Moreover, for once I witnessed a gathering of unprecedented proportion of talented youths, displaying their love and appreciation for their supporter on a continent thousands of miles away and the benefactor who, at the time, was in a world beyond ours.
I had walked, not accidentally but though invitation, into this arena of talented display and affectionate gathering for a departed friend of poor children in a poor country like ours. The little ones may be poor because some of them were hard of hearing or outright deaf. There were those who could not see.
Others either had deformed limbs or had some mental derangement. In its heterogeneity, the meeting was interesting. But the children proved that they still were human beings like the rest of us because, despite their lack of hearing, deficiency in good sight or hearing or any other kind of deformity, they still had souls and the fundamental quality of affection for others and the trait of gratitude.
Some of them had come from Pugu Secondary School, nearly far away as 15 kilometres from the heart of Dar es Salaam, a city of four-plus million people. That alone displayed a strong feeling of communion among this group of people, who are unfortunate by fate and many people love to keep out of sight in their home.
Nothing could have attracted Reporter at Large more and I sat with them or walked amidst them to savour best the aura of this rare communion. Seeing how they entertained the guests, as it were, was a marvel.
How could some members of the society, in their right faculties, lock such useful and gifted fellow members out of sight because of mere shame to have them seen and in an attempt to give the family a false picture of dignity? Most prominent, however, was why they were gathered here.
If we had cared for the poor souls, we would not be so dependent upon others and foreigners at that, to look after them for us. I learned that, the host – Uhuru Mchanganyiko Primary School for the Deaf and Blind had at the meeting around 100 children, Buguruni School for the Deaf had over 60, Jangwani Secondary School had 30 and the Salvation Army had about 100.
All these schools are in the district of Ilala in the region of Dar es Salaam. Some of the children may have come from other districts of the region to study in the Ilala’s schools. Still, it does not erase the fact that there are many children with various disabilities in the whole region of the populous region of Dar es Salaam.
That prompted the question of why in the first place we have in the country so many children with such disabilities, most of which are preventable. With the Pugu disabled children was the school’s headmaster, Mr Rukonge Mwero. I found the forthcoming teacher easy to talk to. “Your school has a good number of these children,” I said to him and asked:
“How do you find them?” Rukonge has been with children with various disabilities and has learnt much from them. His school has only male students with disabilities. He corrected me first and said: “We don’t call them disabled children,” he said. “That is because if they are enabled, they can compete well with other children.”
There was, however, much potential in children with disabilities and some of them were experts in area where skill was rare. “They need special education at an early age to best enable them to putt in use their potentials,” the teacher told me. Some physical disabilities of the children could have been corrected had they been given the requisite medical attention early enough.
But their parents pride stood in the way. “Parents feel embarrassed about having a child with a disability and hide them in their homes,” said Mwero. “Treating the children like that is unkind and denies them the timely assistance necessary, condemning them to a gloomy future.”
The saddest part of our efforts to care for our disabled is the culture many parents have developed of waiting for a ‘mzungu’ or some foreign supporter. Mwero frowns upon such an attitude he calls an aloof stance. “But it is the government that created the attitude in the first place by always saying ‘we are waiting for donors.’ They don’t realize they need to be at the fore front and take the initiative and responsibility,” Mwero explained.