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Making a Difference in Tanzania

Keeping Huruma, a school in Tanzania for children with disabilities, open and running has been one battle after another for Bertha Haas, a retired teacher from Oregon. She walked three miles to the school for the first day of the 2011 school year, only to find city officials had decided to fill a gully in the property with trash, and garbage was strewn all over the yard.

The yard was cleaned, but a battle over funding came next. Although Huruma scraped together enough money to stay open for 2012, there isn’t enough funding for 2013. But closing the school isn’t an option, because Huruma’s students wouldn’t have anywhere else to go.

"There are very few schools for handicapped children [in Tanzania]," Haas told the Catholic Sentinel. "In our area, for a population of over a million, there are four classrooms for mentally handicapped children, but if they need a wheelchair, they can’t come."

Haas no longer teaches at Huruma—which means compassion in Swahili, Tanzania’s national language—but she still tries to locate funding for the school. After one of Huruma’s main financial backers decided not to donate any money for 2013, Haas took to the streets to find a new source of funding while she was visiting the school.

A little money can go a long way at Huruma, because the school keeps a relatively small staff. The school hired two new teachers, but Haas says they’re not used to Huruma’s individualized and inclusive teaching style. Typically, Tanzania’s special education students are sent to boarding schools with children who have the same disabilities.

"Education of children with disabilities in their own community is a novel idea in Tanzania, but it’s catching on," says Haas.

The goal of Huruma is to help students develop enough skills to make them as independent as possible despite their mental or physical challenges.

Finding transportation to and from school is one of the biggest obstacles faced by Huruma’s students. Half of the students walk to school. The other half uses transportation provided by Huruma, according to the Catholic Sentinel.

In the beginning, Haas drove the students and their wheelchairs to school in a car. As more students enrolled, Haas was forced to find enough funding to create a transportation system.

When the funding dropped, Huruma's enrollment fell by 40 percent. To ensure students could continue to reach the school, Haas encourage Holy Family, a Catholic church near the home of many Huruma students, to reopen a classroom and make it wheelchair accessible.

To donate to Huruma, visit laymissioners.maryknoll.org.

--Emma Chadband

Photo caption: NEA-Retired member Bertha Haas (left) introduces U.S. visitors to Huruma School in Tanzania.

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January, 2013