By Andrew Popa
A few months ago, I had the privilege of visiting all eleven of BCC’s (Building a Caring Community) centers in Moshi, Tanzania. I had been to Tanzania in the past to assess the progress of my previous organization’s work with the Maasai communities in Arusha, only an hour away from Moshi. I enjoy visiting with the kind and hospitable people of Tanzania, and, as expected, this was a delightful visit also. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to experience the important work of BCC in their respective communities. Though stories of success abound, there are two key impressions that I would like to share with you.
To start with, I cannot emphasize enough the critical impact BCC is having in the lives of the children they serve, and their families alike. It is like finding water after being under the desert sun for days and seeing your strength wither away. This is by no means a surprise, since BCC came into existence as a result of the significant gap identified by the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Tanzania, Northern Diocese, in the way that children with intellectual disabilities were perceived and treated in their communities. In the midst of absolute lack of support from public authorities and immense social stigma, the Church stepped in and began offering a unique service to all members of the community, regardless if Christian, Muslim, or otherwise. This service is professional and effective, and surrounded by a healthy dose of compassion and love. I found the best application of this love in the actions of Mama Rose, a staff member that starts her day by reminding the children, staff, and visitors alike of this timeless truth ‘Mimi nzuri machoni kwa Mungu,’ meaning ‘I am beautiful in God’s sight.’ She does this by placing a mirror in front of each child, or anyone else for that matter, as they repeat ‘Mimi nzuri machoni kwa Mungu.’ After that rehab begins.
In a society with strong stigma against people with disabilities, re-establishing this baseline of human worth is the beginning of sustainable change, without which all other actions are doomed to fail.
My second story is about the value of a local champion and strong leadership. Each of BCC’s centers are sponsored and supported partially by a local parish. These pastors have busy lives, looking after thousands of parishioners, yet I was impressed by two pastors and their involvement and support of the services offered to children with intellectual disabilities. Particularly, I was impressed by Pastor Anna Makyao of the Pasua Parish.
Pastor Anna knows each child in service and their families. She not only knew their names, but also the extent of their disability and the therapy each one needs. Her intimate knowledge of each child made it obvious that she spent a fair amount of time walking the halls of the center, interacting with children and inquiring of their wellbeing. It is no coincidence then that the Pasua Parish made free transportation available to parents so that they would not have to transport their children on the uneven dirt roads to the center. Many of the children at the center have both an intellectual and a physical disability, and pushing wheelchairs and other forms of transportation on dirt roads is an arduous task. Even the Pasua center continues to have great needs, and I believe that with this level of leadership they will find ways to overcome obstacles and move mountains.
Both Mama Rose and Pastor Anna care enough to be part of these children’s lives in ways that bring meaning and help create a better future for each child. One is a front line staff member, the other is a pastor, and both are angels and leaders that forever change the future of Tanzania’s children, one at a time.