In the centre there is the integrative kindergarten because “we need to make people to understand from the beginning, that those children are the same human being, with the same rights” – father Basel Ngwega, the director of the centre says. In Tanzania people with intellectual impairment suffer discrimination and are not accepted even in their own families.
The centre owns 100-hectare-farm but because of the recent lack of rain it is difficult to generate the income from there. However youth helps there while children learn gardening in the small fields in the centre. It is one of the vocational training they can receive.
The interview made with Basel Ngwega:
How and when Bethlehem was started?
Bethlehem centre was funded in 1979 by the Tanzanian Episcopal Conference. It was a respond to the International Year of Child. The bishop thought that children with mental disability are neglected by society so it is very important to have a place where they could be educated and looked after. So in 1980 they started to build some dormitories and houses with the help from Switzerland. In March 1986 it was established with 12 children. At the beginning they were seeking for mentally handicapped children in parishes, asking if any one knows about them. At that time mentally handicapped children were hidden in the families.
Do parents still hide children in Tanzania?
Yes, in fact you can recognise the child which was hidden, you can notice that they were lock inside so they want to feel free. It is very difficult to stay in touch with them. They want to be everywhere, even trying to get out of the fence. They are also very rough, they don’t like people. They can even take a stone and thrown.
Why do people hide them?
I think it goes back to African mentality… when those children were burnt down… People feel it is a shame to have them. Especially big potatoes – people with a lot of money… They do not like to show those children so they hide them. Or sometimes it happens that parents are sending the child here and then do not come to pick he or she up during the holiday. But it happens to one – two kids every holiday.
Why the centre is called Bethlehem?
Well, you know it is the church centre and Bethlehem was the place where Jesus was born. It was a little, unknown, neglected place but from there, Jesus came. So we think that it is like with our children that from here they can come up and do great things for themselves and the nation.
What can they learn here that can be later useful for the society?
It depends on their capacity. We teach children basic skills like writing, counting. Some of them are able to be prepared to attend the primary school. After they finish standard seven they come back here for vocational training – carpentry, waving, sewing, drawing, sculptures ect. The teacher select trainee according to once capacity, ability.
Are they able to find a job after the vocational training here, in Bethlehem?
Of course they don’t finish the trainings with the simple skills because of lower IQ level. So they normally need to work with someone, for example in carpentry. We encourage parents to send their child to the workshops, to work so at least they have some place to go. For example we have Richard here. He finished the vocational training. He draws and sells it. But he doesn’t know for how much he should sell things. He comes here and we provide him with materials and he draws. Then he sells it but I think he doesn’t receive the proper amount.
So without this centre he will not be able to work?
Well, it depends on parents. If his materials are finished, parents should buy the new one from the money he earned. But you know the mentality of African people, especially in villages. If something is finished, they come here to ask for more.
How many children do you have now? And what kind of disability do they have?
This year we have registered 109. For us is a maximum. They have mostly mild mental retardation. They need to be trainable. We like to trainee, not only to care.
What is your cooperation with local authorities?
It is difficult. At one time, when the centre was started they said “OK, we will help you and will bring some help”. Then it stopped because they think that church has normally money. Then they brought here the teachers but they do not contribute anything to the budget.
And what support do you have from foreign organisations?
Normally we have support from Switzerland, one parish there gives us 30 million per year, 4 million comes from church. Our budget is published and available to see.
What is the most sustainable activity here?
For me, I mean for the accountancy is the charring machines. Even now we have bought the new one because it’s generating a good income. The second one is renting the rooms for shops or other services like hair-dressing. We have also houses but they were built by foreign aid and when you count economically it will take a lot of time to make profit. But of course in Africa we got that money and do not need to give it back.
You have also chicken or cows. Do you also make it as a business?
Chicken yes, we sell eggs ect. Cows are mostly for milk for children, but now we have milk from Switzerland. We have to stop milking cows so they will be good for breeding. And the cows are old so do not give a lot of milk. But still you have to pay the salary for keeping cows… And pigs and porks are only for business because of religion. Many of the kids are Muslim so we cannot cook it. But also sometimes parents ask to teach children how to keep pigs so when they come back home they can help parents.
What is the biggest challenge for people with intellectual impairment in Tanzania?
I think the most important is to rise the awareness of people living with them – that children with mental disability can learn, have choice what they want to do. The society has lack of this awareness – that these children have capacity for development. That’s way they hide or send to the centre like this without caring about anything. They don’t pay the fee. They pay for another child who goes to secondary school one million but they don’t want to pay 200 for this child because they think it’s useless. So this is the most important. We even put some things made by children outside the gate to show that they do some nice things. People think that they just wake up, eat and go to sleep again. But no… this is the place where people do sports, learn and work.