Thursday, September 16, 2010
IDENTITY. For the families, teenagers and teachers at Kilimahewa, this is no longer the school that no one knows exists. Although you can still pass it quickly on the main road, you now will know it is there - the Kilimahewa Educational Center - because we have a sign! Our logo is the sunflower - a symbol of light, growth and nourishment, because sunflower oil has many important uses throughout this region. This sign gives a name, and pride, to the place where teenagers come each day to learn and discover a path with a future.
WE FOUND WATER!
Can you really put yourself in their feet and think of living without water at the turn of a knob? No flush toilets, no showers or baths, no way to quench thirst and no liquid for cooking. What you would get, however, is exercise, because to fill your bucket you would walk sometimes more than a mile to the nearest stream. For some, there may be a public spigot in walking distance - but this water costs money that the poorest of poor do not have.
In these exciting days for Kilimahewa, the Maji Drilling company showed up late last week - amid all of the building repair work - and began to drill the bore hole in search of water. Although it is not an educational project, EdPowerment committed to this endeavor early on because water is essential to uplift the poor in this community. It will facilitate healthier lives and a better food supply for our students and their families. In turn, this will allow for greater financial support for the school. In addition, without a better water supply, it is impossible for us to provide decent toilet/sanitation facilities and develop an on-site lunch program in which women can prepare the local makande dish of maize and beans for the students.
Drilling itself, however, is no guarantee of water. And so today, when we in the States got the email - we have water - it was time to celebrate. Mama Grace was so upset that she did not have her camera to capture the event - the children and teachers ran out of the classroom, community members gathered, and her cell phone began to ring from places near and far: all this in a community of limited communication. Mama Grace said they called it a "river" and it truly will be a river of life for these people.
Huge challenges remain - further drilling is necessary, the water must be tested, the proper pump determined and then a security system put in place, in addition to system for allowing access to the water - but with some kind of contribution from the community. But for now, the possibilities are endless.
Our "fundi" (contractor) from the Karanga Vocational School began a "makeover" of the Kilimahewa school about two weeks ago. Although the "kids" hated to be out of school - this is Tanzania where school is a blessing - Mama Grace divided them into teams to help clean up, fix and improve their school. I am going to share a few pictures with you to see this process. Don't really have the before/after shots yet, and we are still waiting on a few things such as the new desks and blackboards (in this regard, TZ is just like our contractors here - all done except for.....) but already the atmosphere is clean and more fitting for a place of learning. The students are joyful and the best piece of news is that a new teacher who has a good command of English and readily connects with the "kids," has joined our community.
We think that this formula - students who want to learn, teachers qualified to teach, an atmosphere conducive to both, and support from those with resources - will make Kilimahewa a model - albeit a small scale model - of effective education in Tanzania's poor communities.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
The Knock Foundation, which has presented well-received HIV/AIDS seminars for the last three years to increasingly large groups in Rau village, Moshi, provided a set of educational handouts which were welcomed by the participants, who also enjoyed a hot lunch of rice and beans. This marked the first time that KNOCK has brought its program to another village, and the need - and community desire - for this type of outreach was quickly apparent. Simple information such as which gender determines the sex of a child can be life-changing, especially for women who often bear the burden of harmful misconceptions. In group discussions and open questioning, other myths about HIV transmission and the practice of safe sex were dispelled as the teenagers of Kilimahewa gained critical information to help them make good choices in life. Not only did the teenagers benefit from this seminar, but adults also came away with new insights into basic well-being, including healthy eating and the need to limit alcohol consumption.
The positive impact on participants was most remarkable in the response by the village chairperson who asked that more such seminars be presented to the entire ward of Samburai (of which Kilimahewa is a sub-division). Ultimately the best education addresses the needs of the whole person and EdPowerment thanks the KNOCK Foundation for helping to provide this service to the community of Kilimahewa.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
In the past two weeks, Kilimahewa Educational Center (the "informal" school that we support) has hosted two community education workshops - one on Autism (and other special needs) Awareness and the other on Health and HIV/AIDs (conducted by the KNOCK Foundation). The community came together not only to attend the events, but also to prepare for the seminars by cleaning the facility, clearing the site, erecting tents, providing tea and getting out the word. After the last seminar on reproductive and other health issues, one of the village chairpersons (men) expressed interest in inviting the entire ward to future seminars.
This is the type of community engagement that EdPowerment seeks to build as we strengthen Kilimahewa's programs. In the next month, we hope to begin the drilling phase for a water well - this project will support economic progress in the community which, in turn, will allow for even greater participation in the school's development. Ultimately, our goal is to empower the local population. This is not the "Dead Aid" of top-down government funding. This is grassroots, bottom-up aid that incorporates the local community in reaching its goals of a better life.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
On August 10th, our outreach program, Autism Connects Tanzania, touched a population that is virtually ignored in this region. Parents, teachers and professionals from Arusha, Rau, Majengo, Mabogini, Korogoni, Kibosho, Siha and Bomag’ombe joined together for the first Autism Informational Workshop hosted at the Kilimahewa school.
The EdPowerment team of (Mama) Grace Lyimo, Kerri Elliott and Jillian Swinford, its local supporters, and the Kilimahewa staff worked tirelessly to get the word out about this first meeting for those impacted by autism. A tent, projector, flip chart, white board and other portable facilities were assembled behind our little school. Transportation costs and lunch, as well as notebooks, pens, autism informational handouts in Swahili and flip cards for picture communication were distributed to attendees.
The result – another milestone for the community! Nearly 70 parents and professionals were able to share their experiences, learn more about the condition and begin to build strategies for working with autism. All participants took away valuable information from the instruction led by Kerri, a special education teacher. For example, the few special needs classes that do exist in Tanzania today simply bundle all students in one classroom. The workshop introduced the concept of “differentiation” (a fundamental practice in the U.S.) to attending teachers, who can now consider some specific strategies to use among students with varied disabilities in their classes.
Moshi’s pioneering therapist in this area also shared her insights while waves of assent rippled through the audience as individuals described behaviors that mark their autistic loved ones.
In these communities, autism generally is not even identified. Therefore, autistic individuals can be misinterpreted as drug addicts, drunkards or other social pariahs. Today’s meeting was literally the first opportunity for many of these people to experience some kind of public acknowledgement of their daily struggle – to know that they are not in this alone.
Suggestions were many for future workshops, community support groups and educational seminars. Today was the first small step.
For American students, the school year is dotted with special events such as "field day” to build spirit and break up what can become the monotony of classes. On Monday we introduced this custom to our 30+ students at the Kilimahewa school.
As is the case with nearly every special activity over here, amazement marked the students’ reactions to the entire day. First they walked to the Moshi Technical Vocational School fields where they donned various colored jerseys Kerri brought with her from Chicago. These and their orange EdPowerment t-shirts comprise a new wardrobe for most of these young people. Once at the fields, picnic lunches of chicken and chips delighted the students who then separated – boys to the football (soccer) field, girls to the netball (basketball without dribbling) field. The white team, led by goals from Florian, Alex and Frank, took the soccer victory. The girls, in the meantime, revealed newly animated personalities that lie beneath their reserved demeanors.
It was another first… and another great day for the Kilimahewa community – a chance for the students to just be kids, and for everyone to experience a day of well being in a life of hardship.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
In the meantime, Mama Grace is working with teacher from a local vocational school - again, we try to support education in every way possible - to give our existing building more dignity - desks, a paint job, some masonry repairs, florescent tubes to replace the single light bulbs, and an official sign!
We will be sharing a complete list of our upcoming projects in the days ahead.
At 8:00, the students crammed into their benches for another day of note-taking in math, English, Kiswahili and alternating subjects taught by a mix of local volunteers (advanced studies students who are available for a variety of reasons), paid part-time teachers and U.S. volunteers. For many of these teens, however, the day began hours earlier in the dark when they set off to school. The stories that we in the U.S. associate with pioneer days are still the order of the day in the developing world. So – without exaggeration – a two or three mile walk to and from school is simply the way life here.
Today the students proudly sported their new “uniform” shirts – bright orange Ts with the EdPowerment logo. They will wear these shirts every day and wash them on the weekend for the following week. Once again, they hung in there with me as we worked through some English lessons – the “lower” group from 9:20 – 10:40 and the stronger group from 10: 50 – 12:10. Like all students, some are more eager than others, but all are respectful and cooperative, and the desire of many to learn is palpable.
After lunch break – a roll and tea eagerly awaited each day (funded by EdPowerment) – it was time to say goodbye. This is when the simplicity and sincerity of these young people was most moving.
Thomas, a young man in his early 20s who teaches math and always helps me with translation (and is now pursuing an advanced degree in information technology on an EdPowerment sponsorship), walked several miles through dirt roads and fields to school. Today, though, he wore shiny black formal shoes – because it was my final day. He explained later to Mama Grace that he stopped to polish them when he got to the main road so that he would look good for my send-off.
Alex, the young man who sleeps down the road in a storage room on grain sacks from Monday through Friday and returns to his family in the hills on the weekend, stepped forward to thank us in English for all our help and to wish us a safe “journey” home. The students joined in a touching farewell song and rousing cheer to mwalimu (teacher) Stephanie and Moira, followed by circles of hugs and good wishes.
Asante sana. The real thank you is from us to these young people who have so little but share so much.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
This weekend’s events, an overnight safari with the orange t-shirted students of the Kilimahewa School, gave a new perspective to that pointless debate.
Though these weren’t “knuckleheads” but a group of wide-eyed young people about to begin a two- day journey, they swarmed the bus with unaccustomed enthusiasm, and seemed to be oblivious to the three hour cramped ride that took them to the national park destination. The wonders, however, were not just in the Park. The traffic light, the airport with inbound planes, the Maasai market, and the supermarket pit stop each sent the 20 boys and girls into a teenage frenzy that had them hanging out the windows with their borrowed flip video cameras.
This excitement only escalated when the bus entered the national park and the amazed audience began to rock the bus, scrambling from one side to the other attempting to take in the zebras, giraffes, and elephants that roamed in packs whose numbers dwarfed the student group’s.
Yet, all the while, there were the shepherds – teachers, drivers, guides – who helped the students translate the names of the animals they saw from Kiswahili to English, who informed the students about the habits of the creatures they observed, and who eventually shepherded them to a ‘banquet’ of roast chicken, beef stew, rice, vegetables and an assortment of do-it-yourself hot beverages.
This coming together of the inexperienced and the “shepherds” was a defining moment, both for the closure of the pub conversation and the type of experience that EdPowerment is setting out to provide.
Author: Stephanie Brodeur
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The need for desks led us to the nearby vocational school. Begun by the Catholic diocese of Moshi with start-up funding assistance from the government, the highly successful and impressive Karanga Vocational School is now self-sustaining because of the quality of their products. What began in one room now consists of a furniture building operation, a sewing and tailoring room, a new auto mechanic garage and other training programs. A dorm also has been added for students to board. Visitors can quickly appreciate that the teachers in this school have been able to institute a positive environment of focused learning.
We have chosen Karanga's students to build 30 to 40 sturdy desks for our school – (78,000 TSH or $53 per desk), thereby supporting good education in Tanzania in multiple ways. Donations to EdPowerment support worthwhile efforts such as these.
In Tanzania, the ability to find trained and dedicated teachers is daunting. Prestigious private schools can pay big money to get the cream of the crop – this leaves government and other private schools scrambling to attract teachers in a system short on both numbers and training.
So what can we do? We're speaking to administrators at teacher’s colleges and working all other contacts (Kenya is a source of teachers as long as a work permit is obtained ) to build a solid, if limited, program of English, Kiswahili and math supplemented by other subjects at the Kilimahewa school. Targeting funds in this direction is a priority. Second, we are structuring one-semester internship opportunities that we can post at U.S. colleges. Education students could share some of the latest teaching techniques with the Tanzanian staff while learning how to teach without all the bells and whistles available in the U.S. – a great opportunity for all.
At its most basic level, sustainability comes from individuals whose education allows them to improve their own lives and better their societies. Good teachers are the key to sustainability.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
On the way down, we stopped at the local secondary school - 6 permanent teachers for over 400 students. And that's for starters - no labs, few books, no facilities to speak of... It is no wonder that those without resources desperately try to rustle up a sponsorship to send their child to private school. The state of education in Tanzania is deplorable and until the government institutes real change, sponsorships such as those we are trying to fund are most of the time the only path to a real future.
When we arrived home we could hear kids screaming and so we walked over to the local high school to watch their soccer game in progress. It was such a reprieve to see that in at least some way kids are kids everywhere. No groomed turf, no sleek uniforms and cleats, NO PARENTS, and just one ref in jeans who let the boys play ---it was great. At least 200 students yelled and formed impromptu cheering squads, running on and off the field when a goal was scored. After the game they encircled their team in congratulations - even though the game ended in a 3-3 tie. So nice to see young people who could just be carefree for a few hours.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
At first, the going was rough since neither girl had received adequate schooling in either Kiswahili or English. But a combination of their persistence, the work of the teachers at Notre Dame, extra lessons at Kilimahewa during breaks and the supervision of Mama Grace, the girls are thriving in their new lives. They still face uncertainty during breaks from school when they must stay at the juvenile detention center. But think of what might have been if not for their own courage, the concern and support of others, and two very different schools - one the simplest of roadside buildings with no real staff or support, and the other the remarkable product of educators committed to nurturing the entire person.
Education is empowerment.
The first 8 high school girl “boarders” were bunked in one of the secondary classrooms last fall, and in a year’s time over 80 girls have made this school their home away from home. To meet this overwhelming demand for a boarding girls high school, the sisters transformed 3 classrooms into bunk bed dorms. Now plans are moving ahead to raise funds as quickly as possible for a real dormitory to properly house up to 300 girls.
On Monday we were greeted with an outdoor courtyard “assembly” replete with a percussion band, singing, skit and roses. So began two days during which we witnessed students from the age of 4 to 18 completely engaged in the process of learning – and more importantly, affirming their own value and potential. These sisters have accomplished so much with really so little. All the food served at the school comes from its own gardens and farm animals; the students and staff keep a beautiful property; respect and dignity are accorded everything and everyone.
If only Notre Dame could be cloned throughout the developing world, and if only those with resources could see how far their support of such schools can change lives and raise the human spirit.
STEPHANIE'S VIDEOS AND PICTURES TOMORROW!
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Tonight Stephanie and I had a romantic dinner by candlelight courtesy of the Moshi power grid.
And did we mention the cacophony of sounds that marks every evening here? It begins with the cows grazing under our bedroom windows. Around 10:00 the roaming pack of nocturnal dogs begins their performance. One lowly howl starts the round, and slowly a crescendo builds... only to stop... and start again. By 4 am, the roosters decide to get in on the act, and if you're still enjoying the concert, there is the 5 am mosque call to prayer. All in a good night's sleep.
Tomorrow we will attend the children’s service at the local Catholic Church where Stephanie will smuggle in a microphone to record the beautiful singing we heard last Sunday - no behavioral problems here. Hundreds of children pile next to each other in row after row while several adults walk up and down the sides to ensure order.
In the afternoon, we will be driven to Arusha and its suburb Njiro to follow up on our sponsored students and plan for future placements at Notre Dame Secondary School. The week will begin with a morning assembly at 8:30. We will provide an update Monday evening.
In order to clear my head and try to process all that has been going on around me, I decided to take a tour. Yes a tour - one of those things with buses packed full of embarrassing foreigners (mzungas) in awkward hats and fanny packs. Logically, tour + bus + random people + hot sun = miserable day. But this is Africa.
I was picked up at my house, escorted to our off road vehicle, and driven up the dirt roads of Mt. Kilimanjaro’s base. When the road ended, I climbed out of the van and up a steep incline that lead directly to the residence of our tour guide, Oscar.
We were greeted warmly by his entire family, including his young nephew, Obama, whose task was to carry around baby (not uncle) Sam. His mother made us banana and bean porridge, they offered us the use of their facilities (a hole in the ground), and proceeded to demonstrate the art of making coffee.
We picked the berries that eventually made their way into our coffee cups via freshly roasted grind, then sat down to enjoy the coffee and hospitality that washed away the bitter taste of some of the last few days’ experiences.
It was the most delicious coffee I have ever tasted.
Author: Stephanie Brodeur
Friday, July 16, 2010
The thirty students of Kilimahewa, cramped on their narrow wooden benches, rose to their feet without hesitation, welcoming their two Mazungu (white) teachers. They soon resumed their positions and we assumed ours, fumbling with the familiar technology that, in our new environment, took countless hours to acquire and set up.
As the lights of the projector cast their glow on the marred surface of the classroom wall, an anticipatory silence fell over the classroom. That was when we lost power. This occurrence, the likes of which has warranted the closing of our American school, did not elicit the slightest response from the students.
Determined to provide the students, accustomed to monotone lectures, with the memorable multimedia lesson she toiled over, Moira precariously perched herself on the same narrow benches the students shared, raised her Macbook, and awkwardly trudged through her geography lesson.
Refusing to miss this opportunity to capture my travel companion’s inevitable humiliation, I set up camera and began to capture. However, the viewfinder of the camera provided a perspective far removed from the one I anticipated. Though every student sat unblinking, not one noticed the technological blunders. The visuals the tiny screen of the Mac provided were captivating to our audience.
For their eagerness and appreciation of their educational opportunities, the students were eventually rewarded with restored power and the opportunity to view the lesson in its full glory.
Author: Stephanie Brodeur
How to describe what we experienced? The Massawe family lives in two chagga huts – mud and stick, maybe 15 “round” feet homes with tin roofs – when it rains water runs off the roofs into pots; boards with blankets serve as beds; no water – their high school daughter brings a bucket from a stream on her 3 mile walk to and from school each day. Cows and chickens sleep inside so they won’t get stolen; Thomas reads at night by a tuna fish-sized can filled with kerosene and a wick made by Mama from cloth; one meal a day from the fruits, beans and corn they cultivate; tea is breakfast… this is the beginning of what we saw.
Veronica’s aunt’s family (her parents are dead, her sister has HIV and lives elsewhere) is the next story. That visit will always stand out for the most feisty
So that was our afternoon – totally inadequate to express what we heard, saw and felt.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
While Moira spent the day at the Kilimahewa Center for Education teaching English grammar, I accompanied Misty Eddy, founder of the Rau Foundation, to Rau Primary School in Moshi. A sprawling school relative to Kilimahewa, Rao boasts running water, a grain silo, and a modest computer lab.
While students benefit from these improvements, more glaring is what remains absent – the presence of the basic comforts we take for granted. Students perform all the chores and maintenance the school requires including washing dishes, cleaning floors, and chopping wood. The availability of food is limited to a cupful of ‘Makande,’ a stew consisting of beans and maize, served at nearly 1:30. While not a fan of cafeteria food myself, a grilled cheese sandwich would have been a treat.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
For the mind – We wish everyone could spend just one day at the Kilimahewa “informal” school. Roughly 30 Tanzanian teenagers sit shoulder to shoulder on wooden benches under one light bulb meticulously copying biology and geography facts - just pencils, paper and a worn blackboard. Teachers, even volunteer ones, command the highest respect and the attention of students for hours. While these teens literally own nothing, this two room, turquoise schoolhouse gives them the one possession that can lift their lives – knowledge.
For the body – Concentrating on an empty stomach can be difficult. So a cup of hot tea and a bun at 10:40 make a long morning bearable. Accepted with such gratitude, this simple snack is the only energy booster these young people know.
For humanity: The most essential nourishment of all is water. Call it serendipity, good fortune or divine providence, this was a big day for Kilimahewa. We recently began what can be a torturous path to constructing a water well, vital to the school’s growth and community’s advancement. On the plane from Amsterdam to Kili, I sat next to a man from Iowa who wore a blue rubber bracelet that read, “Water is Life – Break the Cycle of Hunger. His non-profit evaluates and funds water projects in this area, and he quickly referred me to Maji Tech, a “mzunga” or white man’s company that drills wells intended to support non-profit work and poor communities here. A few phone calls later and the team from Maji met us at Kilimahewa today – a major step forward to completing this project with confidence in terms of cost and quality.
Sunny in Tanzania today.
Monday, July 12, 2010
And then today, we met the technology gremlins. Six hours at the Vodaphone store (Stephanie outlasted me by 3 hours... and is very bitter) but in the end, we are connected to the world - and more importantly to YOU. Here again, the educational curve is so disparate - even the most entry level computer classes open so many doors for U.S. students that barely are cracked here.