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Interview: Rebecca Cornish, physiotherapist, founder of Accomplish Children's Trust

02 January 2015

I set up the trust in 2008, because it felt like it was the next thing God was asking me to do. I was 27.

I grew up as the middle of three daughters in a very loving, happy family. My parents were and are always incredibly encouraging and supportive of all of us. We moved around the country a few times owing to my dad's job as a vicar, and I've moved quite a lot since. 

My parents worked in Zambia before having children; so we were brought up with stories about their time in Africa. Then, while I was studying physiotherapy, at the end of my second year I went out to Uganda for four weeks to help renovate a Bible training college. As a team, we supported the work of renovating the buildings, but couldn't bring any skills to the job. I felt if I ever went back to Africa, it would be as a physio with some skill to offer.

I wrote in our graduation year-book that I hoped to work in Africa one day; but I don't know whether I necessarily thought that would be real. Then, as I finished my two-year rotation as a junior physiotherapist, I thought that this might be the right time to go. With my church's support, I was accepted to go to Uganda with Africa Inland Mission to work in a rural hospital for three years. I went to All Nations' Bible College for ten weeks, which was a great preparation time. 

In Uganda, I had the privilege of needing to rely on God more, for my own needs and those of others around me. I saw, time and time again, God meet those needs, and it helped to build up the trust I needed to rely on God's provision for Accomplish.

Accomplish works mainly in Kasese, south-west Uganda, on the border with the Congo, but we are open to work in other areas of Africa. We've got three objectives: to advance education for disabled children and their families; to enable medical relief and treatment for disabilities affecting children and young families; and to give a Christian response to children and young people with disabilities and their families in any part of Africa. 

I wanted to set the charity to support the work of two organisations in Kasese. Both had been set up by Ugandan parents. 

Biira Agnes founded SADICH (Save the Disabled Child's Home) because she recognised the difficulty of bringing up a child with disabilities: fighting negative attitudes, and the financial implications of providing for the increased health and educational needs of the child.

Maali Wilson founded RAPCD (Rwenzori Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities) because his eldest son, Khembo, was born with cerebral palsy. He and his wife were proactive in seeking medical health, and could see their son being able to walk and attend school: he is very good with a computer. Other people in the community were amazed at what Khembo was able to achieve. Maali realised that many people didn't know what was available to help children with disabilities, or the potential that these children had.

I worked from 2005 to 2008 as a physiotherapist in Kagando hospital in Kasese, where I also recognised the huge need there was to treat children with disabilities in the community. Towards the end of my time in Uganda, I was introduced to both SADICH and RAPCD, and was impressed with their vision and the work they were doing on so little. I secured some funding to get land, and carpentry and tailoring tools to set up vocational training for people with disabilities. When I came home, I set up Accomplish with the vision of enabling children with disabilities to achieve their potential. All the trustees, bar one who is now retired, have full-time jobs, and work for Accomplish in their spare time. I work as a physiotherapist.

Certainly, I'm not a businessperson, and there are so many other great charities out there. I don't think I would have wanted to set up another charity if I didn't believe it was what God was asking us to do. Accomplish is still a relatively young charity - six years old - but it has accomplished much more than I'd believed when we first started.

This is due to two things. One is that what we are doing is under God's blessing. In the first year, I was worrying about finance, and making plans about how we could meet the requests we were getting. I was praying about it during Soul Survivor, and felt God saying to me: "This is not your project, it's mine. Look back at how I've provided over the past year. Look back over the previous years, and see how I've provided. Trust me."

The second reason is that we believe in smaller organisations on the ground, enabling them to carry out their vision for the needs they see around them. We give a little guidance, and fund the projects, but they do all the hard work.

I love the way God works. We are only part of the picture, and God's picture is so much bigger. For example, the main focus of our support for RAPCD has been to fund a school for primary children with hearing or visual impairments. The community now use this facility every week to hold a church service. At these services, the teachers translate into sign language; so the kids get to hear the gospel. The children are also going to other churches to perform songs, and read the Bible in Braille. The congregation is amazed at what these children are able to do, and this is changing attitudes more widely.

Discrimination in Uganda is just different. People believe disabled children won't have the intelligence to learn, and, if someone has epilepsy, they are often thought to be cursed - so much so that sometimes other people will avoid the village for fear. 

When I was out there, I knew a lady who was in charge of education for disabled children, and she thought disabled girls there were particularly vulnerable to men. Girls and women are certainly not ranked as high as men. I think the prejudices that all disabled children face outweigh any other problems, in my own experience. The hardest thing has been working cross-culturally. 

One example is Evelyn, who became deaf at six years old. Her mum worked hard to ensure Evelyn was educated, though the rest of the community laughed at her, and asked her why was she bothering, as her child was worthless. When we met, after having just started to sponsor her, her mum gave us a huge hug and thanked us for caring. She said it meant so much to have other people value and believe in her child, to know that she wasn't alone in caring for her child.

When we met Luca, she thanked us for sponsoring her. Her school fees were so expensive because she was deaf that her father had to choose between sending her or the rest of her siblings to school. He couldn't afford to do both. Sponsoring her means that she and her siblings are now able to be educated. 

Barnabas was born with spina bifida. His parents thought that his physical disabilities also meant that he was unable to study. This, coupled with his incontinence, meant that he'd never attended school. After SADICH counselled his parents, 14-year-old Barnabas attended school for the first time. He was so clever that they moved him up three classes, much to the excitement of his parents. SADICH provided this family with a pig, and the income from selling piglets enables them to buy Barnabas incontinence pads so he can attend school without embarrassment. 

Since returning to the UK from Uganda, I have met my husband, Edd, and we've been happily married for two-and-a-half years. My family and friends have been the biggest influences in my life.

When I was a child, my favourite sound would be hearing my parents' voices or listening to mum play the piano at night while I was going to sleep. It's probably still family voices, or worship songs. 

There's so many places I'd love to visit, I wouldn't know where to start. Anywhere that's not a big city. I like cycling, walking, being out in the countryside, sewing, and reading. 

I love reading Christian autobiographies. I find them inspiring, and moving, and it's exciting to see how God works: books like Ten Fingers for God, which is about the revolutionary work Paul Brand did with leprosy patients in India.

I pray for Accomplish: for wisdom in how we communicate and work cross-culturally, and the decisions we make on what to finance. And I tend to pray for friends and family, situations I'm going through, and patients I'm treating. 

I've never had any particular desire to meet anyone famous. I'd probably choose to be locked in a church with my dad, as he's wise and funny. Or one of my old prayer-partners. I haven't had a regular prayer-partner for a few years, and I miss it. I love the stillness of praying together and being in God's presence. 

Rebecca Cornish was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.



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