After spending quite a bit of time up in Mugeza at the disabled school and getting to know the staff and children quite well, I have narrowed my focus to some very worthwhile projects that are tangible and varying in size and difficulty to achieve.I think that this is the best way to go about it because I really have no idea what my capacity to raise funds will be (I have never tried it before the efforts for this trip) but I hope to succeed because these projects will be very impactful on the lives of many children who do not have it easy.There is one girl who I have gotten especially close with whose name is Antoinette.Her story is so sad and relates the difficulty that these children have been suffering since birth.Although some of them have better relationships with their parents than this particular girl, she is a very good example of what happens here when a child is seen to be handicapped in any way (mentally or physically).
Antoinette crawls.Her family has no interest in purchasing a wheelchair for her because they have decided that she is not fit to live.When she was a baby and her limbs began to grow crooked and she did not start walking her parents were confused but ignorant and so they did not seek medical attention (more common here than not).Once they figured out what was going on with her, they decided that she was not fit to live and so they stopped feeding her and caring for her.She was dirty to the point where she had to have some of her nails removed due to fungus as well as starving and had been eating grass when she was brought to Raza (it was unclear by whom, I will assume some sympathetic villager as is often the case).He decided to sponsor her entry into the disabled school and that is where she now lives.He mentioned to me that she never smiles and if I could get her to smile that would be an amazing accomplishment in itself.Well she is such a cutie, and while it was difficult to get her to smile at first, she warmed up to me eventually and now she smiles almost freely at me when I greet her.I think it may be my Swahili that she is smiling at because it is so bad and very crudely accented, but whatever works, right?!
There are 4 children at the school who need wheelchairs but do not have the funds to purchase any, and so they crawl.Even the ones who have wheelchairs have very old ones that have been abused over time and are breaking down, but at least they can move around upright. I would like to get wheelchairs for the children who have to crawl like Antoinette.
I was mistaken when I said that there were a handful of blind students.There are twenty-eight and more are expected next year.Not all of them live in the dorms at Mugeza and that is why I underestimated their numbers.The school is actually an integrated school with disabled and able bodied children who live locally.I now know that several of the blind children live at home but there are a fair number living in the dorms.For these 28 children there are 4 functioning Braille Writers.The teachers, Mussa and Tabu (the one who was at the beach outing with me) who live at the school can both read Braille and have been trained to teach the blind, among other specialties.I loved watching Mussa read the Braille with his eyes: that was so cool!The Braille writers that they currently have were made in Watertown, MA but he mentioned that they are now making some in South Africa as well.Each student goes through about 4 packs of Braille paper per school year.The government, which is supposed to be running this school, is also supposed to be supplying them with paper, writers, etc. But from my observations, there this school is very under funded and it is not adequate in supporting and furthering the lives of these most vulnerable of children.
In truth they are not miserable, and it is nice to see them enjoying themselves and hanging out with each other, taking on leadership rolls where they can and always lending a helping hand to one another.When I dropped them off after the picnic they were happy to be home and were singing to me as I walked down the road.It is just sad to see that less than a mile away there is the school for the Deaf and Dumb that is run by nuns (not the government) and is SO MUCH better.The children at Mugeza live in two dorms one for the boys and one for the girls.At lunch they eat ogali–wheat or maize paste that has the consistency of cream of wheat cereal cooked without enough water that is sticky and gummy (in fact that is what it is!). It is also perfect for food fights, but they never play with their food (I guess when you have to eat with your hands, the temptation is somewhat diminished) and they get red beans with that.At dinner they have rice with the same beans.Twice a week they have mtoke (the green cooking banana that I have described) with beans and then the same for dinner with rice.I was surprised with the quantity of pilau leftover after the outing but they are in a very different situation than the orphans, because they are fed on a very regular schedule and although it is not gourmet food, it counts.
The acquisition of a flat bed truck for the IZAAS program could really benefit the disabled school as well as the orphans.Raza has assured me that if something is purchased for the school itself and kept at Mugeza than thieves will come and if I return in a year to see what has become of the truck, all that will be left is a shell.He is realistic on most counts and, because I have no frame of reference, I would be inclined to trust his judgment on that.He employs a night watchman who sits in front of these apartment/shops and said that a truck would be safe there (he has two of his own SUV’s in the same location) and that it would be used for the right purposes.
The need is so great that there are many more people who can be helped by operations and the purchase of crutches but for several reasons, for example the unreliable medical care here coupled with the complete lack of aftercare, I feel that these three projects would be a great start. These are what I see as the short term needs of the school for the disabled:
•several more Braille writers (25 would be ideal but I have no idea how realistic)
•hundreds more packages of Braille paper because they never go out of style
•and a flat bed truck for outings to add fun into the lives of these children
Who’s with me?