Involved Parents and Peer Interaction Inspire Malaika’s Growth
Seven-year-old Malaika Roman is the baby of her family, born with spastic cerebral palsy to older parents who are both now in their 60s.
With her siblings grown and her parents no longer working outside the home, Malaika’s well-being is the primary focus for her mother and father. This is unusual in Tanzania, where parenting and family care remains very gendered and fathers typically do not participate in caregiving activities.
Instead, Malaika’s father contributes to Malaika’s care equally with her mother.
Because of their hands-on approach, the two stay-at-home parents initially opted for in-home services from Building a Caring Community (BCC), Mosaic’s Tanzanian partner.
From 2015 to 2017, an outreach worker from BCC visited their home once a week to do a general welfare check and therapy activities with Malaika. To continue her therapy throughout the week, her parents took instruction from the outreach worker and consistently applied these techniques.
Though in-home services were beneficial for Malaika, BCC’s occupational therapist, Sister Woinde, pushed for her to transition to services at one of BCC’s eight day centers. Sister recognized Malaika’s potential for learning and wanted her to attend the kindergarten in the Majengo neighborhood.
Malaika’s parents were excited about this opportunity for their daughter to learn alongside her peers, and she began regularly attending the day center in 2017.
Her growth since then has been remarkable.
“Malaika was unable to stand when we started working with her, but now she can stand, or even roll from one place to another,” Sister said. “She was not able to feed herself, but now she can hold a spoon with support.”
Spending time with her peers has also improved her social skills.
When Malaika first arrived at the center she was very shy and reserved. She had spent all of her time in her home with only her parents for company, and she did not know how to interact with other children or adults. In the last few years, she has become much more social and is working to find nonverbal ways to communicate with the other children in her class.
“She is now very friendly with others,” Sister said. “When she was at home, she was lacking people to play with. Now she’s happy at the center, playing with others.”
BCC staff have also noticed that the inclusive classroom setting does a lot for Malaika’s energy levels. Previously, she had been fairly subdued, but spending time in the inclusive classroom has made her a more active participant in lessons and activities.
“She’s a really friendly child,” Sister said. “She enjoys being with people and likes participating in many things.”
Malaika’s teachers are currently working on picture recognition with her, with the hope that she will soon be able to communicate using the Picture Exchange Communication System, which will give her more independence when interacting with other children in her class and people in the community.
Malaika’s parents are pleased with the progress she has made since transitioning to the day center.
“They are very happy, both parents,” Sister said. “They were curious to know what would happen when she came to the center, but they are now happy to see changes in her. She’s now doing things that she was not able to do. They are eager to bring her to the center every day.”
Though their role in her life has shifted, Malaika’s parents remain actively involved and serve as role models for other parents of children with disabilities.
One of BCC’s biggest challenges is parents continuing care at home. Malaika’s parents, her father in particular, are appreciated by staff for consistently working with her at home and making sure she has every opportunity to reach her full potential.
Unlike other fathers, BCC staff know Malaika’s father well. He attends training sessions hosted by BCC and is always ready to learn. Through BCC, he has acquired the tools to ensure that Malaika has the best possible care at home, and he’s setting an example for other fathers.
Recently, BCC introduced support groups for parents with depression or parents who are otherwise facing stress and isolation. All but one of the 30 parents who attend are women.
To discuss the challenges these women face, one of the support groups had all of the participants bring their husbands or another male supporter in their life, and Malaika’s father came in to talk to the men about their role in caring for the children. His talk was well received.
Thanks to this high level of involvement from both of her parents, Malaika has made quick progress physically and socially. The added bonus for BCC is other families are learning from this dual parenting household.