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Summer 2024 newsletter

 

Kyle Johnson, Tanzania

Pamoja Leadership Committee

Kyle with Pamoja Leadership Committee

There are a lot of things when doing mission work that one can do wrong. I’m often reminded of the old adage, “When making decisions, it is important to use good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience usually comes from bad judgment.”

Can I say that I may resemble that remark? How many times have I blundered and offended someone? How many times have I myself been offended about something trivial when I realized later on that I simply didn’t understand the nuance of a situation?

Tanzanian culture is very different from that of the U.S. No one really gets angry here when you get cut off in traffic. Everyone seems to do it to each other. Line cutting at the market is not uncommon. These things would drive many Americans crazy. Trust me, I know.

However, if a younger person fails to render the proper greeting to their senior, that is a serious breach of decorum. One is always offered something to eat or drink when you visit someone’s home, even if they have very little. These courtesies are beautiful, and I wish we had more of that in my own country.

With hard-earned experience from the last year and a half, I’ve learned that despite many opportunities for making mistakes, you can’t really go wrong with community building. Sometimes that means bringing people together who have never met, but often it involves helping to strengthen existing communities that are living on the margins of society.

Kyle playing games with children at Huruma School in Mwanza

People with disabilities, particularly children and older people, are among the most marginalized in Tanzania. There are many challenges with which to contend, with perhaps the largest one being not having a voice. Helping build a stronger and united community of people with disabilities helps give them that voice.

A few months ago I hosted a well-attended seminar on disability advocacy. The people who came either had a disability, a child with a disability or work with people who have disabilities. It was apparent during the session that the root cause of many issues stemmed from the fragmented nature of the disabled community.

Since then we have created a WhatsApp group with more than 200 members, and we expect it to reach 1,000 by the end of the year. It is estimated that 1 out 10 Tanzanians have a disability. This is easy to believe when you walk down the main road in Mwanza. You will see missing limbs, blindness, clubbed feet, deafness, cerebral palsy, mental impairments and more. Most of which, frustratingly enough, could be prevented (or improved upon) with better access to health care. So what to do?

To answer this question I read up on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is the reason why we have wheelchair ramps in the U.S. and why accommodation for people with disabilities is now understood to be a basic civil right. You might’ve guessed that this seminal law wasn’t enacted out of the charity of politics. Rather it was a hard-earned fight that took place over years of work by dedicated individuals who couldn’t bare the injustice of invisibility and discrimination any longer.

The disability movement in the U.S. was created by a community of people who came together from all walks of life and who fought tirelessly to achieve basic rights for people with disabilities.

On April 11 and 12 of 2025, Mwanza will host what may be the largest conference for people with disabilities in the history of Tanzania. We are calling it the “PAMOJA” Conference. Pamoja means together. In addition to our growing WhatsApp community, we are now putting out a monthly newsletter and are planning a billboard awareness campaign and walkathon in conjunction with the conference.

The intention is to help create a united community of people with disabilities so that their voices will be united and heard from now on.

I’ll be honest. This is a heavy lift, both logistically and financially. The good news is that we are attracting a lot of attention and the disability community in the Mwanza region and beyond is starting to talk about Pamoja. I am working with some truly amazing people who have dedicated their lives to disability advocacy.

It truly feels like we are at an inflection point and that we could see a flywheel effect following the conference. And that makes sense, right? Because after the ADA was passed in the US, similar acts were passed in other countries.

If this is something that you feel passionate about, please consider supporting this work and sharing with others who feel the same way. I promise you, it will make a difference.


Please consider supporting our family’s mission work in Tanzania with a donation through the link below.

We invite you to walk with us as our “COMPANIONS IN MISSION.” Companions in Mission are friends and generous donors who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information, visit Become a Companion in MissionThank you so much for your generosity! 

 

Kyle Johnson
Kyle Johnson provides entrepreneurial training to vulnerable populations as well as leadership and management training to two rural Catholic hospitals. He and his wife, Anna, and their three children, are based in Mwanza, Tanzania.