By Alex Bailey
I listened intently as my Building a Caring Community (BCC) colleagues Mori, Godson, Deo, and Johnson heatedly expressed their resentment about separate bathroom facilities for children who have disabilities. There is a large amount of stigma towards people who have disabilities in Tanzania and other countries, especially developing countries, where 80 percent of people with disabilities live. Children with disabilities are viewed on a societal level as cursed and are often hidden away in the darkness. As a result, they face isolation, discrimination, a lack of human rights, little to no access to basic healthcare and other services, and the list goes on. This discrimination also leads to the damaging idea that children with disabilities do not have the capacity to learn, grow, or live a fulfilling life.
Changing societal attitudes and ensuring that children with disabilities in Tanzania have the rights and opportunities they deserve can seem like a steep and bumpy road, and the issue of separate bathrooms for children with all types of disabilities is just one example of discrimination that they may face. But as I watched the BCC staff brainstorm solutions to this barrier, I couldn’t help but smile to myself. I am in awe of our staff who are such strong advocates for accessibility and inclusion in a society in which these are novel notions. Our staff recognizes issues that are widely unrecognized and actively works to change them. Having a disability means learning to live in a world designed for those who do not, and in Tanzania there is very little thought given to providing supports and accessibility. But BCC staff is challenging that.
A friend asked me last week if I see hope for people with disabilities in Tanzania. The answer is a resounding yes. Although there is a sometimes overwhelming amount of work to be done until people with disabilities in Tanzania experience the lives of possibility they deserve, thanks to organizations like BCC, the changes that have occurred in the lives of the children the program has served since it began nine years ago are astounding and inspire hope. There was a time not long ago when people with disabilities or the challenges they face were not considered or discussed. Seeing how much progress has been made, how could we not have hope?
My friends and family frequently ask me about my day-to-day work here. There is no typical day. Each day is filled with variety, challenges, hope, surprises, waiting. My first project is working with Godson, our Health Coordinator, on our annual health screenings, which are comprehensive physicals for all of the children we serve. Now that they are finished, Godson and I are compiling and analyzing the data so that we can monitor the progress and improvement of the children’s health, and identify areas in which we can improve our care. This is the part of BCC that amazes me the most. It is constantly evolving and seizing opportunities to create better lives for the people it serves.
The past few weeks have been filled with daladala rides (jam-packed minibus that’s a common form of public transportation throughout Africa), juggling spreadsheets, riding on the back of Godson’s pikipiki (motorcycle) back and forth to the hospital for the health screenings, harvesting vegetables with the young adults at the farm, and of course, learning Swahili! I’ve also found myself accepting a to-do list that never shortens, readjusting my expectation of time, and learning all of the nuances of working in a new culture. I had the pleasure of experiencing the transition into this role with the fellow from this past year, Meritt Buyer, who has inspired me not only with the incredible work she accomplished during her fellowship, but also with her grace, wisdom, and strength.
There is no greater gift professionally than to have the privilege of working with people whom you admire. Godson told me last week, “This is a very good office. We are like family, always laughing. We stay late because we like to.” I am honored and thrilled to be welcomed into the BCC family for the coming year, and I cannot wait to see what we accomplish together.