By Bertha Haas (’02 Tanzania)
When there is education in Tanzania for those with disabilities, it’s generally in a boarding school where the students are segregated by type of disability. I decided to found a school for these children with the help of the parents. They named the school “Huruma”, Swahili for compassion.
Huruma serves the poorest of the poor – financially poor, poor in opportunity, often poor in health, poor in reputation – often the invisible ones, hidden inside the home. Huruma is a neighborhood school for students who are deaf, autistic, mentally retarded, emotionally impaired, or physically impaired. Huruma is a small school with capacity for 40 students.
When parents came from great distances to find help for their child, it was difficult to tell them we wouldn’t be able to provide housing or transportation, or that the school was full. Another challenge was helping parents accept that Huruma would not be able to cure their child’s disability, but we would do our best to help their child develop to their greatest potential.
One of our goals was to change the local attitude toward children with disabilities, recognizing their God-given dignity, that even the most impaired child will contribute to society if encouraged to do so.
I was inspired by one of our severely impaired children at the “second collection” at Holy Family Catholic Church in Pasiansi. At age nine, Ehudi can’t talk, walk, feed or dress himself, and appeared to not understand much of what goes on around him. After the collection, his father stepped to the microphone to thank the congregation for their generosity. Ehudi’s face lit up in recognition. Reflecting on this experience, I thought, “Wow, if only I was as quick to recognize and as delighted at the recognition of God’s role!“