Despite living with polio since the age of two, 42-year-old Séverine Koffi has never let it get her down.
“I always said that I did not want to lie in bed, and that I would work,” she explains to three visitors in the tiny tailoring workshop in the Ivorien capital, Abidjan, where she spends much of each day.
Unable to use her crutches following an accident three years ago, Séverine sought help from Vivre Debout, an Ivorian NGO providing assistive devices and rehabilitation services for people with disabilities.
“Vivre Debout gave me a wheelchair and trained me in tailoring. My godmother and kind nuns gave me two sewing machines. With these I started my business in 2015,” she remarks as she deftly stitches a piece of gauzy white material embroidered with flowers for a bridesmaid’s dress.
One of her visitors this morning is Dr Abdouramane Coulibaly, the founder and director of Vivre Debout. The organization, which provides crutches, wheelchairs and other assistive devices for persons with disabilities, works to strengthen their autonomy and advocates for their rights. Supported by the ICRC MoveAbility Foundation since 2012, Vivre Debout has greatly expanded its rehabilitation services in recent years. In addition to its center in Abidjan, it has opened a satellite center in Bouaké.
The devices they produce for their patients are manufactured according to each person’s individual needs.
“A wheelchair, for example, must be just as specifically adapted to suit the person using it, as a prosthetic leg needs to be for an amputee.” Dr Coulibaly explains.
Ranged on coat hangers along the back wall of Séverine’s little shop are brightly colored children’s clothes. Some of them are copies of ones clients bring her. Others are of her creation.
“I can sew anything, but I like making children’s clothes best,” she admits with a smile.
Sitting behind another sewing machine to Séverine’s left is a young man whom she employs on an occasional basis when she has a lot of work. Between the two of them, they can satisfy all their clients’ needs.
The pace, however, is sometimes slow.
Located on a side street, off a busy main road, the workshop is not immediately visible to passersby or to visitors to a nearby church.
“What you need is a signboard,” suggests Dr Coulibaly.
“Yes,” agrees Séverine. “When there is a wedding, or at the start of the school term, I have a lot of work, but then I can go for ages without any clients. A signboard would help people to find me.”
“When I was young,” she continues, “I wanted to be a midwife, or a children’s nurse. It didn’t happen, but I am also helping children by making them clothes. It is what I love doing best. You can say it is my specialty.”
As reported by Jessica Barry, ICRC Communication, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire