Angola

Angola: Clementina Caj's rude awakening -- A woman's account on losing her leg and rebuilding her life

Imagine waking up one morning to help your family get ready for the day, and winding up in a hospital miles and miles away without your right leg.

This is only the beginning of the story of Clementina Caj, 44, from the province of Lunda Sul in Angola as well as that of thousands of landmine survivors in Africa and around the world.

While she and her husband were asleep one night six years ago, one of the warring factions in the country's 27-year civil war, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), planted landmines near their home. Clementina, always the first in her family to wake up, went to fetch water for her family and stepped on a landmine. Her husband came running out of the house when he heard the landmine explosion.

With the assistance of their neighbors, Clementina was transported to a hospital in Saurimo. Because of the severity of her injury, she had to be airlifted to a hospital in Luanda. As she only speaks Chokwê (a dialect of her region), Clementina recalls not being able to understand what the doctors and nurses were saying, and also not being informed that she would need to have an amputation. She remembers waking up after the operation without her right leg.

After three months of hospitalization while her wounds healed, Clementina returned to her village. Today, she explains about the grudge she holds in her heart for the decision of her husband to divorce her because of her injury. He told her he could not love a woman who has an amputated leg.

Five years later, Clementina found hope and support at the VVAF-supported Regional Rehabilitation Center in Luena, where she received a prosthesis and physical therapy in 2005. While there, she participated in daily exercises facilitated by the Sports for Life team of VVAF and gardening groups facilitated by an Angolan partner organization called the Support Center for the Promotion and Development of Communities -- known locally as CAPDC.

"Thanks go to the VVAF staff who organize this program," says Clementina to local VVAF staff. "Today I can walk on two legs and even carry something on my head."

Her confidence high, she remains single, and today plans on opening a small bread-baking business in the future, "I appreciate this Center which gave me my prosthesis so that I can go back to work without any problems."