Interview with Josephine Bakhita, the founder of Amani centre I took in October 2009, Morogoro, Tanzania.
Can you tell me, how did you start to be interested in the topic of disability?
Josephine Bakhita: I am a professional social worker and I was also a parent of a young disabled son. While I was working in a social work office, many youth or people with other disabilities were coming to the office seeking for services, but noone with intellectual disability. It was a time I felt that I should introduce the disability of my son to the social work office. But then it was found as if I was posing a personal issue for increasing my income. And also within my family I was discriminated, my son was not accepted, he was seen like the useless object.
Why do you think people with disabilities are discriminated in Tanzania?
They are discriminated because of the prejudice from the past. There was the belief that it is caused by angry ancestors, a certain action of the parents or by witchcraft. That is why the child is seen as a bad omen. This is everywhere I think in the world. Even in developed countries, for example in Norway. First they put the children with disabilities in houses somewhere in the mountains. Later the parents decided ‘we should be with our children and give them into special schools’. Later on they said, ‘our children should be in normal schools’. Even in Tanzania it is changing slowly. But as I said it was seen as a cause from god.
When did you mange to set up the centre?
One day in 1989 I decided to shift to this area we are now. Those days it was very poor society and most people lived in mud houses. The following year, July 1990, I started to make a survey and I found out about 15 intellectual disabled children. After I found those children, I made a dialogue with the parents that I would like to bring a group of children to one place so that we can do some social stimulating activities like singing and dancing. But in that time there was no building here. I started that group under the Mango tree you can see outside.
In 1991 I started constructing a small house with the aim that maybe this house will be able to have a room with a suitable environment also for my son. In 1992 the building was half finished and I shifted from the muddy house to this building. I thought the Veranda could be the classroom for the children, who where just playing outside at the Mango tree. This was February 17th, 1992 – the official date of initiating AMANI Centre for Children with intellectual disabilities.
How does AMANI look today? How many children do you have and what are the main activities?
With AMANI we are covering almost Morogoro Diocese and through our mobile clinic we are also going into rural areas. In our register we have registered more than 5.000 disabled children. But due to limited resources, we can´t reach them all. Those who we reach are about 500. We reach by the mobile clinics or when we invite the parents at seminars and training sections.
What activities do you have?
We have those like normal nursery school and normal pre-primary school. They come and get a breakfast and then they are go into the classrooms and they attend building blocks, drawing pictures. We put them into different groups according to their degree of disability.
Those who cannot do anything intellectual are the ones who just look at pictures and play with puzzles. But those who are mild are attending Montessori class. Sometimes after being here for three or four years, we put them into normal primary school and they can also finish primary school. Even if they wont be able to go to secondary school.
And do you have any activities for youth? Any vocational training?
Yes, we have two centres. We have one where they do farming, keeping goats and chicken. And we have also a tailoring project.
And how many youth do you have?
The youth in one of the centre are 20 and in another centre are 30 youth.
But it is part of AMANI?
Yes. AMANI is a triangle. AMANI Morogoro, AMANI Mikese, AMANI Mvumero. And we have also outreach centres. In Turiani there is also a big centre for intellectual disabled children and there are also social workes. And there is another centre on the way to Dodoma.
How many people work for AMANI?
We are 28 all together and there are volunteers. Especially those we were supported during their secondary school. When they finished secondary school, they volunteer for one year and then they go back to different activities.
How did you mange to make AMANI so big?
I had a vision this should be an institution with some sustainability. So I started a dialogue with my church, the catholic church of Morogoro. I told I started a project for intellectual disabled and disabled in general, of which the diocese does not have the service. They had only health centres, hospitals, old people homes and orphanages. In July 1992 I spoke with the former bishop about establishing the service for disabled. The bishop said: “I am blessing your activities and the service will be owned by the diocese, so even if you are dead, the church will carry on.
How did you get children into the center?
Through public awareness we spread news throughout Morogoro and by then there was also the Tanzanian National Association for Mentally Handicapped (TAMH).
How did you do public awareness?
The public awareness we do through seminars and workshops. We invite parents with disabled children and also some officials from the Ministry of Education and governmental leaders of the area to make them aware that people with intellectual disabilities are part of the society.
And we have the AMANI awareness group which does dancing, singing, writing poems. This is also a message to society. And we cooperate with TV and radio. Many people have come to be aware that people with intellectual disabilities are people who are valuable.
After attending a number of international workshops about disabilities, I learned from the different conferences and I tried to advice the knowledge from the different workshops.
Our approach is community based rehabilitation. Most of the children we visit at their homes, where we try to give knowledge within their families and the neighbourhood. So that the child is accepted in family and neighbourhood. If there is any problem how to teach the disabled in writing or drawing, the community worker goes to this child to help him at his home. This is the therapy.
And how was it to start this organisation as a woman?
First of all, women in Tanzania or in Africa have suffered much of discrimination. And the activities for people with disabilities sometimes is found as a nasty work. And women somehow found it in a sense of human to take care of a fellow person. You can even find in hospitals, most of the nurses are women. For women it is their natural maternal love which has guided the women to start projects which are told as something nasty.
ABOUT AMANI CENTRE
The history about Amani has its origin in the humane urge for taking core care and rehabilitation of mentally disabled children and related disabilities. It began as a charity/non profit organisation by its able founder, Mama Josephine Bakhita, who is herself mother of a (now late mentally disabled son) Eric. Josephine is a social worker who worked hard during the early years of Amani, to attract the attention of other mothers and guardians with disabled children to join her in the effort. Later Amani became foster-child of the Bishop in the Catholic Diocese of Morogoro; but it is still an NGO operation-wise.
Amani’s population consists of a community of workers of various descriptions, who are essentially the service providers to the disabled. The services we provide range from physiotherapy, day care education, vocational training and other working skills. Amani Centre also provides training for community and social workers, so that they are able to provide a quality service to the disabled. Annually many foreign students and other visitors from abroad contribute to the size and beauty of the Amani community, including friends of Amani in various countries. Mama Bakhita is the de facto head of the Amani working population.
Additional of the centre include the advocacy of Human Rights for the disabled. Set goals achieved through arousal of parental awareness under the method of Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR). The arousal of spiritual awareness, for the disabled themselves, is also aimed at.
CBR is short for Community Based Rehabilitation. In essence it is a method of approach as well as a way of doing rehabilitation work for the disabled. Many people at home and abroad are used to thinking that Amani Centre is a residential premise for the disabled; that all that one needs to do in order to see disabled people under the Amani project is to visit Amani and all the disabled come on parade at the press of a button. This is not so. Under the Amani Programme the disabled are an integral part of their respective families. What the centre is duty bound to do is to deliver what are considered to be the essential services for rehabilitation at the doorsteps of the homesteads where families with disable people live. It is rehabilitation service carried out within the confines of the nuclear as well as the extended family systems. An open advantage of CBR is that the disabled are not uprooted in any way from their traditional locales to go and live with strange bed/room fellows in distant communities; but continue to share and enjoy the charm, care and hospitality within which they were born. This psychological conservation and preservation under CBR is healthy to the disabled short of dumping them into new environments, which would mean separation, misery and exclusion.
But what appears to be a success story under CBR is also a core problems in implementing CBR activities. Morogoro Diocese, which is our operational area, is very large in land area and the villages are scattered in far off areas, which can only be reached through roads traversing over difficult terrain or not being reached at all during the rain season. This is a big element of recurrent costs is permanently on the rise. There is need for personal equipment and money to meet travel expenses throughout the year, short of being grounded. It is under CBR that awareness raising; counselling and some level of medical/ physiotherapy emergencies are done.
Mvomero Training Centre
This training centre is situated 90km North of Amani Centre. The purpose for it is to train community and social workers for the purpose of delivering appropriate service to the disabled. Both the care and service delivery are being administered by people who are not professionals. This does not only pose problems of effectiveness and reliability in service delivery, but also quality. Indeed it is unethical. The training centre at Mvomero aims at producing quality hands, which are capable of making all the difference between success and failure in the rehabilitation of the disabled.
What is important, however, is that the Mvomero project is large and expensive in terms of construction of new buildings, equipment and curriculum development. Friends of Amani in the UK have done a great deal to contribute in willingness and attitude such that new classrooms are now roofed, and a residential building for the person to be in charge of the training centre is already in use. Much yet remains to be done in terms of equipment, more functional buildings and professionals to give advice for quality training. So we are still in need of assistance in many ways.
At the same time as community and social workers get training; some disabled youth will be undergoing a variety of vocational training. So service deliverers are intended to go hand in hand with those to whom service will be delivered. It is an inclusion method of training, which will help professional trainees, rub shoulders with service recipients at the grassroots level of training.
But again, this is an additional burden of procuring material, equipment, buildings, financial and the required know how. For all this we are tireless in soliciting a continual support from all our friends and people of good will, wherever they may be. Support and assistance is never too much when directed to the betterment of the disabled. At the Mvomero site there is also an Elderly’s group who attend a Day care discussion weekly on economic ventures and personal issues. They enjoyed their October 1st, 05 festival very well.
This is based at the Amani Centre. It is a two-storey building. The decision to locate it at the headquarters of the Amani Programme was not based on the spirit of expansionism at head office; rather, on technical and administrative factors. The Unit’s location within Morogoro town affords easy transport to parents and guardians who live in far off areas as well as medical consultancy and related facilities, which the Unit may wish to get in touch with.
In addition to physiotherapy treatment the Unit accommodates facilities for child development in terms of Day Care Education, health and advice on nutrition. However, our extent and limitation performance wise is limited due to lack of essential personnel. Physiotherapists, for example, are in short supply. Not so long ago we actually succeeded in recruiting one; but he appeared to have second thoughts and quietly disengaged himself from our service, and, perhaps, got onto some greener pastures elsewhere. Physiotherapy is a cardinal and inescapable service for the disabled, especially those with mental disabilities. As such we are duty bound to continue with the search for recruitment; and we are getting some positive responses from certain foreign quarters on a volunteer basis. The whole nature of Amani stands on a volunteer spirit. Salary scales, fringe benefits, pay rolls are anathema to a non-profit making organisation such as we are.
What is important in highlighting the field of physiotherapy is the co-existence of disability and poverty. The majority of parents/guardians are those who survive on the wrong end of the standard of living statistics; those under a dollar-a-day survivors. As such they cannot afford nutritious food for their family nor sufficient clothing. A combination of under nourishment and disability is certainly most unwanted, especially as the former aggravates the latter to the detriment of the disabled. This is one area where we are open to ‘donations’, which are specifically aimed at financial help. This will help reduce the amount of poverty there is through small grants to individual or groups of families to enable them to invest in small-scale modern farming, animal keeping and other humble economic ventures to make poverty history in the long run.
Summarising the topic, the Unit as a project one cannot help. But emphasise the fact that the construction of the building is far from finished. It is not connected to electricity nor water mains, drainage and sewerage fixtures are yet to be connected, including many other fittings. Material and financial donations will enable us to go a long way.
Farm and Vocational Training
It has been mentioned in this website previously about the Mikese farm, which is intended to be a training centre for youth according to present and future needs. The farm at Mikese is already being equipped for various vocational skills and in farming and animal husbandry aimed at enabling existing and future youth to earn a decent livelihood. Mikese farm however has a lack of farm implements and equipment. Mikese has a Farm Manager and a Vocational Instructor for training technical skills. Under a special arrangement some members of the Amani Community are practising annual farming and thus helping to expand the farm’s area under actual cultivation. This undertaking has proved to be of a dual advantage; in that the workers benefit in food production whereas the Centre gains in expanding the farm’s area under effective cultivation. Unlike some of the other Amani projects, if a Pandora’s Box of donations were presented to us, we would first of all appreciate farm implements and vocational tools.
A meaningful future is in sight at Mikese for the disabled and other youth.
Info from Amani FACEBOOK group.