It is almost 5 years since I first arrived in Tanzania, as a volunteer in the Esso area of Arusha at the foot of Mount Meru.
When Fr Michael O’Sullivan sac was home in Ireland, on leave in Milltown, Co Kerry, he spoke about life in Esso where he was parish priest. A survey had indicated that there were many children and adults with disabilities and he asked if I would come to Tanzania to help them. I came initially for a month and the seeds of ‘Faraja’ were sown.
We started therapy and support services in a classroom in August 2010 and a year later we moved into the new Therapy Centre [below]. I will never forget the joy and smiles on the Mamas faces as we entered the therapy room. They could not believe that the Centre was just for them and their children. ‘Faraja’ is a Kiswahili word which means ‘Hope, Compassion and Encouragement’ and Pallotti is the name given by Fr Michael to the complex in which the Centre is located.
We now cater for 200 children and 75 adults, and 30 to 40 attend on a weekly basis. Many of the children have severe cerebral palsy, and had been locked away in a dark room with no light, while the Mama worked to provide food for herself and her family. Life is difficult for Mamas and having someone with a disability makes it even harder as there is no State support and they would have to pay for any services, if available, which most of them could not afford anyway.
At Faraja Pallotti we provide free therapy services to all who come to our door. We give encouragement and hope and try to show compassion over a cup of tea and ‘Vitumba’. After therapy, they share stories and give each other support.
The Centre could not operate without the wonderful staff – Salome the Occupational Therapist and Hidaya, the Therapy Assistant – who deliver quality service with care and compassion. We try to visit their homes when people are unable to come to the Centre. We also visit other Centres and hospitals who have surgeons
from Germany and the USA who come once or twice a year and provide free surgery for those we refer to them. We only have to pay the hospital costs, then we do the rehabilitation after surgery at Faraja.
We are currently working with a business called Shanga which trains and employs people with disabilities to see if we can get some of our young adults to work in their workshop. This would provide some income for them and give them self-confidence and empowerment. Shanga manufactures products for tourists and also exports to many parts of the world.
During the last 5 years the greatest change I have seen is that the children and adults with disabilities are no longer confined or “hidden away” and that Faraja helps families to realise that they are not alone and isolated and that they can give valuable support to each other. Coming to the Centre dispels the myth that they are cursed, that it is their fault and that they deserve this cross to bear. We showed the film “My Left Foot” at our May Day celebration and the Mamas cried because they did not think Mzungos (white people) had handicapped children. They also saw that ‘white Mamas’ had to work hard just like themselves as they saw Brenda Fricker do in the film. It was an eye-opener for them.
At the end of our celebration Fr Reginald Kimathi sac, our parish priest, spoke with them and told them that every child is a blessing and to have courage and accept life as it is. He blessed them all and said to always remember that God loves each and every one of us just as we are. We have many Muslims who attend Faraja and it is wonderful to see them coming to the clinic and sharing their stories with us.
May the Holy Spirit of God fill our hearts with His love so that like the early christians we may bear witness to that love in our fractured and broken world. On behalf of the children and adults and their families who attend Faraja Pallotti we say “Asanteni Sana” for your generous support, and please keep us in your prayers.
Clare Edwards – Esso – TANZANIA 03.12 15 firstname.lastname@example.org