By Meritt Buyer
The first time I met Martin and Sabrina, we had all been in Moshi about a week. We were sitting around the crowded BCC office with that slightly jet-lagged and disoriented look about us that most people have when they are trying to find their way around a new part of the world. They explained to me that they had just finished physiotherapy school in Denmark and had always wanted to volunteer abroad. For the next five months, they were hoping to experience something completely different from what they were used to, and use their skills and passion to help children with disabilities. We then moved on to discuss the possibilities for buying used bicycles in Moshi. They went off to visit a center and I had a meeting. I had no idea at this point how much these two would come to mean to BCC over the next few months.
When Martin and Sabrina said they wanted to use their skills to the benefit of BCC, they meant it. Instead of staying full time at one center, they visited several and identified children who had the most to gain from more intensive physiotherapy. They settled on three centers and divided their time between them. They traveled around Moshi on their bicycles, no matter how hot it was.
More recently, Martin and Sabrina have been visiting every center and doing physical assessments for the many kids who need one. Together with center staff they are developing long-term goals and daily exercise plans for each child. They carefully teach the staff how to perform each exercise and come up with a reasonable daily therapeutic routine for each child.
Everything Martin and Sabrina have done in the last few months fills an immense need at BCC. There is a shortage of physiotherapist in Tanzania, and the current school of thought on physiotherapy that has been taught across the northern hemisphere for years, has not yet arrived in Tanzania. So the therapists that we are able to access here are still doing a much more passive type of therapy.
The center staff does a wonderful job caring for the children. They are almost always overworked and yet they care for the needs of each child with so much love. But they are not therapists. They don’t have the time or the knowledge and many of the children demand a lot of attention. But because Tanzania is lacking the kind of professional training that is so prevalent in other parts of the world, many of the children here will never reach their full potential. Without proper therapies, physical disabilities can even become more severe over time.
During their time here, Martin and Sabrina have had several major successes with the kids, but little Faraja was perhaps the most profound. Faraja is three years old and has a developmental delay, including low muscle tone and poor coordination. She has difficulty walking and sitting up on her own. Prior to Martin and Sabrina’s arrival, she had received very little gait training. She would sit quietly on her bed and watch the other children. She did not show any initiative to get up and move or engage on her own. But she trusted Martin and Sabrina right away and they gave her their best efforts in return.
Sometimes Faraja’s face would reveal that she was uncomfortable or nervous, but Martin and Sabrina could always coax her into smiles and laughter. And without fail, at the end of every session, she would promptly fall asleep, most often in the lap of one of her new friends.
When Martin and Sabrina first started working with Faraja, she hyperextend her knees, so it took both of them to help her to walk; one person to help her balance and the other to physically bend her knees for her. Now Faraja can bend her knees on her own. She just needs two hands to hold for balance and she can walk on her own.
We are so grateful that Faraja and many of the other children have benefited from the skills and passion of Martin and Sabrina. They say it takes a village. And sometimes that village encompasses Tanzania and Denmark. Or maybe for issues like the kind we face at BCC, it takes the whole world.