A local charity is sending hundreds of prosthetic limbs to those in
need in Africa. Ellie Pilmoor talks to one of the founders about its work and the difference it makes to people’s lives
Helping people in Africa get their lives and self-esteem back is what one charity is all about.
Legs 4 Africa gives amputees in the continent prosthetic legs that they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Karl Ives, a prosthetic technician for the NHS at St Mary’s Hospital in Fratton, helped start the charity two years ago in Portsmouth and it has flourished, now providing crutches and wheelchairs as well as artificial limbs.
The idea for the charity started when Karl, from Leigh Park in Havant, met founder Tom Williams.
Tom had travelled to Gambia and seen the effects a missing leg can have on people living in third-world countries.
He was put in touch with Karl who provided the first prosthetic limb for the charity.
Karl says: ‘Tom and I met through his sister who knew me through the organisation Amputees in Action – a group which provides amputees for film roles or emergency services training.
‘Tom had just returned from Gambia where he met an amputee called David.
‘He wanted to give him a prosthetic limb and his sister put him in touch with me.’
David was the first person to receive a prosthetic leg from Karl and Tom who went over there and delivered it to him.
Karl adds: ‘When Tom first saw him, David had nothing and he didn’t have a chance of getting a prosthetic in Gambia.
‘So I asked the NHS if I could make a one-off leg for him and they agreed.
‘After he had delivered it to David, Tom said he wanted to help more people and the charity Legs 4 Africa began.’
Karl knows the importance of a prosthetic leg when it comes to everyday life.
He lost his leg when he was four.
He suffered an electric shock from a live railway line after wandering off and the extensive burns to his leg meant it had to be amputated.
‘It is because of my prosthetic leg that I have a job and can lead a life,’ he adds.
‘I can’t imagine how demeaning it must feel having to crawl or shuffle around and how soul-destroying that must feel.
‘We don’t just want to give these amputees their lives back.
‘We want to give them their self-esteem back.’
The charity uses donated, old prosthetic limbs which are still in working condition.
After cleaning them thoroughly, they get sent out to people in Africa.
The first 30 to 40 prosthetic limbs sent from the charity came from amputees in Portsmouth.
But the charity has grown and prosthetics come in from around the country.
Karl says: ‘I think people realise now just how lucky they are to have prosthetic legs free from the NHS.
‘A leg here which is 10 years old is still a lot better than anything the Africans might be able to get.
‘With the level of donations we get, I think people realise the good we are doing and how much their old prosthetics mean to people like David.
‘But a lot of credit has to go to Tom. He didn’t know what he was going to do to help the people in Gambia but he knew he was going to do something.’
One of the highlights for the charity included 500 prosthetic limbs being donated to people in Gambia.
And Karl, 44, said he was surprised the charity got going as well as it did.
‘We never thought we would be able to help the number of people we have,’he says.
‘We thought making the leg for David would be a one-off.
‘We had the idea of doing it but we never thought it would be like this.
‘I thought donating around 20 to 30 a year would be good.
‘But we have donated around 60 just from people in Portsmouth in the two years which is great.
‘It shows how much the people in this city care and want to help others.
‘A lot of credit has to go to Tom though because he has helped get people on board.
‘And now we can give crutches and wheelchairs as well. These are equally important because they can be given to anyone. With the legs, we have to tailor them sometimes to ensure they fit and are comfortable.
‘But with the crutches and wheelchairs, they can be donated and used by anyone pretty much straight away.’
Karl adds: ‘Just having a donated leg can massively change their lives.
‘Over here, people can get new legs when new models come out or when their old one doesn’t fit properly.
‘But people in Africa don’t get that luxury.
‘The leg they get from us will be the only one they have so it is really important that we can put these disused legs to such a good use.’
Legs 4 Africa wants to encourage more people to get involved whether it’s from suggesting ideas for fundraising or donating limbs.
‘I was unaware of the huge demand...’
WHEN Tom Williams visited Gambia, he never imagined it would lead to the start of a charity.
The founder of Legs 4 Africa started the charity in 2011 and is now working with 15 hospitals in the UK including St Mary’s Hospital in Fratton. Thanks to Tom and his team, more than 600 amputees in Africa have been helped.
Tom says: ‘During a casual holiday to Gambia in 2011, I had no idea that the events that happened there would lead to the start of a new charity.
‘Since that holiday we have received more than 500 individually-donated prosthetic legs, driven a van 3,723 miles from the UK to Gambia, given that van to a local church and now procure other mobility equipment to help a wider range of people. We’ve done all this with a handful of generous volunteers in their spare time.
‘When a prosthetic leg is fitted to an amputee in Africa, the effects are profound. With a properly fitted leg, an amputee can become an independent member of society again.
‘Family members or careers are no longer required to support them; their wellbeing and chances for opportunity are much greater; and social stigmas are eliminated.’
Legs 4 Africa has supported over 600 amputees and the charity hopes to have another 1,000 legs sent out by the end of this year.