Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pictures of Edward

Edward and his brother Barnabus who was already attending Upendo Primary School

Edward and his teacher, Mr. Peter

Edward and his peers at Upendo-  the tall boy has quickly become one of Edward's best friends at the school.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Good news!!

These past couple weeks have seen a significant victory for inclusive special education here in Mwanza.  Helena was successfully enrolled in the local Montessori school.  This is a significant move as being wheelchair bound and attending school with your peers has been virtually unheard of in Mwanza up until this point, even at the Montesoori School.  As well, Edward has been welcomed with open arms by the Sisters of our lady of Kilimanjaro at Upendo Primary School (fitting, since Upendo means love!)

However, with help from the school's founder, Sister Denise Matel, and the staff (who had to overcome a bit of reservation since last year they had turned mom away when she came to enroll Helena on her own) Helena was welcomed on the first day.  Providentially, her teacher, Mr. Arnold, himself has a disability; he moves around the classroom with the help of a staff since his right foot is shriveled and useless.  After the first week, things seem to be running smoothly and on schedule with bathroom accommodations and
Helena in her new classroom, called "Giraffe"

Edward's story

Edward, is a 4th grade student with cerebral palsy who had been studying at Huruma.  He has already overcome many challenges from poor muscle development to difficulty expressing his learning through writing.  However, Edward is a fighter.  Sister Mora, a former Irish volunteer a Huruma school, once said Edward's knees used to be bloody from crawling on the cement floors at Huruma, since his legs weren't strong enough to walk.  He loves learning English and is sharp in math, having memorized his basic addition facts.

Like any great mom should be (but unfortunately not many are here), Edward's mom is a fantastic advocate for him.  When she found out that Helena had gotten into a regular classroom with her peers she wanted to find a similar situation for her son.  However, with Edward, being in a regular classroom is much more difficult.  The primary issue is that many Tanzania teachers use the "chalk and talk" method of teaching.  As the name conjures, this method involves the teacher writing a lot of information on the blackboard and the students copying it down.  For a student with writing difficulties, this style of learning is extremely difficult.  

Edward's mother began the search for a new school with the one that his brother attends, Upendo, a Sisters of our Lady of Kilimanjaro School.  Together we visited the school, and while the grounds are nice and the teachers seem friendly, we were unsure whether they were ready to accommodate a student with special needs.  God comes through.  The head teacher at the school, a jolly sister who immediately gave Edward a hug, bent down and started engaging him in conversation with a big smile, was decidedly for Edward attending her school from the beginning.  Further meetings twice a week with Peter, his main teacher and the other teachers proved that the name fits the school.  Edward's teachers are excited about him being their, ready to give him accommodations such as having a scribe help him with his weekly tests, and even were excited to point out that he is making friends at the school.  Let's hope and pray that this spirit of love and welcoming for Edward continue at the school, but for now, it is so much more than had ever expected given other experiences with how people with disabilities are treated here in Mwanza.

Thank you all for your continued prayers.  I'll post a pic of Edward at his school on Monday when I go visit the school to bring an oversized adaptive keyboard that we got courtesy a Washington State University garage sale (during James's doctoral dissertation no less!).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Update on Stephano's house

Some of you may remember the different cloth items we were selling on our return trip home last June.  From shoulder bags to ipad pouches, these items were made by Stephano, a friend of ours who works at Tunaweza an adult vocational center for people with disabilities.  Stephano was selling these items to raise money for his family home where his mother and brother (who is also disabled) will live. So, you may be wondering, how is the house coming along?

Well, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here it is.  They have built the foundation and the walls, and now are looking for ways to raise more money for the windows and the roof.  And so, if you're interested, we'll be coming home in June with some new products and designs of Stephano's!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Update!

Aaron, Caitlin and David standing in a Baobab tree.

Thanksgiving Update!

It’s been a while, and we’ve been busy-  but we’re taking a day off (though the rest of the country isn’t) to remember all the things we are thankful for!  Here’s a quick list!

  1. Health:   We both have been very healthy all things considered.  Caitlin has been dragging David around on her 50 workouts before Christmas goal. (As of today we are half way there!)  We’ve been eating healthy and keeping the malaria away!
  2. Proposal:  Recently we both wrote and submitted a proposal to the archdiocese of Mwanza to begin an inclusive special education program in the parochial schools here.  This program would be a much more sustainable model than an separate, donor funded institution and also be a much less restrictive environment for students with special needs.  Basically this would integrate special education services with regular ed. services, something that is not happening yet here in Mwanza.   So far the diocese has received the proposal favorably and the plan is to present the proposal before the headmasters of the eight different schools. Please pray that we find a way to get these principals excited and on-board with special education!
  3. Funds for Huruma:  Due to the support of many of you and a couple major donors whom Maryknoll Lay Missioners helped David find, Huruma has funds to operate for another year.  Mum’s the word however as we would like the school and associated parents group to continue to make efforts to find funding and sustainable solutions on their own (with David’s counsel of course).
  4. Impromptu school:  Tired of the neighbor kids coming over, bickering and breaking toys, Caitlin took it upon herself to start an after school supplementary program for these seven or eight kids.  She made each kid there own file folder that she fills with, math, writing and English worksheets for them to work on when they come over. The kids are eating up the more directed attention and are making significant improvements in math, writing and reading!  Somedays they go through their worksheets faster than we can print them. Even Steve, who just turned 3 has started asking for worksheets like the big kids!
  5. Family visits:  We are grateful for Aaron Storey’s (Caitlin’s brother) trip out to Mwanza to see us and Andrew and Alicia Barrett (David’s cousins) upcoming visit in March.  Aaron got a full taste of Mwanza life as well as an enjoyable trips to Bukoba, a camping trip out in the bush with the Watuturu people and a short trip into the Serenghetti (complete with lion sightings from five feet away!).  We hope he’s recovered from the culture shock of stuffing himself with cooked bananas, rice, chicken and much more!
  6. Father Dan Ohman- a man with an incredible story who has been out here since before independence in '61!  It's been a privilege to see his work with the Wataturu people.
  7. There’s so much more!  God has been incredibly faithful over the last year, giving us good work to do and times to rest and recover.  As well we are always meeting amazing priests, sisters and other lay people who have heard the call to engage the Tanzanian people and it is always encouraging to hear their stories!   We hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving and we’d love to hear from you soon!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Helena is walking (well, in the pool with a noodle at least)

Helena walking in the pool at the international school.
Four months after her surgeries, Helena is walking.  Well, sort of.  We have been doing some amateur physical therapy at the pool at Isamillo International School (because that is the only option).  It took a little while for her to get used to the water, and since her bone is still healing slowly she was very hesitant, but now she is much more excited and has even walked the length of the pool while floating on a noodle.  Now we are going to the pool at least four days a week and would go more if Helena had her way!
Thanks for your prayers and stay tuned!   

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

As many of you know, Huruma Special Unit was founded by Bertha Haas in 2004. The school serves around 40 students with disabilities in Mwanza, Tanzania who otherwise would not go to school at all!

Currently the school has funds to remain open for two more months. We need to raise additional funds to keep the school open for at least another year while we continue to find local support from the community and government.

If you'd like to help, you can donate at 


Both sites will allow you to make a tax deductible donation.  

Thanks for your support!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Helena got her casts off with some help from Aaron Storey

After two months with full length leg casts, Helena finally was cleared to have them removed today!
Dr. Isidore (who is coming to a conference in Richland WA next week), prescribed a leg splint but none were available.  So, Highline Community Hospital's ER tech Aaron Storey made one out of the materials he could find.  Helena was happy, mom was happy and things are progressing along well.  

Our next step is getting some biphosphonates to strengthen her bones.  We are working with a group called Join Hands Tanzania out of Dar Es Salaam and hope to see some progress soon.

Saturday we are going swimming and starting physical therapy.  Thanks again Aaron!