Launch of AFSCIN – an African Network for Spinal Cord Injury Centers

Now I know my blog of late has been mostly dedicated to Nepal, the place where my soul resides.  This may have you wondering why this posting about Africa?  Well, the world is made up of a large number of human beings, some of whom are rather exceptional and it is with these exceptional folks I have had the honour to shadow during my time with SIRC.

The following is a story of the historic launch of AFSCIN – an African Network for Spinal Cord Injury Centers tomorrow.  Thanks to Dr Stan Ducharme for the content of this posting – the words and photos are all his!


It was Stephen and Maggie Muldoon of Livability International that first developed the concept of forming networks of spinal cord injury centers in low resource countries. Back then, it was envisioned that a network of centers and people with a common goal, could collaborate together and grow through shared resources and shared training opportunities. With the success of the Asian Spinal Cord Injury Network, (ASCoN), many people felt that it was time to expand this concept to other parts of the globe.

Later this week, a small group of individuals, will travel to Gaborone, Botswana, Africa, under the auspices of the International Spinal Cord Society, to participate in the first African Symposium on Spinal Cord Injury and to support the development of an African Network of Spinal Cord Injury Centers, (AFSCIN).

Under the leadership of Elma Burger, an occupational therapy powerhouse from South Africa, consumers with spinal injuries and health professionals from a large group of African nations will gather in Botswana to collaborate, share information and build relationships for the future.

The program for the inaugural AFSCIN meeting in Botswana.

The program for the inaugural AFSCIN meeting in Botswana.

Personally, I am especially pleased that psychological and sexual issues after spinal cord injury, often neglected in low resource areas, will be addressed and discussed in the workshops and among the networking groups. I know that this will be welcomed information. I look forward to this initial gathering and to meeting the spinal cord injury community in this part of the world.

Heading to Botswana – October 31, 2015

There are 10 of us on our way driving to Botswana. We have a rented van and a driver to keep things simple. We did a full day game drive through one of South Africa’s National Parks today and spending a couple of nights at a safari lodge on our route to the conference venue.  The conference itself will be at another safari lodge in Gaborone, Botswana.

We are all excitied about the next several days with none of us having a real idea as to what we should expect. The prevailing attitude is that we will roll with the punches. Appearantly, we will have spinal cord injury professionals and consumers from 10 or more African countries.

It was an amazing day today with animals everywhere. It’s great to see them in their natural surroundings. We had breakfast in the park as we watched the wilderbeasts gather aroung a watering hole. Near the end of our day, we were forced to move aside as a herd of elephants slowly took over the road. They were very protective of their babies so we kept our distance rather than being mistaken as a threat. A day to remember.



Crossing the border into Botswana – November 1, 2015

This is a picture of our group as we make the last leg of our journey into Botswana. The border crossing however proved to be a challenge and took us several hours getting all the required paperwork completed. As we move into Botswana it strikes you very quickly that it is a much different culture than in South Africa. Time to slow down and chill out.

Dr Stan is in the blue shirt, (middle front row).  Stephen Muldoon of Livability International next to Stan in the hat.  And Fiona Stephenson - SIRC's Volunteer Coordinator and SCI Nurse back row with the smiling face and head slightly tilted.

Dr Stan is in the blue shirt, (middle front row). Stephen Muldoon of Livability International is in the red shirt to the right of Dr Stan in the hat. And Fiona Stephenson – SIRC’s Volunteer Coordinator and SCI Nurse back row with the smiling face and head slightly tilted.

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In the past two years, my work in Nepal has expanded to the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation and the Spinal Cord Injured Network Nepal. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in the north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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4 Responses to Launch of AFSCIN – an African Network for Spinal Cord Injury Centers

  1. Benjamin Nwaneri says:

    Great. I met Stephen Muldoon in Tanzania through Dr Ram from the UK. Stephen made us laugh all night at the rooftop restaurant of the holiday inn in Dar Es salaam. Dr Ram hooked me up with a Nigerian participant and SCI expert and it’s been great working and doing researches with her. Hope to meet you guys again, hopefully in Zambia.

    • Kate Coffey says:

      Stephen and Maggie Muldoon of Livability International are doing tremendous work for SCI worldwide, as evidenced by the connections you just outlined – fantastic!

  2. Georges Meya Kiala says:

    That’s good ,but i dont learn about incoming afscin congrès ,what apen?i i am Phd student on physical médicine and rehabilitation at university clinic of Kinshasa Democratic republic of Congo.I am working for sci rehab patients.

    • Kate Coffey says:

      Good evening Georges. AFSCIN was set up by Livability International in 2016 and I believe they meet as an organization once a year. I’d encourage you to contact Elma Burger who is the AFSCIN Chairperson. I am sure she will be able to help you. Her email address is and phone number is +27 834491163. Best wishes

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