“My name is Eng. Shangwe Isaac Mgaya, a founder of Living Together Autistic Foundation (Li-TAFO) based in Mwanza-Tanzania, which helps autistic children to enjoy their rights at
full potential … challenges … to touch other children and families … I am writing to know if I can get any support to start a centre.”
When I received this message just weeks ago, Shangwe’s plea touched my servant leader heart and my “autism mom” soul. As I viewed her Giving Way campaign, scrolled through her photos from Li-TAFO’s Donation Day 2020, and felt the tears stream down my face rapidly, I knew exactly what I had to do.
I immediately reached out to my Global Sisterhood group on Facebook to share Shangwe’s powerful story. Immediately, Dr. Shellie Hipsky not only followed up my donation with one of her own, but immediately connected us all in a group message. As professionals in the field and as mothers ourselves to loved ones with their own challenges, we knew we had to amplify Shangwe’s voice and mission out to the world so others could pitch in and help her realize her goal. Just a few months prior, members of the Global Sisterhood united to provide Mwila Katilungu, mother to Ivan (also diagnosed with autism), with an iPad to encourage his communication skills. Dr. Shellie and I knew by bringing Li-TAFO’s story to Inspiring Lives Magazine, we could reach people around the world and do more, for more.
April, as many readers know, is Autism Awareness Month (a month to promote acceptance, educate communities, and encourage inclusion). But what do you do when you live across the world when there is little to no awareness, no providers, no schools, and no resources? Or worse yet, what do you do when your beautiful children with diagnoses are seen as products of … witches? I could not wrap my head around such a devastating suggestion, and still can’t.
I cannot bring myself to share the photos shared with Dr. Shellie and I of the abuse suffered at the hands of a maid who threw boiling water on her autistic son, Daniel. It is not uncommon for a parent of a child with autism to say that they cannot find respite options, or they struggle with consistent staffing of their in-home services.
But this … a child with burning skin, screaming through tears, at the hands of someone who thought he was a child of the devil … THIS, is the reality of a family across the world without a place to go for help, empathy, or understanding.
Can you imagine?
Shangwe, a chemical and processing engineer by trade, found herself as a single mother without a job, divorced by her doctor husband, and fighting for her children’s lives, as well as her own.
“You will suffer with your cursed children and you will die,” he said to her.
Shangwe refused to accept that as their future. She pushed through for her sweet boys and for other mothers just like her.
In 2017, Shangwe met a small group of parents in a small city school, and then started networking through social media. Finally, she began to feel less alone, and more empowered as she discovered more and more families like hers that were impacted by autism. That’s when she knew she had to take action.
“And there is where I got the idea of starting an organization so that I can touch other kids. Because … some of the parents due to stigma, they hide the kids at their houses. The awareness is very low in our country … I decided to make awareness last year. I want to create a school for 100 autistic children to accommodate therapies, skills, and knowledge.”
The Living Together Autistic Foundation, or Li-TAFO, was created to bring families out of hiding, to create understanding within society so that all caregivers and family members know how to move forward as one united front, and to establish a centre for children to receive the education and support they need under one roof so that can achieve their goals and ultimately become independent members of society. In the meantime, as Li-TAFO raises critical funds to build their school, they continue to offer training and seminars to educate communities.
Shangwe has been featured on podcasts, radio, and television, spreading her message of hope and healing for families of Tanzania, but also, our world.
Watch Li-TAFO’s full story (complete with English translation) here.
It will be the most powerful fifteen minutes of your day.
The Global Sisterhood will continue its support of Li-TAFO in 2021 in powerful ways. Rev. Nettie Jorinda Bullitt, Global Ambassador for the Global Sisterhood will travel to Tanzania later this year to personally deliver items such as clothing, shoes, and technology (such as phones and devices for office or school use) to donate to members of the organization as well as mothers and children in great need. Furthermore, Dr. Shellie Hipsky and Catherine Hughes will coordinate and present an international training for Li-TAFO families to provide additional education, strategies, and resources about autism for caregivers.
We hope you can dig deep in your heart and dip into your wallet so Shangwe and Li-TAFO can support families and individuals with autism across Tanzania. Make your donation today, and make a powerful impact on the lives of young children with autism who do not have access to what they need to live their best lives.