My time in Moshi is flying by! But a lot has been going on and still there’s lots to tell, especially since my last post was dedicated solely to my safari. I’ll start with BCC updates. Way back on April 23rd before my safari, Sheila brought her daughter, Helen, to the center. She’s ten years old and very sweet and diva-like. She seemed older than ten, actually. It was fun to talk and play with her for a while. Only Tuma, Richard, and Ema were at the center that day. Sheila informed me that Isidory had malaria, but that he was taking medication and recovering. Most days lately there have been no more than five children at the center, sometimes no more than one or two. Sheila told me that she thinks BCC should close the centers and do home visits instead during the rainy season, because it’s very difficult for many of the children to get to the center when the roads are muddy. She feels that it’s a waste of time to be at the center with only a couple children when we could go around to all of their homes and care for them individually. Apparently she’d raised this concern to the office in the past but they’ve done nothing to solve the problem. I went down to the office one day to speak with Johann and the other administrators about the issue. I agree that it is an issue, but the problem that I suspected and that they confirmed at the office is that they can’t just close down the centers because some families rely on them. Many of the parents work so they need to drop the kids off each day, and it wouldn’t be fair to them to close the center. However, they did say that it’s fine to do home visits as long as no children are left unattended at the center. Sheila has been doing this occasionally already, and sometimes she goes to pick up children who can’t get to the center on their own.
Johann recently sent out a BCC newsletter that I’d like to share here (see below this paragraph). It’s a bit outdated, so none of the events mentioned occurred while I was here, but I still found it interesting to read some of the program’s recent highlights and perhaps you will, too. Johann also showed me the local BCC shop, where the organization sells beaded items, homemade bags, and a few other items. Half of the proceeds go to BCC and half go to the individual incomes of the people (mostly mothers of children in BCC) who make them. I bought a couple things to support the program, and I plan to bring some people from the hostel there. I found out recently that Sheila will be leaving on May 10th for a BCC presentation in Omaha, Nebraska. She won’t return until after I leave Moshi, so this is my last week with her. I asked if it would be alright to take some photos at the center, and she said of course, so I hope to take some this week before she leaves. From then on it’ll be just be me and Violette and I believe Jacqueline, who usually covers for one of them. I think the language barrier will be a much greater challenge now since Sheila was the only English speaker, but I’ve established a routine at the center so I think it will be manageable. Also, I started taking Swahili lessons with a group of people at the hostel! A man named Zacharia comes to the hostel and teaches lessons for 5,000TSH per hour. We’re doing them twice a week, and we’ve had two so far. I thought about doing this at the beginning of my trip, which seems like it would have made more sense than starting now, but I figured I’d get by with my Swahili dictionary that my mom gave me for Christmas. I’m so happy I’m taking them now because basic grammar is so helpful, and I’ve found myself frustrated by not being able to say basic sentences. Zacharia has been teaching Swahili since 1989. Just over 30 years ago, he became a paraplegic. He was treated improperly for a boil/abscess on his skin that became infected and left him paralyzed from the waist down. Aside from teaching Swahili, he started an NGO called “Friends of Paraplegia” that aims to educate people about their spinal cord injuries (SCI) and build functional, accessible homes for people with SCI living in extreme poverty. Type in the name of the organization on Facebook and you’ll find the official FB group. I talked with him for a bit after the first lesson about the lack of accessibility and lack of therapy services in Tanzania.
Johann asked me if I’d like to visit any of the other centers, and he suggested I do it before Sheila leaves. Josefine and Astrid, two of my friends from the hostel with whom I also went on safari, recently switched their volunteer project to BCC, so on Monday I went with them to their center in Pasua (another “suburb” of Moshi). It was certainly a change from my own center. I was surprised at how much bigger it was, but how little toys/supplies they had. However, they did have a few wheelchairs and a nice walker rather than the homemade one we use at our center. There were two supervisors, a man and a woman, who were nice but didn’t speak much English at all. There were 6 children at the center. Two of them were fairly active and could speak a bit. It seemed that they only had some cognitive/learning delays. They were Anisa and Stanley. Another girl, Husna, was small and had some trouble walking as well as a cognitive disability. I fed her lunch. One boy, Nelson, was older and had Down’s Syndrome. He loved to play the drum that was at the center. He was also aggressive at times—I don’t think he realized his own strength. We drummed along with him and the three of us harmonized a couple songs. Another girl named Rukia had difficulty walking and constantly sucked her thumb. The most severely disabled child was named Yakobo. He couldn’t speak or stand; I believe he had Cerebral Palsy. I did some stretches with him. Overall, I enjoyed the center and it was interesting to compare the two. The children at this center are definitely more physically active than at mine.
Back in my third blog post I mentioned that Mediatrice, the OT, suggested visiting Gabriella Rehabilitation Center in town. Today I had the chance to visit with the girls from the hostel who are doing internships there. I was mostly interested in seeing the therapy section, but I was very impressed by the facility as a whole. It’s a pretty big place with a therapy room, craft room, classrooms, kitchen, bathrooms, dining room that’s also used at the drama room, a playground, garden, and chickens and goats. There’s also bedrooms because part of the program is a boarding school. There were around 40 children there, most between the ages of around 5-20, but some 20+. All of them had developmental disabilities including autism, ADHD, Down’s Syndrome, and other learning/cognitive delays. Very few had physical disabilities. There were also a lot of staff (all locals) and a few volunteers, including an OT student from KCMC. All of the children attend school lessons and/or therapy, and the goal is for them to “graduate” and be able to function independently and integrate into society. The activities are organized by a daily schedule. There’s also an activity chart which categorizes all of the children into various tasks/responsibilities depending on their individual abilities and strengths. Lotte, my roommate and one of the interns, said that the program appears more organized than it actually is because it is a big challenge to carry out all these activities with so many children and a range of disabilities. But still, the program has a very good foundation and a lot of creative ideas. The therapy room had a lot of supplies for both gross and fine motor skills. There were mats for stretching, stability balls and small trampolines for balance exercises, a mirror, and another wooden device used for balance. I observed the OT student, Gertrude, do some tactile stimulation with beans and sand, similar to what I use at BCC. I also did some fine motor and hand-eye coordination activities with a few of the kids, and I observed the gross motor activities. I really enjoyed my day at Gabriella and all of the kids were so fun and happy. I might return for a day in a couple weeks because it is “Therapy Week,” when new children from the community come to be assessed and then the program determines whether they should come consistently for therapy or if they can complete a therapy plan at their own home.
A couple weeks ago I was walking toward town to go to the ATM, and there was a line of cars backed up on the road of the hostel. I saw a policeman in the street and some people on the corner. I thought there’d been an accident, but then I saw a couple others from the hostel and apparently the Tanzanian president was driving by so the roads were blocked off. Several police cars drove by and then a swarm of vehicles sped down both lanes in one direction. It was interesting. I thought about how much more commotion there would be if the U.S. president were driving through my hometown. Definitely a contrast!
This past weekend a group of us went camping at Lake Chala, which is about an hour drive from Moshi. I’d heard the lake was beautiful and this would likely be my last weekend trip, so I was excited. When we arrived, we checked out the view and then relaxed by the campfire. The next day five of us decided to hike around the lake. We heard it was possible to go all the way around but that it took 4-5 hours and that we’d have to push through thorns and bushes. We were a little unsure, but we decided to go for it. The project manager at the campground told us it takes more like 3.5 hours. The hike was actually really nice and we had some great views of the land and the lake. Part of the lake and its rim is actually in Kenya, so I can now say I’ve been to Kenya! It was really cool. We had to be a bit adventurous by climbing over some locked, sketchy looking fences that we weren’t clear if were the border or what. You know, just casually crossing national borders in Africa with no money or documentation…ha! We also got stuck in some nasty bush/thorny areas and had to backtrack a few times, but we got some good exercise and ended up finishing in just under 3 hours. When we returned we had a refreshing swim in the lake, which was clear and blue. There happened to be a wedding reception taking place at the lake/resort that day, so we got to witness part of a Tanzanian wedding! So neat and the bride looked beautiful. Afterward we ordered dinner at the restaurant and during dinner I found out some special news: I became an aunt! My sister, Kelly, had her baby girl, Eva Rose, on the night of May 2nd (May 3rd in Tanzania). I cried when I saw the first few pictures and I couldn’t wait to get back to the hostel to talk to them and hear all the details! Since then, I’ve been able to meet my beautiful little niece via Skype, and I’m so happy to be an auntie. I can’t wait to meet her in person and hold her for the first time.
The next morning at Lake Chala we woke up early to see the sunrise, which was beautiful but partly covered by clouds. There was also a great, clear view of Kilimanjaro in the other direction, behind another mountain. Then we went for another swim in the lake and relaxed the rest of the day. It was a wonderful weekend in a beautiful place!
Yesterday I received a letter from my sister, Kimmy. It was so nice to hear from her and to receive mail! And she did the sweetest thing—she compiled short messages from all of my family members and closest friends and sent them along with her letter. It was so special and wonderful to hear such kind (and funny) words from the people I miss dearly! I will definitely be sad to leave Moshi, but I sure have a lot to look forward to back home.