Well, what a summer that was! We have had no fewer than two school groups, eight family members, two sets of friends and two film crews with us. It has been great fun showing them all around Neema, catching up with old friends and having an excuse to visit the beautiful Ruaha National Park that’s on our doorstep.
We hope you have all had a chance to see our latest Neema Crafts video. This was very generously shot for free by one of our customers, Mark Sherman from Mosaic Collective, based in the US. Being typically manic at Neema, we didn’t have much time to prepare for the shoot but we were pleased with the result, which tells some of the Josephat’s story and covers many facets of the project. We really enjoyed having Mark stay with us and we were able to share stories of living with a four and two year old children!
Our deaf football team’s most recent outreach was to a far off village, west of Iringa, called Kinyika. This was one of Pastor Joshua’s home parishes and so the whole village turned out for the occasion. It was particularly encouraging to see a sketch put on by the youth of the church which challenged perceptions about disability. In the drama, a father came home to find a disabled child in his house (I couldn’t work out if it was meant to be his child). Unable to tolerate such a shame and burden within their midst, he remonstrated with his wife and instructed her to just feed left over scraps to the child.
To roars of laughter from the many children gathered around, the next scene was of the father returning home again, but this time with a debilitating injury from riding his pikipiki (motorbike). The tables had turned and now disabled himself, he expected his wife to wait on him hand and foot. While it was greeted with a great amount of humour, the drama dealt with some very commonly held prejudices within the village community.
I imagined the father’s reaction to the disabled child was slightly exaggerated, but people reassured me that this is exactly what happens, with the father often leaving the home altogether if a disabled child is born.
Soon it was time for the football, but while the players were warming themselves up, Arthuman (our amiable shopkeeper) was rousing the children with loud chants of “Neema! Neema! Neema!” Kids from all corners swamped Athuman who himself is only three feet tall, but once he called the tune they readily followed his lead.
“I was born in Beleko village on 25 April 1994. My whole body was kind of soft and limp and I caused my parents a lot of problems. They just didn’t know what to do with me. They cared for me though and slowly, over my first four years of life, I began to gain strength little by little. When I was four, my father suddenly got a bad fever and died. Everyone from all around our region came to his funeral. He was known and loved by so many for being the entertainer; he always made people laugh. I like to think that he left a bit of his personality behind in me.
“My mum eventually married again and she took me and my brother with her to live in the main town Kondoa. When it was time for primary school, the teachers kept me behind a year because my disability meant that I couldn’t touch my left ear with my right hand – the test to see if you were old enough for school!
“In year five, I was asked to lead the marching band and this is where I began to realise I could dance and make people happy. One year, a Congolese dance and music troupe came to visit our town; everyone said I had to meet with them as they had an “mfupi” (short person) just like me. After seeing me dance, they approached my parents to ask if they could take me with them! My mum quickly put an end to that idea, but as I moved on to secondary school my love for entertaining continued.
“One year, a special talent competition was called for the whole of the Manyara region and all of the secondary schools were allowed to enter one candidate. I was so happy to be the one chosen out of all of the kids from my school, but I could barely believe it when I won the whole competition! When I came back to school, I was greeted like a hero. They threw me up into the air and carried me on their shoulders in a kind of parade around the whole building!
“I finished school at form four (GCSE level). I hadn’t studied hard enough to carry on to sixth form – I was too interested in making people laugh! At this time my older brother had moved to Iringa and he asked me to join him. It took him about a month of pleading with my mum and reassuring her that I’d be looked after. I soon found lots of work travelling all over the country, helping to promote people’s businesses. Whether it was selling motorbikes or TVs, people loved to see me and another “mfupi” friend I met in Njombe at the front of a shop handing out flyers or dancing to music.
“However, eventually my brother had had enough. He’d promised my mum I’d be safe and even he didn’t know from day to day where I was or who I was with. So he called me home and said: ‘You need to get a normal job Athuman.’ ‘Well, what do you think I can do?’ I replied. ‘Look at me, I can hardly start farming can I?’
“Over the following months trying to do odd jobs about town, I heard about Neema Crafts and how it employed people like me. I managed to get myself on the business training course and I started to sell DVDs, but what I really wanted was to work at the centre. Everyone there seemed so friendly and really close, just like a big family. I started praying. “I couldn’t believe it when a few months later I got a call from Paulina, our business trainer. ‘Athuman’, she said, ‘we’d like you to come in for an interview, to work in our shop.’”
Athuman is now the life and soul of the Neema Crafts shop and travels with us whenever we have a show or market, making customers happy.
“Changamoto” means challenges in Swahili and these last few months have not been without them. Very tragically we have had two staff in the last month at Neema who lost their babies at full term. Difficulties at birth can happen anywhere in the world, but giving birth here does seem particularly dangerous. In fact, being admitted to hospital does not regularly result in recovery.
Just before the summer, I discovered a close acquaintance (a faithful visitor to the Neema Cafe and supporter of the project) had gone into hospital complaining of amoeba. Only two and a half days later she had died. Despite being a Canadian citizen in her early 50s, she hadn’t received the correct treatment in time and was possibly given an incorrect diagnosis.
It is for these reasons that we feel particularly vulnerable when one of our children becomes sick. Alessia (aged two) in particular has been suffering from high fevers roughly every six weeks since being back in Tanzania. Her last but one fever (when she reached 105°F) concerned us so much that we tried to arrange an air-evac to be on stand-by just in case.
Since then, we were able to see a visiting paediatrician who did something no local doctor had done – he looked down her throat. Straight away, he saw that the problem was tonsillitis and was able to reassure us that this was why she had been getting such frequent fevers. This was a great answer to prayer!
With lots of love
Ben, Katy, Zachary and Alessia x