By Kimber Bialik
With two months in Moshi under my belt as the new Mosaic Fellow, I’ve been kept incredibly busy with learning the ropes here at Building a Caring Community and getting to know the rest of the amazing team working on this project! Approaching this opportunity with a background in both International Development and Disability Studies, the chance to work here in Moshi with Building a Caring Community feels like a perfect fit, and I am so excited to be a member of the Mosaic team! Now that I’m here and all settled in, the opportunity to engage in such meaningful work and work alongside such passionate staff for the betterment of the lives of children and youth with disabilities in Moshi has already exceeded all of my expectations.
I was fortunate to be able to spend my first two weeks after touching down in Tanzania being trained by Alex Bailey, Mosaic’s fantastic previous fellow, before immediately jumping into a number of projects head first and kicking off my collaborative work with all of BCC’s dedicated staff. Although I’ve only been in Moshi for two months, I feel that I’ve already learned an incredible amount about BCC and the reality of people with intellectual disabilities in Tanzania through my incredible coworkers, and this experience has already given me so much to think about with respect to my own philosophy on development and on disability work in the developing world.
Just last week, while on a conference call with the rest of Mosaic’s International team to discuss progress here at Building a Caring Community, Vice-President of Church Relations David deFreese asked all of us on the call why we thought Mosaic’s work in Tanzania is important. Why do we do what we do? I was immediately struck with deja vu, as only a few weeks earlier, during a workshop on program design hosted for the BCC staff, we asked that very same question. Why does BCC’s work matter?
As we all shared our thoughts on why Mosaic’s work here in Moshi is important, a number of concepts that come up time and time again in the development world were highlighted – first, the reality of Tanzanian communities as under-resourced (particularly compared to the abundance we grew up with in North America), and then the stark differences between life in North America and life in Tanzania emerged as the key themes. While my first impressions of Moshi certainly did include the realization of some significant lifestyle differences between Tanzania and my home in Canada (East African public transit is definitely something to get used to….), what I found to be the most striking was the similarities between life back in Canada and life in Moshi, and in particular, the similar challenges that children with intellectual disabilities face regardless of where in the world they may grow up.
For me, the similarities between the children and youth that access BCC’s services and children and youth in North America are best emphasized after spending time in any one of BCC’s nine centres in Moshi. Setting foot in BCC’s centres is similar to stepping into any classroom in any part of the world – although our centres may have fewer teaching materials, toys, and staff than the classrooms I grew up with in Canada, the core elements are the same. Posters teaching colours and numbers adorn the walls, teachers enthusiastically engage with the children in the room, children sit through their daily lessons (occasionally restlessly), and eat lunch and play games with their friends.
Whenever I spend time in BCC’s centres I am reminded of the impact of Mosaic’s work and the potential of the children and youth in the program. One of my favourite places to spend time is in BCC’s Moshi Mjini centre, where our young adult program is based. In addition to receiving education in the centre, BCC’s young adults also participate in vocational training, learning skills in farming, cleaning, and papermaking that will enable them to move on to employment after they graduate from BCC’s program. Our young adults never cease to impress me with their patience as we combine my broken Swahili communication with their broken English communication to form a bilingual conversation (where we can almost always get the point across). Fortunately, some of our shared interests, like playing Uno, transcend language barriers, and as I sit among the young adults at a table losing the game by an embarrassing margin, I am reminded that just like their counterparts in Canada and the United States, the clients that we serve at Building a Caring Community have unbridled potential.
For me, these similarities are why Mosaic’s work in Tanzania matters – regardless of ability or geographic location, kids are kids. And that’s exactly what we at Building a Caring Community are trying to do by providing the opportunity for our clients to unlock their potential – letting kids be kids! In the same way that Mosaic’s clients in the United States have a right to access services to support them in leading meaningful lives, the children and youth with intellectual disabilities that Building a Caring Community works with here in Moshi do as well, and through working in areas of the world where the available services may lack capacity or resources, Mosaic’s work in Tanzania is helping to ensure an equality of opportunity for children with intellectual disabilities around the world.
Of course, here in Tanzania we have a long way to go before this equality of opportunity is realized, but through the dedicated work of BCC and the support of Mosaic back in the United States, even in just two months it is clear to me that we’re well on our way! I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with a team so dedicated to this worthy goal, and look forward to everything we can accomplish this year!