The Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home in Livingstone, Zambia, is part of a group of 11 centers for the care of disabled children named after Leonard Cheshire, an Englishman who began these organizations in India in 1955. Each center in Zambia seems to be organized differently. Some are actual living situations others are referral centers. All are run by local Zambian Franciscan Sisters trained for this work by the Franciscan order. They all provide physiotherapy, medical attention and education according to the child’s disability.
The Mama Bakhita Center, named after one of the very few black Catholic saints, opened in 1990 with five children in a small house. These Sisters went into the community and sought out families with handicapped children who were kept out of sight. They convinced these five families to bring their children to them for physiotherapy, medical referral, and limited education.
Now the facility has grown to include a small school with an excellent trained teacher, Evelyn Kazoka,a small hall for large group activities, like the puppet-making workshop I bring when I come, and a guesthouse to help with their finances.
In the last two months fourteen children were taken to Lusaka to receive medical attention and operations at the Italian Hospital. People come from great distances in hopes that theycan avail themselves of state-of-the-art physical therapy room and to find hope for their children.
They also have an extensive outreach program providing help for disabled children who live too far from the center to attend. Whatever needs the children have are met, including food and clothing and sometimes grants for small business start-ups for the mother.
What percentage of the disabled population these children represent, I don’t know. But these lucky ones, instead of being a source of shame for their families, exude confidence and joie de vivre as a result of their participation in the Mama Bakhita community. Before the Mama Bakhita, these children were kept hidden, now they shine. This alone is enough to keep me going.