FOR yet another time, the country's historic Oceanside town of Bagamoyo, with its ancient limestone buildings, a powerful reminder of the demeaning slavery days, hosted a meeting of children with disabilities in the company of their parents or guardians.
As children of the children of Froral Inclusive Day Centre and disabled ones from the district sat down enjoying confection at Mwambao Primary School, the chief guest Renatus Mongogwela, Bagamoyo District Administration Officer, reminded the gathering of the significance of handicapped people despite their numerical inferiority.
"They may be small in number, however, their group is one you cannot wittingly avoid to join," said Mongogwela. The Bagamoyo District's official explained that one may aspire to become a teacher or a doctor. One can also plan not to be a doctor or a teacher.
But whether one would become disabled or not, was a mystery that lay in the hand of Fate. "It is different with this group. You never know how, when or what will someday make you a disabled person," said Mongogwela at the Bagamoyo charity gathering by Tanzania Resource Centre for Disabled (TRACED) last Monday. "It is a group that anybody can join anytime."
TRACED was reassuring the unfortunate children in the company of children of the Froral Inclusive Day Centre on the anniversary of World Day of the Disabled on December 2. A non-governmental organization,TRACED works in partnership with Erikshijalpen of Sweden.
"We are celebrating the World Day of the Disabled and taking this opportunity to discuss with parents and other stakeholder to see how best we can improve the welfare of those born with a disability, and where possible, to prevent a probable disability," said the Traced Managing Director, Mbonea Yahya.
Mongogwela called on parents and all stakeholders in the national endeavour to give children with a disability a better future to come forth and do all in their power to remove obstacles to promise the disabled a brighter future of independent life.
"Please do enable them to access services or facilities in their society," he said. By the comment, Mr Mongogwela merely endorsed Bagamoyo District Welfare Development Officer Erasto Aron Mfugale's call for parents and government leaders at all levels to have precise plans concerning the welfare, academic and professional development of the community's members with a disability.
"We live and lay down our development plans as though we did not have people with a disability amidst us," Mr Mfugale said. Both Mfugale and Mongogwela expressed with sadness that by ignoring the disabled, the community left idle the huge potential that lay in them.
There was so much manpower that could be exploited. There were so many talents left to die away and missed by the whole community at large, he said. Mfugale's remark concerning the national potential in the handicapped members of the community was underscored by achievement attained by one disabled lady, Lydia Alpha.
Ms Alpha, administrator in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, said consigning the disabled to rot was indeed unfortunate and indeed unwise. "But that can only change if we stop hiding our disabled children and send them to school and out of our homes to be seen by other members of the society, who can give them the assistance they need," she said.
Grateful to her parents for having sent her to school, she told the guardians and parents of children with a disability and who may have felt embarrassed to exposed their disabled, what difference education would make to their unfortunate children by pointing to herself.
Without education, she said, she would never have had the wherewithal to get the job and meet her economic needs. "I would not have been able to get this job. How would I if my parents had not sent me to school and just hid me in the house at home?" she asked passionately in a wheelchair.
The wife of a businessman, Ms Alpha studied up to Form IV and later undertook a telephone operator and typing course. Supportive, Mongogwela agreed with he and said: "Keeping children with a disability out of sight is wrong.
They need an independent life possible only with the assistance of those who will see them and know they exist." Currently, TRACED, jointly with the Swedish Erikshjalpen, is conducting research and carrying out surveys on the assessment needs of parents and their children with disabilities.
Also in their research, is parental education, guidance and counselling training on disability aspects such as physiotherapy. In line with ceremony, TRACED and Erikshjalpen, train parent resource groups, take part in community development by working together with education and health workers in what is termed as 'interdisciplinary team' to discuss disability issues and their involvement and role in TRACED programmes in the country.
TRACED supports medication rehabilitation for children with disabilities that can be corrected by physiotherapy, surgery such as club feet, contractures, congenital malformation, cataract and so on and so forth.
TRACED makes it one of its major objectives to coordinate, cooperate and collaborate with parent groups, government and relevant local and international non-governmental organizations in promoting community-based rehabilitation programmes for children with disability.
For all its agenda, the Dar-based non-governmental organisation has a faithful partner in Bagamoyo authorities. "We'll ensure all schools and other public places have constructions put in place with people with a disability in mind," said Mfugale. Apparently, TRACED and partners are doing well for the unfortunate members of the Tanzanian community.
So far it has identified and screened 863 children in Dar es Salaam, Mufindi and Bagamoyo and given them the necessary assistance that has enabled them to lead a relatively happier life. Equally lucky, are 315 pupils and students with disabilities, who received mobility gears from the organization and can now move freely.
Bagamoyo District boasts one centre for children with disabilities established by TRACED. Another similar one is in Isalavanu Mufundi in Iringa Region south of the country.