Emmanuel has an amazing plan. How about a vegetable garden on the school grounds? The children in his care have a diverse selection of mental and/or physical handicaps, or have re-entered the school system later in life. Just imagine! As part of his students learning valuable life skills they can then be guided on how to plant seeds, take care of the plants, harvest the crops and learn to cook with their own veggies! This is one of many exceptional plans from this bright man. He’s running a wee project on the grounds of the Catholic church in Igoma which in the same location has a primary and a secondary school as well as activities for the youth and the community at large. Apart from regular school stuff, his students also learn to work a sewing machine, shoe repair skills and light carpentry (if their hands work etc).
But. The government has, Emmanuel explained, made some odd decisions regarding distribution of water. And they don’t have much in Igoma, so they can’t water the vegetable garden – so the few remaining plants are looking thoroughly dishevelled as we wait for rainy season 4 months from now. They barely have enough water right now to wash the children, let alone their hands (good luck with that during CoVid-19) – and to water the vegetable garden would come at the extra cost of 5000 Tanzanian shillings per day, round about 2 euro or dollars. There’s no money for that kind of frivolous spending. The fact that the world’s second-largest body of fresh water is within sight on a clear day makes it all the more frustrating.
There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding getting a handicapped child – typically, it will be seen as the mother’s fault so the husband takes off and she will receive minimal support from her community. Many of the single parents benefiting from the work Emmanuel and his staff are doing are indeed mothers. We were having a walk around the grounds when we joined the kids in some happy dancing – you can still totally rock it when you’re on crutches. Emmanuel explained, beaming with pride at this one boy, that this guy couldn’t stand a few years ago, and now he was able to walk with crutches and walk a few steps unsupported – and rock at dancing! After some hopping around, the kids were neatly organised on rows of chairs where they got their midday snack, hot porridge. I asked if they got any bits of fruit – no, too expensive. I started seeing the links with the patients I’m seeing here with weird sensory disturbances, probably brought on by some vitamin deficiency: they grow up on starches and continue that as adults – all the beautiful fruit and vegetables are for the people that can pay for it. Why they don’t keep 10% of whatever harvest to themselves and that way possibly avoid some health issues, I don’t know.
At one point, I oversaw one of the children receiving a massage by a staff member. I learned that because the project is at the mercy of the Catholic church, they too were hit by budget cuts so now there’s no physiotherapist anymore. Before that person left, they introduced the teaching staff to the basics of massage. That’s it. Emmanuel and I got to brainstorming about possibly involving the students I teach further down the road – maybe we could have the students there on a rotation basis, they get some hands-on experience under my supervision, and the kids get more attention? To be developed and continued…
Emmanuel has plans. He wants to put together a team of three: psychologist, physiotherapist and nutritionist, to visit the families in the interior, in their village, in their house and do in-depth consulting with each family. The psychologist dealing with the psychological impact it is to have a handicapped child, the physio to teach them how to self-manage training and the nutritionist to teach them healthy cooking. I feel very humbled to be in the presence of a man who is not only doing what he can within the framework given but also has the capacity to have a vision for the future. I will write a different piece soon about how you can support his good work, should you be so inclined.