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Getting a little bit closer with autism

A few weeks after the world celebrated the International Women’s Day (IWD) that is observed on March 8, every year, a big number of women have played a big role in transforming various social, political and economic sectors within their communities and in the country in general.

Among them is Brenda Shuma, an Occupational Therapist who decided to quit her job at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University as a tutor to fight against isolation and discrimination against disabled people in the community.

She is the Executive Director of Gabriella Children Rehabilitation Centre (GCRC), a Tanzanian non-governmental organisation (NGO) that has played a big role in awareness of the importance of avoiding isolation and discrimination against the ‘Special groups’ in the community for sustainable socio-economic growth in the country.

GCRC is among many nongovernmental organisations that have played a big role on the matter in the country by dealing with children and youths suffering from Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).

Speaking with this paper in an exclusive interview in her office recently, Brenda Shuma who is an Occupational Therapist by profession explained that Autism is a developmental disability that appears in children by the age of three.

“It impacts the child's ability to communicate and interact with others in society, and ADHD is a situation that occurs to the children and youth’s brain to become active above normal.” she explained.

She added that for her it has been a privilege to work with children and youth with disability in creating independence in them by giving them skills which they could use to become productive.

“It has been a journey teaching them skills like cooking, creating crafts that could compete in the market, and also gardening and livestock keeping, and we started with our first group of youth in January last year,” she explained during the interviews.

According to Ms Shuma, the children and youth with disabilities that she has been working with have now reached a stage where they can produce and are now being equipped on how to be entrepreneurs.

“Since 2014, GCRC has assisted them to start their own projects at their home places, and we feel happy to see them reach this stage, and we are looking forward for this new year’s endeavours…” she pointed out.

Shuma further explained that GCRC has created awareness on autism and brain disabilities to the community so that they can take them to the special centres/clinics for rehabilitation instead of hiding them in their houses.

“We are reaching more children, not only are we reaching children but also their families and their communities, and the change in their lives serves as advocacy to the larger community, where more children with disability who were hidden are brought forward after seeing the change in the ones attending our services. With hard work and determination, together we can keep the ball rolling,” she says.

On activities that her organisation has achieved in the 2015/16, Ms Shuma recalls; “The year 2015 was a very remarkable year for the Gabriella Centre as we made a lot of progress and changes in our activities, we had an increased number of children and we exceeded our target on service delivery.” According to her, there has been some Innovation on sustainability mechanism for their centre; where they managed to start livestock keeping for training as well as for sustaining the centre’s income.

“We have continued to find means and ways to improve our income so that we can deliver good services, and we have continued to host a unique and only clinic for diagnosis of children with autism…” she added.

According to her, they have continued receiving support and coaching from wellwishers last year to develop and manage to extend their charity service delivery to new areas as well as extend their outreach to new areas in other parts of the country apart from Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions.

According to Ms Shuma, her organisation has also managed to improve their children’s record keeping (particularly with Autism) by installing a software which will ease the workload at the centre. “Our children (with Autism) participated in different social events which aimed at giving them equal opportunities as well as inclusion to the community.

The social activities include visiting national parks and participating in 2016 Kili Marathon among many others. Ms Shuma is among two Tanzanians who are among ten winners of a 2015 prestigious International Award, Child 10 Award in an event held in Stockholm, Sweden in November last year, for their bold and innovative work with families and communities to prevent acts of violence against the child.

She became the winner of the award after empowering Tanzanian children with mental and physical disabilities by providing them with vocational skills needed to make a living, build a future and avoid vulnerability and abuse. She named the second winner from Tanzania as Kiiya JK from C-Sema organisation in Tanzania.

C-Sema runs the National Child Helpline, in collaboration with the government of Tanzania, and helps children in need of care and protection through a toll-free telephone line that is available across all networks in Tanzania.

“I’m happy that I’m among the ten winners worldwide who won the Child 10 (C-10) Award 2015 in an event that took place from November 8th to 10th in Stockholm, Sweden. This encourages me so much to continue supporting special need children, particularly with autism to become acceptable in the community after training them in a special way on how to take care of themselves and become selfreliant,” she explained.

She added that, the Child 10 Awardees also receive a grant of 100,000 SEK to encourage and support the continuation of their work.

“The end goal of Reach for Change’s work is to improve children’s lives on a big scale. The social entrepreneurs supported work to solve pressing issues facing children in a number of different areas, including health, development, education and social inclusion. To capture the impact on children, Reach for Change has defined six investment themes, encompassing the different issues that the entrepreneurs address.” she pointed out.

“You are doing a very commendable job to people with disabilities, particularly those with autism and learning disabilities, my advice to you is to introduce centres like this in other parts of the country so that you can help more and more Tanzanians with disabilities.” Ms Regina Munisi who has a child at GCRC said.

However, Munisi, a mother of five children also called on them to work in collaboration with the government and other well-wishers to provide more equipment for the special need people in the country because they face acute shortage of learning tools and materials among many others.

“My appeal to my fellow Tanzanians is to support people with disabilities instead of discriminating or abandoning them as they can become productive like anybody….” she insisted.

Gabriella Children Rehabilitation Centre (GCRC) is a charity non-government organisation (NGO) located at Machame Road area in Hai District, Kilimanjaro region. The organisation was started in 2009 and registered to work all over Tanzania Mainland.

The charity organisation was started mainly in response to the need of children with learning disabilities and autism. The reason for focusing in this group is because in all type of disability, this is the most neglected group in the area of service delivery.

WITH the budget session in full swing, ...

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Author: Woman Reporter

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