“I want to go up on stage and proudly hang a medal on my son’s neck one day. I want to be there for him now that I can walk without the help of crutches.” – Josie Concepcion
Fifteen years ago, Josie Concepcion was walking with her son near a market in Sultan Kudarat, Philippines, when she heard a massive explosion. Chaos and confusion ensued. In the next few minutes, she heard sirens blaring and people screaming for help.
Shaken, Josie’s immediate instinct was to check on her son. To her relief he had escaped with a minor wound. She, on the other hand, was severely wounded. Doctors later said the explosion caused extensive trauma on her left leg with multiple fractures.
The 40-year-old, who used to work as a laundrywoman, went through a series of surgeries but they could not restore the full use of her leg. At the hospital, a volunteer of the Philippine Red Cross gave her a pair of crutches. “I cried and screamed in fury and threw the crutches away. I refused to accept that I would not be able to walk without them and questioned why such a tragedy had struck me,” Josie shares.
Life seemed to have stopped for Josie as she battled a range of emotions, swinging from being in denial to being overcome by anger and then depression. She says she felt like a burden to her family and useless as a mother.
Her struggles were made worse by the ridicule she faced for using crutches and limping. “I felt all eyes on me whenever I stepped out or attended Mass. People would say, ‘Here comes the cripple.’ It was painful. I wanted to end my suffering, but I thought of my family and held on,” she says.
Josie says her husband was her steady support. “I never felt his affection fade and never feared that he would abandon me because of my disability. My husband reminded me that I was not alone and that I should be grateful that I was still alive,” she says.
With her husband’s support, Josie decided to keep pushing on in life. She also kept going to church and prayed for a happy and productive life.
In 2018, life took a turn during a visit to a doctor with her husband when a provincial social worker asked Josie if she wanted to walk without crutches. The social worker explained that the right kind of prosthetics could help her be independent and told her about a programme at Davao Jubilee Foundation (DJF) that helps victims of armed conflict.
The DJF programme, sponsored by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), provides custom-fabricated mobility devices to people affected by armed conflicts. The ICRC provides partial funding for DJF’s physical rehabilitation services besides providing food items and transportation facilities for beneficiaries.
Josie was sceptical but she also wanted to give it a shot. “I was tired of using crutches, so I called the social worker and we visited DJF’s office,” she says.
Health-care professionals at DJF identified that her legs were not of the same length and fitted her with orthoprosthesis. As Josie learned to walk with her new mobility device, she felt like she was being given a second chance at life. “I hadn’t thought I would ever walk again without crutches. I sobbed uncontrollably at the possibility of moving around comfortably and doing household chores by myself,” she says.
Regaining her confidence one step at a time, Josie opened a small (sari-sari) store through the ICRC’s Microeconomic Initiatives project. The programme provides grants to help conflict-affected people in Mindanao to start or revive their own businesses and generate income.
“The sari-sari store gives me something significant to do every day and brings income to help the family. We were able to recently celebrate the baptism of my youngest child and my grandchild. We couldn’t have managed it with just my husband’s salary,” she says.
Exploring new ideas
Josie is now exploring ways to improve her business and ensure that customers keep coming back to her store. “When I set up the store there was no competition but now three of my neighbours have also opened their own stores. So, I encourage my customers to hang around near my store and enjoy some conversations over small bites. The longer they stay, the more snacks they buy,” she says.
Upping her game even more, she is also offering Wi-Fi services to customers for a fee and plans to sell gasoline too. “I used to think I was useless and I didn’t know what to do. But I have realized that I must strive hard for my children. There are people who love me unconditionally and give me a reason to not give up,” says Josie.
Grateful for the help that she received from DJF and the ICRC, Josie has been telling others of the support that is available. “I saw two people using crutches and told them about the physical rehabilitation services they can get at DJF because I know how hard it can be. I even went with one of them to DJF. It is not enough that I am now able to walk, I must also help others like me,” she says.
No longer ashamed
Josie has one more dream – to see her children graduate from school. “I have no legacy to leave for them except their education. I encourage my son, who has been consistently passing with honours, to keep up his good work. It is my dream to walk up on stage for his graduation. Previously, I used to refuse to go on stage when he received an award because I was ashamed of my crutches. Now, I want to proudly celebrate his success,” she Josie, adding, “I have found my confidence. I am no longer ashamed.” (News from ICRC)