| Happy World Down Syndrome Day! Today we are celebrating the lives of those with Down syndrome, the gifts they bring to our communities and the lives that they touch every day. The extra chromosome they have brings with it in many cases extra capacity for love, an extra appreciation for life and the challenges and joys that come with it,
Down syndrome knows no geographic boundaries and we’re blessed to have many children and young adults with Down syndrome in our program here in Tanzania. However, since Down syndrome has distinctive physical features associated with it, it is one of the disabilities with the highest level of stigma in Tanzanian society.
When a baby with Down syndrome is born, he or she is often dismissed as a “mongoloid” and thought to be the result of a curse. Families may hide the child at home or abandon him or her, falsely believing it to be an act of mercy to kill a child that has no future.
However, in the seven years our program has been in place, the children with Down syndrome have shown that this could not be further from the truth. Now that many of them have grown into capable and thriving young adults, they are reversing long held cultural attitudes. They are showing their families and their community that they have value, skills and can be important members of society.
Three young men with Down syndrome currently attend our day center at Rau. The staff at this center are fabulous. I had the pleasure of observing the classroom as part of our ongoing evaluation of the centers and what I saw was impressive and exciting.
The center director practiced basic literacy and arithmetic skills with the students, individualizing the exercises in their notebooks. All of the students have responsibilities in the center each day, from helping prepare food to doing dishes and cleaning. The older students help the younger ones wash up after meals and push them on the swings and other playground equipment.
However, the most exciting part of this center is the vocational and life-skills staff is helping the young adults develop. This is especially true of the new “Chicken-Raising Project” at this center. After months of planning, 20 chickens were purchased and taken to the center to make their new home in a chicken coop generously donated by our Australian partner, CAPDA.
Our office staff member Johnson picked up the chickens from the farm, transporting them to the center personally in the back of his stylish cube car (check out the photo if you really want to see how we get things done in Tanzania). Now that the chickens are settled in, the students take turns feeding and watering them, collecting eggs and learning the business skills to sell those eggs in the market. Everyone is very excited, especially Samuel, a young man with Down syndrome who is particularly enthusiastic about the project!
The confidence and independence that Samuel has been able to build in the program mean that his future is full of possibilities. He’s not going to stay hidden in the house. He’s going to actively participate in his community.
The steps that Samuel and his fellow classmates are taking now are not only transforming their own lives, they are pushing back on discrimination towards people with Down syndrome that happens all over the world. They are paving the way towards a future where they and individuals with other disabilities can live and thrive in more inclusive societies where they will be accepted, valued and loved.
As the children in our program are reaching adulthood, their needs are changing and growing. We are still exploring ways we can meet the need of transition and supported employment services in a meaningful and sustainable way. The chicken project is a good first step for us in learning how we can work on adapting models such as microfinance and social business to provide young adults with disabilities opportunities for vocational training and supported employment.