We are visiting the families of three children living with disabilities in Nkoansiyo. Faraja, Anna and Debora were all born with spina bifida, and the surgery to correct the condition resulted in paralysis from the waist down, accompanied by incontinence.
Each moved by dragging herself along the floor. There were few places to go. Disabilities are stigmatized in Tanzania. Consequently, these girls have been hidden away. Their existence was denied. Debora’s grandmother covers her eyes in shame as she recalls how she would tell Debora to hide if she heard a knock on the door. They were seven years old.
Lifted from a life on the floor
But it was through Faraja’s father – Goodluck by name and nature – that we came to know them in 2015. We’d arrived in Nkoansiyo to build rainwater harvesting systems, but Goodluck bravely chose to bring Faraja into the light. Anna and Debora soon followed. And we found ourselves following water to wheelchairs.
As the girls received the gift of mobility, their world expanded. Lifted from a life on the floor, they began to venture outside and meet neighbors. The sun began to shine upon them.
Though they’d never been near a classroom, all three knew they wanted to study. The head of Nkoansiyo Primary saw it as a wonderful opportunity. However, the school was not designed for wheelchairs. So we channeled our building resources into ramps, and the girls took their place among their peers. They had some catching up to do. They had never learned how to read or write, but their hunger for knowledge was insatiable. They caught up and soared to the top of their class.
Cleo joins us as we visit the girls. She’s a nurse and our new Health and Evaluation Manager. You might ask why a clean water charity would need someone like Cleo. But if you know us, you know that water is merely the medium through which we manifest our deep commitment to the people whose lives it changes. And water changes everything.
Like water, we always find a way.
Measuring that change and learning how we might bring it about more meaningfully – better, further, wider – that’s the juicy part. Conducting extensive monitoring and evaluation has always been part of what we do. We use the data to guide our decisions.
But it’s also true that we’re an organic, emergent organization. Through constant communication with communities, we understand where best we can be of service. That also determines our direction. Like water, we always find a way.
Working with Faraja, Debora and Anna is one of Cleo’s favorite roles. She prepares them for independent life by teaching them how to manage their catheters, personal hygiene, and what to expect with puberty. Cleo is a confidant and comfort as they chart a world of change. She wants them to overcome the obstacles society has placed in the path of their dreams.
It’s been seven years since the girls’ first day of school, and today, our girls will graduate from Nkoansiyo Primary School. The students arrive long before the ceremony starts. Spirits are high, and the music is loud. The girls are the epicenter of a swirling cacophony of exuberance. The friendships they’ve built spiral out in laughter, affection and shared stories.
There are speeches, garlands, cakes, and photographs. Students sing and dance. Pride swells in their parents’ chests, and tears stream down their cheeks. This rite of passage represents the culmination of so many victories. Seven years ago, no one even imagined this day.
No one could imagine what would come next.
We’ve learned that when you set goodness in motion, it exerts its gravitational pull. Like a magnet, more goodness is attracted into orbit. Soon there is a whole galaxy of possibility where nothing was before.
This is how Secondary Education for Girls’ Advancement (SEGA) secured sponsorship for Faraja, Debora and Anna to attend their prestigious boarding school in Southern Tanzania. The girls will be the trailblazing again as the school’s first students living with disabilities.
Dar es Salaam Dreams
We will take the girls and their parents to Dar es Salaam to visit the school and Tanzania’s largest disability and rehabilitative provider. We want to ensure they have everything they need for this next step. Classes start in January.
There’s a parallel reality in which Debora, Faraja and Anna would never have left the confines of their homes, let alone travel to their country’s capital city – or attend boarding school 480 miles from home. Faraja smiles at the realization that she will see the ocean on this trip.
Constellation of hope
From a life of hiding in the dark to a place in the world, it’s already been quite a journey to get here. It feels like stars are being put back in the sky. Faraja, Anna and Debora have taken their place in a constellation of hope.
As we prepare to leave, Goodluck is effusive with gratitude. We were praying for a solution, his wife says. How were we to provide a life for this child? She didn’t even know what to ask God for –the problem seemed so intractable. But she kept sending up her prayers for help.
It seems they gathered in the sky, numerous enough to condense into a cloud and with enough weight to answer her by coming back to earth as rain. You can never tell what form a miracle will take.
We’ve always thought of raindrops as miracles. When one falls from the sky, there’s no knowing what change it will manifest. Clean water. A garden. Health. Safety. Education. A forest. Perhaps a wheelchair. How about dignity? Safety. Community. Opportunity. Growth. Transformation. A future.
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