Disability and development is still marginalised.
10% of global population is disabled.
The first post I published here about people with disability was the interview with Basel Ngwega, the director of the Bethlehem Centre, TANZANIA. For me it was an amazing study visit because everything there looks like is really working well.
This time I want to present the interview with Linda Ngido, the chairwoman of Mehayo, the organisation where I spent 4 month last year.
First see the atmosphere of Mehayo here:
How did you start to work with mentally handicapped children?
Well, I started MEHAYO in 1995. However, I started to be familiar with the challenges of handicapped children in 1989. I went to the training organized by Tanzania Society for Cerebral Parese and Mental Retardation. TSCP&MR was started in 1980/1981 by wives of diplomats in Dar es Salaam. And it was started because they didn´t see any mentally handicapped child in Dar es Salaam. And so they were thinking: ‘Is there no mentally handicapped person in Tanzania?’ They started talking with other people, doctors at hospital etc. At that time the main aim of the organization was to look for parents, look for children, who were mentally handicapped in Tanzania. That’s why they planned to call for a meeting or a training for teachers, social workers and doctors, from all regions of Tanzania, who could be ressource persons of that region. Luckily or unfortunately I was one of the teachers who were picked in that year in 1989. And so we went for that training to Bagamoyo. When I was going there, I didn`t know anything about mental retardation myself.
Did you have any students with disability in your class before the training?
When I was a teacher we had to report how many blind children were in our school, how many physical handicapped and how many „tahyras”. „Tahyra” is a Swahili term for mental retardation. In most schools or all schools „tahyra” were pupils that were getting zero, they were not doing well in their lessons. Just that. We had 20 „tahyras” or 30 „tahyras” in our school. But it was not true, we didn´t know who were they. When I came back from the training in 1989 (it was 3 months), I started to understand who the mentally handicapped children were. And I started to look for those parents and children.
And how did you do that?
Well, I went to schools, churches and offices and said: „Please I want to do something about those children who are like this, who are like that”. I had some names, some adresses . I collected all this datas and afterwards I went to visit all this places I found out. I found about 46 children at the beginning. These were the ones I started with.
Mehayo didn´t exist that time?
No, that time it didn´t exist. But I started the class for mentally handicapped children in Mikundi Primary School. In my first class, after that first survey, I got about fourty-something. I told all of them to come. But because some needed some people to bring them every day, those relatives got tired. So I ended up with 16. They were at the age of 7 to 16.
How did other pupils react in the Mikundi Primary School?
At the beginning everybody was complaining: „Who are they?”. I had really to fight. Even the teachers, they were telling „Ey, what is this now in our school?” or „Mama Linda, come and take your children, they are entering my class!”
How did your pupils feel?
You could see that they were feeling very happy inside because they got the chances to come to school, to wear uniforms etc. It meant a lot to them, ecspecially to those who were older. They had sisters and brothers coming to school and they had been just left at home before.
What were the parents expectations from the school and the teacher?
Oh, my dear, this parents are expecting so much from me. It was a big challenge. I felt I had to do something, because it was me, who went to the parents. I was convincing them, that their child can do much better, than now is doing. That’s why I want to have a kind of system, this education system, which could show them `Okay, your child is in this unit now, but when he grows up he can be in this program and then in another.´ That were my plans.
Luckily, there was a lady from the Netherlands, Yvonne Reifert. She came as a volunteer to help me at school. She helped me to establish the MEHAYO Centre. We wrote together an application to the Swiss Embassy, because her husband was Swiss and then we got the support which made me start here.
Linda Ngido and peacecorp volunteer Brian Stone.
What was your vision of MEHAYO that time?
Well, the problem with Mkundi Primary School was that there was only one class, only one class which the government gave me. They put all different children to one class – those who were able to work or to do vocational training as well. It was a terrible situation. I had youth who started in 1990 with me and in 1995 they were in their twenties. And I was thinking: ‘If we had some place, we could organize vocational training for them or they could work physically, maybe plant vegetable gardens.’ I thought we needed to train them to be practical, that they could see that they were able to do things, which they think in the beginning it’s not possible. But the government doesn´t have any program, no policy which says how our mentally handicapped children should be trained. Nothing, until today. So I felt it was my obligation to do that. I promoted those that had already grown up to come and start this program here in MEHAYO. I started in 1995 with 9 young people.
What was the reaction of local authorities about starting MEHAYO?
I, of course, was speaking with my educational authoriy: „Now we have this unit at Mkundi, but this is not enough, we have to have programs, which promote this children from one step to another. Because they cannot be in one classroom. They are not all of the same level. Some are able to do some things physically, but they are not good in mind, but there are a few who can learn, so they can go in the normal stream of education.” I got a yes from an educational authoritiy, so I was doing here in MEHAYO as an experimental program. But after two years, in 1997. my authority retired and the new one said: „This lady is doing something which she was not employed for.” I was in the hot soup for some months. I was’nt paid, because in the school they said: „There is no policy for the things which she is doing.” Or „stop doing all these things in MEHAYO, you should teach here”. So I was doing my own work, my own projects but they wanted to chase me out of work. Luckily after those four months, the regional educational authority was really good and he pointed to this educational authority that what he said was not true. If I was friendly to come and start such a program, it was his reponsibility to help me, to put this by law in the main policy or what ever, if I was doing too much, he was the one to slow me down, not just treat me like that.
However, I had to go to the unit to teach, but I couldn´t leave this, just leave it like that. There were some parents who were helping me to take care of the children. I went working and then after school I was coming back here and work again with MEHAYO.
And what about the foreign aid in that time?
There was this guy from Finland who was called Leo Lindstedt. He was working with a Finnish organization called CEPA, this is an organization, which is helping in developing countries. I went to him to ask for help. And he was helping me with money, but also he convinced me that „Now, Linda, you have to register this as an organization. Because I know you and I am helping you. But you cannot convince some other people to help you, because then they would be helping a private person. People always help when it´s an organization.” So he convinced me and he gave me the money to go and write those constitutianal things, you know, to be able to be registered.
When was it registered?
By October 1998 it was ready. MEHAYO was registered as an organization. So from that time Leo Lindstedt applied for a youth program from Finland and we started getting volunteers from Finland. I was teaching in school but at MEHAYO the finnish volunteers were working. I came back at 11, when the school unit ended, and joined them. So we had this program, it was called ETEVOC. I was getting young foreingers, after three months they left, but others were coming. Leo Lindstedt did really a good job to make me survive.
How did MEHAYO develop since that time?
The youth from school who were growing up, they were promoted to come and join here. But also some people who heard about MEHAYO they brought their children. But when they were younger, 11, 12, then I was sending them to Mkundi. But it was far (Mkundi is about 15 km from MEHAYO), so I started in 2000 a unit here in this nearby school also.
Can you tell us how Mehayo looks like now?
We don't have anyone who is employed. We are all volunteers here. I’m employed by the goverment to teach those who are suppose to be in the school. And of course you can see two another teachers. But all the others are volunteers. So we have 18 volunteers – including cooks ect. And we have 46 clients including orphans.
Can you tell us about the challanges you face because of your gender, leading the NGO as a woman?
Even today people do not belive that I am the one who is leading this MEHAYO. They always say: „Yes, she has a boyfriend there”. They alsways think that there is someone behind me who is advising, who is giving money, do things and so on. They don’t belive that I do it by myself. But no, my husband died in 1990, when I just started this project. I was going alone and with friends abroad helping me those days.
Linda Ngido with American ambassador in Tanzania