We realized that we have not shared much information about the larger picture for individuals with disabilities in Tanzania. We do not know all of the details, but we will share what we know.
Tanzania’s Ministry of Labour published a National Policy on Disability July 2004. The document states, “In Tanzania …. Disability is associated with prejudice and negative attitude. People with disabilities are viewed as worthy of pity, dependent and as such not an integral part of the community they live. This view is contrary to basic human rights. The constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania firmly states that all human beings are equal and are entitled to equal rights irrespective of colour tribe, gender and religion. United Nations Resolution No. 27 (a) (iii) of 20 December 1948 states that all human beings are born free with equal rights and dignity”.
The National Policy on Disability is a lengthy document that discusses what the government of Tanzania will and will not provide for individuals with disabilities. Although the document affirms that individuals with disabilities should be granted equal rights and dignity, the document also acknowledges that Tanzania is not meeting the standards that they should. For instance, the document notes that each child with disabilities should be granted the right to education. However, they acknowledge that they lack infrastructure, special education teachers, and appropriate curriculum.
In Moshi, there are a total of three special education classrooms. Each of these classrooms serves approximately 20 children. Therefore, only 60 children in all of Moshi are able to attend school each year. BCC serves over 200 children with disabilities, and there is a need for BCC to serve many more children. Therefore, each child is not granted the right to education.
A few weeks ago, we were able to visit a primary school special education class room. We were greeted warmly by the lead teacher for the special education classroom. She and two other teachers instruct 20 children from 8:00 am to 11:00 am daily. The lead teacher showed great enthusiasm for teaching and for the children with disabilities. However, she said that their job is very hard. Funding is obviously a major obstacle and is widely unavailable. This was proven by the lack of supplies for her children and weathered decorations in the classroom.
She stressed that the curriculum is just as difficult. The national government has designed a curriculum for children with disabilities, but the curriculum is not designed to benefit all children with disabilities. She said that she has tried to consult the government and suggest that they work with special education teachers to construct a new curriculum, but no one has responded. Therefore, both the teachers and the students do what they can with what they have.
While we were looking around the classroom, we noticed that it looked similar to the BCC day centers. There were numbers, letters, months, animals, and other learning tools on the walls. The teacher said that most of the things that they have were donated from western volunteers.
We asked if each child that applies can attend school. She said that the school has to accept everyone. In the same breath, she said that they don’t have proper supports for children with physical disabilities. We noticed that there were no wheelchair ramps. She noted that many parents enroll their child in school and end up taking them out of the classroom because there aren’t enough supports for the child or their families.
Our most shocking observation was that the children in the primary school ranged in age from seven to 24. We learned that the special education classrooms are only for primary schools. Therefore, students cannot progress to the next level of education. If the child wants to be in school, they stay in primary school until they are adults. There are vocational programs for individuals with disabilities, but these schools charge an average of $500 per year. Most families cannot afford these fees, so primary school becomes the only option. We will discuss vocational schools more in the future as BCC has placed young adults in these schools and plans to place more in the future.
Historically, Tanzania has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities. Despite improvements (such as the work of BCC and other programs), such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem. Individuals with disabilities continue to encounter intentional exclusion. The discriminatory effects of architectural, transportation, and communication barriers exist nearly everywhere in Tanzania. Government offices and private businesses continue to fail to make modifications to existing facilities and archaic practices, develop inclusionary qualification standards, and support programs (such as BCC) that work to support individuals with disabilities.
Rich and Barb informed us that 50 years ago the U.S. was in a similar place in terms of inclusion of individuals with disabilities. We find that we continuously remind BCC staff and others in the community that there is hope and that, with perseverance, things can change. BCC is making great strides toward improving the quality of life for all individuals with disabilities in the Moshi area, and the community is slowly changing the social stigma for individuals with disabilities.
Daily we meet with officials, non-governmental organizations, and volunteers who are pushing for change in the communities. Change in the large scale is very difficult and drawn out. The mundane meetings can drown enthusiasm, much like the consistent and never ending waves that erode a beach.
Change is slow, but it seems to be coming for Tanzania. It may be a long time before a major policy effects people on a macro level, such as improving the special education classrooms or the government fiscally supporting programs such as BCC, but we still see the hope. We see hope in the interest and enthusiasm when we discuss the BCC program with people on the street and internationally. We see hope when we meet with inspiring individuals, such as the KCMC medical students. We see hope when we meet with the parents who are becoming employed and able to give back to their families because of a social businesses or a micro-credit loan. Finally, we see hope when we walk into a BCC center that is filled with children, disabled and not disabled, playing together, learning together, and becoming a community.
They are the next generation, and possibly, the generation of change.