By Kelly Lytle
We’ve all heard the phrase, “the gift that keeps on giving.” Mosaic’s program in Tanzania has a story to tell about just this kind of gift. It also includes all the things good stories do: deep meaning, happiness, tragedy, an adventurous heroine and…Winnie the Pooh. Yes, even him.
In 2007, when we were just beginning to build a model for providing services to children with disabilities in Moshi, Tanzania, one of the immediate needs to address was training. In a place where there were no services for children with intellectual disabilities, and where disabilities were still considered by many to be a curse, extensive staff training was a must. Mosaic had a solution: enter our adventurous heroine, Susie O’Kane.
Susie was Mosaic’s director of training at that time, and dove into the task full-force. She worked on the development of staff training that would provide a foundation for the Tanzania program. She then traveled with our international team to Moshi, providing training expertise. Her focus was on training the initial group of caregivers and center directors, who could then train subsequent groups hired on. This train-the-trainer model continues still today.
Susie fell in love with the children, staff and country. Her dedication to the success of the program continued, bringing her back to Moshi. She saw her imprint on the day center staff, now well-versed in how best to care for the children in the program. We still see that imprint today on every visit to Tanzania.
In 2013, Susie was diagnosed with a terminal illness. She lived her life with great passion, an adventurous heroine, until she passed away in 2015. It was a great loss to her loved ones and to her Mosaic family as well. Her mark on our program in Tanzania, however, remains.
Susie’s friends and family gathered together to raise funds in Susie’s honor to help support our new young adult program in Tanzania. Our new community farm, which employs young adults with disabilities, will be ringed by fruit-bearing trees purchased by the donations and planted in Susie’s honor. This is a very fitting tribute, as Susie’s wish was to have direct impact on individuals. She believed strongly in our philosophy of building programs that can become sustainable. Her own spirit of independence connected with the concept that people everywhere, no matter their disability or their economic environment, should be able to determine their own destiny. Sometimes, they just need assistance and an opportunity to do so.
The produce from the trees planted in Susie’s honor, along with crops on the community farm they ring, will be sold to support the wages of the young adult employees. Some of the products will be used in our 10 day centers located all around Moshi, to further enhance the nutritious meals we provide twice daily to all the children and young adults with disabilities who attend.
Because we do annual health evaluations through our PROMOT Health preventative health program, we had the data available when Susie’s supporters came to us with this idea. Our international fellow for 2014-2015, Becca Berman, assessed the data and researched which fruit-bearing trees would best address the specific nutritional deficiencies these children and young adults had.
In addition to the fruits and vegetables, an additional type of tree not common in Tanzania – the moringa tree – is among the 50 trees planted. The leaves of this tree, when dried and ground to powder, can be added to food or consumed as a tea. It is becoming a leading remedy to malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. We hope, in time, that the moringa leaf powder will not only benefit the children in the centers supported by Mosaic International, but that the farm can become a supplier of this important supplement to other families and children in Moshi.
Although some produce will be used in the day centers, the bulk of what is grown will be sold at neighborhood markets in Moshi. The proceeds will be used to pay the young adults who work on the farm. This provides not only some very needed income for the young adults and their families, but something even more precious: purpose and self esteem.
Previously, it was unheard of that young adults with disabilities worked and contributed to their family’s income. In fact, in a country with the level of poverty of Tanzania, having a child that would be dependent on his or her parents for life was considered a very heavy burden. This only added to the stigma and shame already present. But now, young adults in our program are showing their community that they, too, have interests, skills, abilities and value!
Because Susie loved Winnie the Pooh, her friends and family asked that the grove of trees planted on the new community farm be named “Susie’s Hundred Aker Wood,” after the classic Pooh tale.
We are thankful for all that Susie did for Mosaic, and for her help in the founding of a program that now helps hundreds of children, young adults and their families. Her work, and the tree donation, are both gifts that keep on giving.
If you’d like to join in honoring Susie, or simply to support the good work we are doing in Tanzania, please click here. Just note in the comments that you’d like to support the community farm project. n behalf of the hundreds of children, young adults and families our work touches, thank you.