Through Our Eyes

Throughout the past few weeks we have been mentioning a group of volunteers from Cornell who have been working with BCC. Throughout our updates we have been mentioning some of the programmatic work that they have been doing, for BCC, but it is difficult to understand what the “big picture” of their tasks include. We decided to take some time to explain the “big picture” in this blog!

In BCC’s new three-year strategic plan, one of the four main focuses was medical. Initially it was a little odd that a program that provides only day services for children with disabilities would be concerned enough with general health that medical factors would be isolate as one of major concerns over the next three years. Now that we have some experience with the culture and the BCC programs, we are beginning to understand how important general health and other medical aspects are.

Since its beginning in 2007, BCC has served nearly 240 children … 15 of those children have died. Most of the deaths occurred from treatable or preventative diseases. The average monthly income in Tanzania is about $40 dollars, compared to $5,650 in the United States. This means that many families live below the extreme poverty line of one dollar per day. Due to extreme poverty, most families cannot afford privileges such as clean water, mosquito nets to prevent malaria, or preventative healthcare.

As we have discussed in earlier blogs, we pay well over $40 per month on purified water alone. We are also taking malaria pills and can afford to visit a doctor once we decide that our western over-the-counter drugs are not properly curing us from our sickness. The three most common causes of death in Tanzania are malaria, dysentery, and pneumonia. By being able to afford malaria pills, clean water, and doctors visits, we immediately eliminate those three causes of death simply because of our economic status.

Something else that we have realized throughout our time in Tanzania is that in the medical system, much like in the United States, money talks. Because we can afford to pay a fee that is slightly higher than the average person seeking medical services, we can receive services and return home within an hour of reporting to the hospital, whereas most individuals who cannot pay the increased fee have to wait most of the day to be seen by a doctor. Also, few doctors specialize in working with individuals who have disabilities, so if one of the children goes to the hospital, they are usually reluctantly seen by the doctor and sent home after waiting for medical services for most of the day.

In order to begin properly supporting the medical needs of children served by BCC, some of those economical questions need to be answered. They are difficult questions to face, and throughout our time at BCC, it has been difficult to understand why the caregivers do not want to take their child to the hospital, or why a child went to the hospital but did not receive services. With our economic status, even now that we are poor volunteers, we have always received medical care. We know that many people in the world do not receive proper medical care, but for some reason it was initially difficult for us to understand.

The Cornell volunteers are working with BCC to establish a medical baseline for each child with disabilities who attends a BCC day center. They have also worked with KCMC students to create a culturally sensitive medical tracking form to that will be filled out quarterly. Now, thanks to the Cornell volunteers, every child with disabilities who attends a BCC day center has a medical baseline in a folder that will be kept at the center. If the child becomes sick, the caregiver will take the form with them to the doctor. This form will help the doctor to diagnose the child. This program is just the tip of the iceberg.

As you have heard from our blogs, BCC is working with the nurse at the ELCT – ND office, Sister Norah. She has been a wonderful trainer for the center staff and in-home support workers. She has provided two general first-aid trainings and nutrition training. We will be working with her to also schedule a hygiene training in the near future. BCC is also brainstorming possibilities to provide training opportunities for caregivers of children with disabilities to receive general first-aid, hygiene, nutrition, and general medical trainings.

BCC is working with the local medical school, KCMC, to create a volunteer program for their students. The program would provide free quarterly medical examinations for the children served by BCC. The program would also offer the KCMC medical students an experience of working with children who have developmental disabilities and general knowledge about the children and their families. The greater hope is that this program will not only increase the medical services for children who receive services from BCC, but it will help to decrease the social stigma against individuals with disabilities in the medical systems.

BCC is also working with KCMC hospital to create an alternative medical program that would benefit the children who receive services from BCC. Basically, BCC and Mosaic are searching for fundraising options that would provide the option for children who receive services from BCC to be fast tracked through a medical program. They would be able to visit the same few doctors instead of consistently rotating to doctors who are unfamiliar with them. They would also be able to receive care quickly upon arrival to the hospital. This would greatly benefit them and their caregiver.

BCC is working to increase general medical knowledge of its employees and the caregivers of children who receive services from BCC. BCC is also working to create medical programs that promote preventative medical care and ensure that if a child becomes ill, there will be medical services available. If these programs can be designed in ways that complement each other, the opportunities are endless!

The programs may not be perfect upon implementation, but the hope is that increasing medical awareness, promoting preventative medical care, and ensuring that medical services will be available will be key to ensuring that each child served by BCC achieves a full quality of life.

We will continue to update everyone on each of these programs and the fund raising for the alternative medical program. If you have any comments or ideas feel free to comment on the blog or email us at john.melissa.thanzania@gmail.com.

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