Wednesday, July 31, 2013

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: CONNECTING THOSE WHO SERVE THE DISABLED


Perhaps the most cost-effective way that EdPowerment affects positive change in society at large are the workshops organized by our initiative, Autism Connects Tanzania (ACT).  Each summer we take advantage of the fact that Kerri Elliott and Jillian Swinford, two special education educators from the Chicago area, spend their school “vacations” in the Moshi area, planning some of these events with our Country Director, Grace Lyimo.

Last Saturday ACT held its annual Resource Fair, a unique and invaluable opportunity for the diverse organizations that serve special needs individuals to come together and share.  These connections allow social service, educational and medical professionals to leverage their outreach to disabled individuals, their guardians and the community.

Saturday’s start was a little shaky as rains delayed participants.  In this region rains immediately compromise the dirt roads, complicating transportation.  By 10:30, however, the Fair commenced with 24 attendees from Arusha, 44 from Moshi, two from Boma and one from Imani Vocational in TPC – 71 individuals dedicated to forging ways to help the disabled in a society marked by crushing stigmas and ignorance.



The meeting’s topics included:
  •    Identifying appropriate children for services.
  •  Narrowing an organization’s mission in order to better reach its target group.  Each organization presented its mission, sharing the difficulties of networking in order to   uncover its intended population.
  •  Building a Caring Community (BCC), Moshi, shared its approaches to staff development, as did Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT). Even through BCC is one of the larger organizations working with special needs children in the area, many attendees did not know about it and asked many questions, opening up strategic connections for all.
  • Lunch:  Here participants were told everyone to sit with people they did not know in order to exchange ideas.  Tables also had been set up for the organizations to display their brochures/items.


A last minute speaker cancellation sprung Kerri and Jillian into action to talk about types of funding options.  Representatives of various groups shared how they have received funding and the pros and cons of that type of funding.  This was one of the most popular sessions as people asked questions, took copious notes, and called for further workshops on this challenge.  

In just four years ACT has become a respected change agent for the humane treatment of disabled individuals in Tanzania.

FIRST BOOKS, NEXT COMPUTERS.




Pole pole is a Swahili expression for slowly, slowly and this is how we are tackling the task of teaching 50 very excited Moshi teenagers how to navigate the world of modern technology that is so second-nature to industrialized societies.

First, a word about how computers are taught in most government primary and secondary schools – functioning computers are a rarity as are computer teachers.  Where computer classes do take place, instruction is overwhelming “theory.”  What this means is that students are taught from some type of text – multiple students to each copy – or simply by directions and perhaps, illustrations on the blackboard. Therefore, many students who have supposedly completed some type of computer class have, in fact, never touched a computer.

So you can imagine the eagerness of our students to get started when they saw 10 Toshiba laptops that we were lucky enough to bring to Tanzania in our luggage without loss.  We began classes with the eldest “Form 3” and “Form 2” students – roughly 15 to 18 years old – who are part of Kiimahewa’s Qualifying Test program to gain entry back into some kind of formal post-secondary studies.  Although Microsoft’s Word was a natural starting point…. Not really!  We took a step back and instead began with Mavis Beacon keyboarding software.  The students loved the interactive learning and soon the younger Form I (think 8th or 9th grade) students were peering in the windows, begging to join class.

Tom Kway and Maya, one of our U.S. teen volunteers, teach computer during our summer camp.

This July, Godlisten, a Kilimahewa teacher, Tom Kway, EdPowerment’s Operations Administrator, and Shay Bell, a founder of 1Ndoto foundation who is living in Moshi for an extended period, are continuing to join forces to teach the entire school computer skills.  We are talking to several other possible funders to install a satellite and bring the Internet to Kilimahewa.  Again, pole pole.  It’s amazing how young people learn about Facebook before they even understand the World Wide Web as a learning tool!  We are determined to educate our students on the educational and informational aspects of going online before venturing to the social outlets.

Godlisten and Shay guide students through keyboarding exercises.
So there’s the gist of how we are bringing the world – hopefully the best of the world – to Kilimahewa’s youth.  We hope that those who want to learn can check out a book to stimulate their thinking at home. Then, computer access will stimulate and satisfy their curiosity at school, offering new levels of understanding and paths for their future. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

WELCOME TO THE WORLD


For the majority of students in both EdPowerment’s Sponsorship Program and the community-based Kilimahewa Educational Center, the world is very small.  It consists of their extended family’s shambas (small vegetable farms with maybe a few chickens, goat and cow), the surrounding villages, churches, some roadside stores and gathering places where men drink mbege (the local brew).  A trip into the closest urban center, Moshi, is uncommon.  Televisions are reserved for the “rising middle class” (so-called in the press lately, but not a reality where we operate).  Our students’ families can neither afford nor in some cases, be able to read local newspapers. 

The fact is that many of the teens we serve live with grandmothers who have all they can handle in trying to piece together meals and shelter.  EdPowerment offers these teenagers their only link to the world outside their villages and more important, to a world of learning.  This year, 2013, we are launching two exciting and, without exaggeration, life-changing programs. 

Selecting books at Kase Stores Ltd. in Arusha - fiction, non-fiction, "how-to books," in English and Swahili
 
    
IT MAY BE OLD SCHOOL IN THE U.S., BUT THIS SUMMER WE ARE ESTABLISHING A LIBRARY AT THE KILIMAHEWA CENTER.   Thanks to the “Ride for Kili’s Kid’s” fundraiser this June at SoulCycle, NYC, steps have begun to install a library in one of the Center’s original rooms.  Our U.S. and Tanzanian staff have worked with volunteers who organized the fundraiser (Stacy Lauren and her daughter Carly Doyle) assisted by our volunteer sisters (Celia and Maya Joyce) to get this project off the ground.


Here Kerri Elliott shows the list of books  to local teachers, Rebecca and Godlisten, and explains how to use the card check-out system.
As of this week, Kili’s teens are now checking out books to bring home.  They are learning how to care for books and how to participate responsibly in a borrowing process.  They are learning about their own interests and reading capabilities.  Eventual plans are to open the library to their siblings and families.


Now our students can develop their minds and expand their universe right in their own village.  

The world is coming to them. Tomorrow, we will share how they are venturing into the world… this time with laptops.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

A WEEK OF MOTIVATING: CARROT, STICK…. MANIPULATIVES AND MICROSCOPES


Last week, we raised the bar at the Kilimahewa Educational Center – for both students and teachers. 


First, the students: 

By way of clarifying whom we serve at the Center, these are teenagers who can no longer attend government secondary schools because (1) they did not pass the Standard 7 national exam at the end of primary school and/or (2) family or financial circumstances prevented them from transitioning to secondary school.  Most of the students do not have strong academic backgrounds and frankly, some come to Kilimahewa because they have nothing else to do other than hang around their family’s small plot of land. 

While we recognize that there is value simply in providing these teens with a place to go and a nutritious mid-day meal, this is not our objective.  We offer a QT (Qualifying Test) curriculum that can build the students’ skills while preparing them to pass the two QT (high school equivalency) exams and open doors to further formal study. In addition, we now offer computer training, a library program and soon, a husbandry project. 

SO, we sat down all the students under a tree and raised the bar of expectations – no more coming late to school, no more putting the head on the desk, no more distractions… get serious or stay home.

Next, the teachers: 

Here our message was one of how to motivate. Two weeks ago we held our first community-wide teacher-training workshop on creating class environments of active learning.  The best news is that our two main teachers – Rebecca and Godlisten – are also great learners, and they are embracing the challenge to make Kilimahewa a more active and productive place of learning. 





So this week Kerri and Jillian introduced manipulatives to Rebecca to use in her English classes and Godlisten to use in his math classes, and microscopes for Godlisten and Winnie (on break from her medical studies) to introduce to their science classes.  Kerri brought materials such as vocabulary flashcards and sentence strips to support reading games, sequencing and other hands-on activities that will help students construct sentences, build phonics skills, etc.  By taking part in constructing flashcards, sentence strips, etc. and then using them in the classroom, students are better able to understand and retain.

Kerri also brought manipulatives to help Godlisten teach math, i.e. geometry shapes, math games, decimal blocks, math jeopardy, etc.  For science classes Godlisten and Winnie are already making plans to create natural stains and slides with the students.  Everyone is SO EXCITED to actually be able to use a microscope.


Winnie was telling us about how her secondary school teacher would demonstrate how to use a microscope by referring to a drawing on the wall. Students would have to pay extra money to go into a special room after class and see a real one.  So now Kilimahewa students will have an opportunity that their peers in government schools do not even have.  

Many thanks to Maria Garcia Lopes and the veterinarian science faculty at the University of Porto, Porto, Portugal, who provided the used microscopes  - and thanks to Kerri for stopping over in Portugal and carrying them to Tanzania in her take-on luggage. 

Truly, it is taking a village to help this neighborhood of villages outside of Moshi, Tanzania.





BEATING THE ODDS



One of the toughest days in this year's summer visit to Tanzania was the meeting with our current Form 4 secondary school students during their break between semesters. These are the students who will be taking the National Exam in November to determine whether they can continue to a Pre-University "A" level program (otherwise referred to as Form 5 & 6).

By way of background, last year EdPowerment graduated its first group of Secondary School Form 4 graduates.  All six students passed the National Exam, which over 60% of Tanzanian Form 4 students failed.  Three of our 6 students scored in the lowest passing "Division" and therefore can continue on to vocational or certificate programs, but not to formal "A level" studies.  The three who passed are now enrolled in competitive, reputable A level schools which should equip them to pursue University studies.  

Back to this year... In Tanzania, the National Form 4 exam is preceded by several mock exams.  Our students had just received results from one such exam and the news wasn't good.  Some observers believe that the mock exam is structured to be a "wake up call" - and indeed, it was quite the "shake up" call for our students.  What transpired in our meeting was an honest assessment of why their results were disappointing - did the blame lie with themselves, their teachers or the test itself (these tests are notoriously manipulated each year by government authorities to suit an educational agenda constantly in flux)?  As you might expect, there was plenty of blame to go around.  More importantly, however, our students left with a resolve to work harder, prepare smarter and do better.   We reviewed test taking strategies, took notes to pass on to their school administrators and.... gave each student an unexpected boost ... a complete set of review books.  The students' relief at having their own review books was palpable - and we know that some of our brightest will make the most of this study tool.

After speaking to each student individually, reviewing his or her personal needs for the upcoming semester, giving him or her  monies to provide for these (items such as the requisite black school shoes, shoe polish, toothpaste, soap, underwear), and passing out a real treat - boxed lunches of chicken and chips - we ended the day on a positive note of encouragement for students who must overcome an educational system skewed serve only the academically or materially gifted.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

BEFORE AND AFTER

One of our volunteer assignments was to spruce up the tire playground at the Gabriella Children's Rehabilitative Centre.  Last year several U.S. volunteers were joined by some Kilimahewa teens and a local fundi (carpenter) in building the playground for the intellectually disabled students at Gabriella.  This year it was time to give things a fresh look that would add a little spark to these children's lives.  Here's the before and after:

Before:


And After:



STACEY'S BEST


For the past three weeks, EdPowerment has hosted its largest group of volunteers yet - 8 college and 12th grade students, Nancy Clutter, a high school nurse, and Stacey Lauren, an educator from NY and mother of one of our volunteers.  Each volunteer forged her or his own connections with the young people and families we work with in Tanzania, and all our programs benefitted from their willingness to come here and spend their their time, talents and personal resources.

One talent that we didn't expect was that of Stacey behind the camera.  She has been invaluable in providing a kind of photographic journal of the last several weeks.  Snapping away unobtrusively, she has captured the essence of much that has gone on with both the local community and our volunteers.  Here are some of her best.  

 Sponsored Students at Kilimahewa's Camp





Jennifer's skills impressed even the boys


Lining up for makande - lunch - at Camp


Talking things through...

Ever tried working with a kindergarten of 100?


One of our sponsored student's bibis (grandmothers)

Showing her injured wrist to Mama Grace

The kitchen in bibi's house-


Sambarai Primary School

Tanzania's beauty - Mount Meru at dusk
In Stacey's Batik










Tuesday, July 9, 2013

HOME



One of our sponsored student's homes


Many people ask, “Why Tanzania?”

I think the following answer speaks for Jillian and Kerri, as well as me.

When each of us ventured here for the first time to volunteer and experience a different life, we encountered in a personal and intimate way a level of need that we had never encountered before. 

Not everyone in Tanzania wants education and not everyone is willing to work for a better life.  But the individuals whom we met and taught were not everyone.  We came to know them as individuals - not the ubiquitous photo of the adorable, sad African child.  At their core was a desperate hunger, not for food (although that was in short supply as well) but for education.  Education represented a lifeline, and we soon realized that there was no one to throw out that lifeline if we did not.

Political and economic arguments aside, the reality is that there are no local, state, federal or church agencies that offer any real assistance to those we serve.  There is no “safety net,” no community outreach, no local philanthropies, nowhere for the poorest, however talented and motivated, to turn. 

So, why Tanzania?  Because we are “it” for those we assist, and from a pure financial standpoint, we can have an impact here that we could never have in the Western world.  For example, a teacher’s annual salary runs about $4,000, the costs of a 4-year boarding secondary school (the only reliable educational option) total $5,000 and a 4-year pre-medicine/medical university course of study comes in around $15,000.  For $1,200 we can organize a workshop that will yield new awareness, programs and opportunities for the autistic and special needs community.   

The saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.”  Home for Kerri, Jillian, many of our volunteers, and me is the U.S.  It is a country of freedom and opportunity like no other.  But if you met the people whom we serve, you would understand that Tanzania also has become a bit of home for all of us.

Another student's home.