Agnes Onai, 45, is married to Luka Tadeo, 50. They are residents of Kigongoi village in Maramba ward, Mkinga district.
Shortly after their Christian marriage which took place at a local Anglican Church in the village, about two decades ago, the couple were blessed with a male child whom they named Stephen.
Both parents, as well as parents of both husband and wife, were happy at the blessing God had bestowed them.
With the proceeds saved from sales of cardamom which they had harvested from their farm, the peasants farmers bought two or three pairs of shorts and shirts for the newly born.
But as days went by, Agnes felt some awkward signs in the child that worried her.
At the age of six months, Stephen could not sit upright. When her mother attempted to make her sit on his own, she found that the infant could easily fall on either side without her support.
In time, with mother support, Stephen was eventually able to sit upright.
But as the saying goes, certain signs precede certain events. This is because as time passed by, certain developmental changes with regard to the toddler’s growth were noticed.
At the age of two years, in 1990, the boy’s mother noticed that Stephen was constantly banging his head on the wall.
“When I explained the unusual behaviour to one of my relatives one day, a retired teacher, he advised us to get the condition checked at a hospital,” says Agnes.
“She says “Since I was sympathizing with my child’s behavior, who, a part from the head banging had no speech whatsoever, I discussed my relative’s advise with my husband and eventually we agreed to take the matter seriously.”
Within the next few days, the couple took the child to Bombo government hospital in Tanga where they were referred to Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH).
After undergoing various tests at the national facility where the boy was admitted for two weeks, a neurologist told the couple that the boy had a congenital diplegia.
Congenital diplegia, the couple were told, is a condition a child was born with, possibly an inherited condition that had been passed from generation to generation from either of the descendants - the father’s or mother’s family side.
The couple were given lectures on speech therapy for a day or two and discharged. They were firmly advised not to have more children as the next one may be born with a similar condition.
Back home, the boy, walking with unsteady gait for a few metres continued to remain speechless.
Presently, at the age of twenty years, Stephen is totally dependent on her mother. He can not , in any way-leave alone eating on his own. He was therefore not able to attend school.
Stephen’s episode, and similar others, are what in effect triggered sympathisers within and outside the country to come up with the idea of formation of a University College to cater, specifically for such unfortunate kids.
Irked by such problems afflicting part of the society, particularly the under privileged, the disabled and similar groups, the North Eastern Diocese (NED) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT), under the leadership of the diocese’s head, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Stephen Munga, now an active human rights activist, in 2003 requested the government to consider handing back Magamba Secondary School to ELCT-NED.
The aim was to establish a University College.
Almost two years later- in October 2005, the school, formerly a Lutheran establishment, was legally handed over to the diocese.
The NED decided that the faith based university, be called Sebastian Kolowa University College (SEKUCO) in honour of the first African Bishop of NED – Dr. Sebastian Kolowa who died in 1992.
Sebastian Kolowa University College (SECUCO) is a constituent college of Tumaini University – a Christ centred University that offers all its programmes through the guidance of ,and obedience to the word of God.
It is a professionally oriented university which is intended to guide development from diseases, ignorance and poverty for all people in society.
SEKUCos vision is to be a leading African institution of higher-learning that fully recognises and actively professes the human value and dignity of all society members ,including people with disabilities , according the college’s prospectus for 2010-2011.
“We mention people with disabilities in our vision because most national, regional and district plans do not include people with disabilities,” says Josepaht Semkiwa, SEKUCo’s Acting Deputy Provost (Administration).
Presently, SEKUCo runs three faculties. The Faculty of Education with several departments, including the vital wing of special needs.
Others are Faculty of Law, and Faculty of Science.
The Faculty of Education Special Needs (Bed. SN) offers specialization in cognitive disabilities and autism spectrum, hearing impairment, speech and language disabilities and visual impairment.
According to the college’s prospectus, the Bachelor of Education Special Needs (Bed SN) programe focuses on general and special needs education by course work and field experiences to be gained in pre-primary, primary, secondary education and teachers colleges.
“In courses like cognitive disabilities and autism spectrum, students will be expected to understand the causes and characteristics of students with cognitive disabilities and autism” says Rev. Prof. Festo Bahendwa, SECUCos Deputy Provost (Academic Affairs). Cognitive disability is a problem concerning understanding and grasping of issues.
“The course provides an overview of deficits in speech, language and communication. Students will also be exposed to basic principles of applied behaviour analysis (ABA).’
“Specific areas will include history of autism, common signs of autism and diagnosis of autistic individuals,” says Rev. Prof. Bahendwa.
In a nutshell, autism is concerned with mental disability.
According to Rev. Prof. Bahendwa, teacher students are expected to address the education of children and youth with significant behavior disorders.
Other courses in the programme include early intervention for students with deafness, blindness, sign language, speech disorder, visual impairment and braille.
Prof. Bahendwa said generally, students for special needs are lectured to be able to deal with people with different disabilities and help communities around them, including parents of the disabled.
“If the community concerned becomes aware of the problems of the disabled, it will consider the group as other children,” he says.
He said “teachers of the disabled are instrumental in disseminating awareness on the plight of the disabled which may in due course spread in the whole country.”
The Deputy Provost hailed the government’s move to introduce, in its curriculum, inclusive education wing to cater for pupils with special needs, providing for interaction between them and other pupils.
“The aim is to remove the conception held by some people that the disabled are not part of the community,” he says.
“The disabled should be brought up along with other children in order to remove stigma and hatred in the community’.
He said along with the strides made by government, it should extend the training of teachers for inclusive education and special needs.
“The government should create public awareness to leaders at different levels of leadership on the need to provide education to children with disabilities,” said the academician.
Implementation on the policy on the disabled should be adhered to, if it (policy) says schools for such children should be built, they should be built.
He said curriculum for schools on the disabled at all levels as well as colleges, should be introduced so that the community is aware that the government’s policy needs them to consider the plight of the disabled.
Presently, the college is introducing a new technology on visual impairment, language and speech disability.
The programme, known as “jaws” will eventually take the place of “Braille.
Rev. Prof. Buhendwa says graduates of “jaw” technology will eventually be able to use computers in the same way normal people do. Since its inception, a total of 417 special needs students have graduated from the college. In 2010, 132 students graduated while the number was 285 in 2011, according to Rev. Prof. Buhendwa who revealed that all the graduates have been employed.
According to United Nations (UN) Convention, among the 650 million people with disabilities worldwide, 80 percent live in developing countries while the World Bank (WB) reports that 20 percent of the world’s poorest have disability.
An estimated 90 percent of children with disability do not attend school in developing countries (UNESCO report).
“Disability normally goes in tandem with poverty, considering that a disabled can not fully contribute to productive work, if so, he remains poor. His income is affected and hence low productivity,” says an academician who opted for anonymity.