Photo by Sean Sprague
Bertha Haas has retired after working for nine years in Tanzania.
Photo by Sean Sprague
Bertha Haas has retired after working for nine years in Tanzania.
After working with children with disabilities in Tanzania for nine years, Maryknoll Lay Missioner Bertha Haas has retired. The St. Alexander Church, Cornelius, parishioner entered Maryknoll from Our Lady of Angels Parish in Hermiston in 2002.

Working with the parents of children with disabilities, Haas founded the Haruma School, a neighborhood program named after the Swahili word for compassion.

“Huruma serves the poorest of the poor - financially poor, poor in opportunity, often poor in health, poor in reputation - often the invisible, hidden inside the home,” Haas said.
The school has a capacity to serve 40 students.

"One of our goals was to change the local attitude toward children with disabilities, recognizing their God-given dignity,” Haas said. “Even the most impaired child will contribute to society if encouraged to do so.”

Haruma students live with deafness, autism, ADHD, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other problems in a country where social stigma treats disabilities as a disgrace or curse.

Some children in the school technically have no disability at all, but were denied admittance to local schools due to health problems like epilepsy or sickle cell anemia.
Lack of health care, poor nutrition, inadequate sanitation and lack of access to clean water all contribute to the high number of children with disabilities in Tanzania.

In addition to championing the rights of children with disabilities, Haas – an educator for 40 years before she became a missioner -  directed the RCIA program in her parish and trained teachers for the sacramental preparation programs. When she arrived in the parish, it was not unusual for the catechists to try to teach 150 or more students in one class.  With the assistance of the pastor, Haas enlisted enough lay instructors to reduce class size to 50 or fewer, with two instructors for each class.