Friday, November 13, 2015

Shimmy Shimmy Ya

Happy Friday the 13th, one and all!  I, for one, am extremely glad it's furahi-day as the last couple weeks have been real doozies!!  Mama needs to catch up on her beauty sleep....  And by "mama," I mean me!!

The title of this post not only refers to a late '90s Wu Tang track (RIP to the ODB), but also one of my students from 2013, Shamimu, whom I lovingly nicknamed "Shim-Sham," (although there are many other acceptable derivations of this moniker, as you will see below)Those of you who know me, know that I am ALL ABOUT a nickname, so this is a point of partiality on my part, not poking fun.

Shamimu was part of our first-year cohort and one of the children we identified as unlikely to thrive in the inclusive classroom.  In addition to being far behind her peers academically, Shimmy-Shammers was behaviorally troubled and living with her elderly grandparents who were unable to care for her properly.  Intellectually impaired, she was left vulnerable to the social dangers facing kids with disability, and it became a real shida.  I was heartbroken, quite frankly, working with her that first year (

However, what does Toa Nafasi do in the face of such a dilemma?  We fix it!!  Vumi and I talked at length to Sham's grandparents and after some cajoling, we got the go-ahead to enroll her at Gabriella.  She started boarding and schooling there in February 2014, and has been thriving in that environment ever since (

For starters, she's safe from the threats that no 8-year-old should ever have to know about let alone experience.  Without that distraction, the employees at Gabriella have been able to capture her attention and hone in on what her natural learning style is and how best to accommodate it.  Through updates from Brenda and periodic visits to the center, I have been pleasantly surprised to watch her grow from a troubled little girl to a fairly well-adjusted lil' lady!  In fact, this Fall, Shamimu will join classes at a regular public school (like Msaranga Primary) nearby to the center while continuing to board there!!

All of the kids that I work with are special, of course, but the case of Shamimu is a particularly affecting one for me.  There are many implications at play here: my first taste of the really dark side of this work, the uncovering of some deeply disturbing stuff; recovering from that discovery and working with Vumi to find a solution that would be beneficial to Shamimu but would also satisfy her grandparents who were really stuck on the stigma of her disability; and, her amazing growth once removed from Msaranga and given the extra attention she needs.

Shimmy-Shams has really flourished under the care of the Gabriella staff in a way that even I could never have imagined.  From not knowing "A" from "1" and her eyes from her ears, this kid is on fire, reciting the English alphabet for anyone who will listen and even reading and writing in short sentences in Kiswahili.  I am so pleased with her progress and hope that she can come back to us soon at Msaranga once we're sure she'll be safe from any predatory types in the village.

Of course, Shim-Sham is also a lasting link between me and Vumi, and when I think of her, I think of the difficult work that Vumi and I did back in 2013 and 2014.

I think of my hopeless tears ("We're too late!") and being ready to give up upon finding out what had happened to her, and Vumi soldiering forward, determined to find a way out.

I think of confronting the grandparents, especially the Babu, and how hard Vumi and I had to work to convince him that Gabriella was the best option for the child.

I think of visiting her at Gabriella with Vumi and how excited she was to see us each time ("Mwalimu SarahMwalimu VumiMwalimu, mwalimu, mwalimu!!"), especially if we came with candy.

I think of this past year's World Autism Day parade through downtown Moshi, marching proudly towards the stadium with the Gabriella group.  Once there, we called Vumi on my cell phone since she couldn't be there in person, and I could hear the warmth in her voice as she told Shams and the others how proud she was of them.

Ahhhh, Vumi!  You are still here.  You are everywhere.

Here's Shamimu at Gabriella dancing to the ngoma (drums).  I actually remember this day well; it was not too long after we first enrolled her.  Vumi and I had commented on her kitambi (belly) as she had clearly put on weight since boarding at Gabriella.  I like my kids happy and well-fed!
This is my beloved Vooms at a seminar at the center for teachers working with kids with disabilities.  She liked to put up a fuss about having her photo taken.
The classrooms at Gabriella are colorfully painted (unlike at typical public schools) making it a fun environment for learning.  The timetable is kept with a pictorial schedule so that all the kids at the center know what they will be studying and when.  Shimmy-Shams was so happy to be able to show off her newfound reading skillz when my aunt Danna and cousin Philip came to visit.
Outside, the center grounds are just as inviting.  The kids tend a vegetable garden, raise goats and rabbits, and PLAY!
Older kids are shown how to make crafts which they can sell to make some pocket money.  They are taught basic math as well as reading and writing so they can sustain small businesses.  Younger kids like Shammers are told to kumbuka or "remember" some simple self-worth adages: everyone is unique, everyone has something to be proud of.
And, saving the best for last, this smile has made the journey - the highs and the lows - all of it .... all worth it.
'Course now I hear Vumi's voice telling me the journey ain't over and I should acha kucheza (stop playing around) and get back to work.  Okay, Vooms, whatever you say, Boss wangu!

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