Mma Seema And Her "Can-Do" Attitude

Mma SeemaAsk almost any Motswana and they will tell you that in the past, people with disabilities were regarded with suspicion and fear (the disability itself was looked at as a curse – literally), and that they were kept hidden away at cattle posts and distant villages. Fortunately, this attitude is changing. It is changing, thanks to people like Mma Seema, a teacher of disabled preschoolers at the Tshimologo Stimulation Centre (TSC) in Francistown.

I met Mma Seema last week at a Little Seeds (see Planting Little Seeds) preschool teacher training course sponsored by Flying Mission. When I greeted her, she was cordial but slow to smile. It wasn't until I asked her about the children in her preschool that her face broke into a proud and beaming smile. I could tell that she wanted to tell me success stories about her children, but first I coaxed her to tell me about the Stimulation Centre itself.

The TSC takes children with physical and mental disabilities, starting at age two and up. The goal of the staff is for these children to achieve independence, so they focus on activities that teach daily living skills. They offer speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and cultural activities, such as Setswana singing and dancing. They also take the children on field trips to places where there will be a lot of people, such as to large supermarkets and the railroad station. "This is important," Mma Seema said, "because it challenges the traditional attitude of the Batswana, which is to leave children with disabilities behind." Extra help is needed when taking the children on outings, so the teachers depend on volunteers. "All of our volunteers are youth," said Mma Seema. "We don't have one older volunteer." But this pleases her, because it indicates that the attitude toward people with disabilities is changing with the younger generation.

The TSC teachers also make home visits to make sure that what the children are learning at school is being implemented at home. Perhaps at school the child can feed himself and stand independently, but at home the parents are feeding the child and helping him stand. They show the parents what the child can do and encourage the parents to let the child be independent at home.

At last—the part that Mma Seema was waiting for: I asked her if she would choose two children and share their stories with me. Once again her face broke into a big smile, and she didn't hesitate to comply.

Kagiso did not come to the Centre until he was five years old. At that time he was not walking or talking and he couldn't play with other children. The staff started Kagiso with speech therapy, then physical therapy, and then occupational therapy. They also took him to an orthopedic technician who made splints and special shoes for him. After the physical therapist had been successful in relaxing Kagiso's contracted muscles, they trained him to stand in a standing frame. From there he progressed to walking between parallel bars, then with a walker, and now he walks without assistance.

When Kagiso first came to the Centre, he hated it and begged to go home. Now his whole character has changed. He loves school. He has become very creative and paints nicely. Next year he will move to a special needs class at a regular government school, and the staff hopes that he will move quickly to a regular classroom.

Mpho came to the Centre when she was three years old. Due to a difficult birth, she was developmentally delayed in several areas, and these delays were complicated by HIV. Mpho, who is on ARV drugs, could talk, but she couldn't sit without assistance. The staff started out by teaching her to sit in a "corner seat." Then they moved her into a special chair with a table on the front. She also received physical and occupational therapy. After the orthopedic technician made splints and special shoes for Mpho, she followed a program similar to Kagiso's. She learned to stand with a standing frame, then to walk between parallel bars, then to walk with a walker. Now she is walking independently, and she's even helping others. She is ready to move into a regular school at any time.

When a new child like Kagiso or Mpho comes into Mma Seema's classroom, she does not focus on what the child cannot do. She focuses on what the child can do—and what the child will be able to do. With God's help, Mma Seema gives the child a future and hope. With God's help, Mma Seema changes the child's whole life.