the roof as well as on the seats.  We passed women cutting grass for their buffaloes, children tending goats, and men travelling to work as daily labourers.  We passed fields of rice and corn, punctuated from time to time, by small villages with mud and bamboo houses.  As Silas drove, I watched the beautiful scenery and noted how much this “commute” differs from my subway trip to work in Toronto, years previously.  What had brought me from my comfortable life in Toronto, to living in rural Bihar?

Rewind to the year 2001.  I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit a number of different countries around the world and then to volunteer in central India for 6 months.  Returning from that short-term experience in India, I knew that God had given me a love for the people of India and I knew that I wanted to return to India to serve God.

In the months that followed, I was introduced to Emmanuel Hospital Association and their vision of “transformation through caring.”  As I learned about their desire to provide health care “in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ,” with special concern for the poor and marginalized, I became excited to join them in their work.

Making the decision to move to India, though, challenged my faith in God deeply.  As I considered the implications –  quitting my job as a physiotherapist, selling my car, leaving my apartment and moving away from my family and friends – my fundamental dilemma was whether I could trust that God would be faithful to provide all that I needed as I stepped away from the comfort and stability of my life in Toronto.  To be honest, wrestling with this question took weeks … even months.  But in the end, deciding to step ahead and trust that God would be faithful was the best decision I ever could have made!

I arrived in India and settled at Duncan Hospital, a unit of Emmanuel Hospital Association that is located in the town of Raxaul, in the state of Bihar.  I joined the small physiotherapy department and worked with patients in the inpatient wards and outpatient clinics.  Over time, it became clear that there were children with disabilities who would benefit from therapy, but couldn’t stay in the hospital for a time of rehabilitation or return for outpatient therapy.  There were children with brain damage, Down Syndrome, amputations, birth defects, developmental delay, hearing impairment and other disabilities.  I knew what a difference it would make in the lives of these children if they received regular therapy … If their parents had guidance about how to promote their development … If they had an opportunity to have an education that suited their needs … If they were accepted in their communities.  Given the desire of EHA to reach the poor and marginalized, how could we reach out to these children with special needs to help them to reach their potential?  How could we support their parents?  How could we integrate them into their communities?  I began to hope that we could adapt a model that was used in other less-resourced settings:  Instead of asking parents of children with disabilities to bring their children to our hospital, we could bring the therapy to their homes!

I am grateful to God that the leaders of Duncan Hospital and EHA supported this new idea.  With seed funding, we were able to buy two bicycles and hire Silas, an eager, recently-graduated student.  On our bicycles, Silas and I started visiting the homes of children with disabilities.

The concept of rehabilitation is a novel one for many people in this area, and so we spent time talking with the parents, encouraging them that their child could learn, although in a different way than other children.  And over time, word spread … community members started to approach us about other children with disabilities. Local staff at the hospital asked us to visit children with disabilities in their communities. Doctors at Duncan referred other children to us.  Silas became well-known in the surrounding communities for his compassion and expertise.  And our team grew:  God brought hard-working, caring, generous and faith-filled young men and women to join our team.

It was my joy to lead this team at Duncan Hospital.  They encouraged me every day, and became like family to me.  Together, we provided therapy and rehabilitation, opened special learning centers, delivered special equipment and liaised with government programs.  And above all, we endeavoured to show, in our words and our actions, that each one of these children is valuable and special and loved by God.

Over time, my fears about God’s faithfulness were replaced by the realization that He provided all that I needed, in ways that I never would have expected or planned.  My years in this small unassuming town in north India were filled with the abundant life that Jesus promised.

After leading the project for 11 years, I was pleased to hand over leadership to a capable young leader named John Tho.  John and his wife are from northeast India and they prayerfully took the decision to serve God in Bihar.  John has continued to help the project to grow and reach out to people with disabilities in Bihar.

I am grateful to God for the ministry of Duncan Hospital and the many lives that it touches.  My God continue to bless the all those working in EHA Hospitals and community projects as they reach out to individuals and communities with love and compassion.

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