By Meritt Buyer
First of all, I adore Flora. When this assignment appeared on my calendar, my first thought was, ‘yay, I get to do something with Flora!’ She just has such a wonderful warm personality, a huge smile, and a bubbly laugh. She always greets me with enthusiasm and a big hug. She is great with the kids. She doesn’t speak any English, but she is very patient with my Swahili and we manage to have great conversations. So for these, and many other reasons, I am completely unsurprised that she is so good at her job.
Flora is one of Building a Caring Community’s five outreach workers. Our outreach workers are responsible for visiting the 100 BCC children who receive in-home services because are not able to attend the centers for one reason or another. Not long after my arrival in Moshi, I accompanied Flora to the home of a young woman in this program. This particular girl lives in a remote area and does not have someone who is able to bring her the long distance to a center every day. We were visiting because her grandmother, who had been her primary care giver had recently passed away, and she was left with her elderly and infirm grandfather. Flora wanted to see how she was doing. We found this young woman all alone, seated on a chair in front of the family’s mud hut, her wheelchair parked some distance away. Flora suspected that she was regularly left there, alone, without food or any way to move, for large portions of the day. After making sure they girl was fed and comfortable, Godson Mmary, our Promot Health Coordinator, and I had to leave to visit another child in the hospital. Flora decided stay with this woman to keep her company and talk with her, to make her feel valued and less alone.
The BCC outreach workers help to monitor children who are in similar situations all over Moshi; to ensure that they are being well cared for, taking their medicine, and going to the hospital when necessary. They alert the office staff in cases of neglect or abuse. They teach the parents how to do simple exercises for the children. They bring eggs and milk to the children who are on the nutritional supplement program. They are out in the baking heat, and the pouring rain, walking through the dust and mud, in some of the most remote areas of Moshi.
Under the leadership of Godson, the Outreach Workers seem to have also formed their only little altruistic army. Whenever we need something done in hurry, information disseminated, etc., ‘no problem’, says Godson, ‘I will just call the outreach workers.’ And the little group descends on our office in their brightly colored kangas, receives their instructions and sails off again. They conjure images of Dumbledore’s Army or the witches from A Wrinkle in Time. And whatever their task is, I never need to doubt its success.
But as Flora explains, the outreach workers come to mean far more to the families that they work with than the tasks required in their job descriptions. “We are teaching the parents how to care for their child with disabilities,” she says. “We are teaching them how to love.”
Sometimes Flora is one of the first people outside of the immediate family that has shown real interest in the wellbeing of their child. Suddenly, the parents have someone giving them hope. They have someone showing them how to do simple exercises, or how to position their child so he or she gets pneumonia less often. Someone who can help them access medical care. The parents gain confidence when they have someone to go to for advice, to share their concerns and celebrate their child’s successes. Outreach workers are showing parents that a child with a disability is not a burden, but a kind of joy as well. If Flora has not visited for a while, families will call her and ask where she has been and implore her to come more often. “I am treated like family,” she says over and over. Again, I am not surprised.