Since Special Education is an important part of our family ( I am a certified teacher of Special Ed, my wife is an Adapted PE teacher, my daughter is a Preschool Autistic teacher, and we have 2 adopted sons with Down Syndrome), I wanted to see some programs in the Moshi area that I had heard about. Many Special Ed students in Tanzania are hidden at home, or ignored, and they are mostly misunderstood. So hearing about a program that provides good services for them was exciting. The program is called Gabriella Center. It is housed in a farm house in the rural area outside of Moshi. A local doctor rents the property to the program. They are sponsored by a not-for- profit called Edpowerment, begun by 2 high school teachers from Chicago who went as volunteers to the area, and keep returning, as well as collecting money and searching for grants for this program and one other. The center has 2 trained therapists, 3 teachers and other staff. They have a day program, as well as a residential component for some of the students. They also do parent training weeks, parent and community workshops, and skills assessment. The center also has a rabbit hutch, chicken coops, and a garden to train the students in living and farming skills to hopefully become contributing members of their community. It is a model program, and one which should be emulated and replicated.
We also visited Kilimahea program which is like an alternative high school for students who had trouble taking the government tests for high school, many with Learning Disabilities. Through grants and donations, they have built a huge classroom and computer lab addition, and are building 5 large chicken coops for vocational training. They have also built a water supply, which they share with the community. Mama Grace is the coordinator and founder of the program, and they are also associated with Edpowerment. Mama Grace tells a personal story about her own son who has Autism. The local shopkeepers and community members hired a person to hurt or kill her son as he was considered a nuisance and danger to the community. She held a town hall meeting to explain Autism, and finally the community got behind her and decided to assist her. Fortunately this story had a happy ending, but who knows how many others don't. If you are looking for a place to help to sponsor or donate, please check out Edpowerment, Autism Connects Tanzania, or Gabriella Center websites.
After these rewarding visits, it was time to head for the airport to leave. The time went too quickly!