We Have No Word for Down Syndrome in Our Language

We Have No Word for Down Syndrome in Our Language

It is not often that we have the opportunity to truly change someone’s life, but working in a very remote region of Northern Tanzania over the last ten years has provided me with the good fortune to encounter a number of well-deserving individuals who, with smallest amount of assistance, can reach their dreams. It was during my recent visit in September, that I had the privilege of meeting two young men, both with Down syndrome, and both from the same Maasai village, who had been brought to see me for neurological evaluations.

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For the last ten years, I have had the honor of working with the Foundation for African Medicine and Education in the Karatu district of Northern Tanzania, providing not only neurological care to the residents of these remote communities, but also providing neurological education for the clinicians who provide year-round medical care in this region. Normally, I travel with a contingent of resident doctors from the University of Pennsylvania, but in this time of COVID-19, I was forced to travel alone to continue the work that I had begun a decade ago. Tanzania is a country of nearly 60 million people and over 100 distinct tribes, but one of the dominant tribes in the Karatu area are the Maasai, famous for their widely nomadic existence as livestock herders who range over vast plains of East Africa.

These two young men, who live in a village quite near Tarangire, one of the more famous wildlife parks of Northern Tanzania, were brought by the chief of the villages in their area whose name is Lobulu Meshuko Laizer. He had brought not only the two boys, but also another ten patients from their village who had other neurologic illnesses such as epilepsy or cerebral palsy for us to evaluate and treat. It was these two young men, though, with their easily recognizable Down syndrome, who I was immediately drawn too for I knew from past history that they very likely had not had the opportunity to go to school as they would have in our country. Sure enough, after further questioning, it became immediately clear that even though each of them had been well-cared for and loved by their families, neither of them had received the typical education or training they would have if they lived here.

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Realizing that this was one of those opportunities that we seldom encounter in our daily lives where we can make a difference, I began talking more to Lobulu, assisted by our wonderful social worker, Kitashu, himself a Maasai, about possibilities for these two boys. We knew of a vocational center in Usa River, several hours away, that might be a perfect fit for them, and quickly worked to make the necessary inquiries as to what it would take to get them there for an evaluation. While we were doing this, I also heard from the father of one of my Down syndrome patients back home who, through his incredible generosity, offered to help fund some of cost of their initial evaluation at the center.

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Accompanied by their chief and another gentleman from their village, the two boys and Kitashu traveled to the Usa River Rehabilitation and Training Center (https://www.rehabilitation-center-tanzania.org/en/) on Friday, October 16, where the boys toured the center and were evaluated to make certain that it was indeed the right place for each of them. From Kitashu’s summary, they were thrilled with the center, as the center was with them, and each had the opportunity to choose what vocation he wished to pursue. One of them, Tajiri Loishooki Laizer, age 18, choose to learn welding as a vocation, which is a three-year endeavor. The other, Amani Joel Laizer, age 16, chose to be a tailor for his profession, a two-year endeavor. The annual cost of their schooling for each would be quite modest at $750 to $800 per year for each of them which would include their school fees, health insurance, personal items (bed sheets, towels, blanket, soap, books, pens, etc.) and any other incidental costs.

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My hope is to raise the entire amount necessary for all their schooling (two years for one and three years for the other) which will be $4000. The plan is for them to begin in January 2021. As you can imagine, for these young men to have grown up in their Maasai village where their families would have had little knowledge of their condition must have been trying, though through it all, they were clearly well-taken care of and loved. Unfortunately, for them to go on and have some hope of partially supporting themselves, they will need to have the training offered by the rehabilitation center. There, they will also have the companionship of others in similar situations as their own and gain the self-confidence necessary to go on successfully.

As I have found meaning in my life by traveling to Northern Tanzania to work in this underserved part of the world for the last ten years, I am hopeful that you will open your hearts to help these two truly deserving young men make their dreams come true. It is a small request that I am certain will bring great joy in your life knowing that you have helped to make a difference where it is so needed.

Asante sana sana! (Thank you very,very much in Swahili)

Dr. Mike

P.S. This is my website where I first blogged about these two remarkable young men:

https://michaelintanzania.com/2020/10/02/monday-september-28-a-visit-from-our-tarangire-group/

Going forward, I do plan to keep an updated account of their schooling and keep everyone informed as to how they are doing.
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Organizer

Michael Rubenstein 
Organizer
Philadelphia, PA
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