Like all of us, Sr. Elisabeth Didas Swai, LSOSF, faces personal and professional challenges every day.
But as Director of the non-profit Mama Kevina Hope Center for Children with Disabilities in Tanzania, she says her biggest challenge is,
“children with disabilities getting the right education… and [for children] to get their rights as human beings.”
That could be an intimidating challenge to face each day, but Sr. Swai’s experience and education have provided her with the confidence and skills to be an effective leader while committing each day to helping some of the most vulnerable children in Africa.
A Little Sister of St. Francis of Assisi (LSOSF), Sr. Swai started ministering to children with disabilities in Uganda as an administrator and social worker at Providence Home for the physically and mentally disabled, orphans, elderly, deaf and blind.
When Providence Home began to struggle financially, Sr. Swai applied the knowledge she gained from ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) to help launch an alternative farm projects to support the home.
Providence Home now plants maize, fruits and vegetables. They keep poultry, pigs, cows and a fish pond, have a greenhouse for tomatoes and a bakery for bread and cakes. All of these products are consumed locally and the excesses are sold off to raise funds.
Since starting the program at Providence Home, Sr. Swai has graduated from ASEC’s Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program with her Masters of Arts in Counseling Psychology from the University of Kisubi in Entebbe, Uganda. She has developed leadership roles within her ministry – achieving promotions from bakery manager, to social worker/administrator.
She is now Center Director at Mama Kevina. As Director of the residential and outpatient facility, Sr. Swai works to provide therapeutic services to about 600 children with special needs and their parents.
Sr. Swai and the Mama Kevina Center for Children with Disabilities team provide early intervention for children with special needs and disabilities to have more positive outcomes in their future. Early identification and intervention has been proven to mitigate long-term effects of disabilities and their impacts on children in adulthood.
But as of 2017, there were only 278 mental health professionals (0.52% of the population) working in Tanzania, with the vast majority being mental health nurses. Sr. Swai recognizes the overwhelming importance and need for psychological and counseling support at the Center and in the surrounding community, noting,
“Seeking help from a professional is very important for proper mental health.”
She has mentored other sisters working at the center and encouraged others to work there and believes the most common mental health concerns in her community today are depressive symptoms. Sr. Swai uses techniques such as active listening, a foundational skill in psychology, to “help [parents] cope” and understand their children’s disabilities by “learning to accept their children.”
The Center also prioritizes a commitment to agriculture and sustainable resources. Through Sr. Swai’s successful grant efforts, the Center has been able to serve about 1,000 people and create 30 new jobs to supply better education, health and medical efforts, food and water, solar energy, and future income generating projects.
Sr. Swai believes that through her ASEC training and education, she is now able to “better implement and demonstrate” her counseling skills and education. She hopes to continue her education and obtain a Ph.D. in the future.