| One of the goals central to the mission of Building a Caring Community (BCC), the program for children and young adults with disabilities in Tanzania, is the healthy development of the children in our program. We do this mainly through our preventative healthcare program, PROMOT Health.
In October, 140 BCC children who attend our centers and in-home services went through the health screening program. Our staff spent time with the doctors and analyzed the results of the screenings. They showed that over 90% of children screened had some kind of medical issue that needed to be addressed. The most common issues the children were treated for were urinary tract infections, diarrhea, intestinal worms and malnutrition. Based on these results, BCC decided to put together a team of professionals to hold a training session for parents and staff on behaviors that can help prevent these issues in the future.
Over 120 parents and center staff attended the training seminar put on by our PROMOT Health program. We were very happy to have such a good turn out. For many of our parents, coming to a meeting on a weekend is not an easy thing. Our centers are all over the Moshi municipal district and many people had to travel long distances by public transportation in order to get to Umoja Lutheran Hostel in the middle of town where the training was held.
The parents and staff who attended the seminar were extremely engaged. They asked a lot of questions and were eagerly taking notes. I saw one father even writing information down on the back of a bank receipt because he did not have a notebook. It was also wonderful to have the center staff present. Some of them have a lot of experience dealing with certain issues. They were able to stand up and offer more suggestions.
The seminar was divided into three presentations. The first was by Gertrude, an occupational therapist and member of the BCC office staff. She used pictures and demonstrations to teach the parents and staff about proper positioning during feeding. Many of the children we serve have physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy that can make feeding challenging. This can be even more dangerous than one might think. A child who does not swallow properly is at risk of aspirating, which can lead topneumonia. Most people don’t realize that it is the leading cause of death of children worldwide. Children who spit up a lot of what they are fed also are at a greater risk for malnutrition.
The next presentation was from Sister Nora, the woman in charge of all the public health initiatives at ELCT-ND, or Lutheran Diocese in Northern Tanzania. She led a discussion about nutrition and hygiene, and had a long list of the most nutritious foods for children, especially fruits and vegetables. She offered practical advice for parents on how to prepare these foods for children who might have problems with eating. She also distributed informational pamphlets in KiSwahili for the parents and staff.
Finally, Lilian Kidinga* from BCC’s partner CCBRT , did a training on toileting. Many of our children had urinary tract infections (UTIs) and diarrhea. Many UTIs can be prevented by proper toilet training or, in the cases of children with more physical disabilities, proper hygiene and changing. When children have diarrhea, proper cleaning is also vital to avoid further complications such as skin irritation or infection This can be difficult in a setting with limited sanitation infrastructure, but there are some easily actionable behaviors that can be learned to decrease the risk of these health complications.
I am not a parent, but I know how difficult it is for parents of children with disabilities, especially in the developing world. They have more limited access to the information my family was able to get after my sister’s diagnosis years ago. They can’t easily hop on the Internet or go to the book store and find resources, and even if they can get computer access they often can’t read the information because of the language barrier. There are very few professionals here who can offer them help and advice. But parents everywhere are very motivated by their love for their child and their desire to do their very best to help them grow happy and healthy. It was very exciting for me to be at such an informative and successful event and to help BCC provide such valued information to our parents.