Changing Views on Down Syndrome in Tanzania

Steven

Steven cleaning the dishes after lunch at the center

By Rebecca Berman

| Today, Steven will go to school and work on counting and speech skills. Perpetua will sing morning songs with her classmates. Seems normal, right? Sadly, this is not always the case for children with Down syndrome in Tanzania (and in many other places around the world.)

Due to its identifiable physical characteristics, many children with Down syndrome and their families may face stigma or discrimination here. Often, children with Down syndrome (or other disabilities) are left at home, both due to the stigma of having a child with a disability, as well as the assumption that they are not able to do anything. In part due to hiding them away at home, as well as lack of awareness about the syndrome itself, some children are identified as having Down syndrome until they are 6 months old or later. Once the syndrome is identified, many parents here in Tanzania are not aware that their child can receive support so they can flourish and grow.

Steven’s family realized he had Down syndrome when he was an infant, due to his weak muscle tone. After that, he stayed at home, either sleeping or playing. It wasn’t until he was 8 years old that his father saw some children at one of the Building a Caring Community (BCC) centers Mosaic International supports, and asked if his son could join them.

While Perpetua’s family has always been equally supportive of their daughter, she remained at home for 14 years before joining the program and coming to the center. Again, lack of awareness and the tradition of hiding those with disabilities inside the home meant these loving families had no idea they had other options. Until 2008, when Mosaic International started work in Moshi, Tanzania, there were no other options.

At the centers, there is great emphasis on independent life skills. Both Steven and Perpetua have been able to increase their independence and have learned to take on more and more responsibilities. Often, these tasks are things that surprise parents and other people who visit the day centers. Steven and Perpetua, along with many other children and young adults with Down syndrome in the program, are forcing people here to change their views of what people with Down syndrome can do!

Since joining the program, Steven has learned to use the toilet himself and to feed himself, two life skills many of us take for granted, but that changed his life and future. After Steven goes to school each day, he spends his afternoons at our day center, where he receives individual support in continuing his morning lessons. He also takes great pride in being able to independently wash the dishes after lunch.

Perpetua and teacher

Perpetua in class

Much of Perpetua’s growth since joining BCC has been social. She is now able to play and learn with her peers at our center in Longuo, a neighborhood of Moshi. She has also increased her academic knowledge and can now spell her name, count, identify colors and other things that give her increased ability to explore the world around her. At the center, she also participates in gardening activities, such as watering the plants. Gardening and agricultural skills are vital to daily life in Tanzania, as most people grow at least some of their own food.

Perpetua will soon be joining other students at the first full-time inclusive education program for children with disabilities at Moshi Primary School. This is a ground-breaking, exciting project between Mosaic International, BCC and the public school authorities in Moshi! She was chosen for this pilot program so she can learn additional skills, such as money and math concepts, which will help her with future employment.

Steven and Perpetua continue to enjoy showing the world what they are capable of achieving. While others in Moshi are often surprised that children and young adults in our programs are so capable, we hope in the future it will no longer be a surprise. In the future, we know capability can will become a common way to describe people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities!

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One thought on “Changing Views on Down Syndrome in Tanzania

  1. Such an uplifting blog entry about the developing awareness in the Moshi, TZ area of persons with Down Syndrome and/or other disabilities. I have known Steven for several years during which time he has exhibited lots of enthusiasm and desire for learning experiences presented to him at the center and early public school class. I have become more familiar with Perpetua during the past couple of years as she has evolved from being very reserved to being quite engaging with the confidence and acceptance that has developed by being in one of the centers. It’s exciting to think of the opportunities that are ahead for both of these young people. Rebecca Berman, I’m so happy to read your blog entry because it is so representative of the successes of Building A Caring Community (BCC), which is supported by Mosaic International.

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