Accompanying children with disabilities in Tanzania - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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December 2022 newsletter


Jaclyn Geyer, Tanzania


Josephina (left) and Hitra (right) show Jaclyn Geyer how to harvest rice at the St. Justin’s farm.

I can hardly believe I’ve been in Tanzania for 11 months. It’s already Advent again!

This time last year I was experiencing Advent with my orientation group in New York and worrying about what I could possibly do to help the community I would be entering. I certainly couldn’t have imagined that in a few short months I would be helping teach English to deaf students and facilitate other activities for children living with disabilities right on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Florence (left) and Boniface (right) learn how to do Sudoku puzzles together.

A recent experience highlighted for me what mission has meant for me during this first year.


Florence and Peter:

One day, as I was leaving St. Justin’s Centre after our English class, I heard the gate open behind me and two students ran after me, Peter (16) and Florence (15). I was tired and my introvert self just wanted to get home quickly. I didn’t want to talk to, or even sign with, anyone!

It’s a common custom in Tanzanian culture to sindikiza, or accompany, a guest on their way home after a visit. When Peter and Florence smiled and gestured to me that they would be accompanying me to the main road, I realized Christ was telling me something.

With my limited TSL (Tanzanian Sign Language), I started to make small talk with these two boys. We talked about our families, and Peter informed me that his father was dead. This took me off guard. Peter is one of my best students, very smart and always kind and helpful with the other kids. To hear that, at his age, he had lost his father already was heartbreaking. To see him still being so gracious and working so hard to make a better life for himself was very humbling and inspiring.

While we were waiting for a bajaj (a three-wheeled motorized rickshaw), a group of children fascinated by the mzungu (foreigner/me) came over. I said hello to the kids in Swahili and TSL. They wondered at my American accent and the odd motions I was making with my hands.

Florence and Peter came to our rescue. They started to teach the kids how to greet in sign language. Everyone was laughing and curious to learn more. Deaf children, and sometimes adults, in Tanzania are often isolated from the community at large. I saw this exchange as a small step toward inclusion.

Peter (back center) practices English/Swahili flashcards with his classmates

There is often a temptation in mission to focus on being productive, getting results, and making an impact. In this moment with Florence, Peter and a bunch of younger children we encountered on my way home, I was reminded of Luke 18:16-17: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”


About St. Justin’s

I’m hosted in Musoma by the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa (IHSA), a congregation of Tanzanian sisters whom the Maryknoll Fathers, Brothers and Sisters helped initiate in the 1950’s. The sisters asked for my help at St. Justin’s Centre for Children with Disabilities.

The number of kids at the center fluctuates around 75; the children experience a variety of mental and physical disabilities such as deafness/hearing loss, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. Without accommodation by St. Justin’s, most of the kids would not be able to attend school. School is often a long walk away, and the rural schools do not have accommodations for children living with disabilities or teachers who know Tanzanian Sign Language.

Many of the children at St. Justin’s are also old for their grade, as they started school late, and often struggle to keep up with their peers.

One of the teachers at St. Justin’s asked me to help teach extra classes in English. Since he knows Tanzanian Sign Language, we make a good teaching team. We tutor Grade 5 and 6 students in English twice a week. There are eight students, all of whom are deaf.  When they start secondary school after year 7, all of the curriculum will be in English, so it’s really important for them know English in order to keep up in all the subjects. I am consistently inspired by their eagerness to learn despite the struggles they face.

Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Now and through Dec. 31, thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!


Jaclyn Geyer
Jaclyn Geyer works at St. Justin's Centre for Children with Disabilities in Musoma, Tanzania.