Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Building knowledge, dispelling myths

Last Friday, August 20th, Kilimahewa Educational Center hosted its first HIV/AIDS seminar for the 35 students of Kilimahewa and over 50 members of the surrounding community, men and women alike. EdPowerment teamed up with the Knock Foundation to sponsor the first event of its kind in this community. Led by KNOCK's leaders and Tanzanian peer educators, the program addressed a wide range of topics including self-esteem, healthy relationships, the reproductive system, safe sex and HIV/AIDS.

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

Local Buy-In

I just watched Greg Mortensen (Three Cups of Tea) on TV, talking about the importance of local buy-in to assistance efforts in the third world. I wanted to stress to everybody who is getting to know EdPowerment that this is one of our guiding principles.

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

Shedding light on autism

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.

Field Day in Moshi

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

To Come

EdPowerment's work continues in the coming weeks with Kerri Elliott and Jillian Swinford, two of our program managers. Please check in to learn more about our first Autism Awareness workshop for families in the area who struggle with this disability... and... the first Kilimahewa school field day and soccer game!

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.

Simple pleasures

Asante sana (Thank you)

Tuesday was our final day at Kilimahewa School on this trip. It was a snapshot of our entire experience in this village community.

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

Stephanie's Analogy

The weekend before I left for Tanzania, I was at The Shepherd and the Knucklehead,a virtually unknown pub in Haledon, NJ named after the even less known book authored by the pub owner. Moments before leaving what was a relatively mundane evening, I became engaged in a discussion about the significance of the locale’s name.

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