By Meritt Buyer
Janet and Aveline began working at Building a Caring Community’s Msaranga center on the very same day. Years later, Janet is the Center in Charge and Aveline is the Outreach Worker. Although personal, their stories are not entirely unique. They echo themes that one often hears when working with children with disabilities in Moshi. But in other ways, both women and their children are also highly unusual.
Janet and Ebenezer
Ebenezer was healthy baby boy. At 9 months old, he received an expired vaccine and dropped from 17 to 3.5 kilograms and Janet’s life changed forever. Janet spent most of the next five years living with her son in the hospital. Against his family’s wishes, her husband stayed with her and Ebenezer continued to support them.
Eventually, Ebenezer was able to come home from the hospital permanently. Janet found herself caring for a son who could not speak, sit or stand, or feed himself, in addition to her elderly father. Janet felt like she was barely able to make it through each day, when the pastor from Msaranga asked her to consider working at the new BCC center. She declined, saying life was already too hard just taking care of two people. How was she supposed to be able to take care of more children? But the pastor convinced her that she was right person for the job, and anyone who sees her now would ever doubt it.
Janet is endless bundle of energy. She embodies the image of ‘mother’ with her welcoming manner, ready laugh, and firm scoldings. She has learned to provide the therapies her now 18-year-old son needs to keep his muscles from constricting and proper feeding and positioning to keep him healthy. She embraces every child who comes through door or down the street. She laughs when she says she knows BCC always has a problem because there are too many children at her center, but she simply cannot turn anyone away. She knows what it is like to be a mother of a child with a disability and not have anywhere to go.
Aveline and Elias
Elias is the youngest of six children by 10 years. Aveline had a normal delivery and Elias was an active healthy baby. At two months old, Elias suffered a seizure that left him with brain damage. Aveline was surprised when she became pregnant with her youngest son. She had not wanted any more children. But she had decided that this baby must be a special gift from God. Now Elias had a disability, she complained to God. Clearly, this child could not be a gift if he made her life so hard.
Finally, when Elias was a year old he began to sit up on his own, and at the age of three he learned to walk. When he was old enough, he began attending the special unit at the local public school, where he learned to talk. Aveline took him to prayer groups and found support from her community. She saw his progress in school and began to realize that this boy was in fact a gift and she had nothing to complain about.
One day, Aveline left Elias at home while she went to church. Aveline was enjoying the service when suddenly she sees her little boy up in front dancing with the choir! Certain that they both would be in trouble, she tried to get him to come her. But the pastor insisted he be allowed to remain where he was. The pastor and Elias became friends and when the BCC center opened he invited Aveline to come work there.
Today, Aveline works tirelessly for the children in her community. In the heat and the rain she walks long distances to their homes ensuring that they are healthy and being well cared for. Elias still loves to dance and sing. He is a member of BCC’s young adult program and is learning to care for chickens, clean, and farm. Elias and his mother share the same gentle smile and warm, soft-spoken mannerisms. She is the kind of mama that makes you feel comforted simply by her presence.
Both women agree that finding a safe place where their children could learn and grow was life changing for them. They no longer had to worry every time they needed to leave the house. And now they have an income so they can provide food and education for the rest of their families. Janet and Aveline laugh a bit when asked about the bond between mothers of children with disabilities. Yes, they say, we all have the same problems. We see each other and we know exactly how the other feels. And we all do whatever we can to help each other.