Thursday, December 19, 2013

THIS IS A MIRACLE.

Today I received truly awesome news. One of our sponsored students was accepted into the Certificate in Early Childhood Training Program in Montessori Methodology at Ushirika wa Neema in Moshi, Tanzania.  Her story is one of – or maybe the most moving story of all the teens and young adults that we sponsor.

[I will not use her name because we try to maintain the privacy of all our students]

In the spring of 2009, almost 5 years ago, this young woman got off a bus in Moshi, having run away from circumstances in her Maasai village that involved early marriage and female circumcision. Local police then took her and her friend to Moshi’s Juvenile Detention Center.  International volunteers, who were working at the Center, brought her to the attention of Grace Lyimo, who became our Country Director the following year.

Through Grace’s networking and efforts, the two Maasai young women were enrolled in a private secondary school that was just starting outside of Arusha.  International volunteers had agreed to pay school fees while EdPowerment took on all their personal needs including lodging during breaks. 

N struggled mightily because her deficient education (many Maasai still refuse to education girls) had not even taught her good Kiswahili.  Now she had to learn the full battery of high school subjects including English.  At the end of her first year, the school’s administrators and EdPowerment decided that it would be best for N’s prospects if she repeated the year.  But the struggle didn’t end here.

At the end of N’s Form 3, her secondary school dismissed her and several other students.  The school decided that they were not performing to a satisfactory level and that their Form 4 National Exam results would reflect poorly on the school’s growing reputation.  N and her peers were tossed to the street. 

Mama Grace intervened once again and another school agreed to let the girls finish their secondary studies.  This past November, N graduated.  Her English skills and her confidence have grown exponentially.  In September, N told me that what she wanted most in the world was to be able to teach and counsel young children.
 
Our 2013 Mrike Secondary School Graduates including this special young woman
In November Mama Grace took N to several post-secondary schools that offered appropriate advanced certificate programs.  N’s dream was to join Ushirika wa Neema, a well regarded school for teaching in the Montessori method.  First, though, she had to take an exam – and she told Mama Grace that it was HARD. 

But this week, she got the letter (ALL U.S. HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES CAN RELATE TO THIS!) and she got in! 

We are so excited.  And we are so grateful that EdPowerment, N’s original sponsors, and all our supporters – not to mention N’s resiliency, bravery and fortitude – made this miracle happen.


BEST GIFT EVER.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

GOOD AID



“Can Foreign Aid Help This Girl?”  This was the question posed by Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times last weekend.  His article told about a Haitian girl who attends school because of the efforts of a determined local woman.  This community leader, Rea Dol, founded a school that now serves 835 poor youth in this besieged country.  She was able to accomplish this feat by linking with a Canadian foundation and a U.S. high school. Similarly, other local citizens have mobilized to educate and bring literacy to their own – with the help of foreign donors.  Kristof commented, “The school is an exemplary marriage of local leadership and foreign donors.”

This brings me to the broader controversy addressed by Kristof – whether foreign aid is helpful or detrimental to the developing country.  I too have read and seen on television criticisms about the efficacy of foreign aid.  It is common knowledge that corrupt individuals from all walks of life in the poorest of countries have sidelined and wasted billions of dollars for personal gain.  This has been called dead aid – dead on delivery, if it was, as Kristof points out, in fact delivered.  It is true that many well-intended projects can be ill advised, resulting in negative consequences to locals.  And it is also true that there is a certain type of “do-gooder” whose actions, if honestly scrutinized, may be more about personal desires or needs than about the needy, themselves. 

Concessions out of the way, however, the fact is that there are many Rea Dols, citizens dedicated to helping their own neighbors, who depend on the “kindness of strangers” – small grassroots NGOs, visiting volunteers (many of whom are teachers travelling on their carefully saved bankrolls) and sometimes, passing tourists.   These local activists, if you will, lift populations disregarded by their own governments. While such aid may be limited in scope and may not pass the rigors of sustainability sought by large funders, it delivers real, vital outcomes to those whom it touches.

Almost five years ago, I travelled as part of a “voluntourism” program to Tanzania.  I taught English at an informal community school through a remarkable young man who had absolutely no prospects for higher education or a job.  When I returned home, so did my resolve to help these youth, teenagers left out of the public school system, some with learning disabilities.  So I teamed up with two other educators, younger women, who also had volunteered there, and formed a 501C-3 to garner support for this population.   

Today this young man, who translated for me five years ago, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Internet Technology from a major Tanzanian university.  Thirty-five (35) other teenagers and young adults, who had negligible prospects, are enrolled in secondary and higher education.  Another 60 local teenagers walk miles every day to attend formal classes at the community center to study English, math and other subjects.  Some also study methods of crop production and chicken-raising.  All are acquiring computer skills so that they can tap free learning on the Internet. A library just opened at the Center for students and adults to borrow books or simply sit and read a newspaper for the first time.  And over 700 individuals who either care for a disabled family member or serve the disabled (including the autistic) have forged networks of support, advocacy and learning by attending first-time workshops and seminars.

All of this has happened because of the coming together of one small U.S. non-profit, EdPowerment, Inc., and Tanzanian community leaders.  They could not help their neighbors without us.  We could not help their neighbors without them.  This is the kind of partnership Mr. Kristof described.  It is effective, good foreign aid.  It is not rich in financial capital and maybe not even in the “intellectual capital” that steers mega-aid programs. But it is a lifeline for the have-nots born into dire circumstances.  And it can only continue with action from both constituents, local citizens and global humanitarians.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED #2: THE KILIMAHEWA LIBRARY




Earlier this year, EdPowerment’s U.S. and Tanzanian staff began to talk about starting a library at the Kilimahewa Educational Center.  Reading is not a pastime, an activity, or even a thought for most of the youth and adults in the villages surrounding the Center.

First, there is virtually no access to any reading materials.  There are no newspaper stands, bookstores… and no disposable shillings.  Second, this is an insular society with so little exposure – and therefore so little curiosity – about the outside world. And third, reading is tough – it requires language skills and it requires light.  Where there is no electricity, there is no light in the evening for reading.  For all these reasons, opening a library is a game changer. 

Kilimahewa’s teens can now read stories, not just texts.  Their imaginations can be engaged as their language skills [we have purchased books in both Kiswahili and English] grow.  They can explore topics that interest them and learn about how people live in other environments.  Adults can learn more about methods to improve agricultural and livestock-raising practices, their legal rights, and simply basic knowledge they never encountered.  The possibilities are endless.

Still, it’s not so simple.  First, education has to take place.  So last Friday, Kilimahewa’s library was opened to the neighborhood in an official ceremony attended by village officials. Our Director, Grace Lyimo, explained the concept and process of borrowing a book!  AND returning it – on time and in good condition.  Staff explained the types of books that could be “checked out” and the types of books that are “reference” to be read at the center.  Each week, newspapers will be available.  Slowly, we will develop the library’s offerings. 

What a day for Kilimahewa, for EdPowerment, and for the young people we serve.

















Monday, November 25, 2013

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Congratulations to EdPowerment’s first sponsored student university graduate!


February 2009:  Thomas meets Moira Madonia, a U.S. volunteer at the Kilimahewa Educational Center.  He serves as her interpreter for English classes for one month.  Tom has graduated from High School “A” levels, Form 6.  However, having attended a rural school with few resources, he did not pass the National Exam.  He does not qualify for university studies.  His family lives in soil huts and has one cow, 4 goats and 2 chickens.  His father uses a hoe to cultivate an acre on which a few banana trees grow. Tom has no way to attend further studies or gain employment. But he walks several miles each day to teach math to the teenagers at the community school with no pay. He also assists international volunteers who come to teach English.

Tom's mother giving thanks in 2009 for his sponsorship
Tom with his parents in 2010

November 26, 2013:  Thomas  proudly receives his Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology from Tumaini University, Moshi.



Sponsorship enabled Tom to re-enter higher education through a Certificate of Computer Science program at the Institute of Accountancy Arusha.  His own efforts yielded grades that gained him acceptance into a degree program at the Stefano Moshi Memorial University College (Tumaini).  Three years later, he can seek a professional IT job, degree in hand.

Hongera (Congratulations), Tom.  EdPowerment is so proud of you, your perseverance, and your dedication to serve others.  Thank you for continuing to teach math during all your breaks to our teens and thank you for leading our Kilimahewa Computer Training while you waited for your official degree papers.  We wish you many blessings as you forge your path ahead. 

The University graduate being introduced to the students at Kilimahewa  Community Center.
Students offer their congratulations.


Mama Grace, Rebecca, our head teacher, lead the party with a very special cake! 
             

Tom, you are a model to local youth who face similar obstacles.  You are why EdPowerment exists in Moshi, Tanzania.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

GIVING THE DISABLED COMMUNITY A VOICE



If you had a child born with an intellectual disability that made him or her an outcast or pariah in society’s eyes, what would you do?  If there were no activism such as Autism Speaks, no differentiated special education, no early intervention, nothing, 
where would you turn?
 

This is the void that EdPowerment seeks to fill. These are the individuals whom we are trying to acknowledge, educate, encourage and strengthen.

On November 16th, ACT hosted its annual fall workshop – its 10th special needs event – at the Gabriella Children’s Rehabilitative Centre.  Over 80 teachers and parents overcame blistering heat to seek guidance and share experiences. Coming from a host of villages – Old Moshi, Sanya Ju, Marangu, Manyara, Mto Wa Mbu, Same, Mwanga and even Arusha, they demonstrated EdPowerment’s widening reach.


Beginning at 9:30, the meeting did not break up until 4:30. Facilitators from KCMC (Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center), BCC (Building a Caring Community) and Muccobs Ushirika University led discussions on the emotional and societal pressures of caring for youth with autism and other disabilities.  Speakers explained the concept and importance of parental or caregiver support groups. They offered advice on how to organize these vital sources of sustenance.
     

Participants also sought help with how to mobilize support or intervention from local governments and authorities for hostility that often confronts disabled youth, including sexual abuse.  Speakers suggested strategies to work for rights in civil structures that themselves often ignore, or worse, abuse the disabled.

As hosts, Grace Lyimo, Brenda Shuma and Anthony Ephraim, wrapped up the meeting, attendees mobilized to carry out what they learned about forming support groups when they return to their villages.  Everyone agreed on follow-up procedures and eagerly suggested topics, speakers and guests for the Spring 2014 workshop.


Mama Grace and Brenda Shuma field questions at ACT's Workshop
              
Last Saturday, November 16, was another momentous day for EdPowerment’s work in Tanzania.  As increasingly occurs, things were happening on more than one front.  While we were channeling help for the disabled in one place, our first sponsored student was receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in another .  Our next post will share that joyous occasion.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

EDPOWERMENT’S DISCOVERY SPONSORSHIP: WHAT IT MEANS

This Saturday, roughly 30 primary school (Standard 7) graduates came to Kilimahewa to complete the essay portion of their application for an EdPowerment Discovery Sponsorship.  This is the third year that EdPowerment has offered two scholarships to one female and one male outstanding primary school graduate with no financial – and often no parental – support.   This year we asked the students to write about the importance of water to their family, community and country.  They write two essays, one in Kiswahili and one in English.  This process helps us to evaluate their thinking and their command of English.

Every student last Saturday was dreaming about a Discovery Scholarship. EdPowerment commits not just to secondary school, but to sponsorship as far as the student can progress educationally – until he or she is ready to begin a career.  We know that a simple secondary school sponsorship for the poorest of students means little unless they can continue to A level, vocational or university studies.  This commitment can last 9 years: Secondary School (O levels or Form 1 – 4), High School (A levels or Form 5 – 6), and university studies up to 3 years.  The total cost of such as commitment can range from $5,000 for secondary boarding school alone to $20,000 for an entire ride through university.


Look at these young people as they struggle to write about water - and then think of them as businesspeople, computer specialists, teachers, lawyers and other professionals. This is the dream that an EdPowerment sponsorship transforms into a reality.




Monday, November 4, 2013

THE FUTURE IS TODAY

For EdPowerment’s Form 4 students – and all Tanzanian Form 4 students – today and the next two weeks will largely determine their future educational and career possibilities.  Today begins Form 4 National Exams, tests that culminate Secondary “O Level” School and provide the basis for placement in any further higher learning programs.
EdPowerment's Notre Dame graduates

EdPowerment's Mrike Secondary School graduates
Interestingly, this is also the week that many U.S. students submit their applications for early action and early admission to colleges.  Consider, if you will, the differences between the Tanzanian and American experience.  In America, the college application process has become an increasingly demanding and nerve-wracking one.  School records, extra-curricular activities, leadership potential, essays, recommendations and of course, standardized tests, all weigh into the eventual college acceptance or rejection.  While this college chase has become more onerous in an increasingly competitive environment, I don’t think anyone would trade it for the reality that confronts the Tanzanian Form 4 student.

In Tanzania, there is no application to individual colleges.  There is only one series of tests on a combination of subjects.  Make or break. All or nothing. One and done. One shot.  Next spring, students will go online (for our students this means a trip to the local internet cafe) where they will learn their score…. and a month or so later, they will learn to which school they are posted – if they passed the test with a satisfactory score. This past year, over 60% of Tanzanian Form 4 students failed the test, leading to a "re-grading" several weeks later.


So today, we send our best wishes, our prayers, “light and love” to all those who have struggled to learn in an educational system fraught with obstacles.  May they be able to summon their knowledge and skills and maintain their composure in order to produce scores that will allow them to continue on a path to independent lives of fulfillment and dignity.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

LEARNING THE CHICKEN BUSINESS


Almost everywhere you go in the villages around Kilimahewa, families have several chickens for their own use or to earn a few shillings.  Few villagers, however, have the wherewithal to build a sustainable business with these chickens.  First, theft is a widespread problem at night.  Second, the chicken-raising business, as Mama Grace knows first-hand from her years of experience, is not so simple.

This August, we decided to attack this situation and teach those students who want to advance from subsistence farmers into businessmen/women how to go about caring for and selling chickens.  The first batch of 400 “broiler” chicks was delivered in early August.  These chicks are nurtured for 6 to 8 weeks, after which they are sold.  [There are also layer chickens who produce eggs, but that is a more costly start-up and will be the second phase of our project next year].

Two weeks ago, the selling process began.  Here is a pictorial summary of our first batch. 


 

Yesterday, Mama Grace reported that only about 12 chicks remain.  Of the 400, only several died while being raised.  Unfortunately, however, one batch of about 35 did not fare well after being sold because they had not been properly cleaned out.  This is one of the many aspects of the chicken business that Mama Grace, along with a community member who has quite a successful business, are teaching both Aristede, Kilimahewa’s groundskeeper (and future instructor), and the students.