June 16, 2007- Visiting Monduli
This morning I set off for Monduli to visit a friend of Daniel’s who is a so-called “bead master.” His village is nestled in the Monduli Mountains, about an hour away from Arusha via dalla-dalla. As crowded and packed as it was on the bus, it was really interesting to watch the scenery change out the window, which my face just happened to be smashed against! Once we were out of Arusha the landscape quickly changed to flat plains with rolling mountains far in the distance, dotted with Masai herding their animals around.
Bingo, or Mr. Beads as I like to call him, was really a whiz with his beads! I picked out a beautiful beaded necklace, and left him with a few special orders to work on, including a Father’s Day gift for you, Dad! He does some really amazing work on clothing too, attaching beads in really pretty patterns. So he took me across the street to be measured by the tailor who will make a shirt for me, and then Mr. Beads will decorate it. It was really funny when I was being measured by the tailor because she kept babbling away in Swahili to her partner. It reminded me of being the nail salon at home and wondering if the Korean woman doing my nails was telling her co-workers how smelly my feet were. Either way, I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!
Around the corner from the ShopRite is a small shopping center filled with fancy coffee shops and other high-end little stores. It even has a gelato shop where Daniel and I decided to stop for a bit today. It looks kind of out of place here, but the gelato was delicious so I can’t complain!
Just before dinner we met up with Daniel’s friend Zakaria who I had met at the airport when I arrived, but hadn’t seen since. He doesn’t speak a word of English so Daniel had to play translator for most of the night, but he didn’t seem to mind. I’m not sure about the specifics of his disability, but Zakaria currently uses a tricycle to get around, and will be testing our wheelchair as soon as it’s done! According to Daniel’s translation, Zakaria is very excited to be involved in our project and it was nice to get to know him a bit before giving him the chair.
June 15, 2007- A Few More Tweaks
As we were building our first prototype, any problems that arose were pretty much fixed on the spot. Consequently, we found that in the end we had a few mechanisms that were no longer necessary. So we spent the morning really studying our product and getting rid of anything that we didn’t need anymore. We don’t want this new design to cost much more than the current one, so any excess material has to go!
The folks from Sibusiso came around again this afternoon, but this time with just one mother and child. The young girl’s wheelchair was ready, so she was here to be “fitted.” Because the children’s chairs are so specific and intricate, after it’s finished the children have to be fitted to make sure that all the straps are in the right place, etc.
After the fitting I had a nice chat with Emmanuel, the occupational therapist from Sibusiso who I had met very briefly the day before. He was really knowledgeable about the children and their conditions, and it was amazing to watch him work with them. He was also really excited to see our project and to find out more about what I was doing at Mobility Care. And it didn’t hurt that he was absolutely adorable. I’m trying to set him up with Agnes so we’ll see how that goes!
Around dinnertime Mario, another MIT student who is working at a tricycle/wheelchair workshop in Nairobi, arrived here in Arusha. He and Wenxian are going on a short safari this weekend, but I decided not to go since I’ll be going on a long safari with my family at the end of July. There’s still plenty more to see in and around Arusha to keep me busy until then!
June 14, 2007- Back at Mobility Care
As much fun as Moshi is, it was nice to be back in Arusha at Mobility Care today. Everybody was excited to have us back and wanted to hear all about our safari (Swahili for journey) the previous day. The staff at the two workshops know each other pretty well so they enjoy exchanging stories. Abdullah had told some pretty entertaining stories about Daniel when they were studying together at KCMC, so I had to tell Daniel the stories again to see if they were true!
The wheelchairs they make here have cushions made from two different foam densities—one is soft and squishy for comfort and the other is thicker to provide stability and shape. Mobility Care’s supplier for the thick cushion is in Nairobi, so Lucas had gone off to pick it up. Daniel had to meet him at the border to make sure he made it through customs alright. Apparently the border guys try to make them pay tax on the items they bring across, so Daniel goes to help smooth talk them through without paying. Once they understand that the material is being used to make wheelchairs it’s usually fine. Just before lunch Lucas arrived with about 15 large mattress size pieces of thick foam which we carried into storage. According to Daniel this is enough to last them a year and a half!
Along the same road as Mobility Care is the Sibusiso Foundation, which is a center for mentally disabled children. An outreach program finds the children, and then brings them to the center with one of their parents. From what I’ve heard, I believe they stay there for about three months learning about the disability, how to manage it, etc. They are supported by the Lillian Fund (I think) which allows them to purchase wheelchairs for most of the children before they leave, making them one of Mobility Care’s biggest supporters.
Today Sibusiso brought in 6 young children to be measured for wheelchairs. We were not expecting them so it was quite a surprise to suddenly have 6 kids and 6 mothers wandering into the shop! I hastily rounded up enough chairs for everybody so Beat and Agnes could begin taking the measurements. The chairs that Mobility Care makes for these children are really remarkable. They have all sorts of special straps and side supports, and even mudguards over the wheels for those children that are not able to push them.
While it was great to see that these children would soon be getting wheelchairs, it was really quite sad to see how much they were suffering. After the children left, we all sat around and talked for a bit, digesting what had just happened. Beat said something to the extent of “I’m happy that I can help by making a wheelchair, but sometimes after work like this you just feel sad.” So I did my best to cheer him up and assured him that he was doing an amazing job to help these children.
This led us into an interesting conversation regarding donations and international sponsors. I’ll be writing more about this soon, after I’ve given it some more thought. I really think there is vast potential for us to get involved on a deeper level here. Just need some more time to figure out how!