Friday, August 23, 2013


The best moment of this week was the news from Mama Grace that M's (a sponsored student who recently graduated from Form 4) mother called saying that MUCCoBs (Moshi University College of Co-operative and Business Studies) had just accepted her into their Accountancy Certificate Program.
Here's M's path:

  • Three years ago, while I was visiting the private secondary school that had taken our very first teenagers who no longer qualified for government secondary education, the head mistress asked EdPowerment to sponsor a day student .  She slipped me a long letter from Magdalene.  Part of it read, "I have decided to write this letter in order that I can have some help from You.  First I live very far from school.  I have to take two buses when I go to school as well as when I go back home.  A part from that I take a long time to arrive at the bus terminal where I walk one and half km.  Besides my family is very poor house covered by the old boxes. .. My mother hasn't a job, she sells vegetable on the street... she can't affort the price of fees or transport... during the night I use lamp to read and my mother complain very much because she can't affort also to buy some kerosene..."
  • So we agreed to sponsor Magdalene.  She did reasonably well but by the end of 2011, Notre Dame decided that her grades were not high enough.  Notre Dame was trying to build its academic reputation, and so they dismissed M with only one more year to finish secondary school.
  • We contacted another school in a more remote area and they agreed to take M even though she had only one year left - the alternative for M would have been the street.
  • This past November, M graduated from secondary school and actually PASSED the Form 4 National Exam failed by 60% of Tanzanian graduates.  Because she passed, she was able to apply for certificate and vocational programs.
  • Having learned some computer skills, she downloaded applications to programs that interested her at an internet cafe. She went all over getting the required documents - these included a new type of birth certificate from the hospital where she was born.  We supported her all the way, giving her money for bus rides and even sodas on her trips. 
Magdelene (right) with Teresia, another Form 4 graduate now attending higher education.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Our last blog told of our efforts to help one of our university students find an internship.  This story is quite different - but it also demonstrates the way we run our sponsored student program.

Our student's bibi's bed

Making porridge for her stepbrother
One of the Secondary Form 2 students who won our Discovery Sponsorship two years ago has survived an exceptionally troubled life that unfortunately still haunts her.  A year ago, we bought beds for her bibi (grandmother) and her to get them off their flea infested cots in the hut they share with their animals. Her bibi sat bewildered as we put up the bed, while her little stepbrother, also abandoned by his parents, played in the dirt waiting for R(our student) to make his porridge.  As it turns out, R's bed now hangs from a board attached to the tin roof most of the time so that termites can't get to it.  When R returns home, she usually sleeps in the Bibi's bed with her stepbrother unless it is for the exended December break when she takes down her bed.

Unfortunately, 2013 has been challenging in worse ways for R.  Her father has been in and out of prison, leaving her grandmother as the only adult in her life.  At the same time, R had to leave the boarding school where she was doing well because of behavioral issues. (Many of our students struggle with the psychological impact of harsh childhoods).  Thankfully we were able to secure her a second chance at another school.

This June, when we visited her at school, R told us of deteriorating conditions at home that preoccupied her.  So we decided to check in on her Bibi and saw what R had described.  Because of termites and the elements, one side of her hut had begun to crumble, leaving a large gap that allowed in rain, insects.... and thieves.  Explanation: this spring yielded a better harvest than last year, so R's bibi has been able to dry and pack beans/maize.  However, she can no longer sleep - not because of her bed - but because she fears thieves who come to steal the tins of beans that will feed her and her grandson and R.  R.'s bibi told Mama Grace that her worry now is not so much being able to eat as it is being able to sleep, for fear that someone will steal her harvest.

Last week, Mama Grace and our assistant Tom followed through with our commitment to rebuild part of the hut using not soil, but soil bricks.  These should withstand conditions better and allow the Bibi some comfort when night falls.  Equally important, R will be able to focus on her studies and her own personal health, instead of being preoccupied with what is happening outside of school and what awaits her return.

This dynamic - a situation at home that is threatening financially and even personally - marks the lives of many of our students. Mama Grace and school administrators counsel our students to take care of themselves and their studies.... put themselves first, so that eventually their own success will allow them to take care of others.  This message, however, is a difficult one to absorb as a teenager or young adult.

We hope that a secured home will allow R. to stop dwelling on what awaits her at home during breaks... and will allow her bibi simply to rest.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

IMPACT: A follow-up

Last week, I posted a photo our three University students.  Here is a short follow-up:

Angel is now in Moshi for a two month break between her first and second year of law studies.  She wanted to use this time interning at a place where she could learn more about the area of law in which she is interested - advocacy for the disenfranchised, particularly children.

Kerri (now back in the U.S.) and Mama Grace took her to several organizations and thankfully she was able to intern at what is called the "Juvi Center" or Juvenile Detention Center in Moshi.

Yesterday I received this email from her:

I am so happy about the work, truly it help me to develop my career because I usually go to different courts such as primary court and resident magistrate court for the purpose of hearing processes which are usually taken by courts for those children who commit  offenses.Thanks to mama grace and kerri and you also for your support. 

We have shared some of Angel's background with you and her journey to this point is nothing short of remarkable.  However, Angel also demonstrates the level of involvement and commitment that distinguish EdPowerment.  This summer, we not only gained an internship for Angel.  We also placed three of our vocational students in internships during their two week break - Humphrey in auto-mechanics, Monica in tailoring and Daniel in masonry.  This type of personal care is what will make the difference and enable each of our sponsored students to achieve in life, not just attend school - effective altruism.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


After such a productive summer for EdPowerment, I now have to throw myself into the part of this calling that I admittedly am not good at – raising money to secure our programs’ future. 

Kilimahewa's teens and sponsored students at last December's Reproductive Health/Life Skills Seminar

After roughly four years of operation, EdPowerment directly impacts a growing number of adolescents, young adults and intellectually disabled, all of whose lives were at a dead end before our intervention.  Because of our personal and hands-on approach, EdPowerment can assure each donor that his or her contribution has a one-on-one effect on a teenager, whose life otherwise would be confined to the family’s plot of land or worse, a rented room. 

For girls, we are replacing the hopelessness that accompanies early marriage with learning.
For boys, we are replacing the temptation to gravitate to local brew hangouts with learning.
For the intellectually disabled, we are replacing rejection with nurturing. 

EdPowerment is doing all of this in a country that has no public and few private safety nets. 

Maybe it’s a computer course; maybe a library book; maybe it’s a good meal once a day; maybe it’s learning about a life skill such as planning or saving; maybe it’s learning about nutrition or the truth about malaria.  Or maybe it’s something bigger  - a chance to study for a Qualifying Test that can reignite formal schooling; a chance to learns skills previously deemed unthinkable; or the biggest “golden ticket” – a sponsorship that will not go away until one achieves a career that will last a lifetime.  EdPowerment provides all of this.

Group learning at Kilimahewa - taught to its teachers by our Management team of educators

Rebecca - our head teacher - checks out books from our newly instituted Library

But for how long?  So I come full circle to the “Art of the Ask” as it has been called.   Interestingly, an article in today’s New York Times, asks whether all philanthropies are equal and recommends as “effective altruism” an organization that transfers as least 90% of contributions directly to low-income African families.

EdPowerment is effective altruism.  We transfer every dollar we receive directly to a neglected young adult in Africa.  How? Our Board contributes its own resources and time (in the U.S. and Tanzania) to work with and teach our Tanzanian staff to structure and implement thoughtful, well-managed and accountable programs.

We are effective.  We are committed.  But we need to become more sustainable.  So this is our Ask.  If you know of any corporation, foundation or individual to whom we can present our work – small in scale but long in reach - please let us know. 

Yes, there is a way to help one person whose random circumstances at birth dictated a life of limitation and struggle. That way is EdPowerment.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Here are our three University students.  Each has a remarkable story:


Tom has just finished his coursework to obtain his Bachelor of Science degree this fall.  Right now all final work is being graded and Tom has begun to look for a job having completed several internships.  When he has some free time, he comes to the Kilimahewa to help out the students with math and computers.  In February 2009 Tom had completed Form 6 studies but did not do well on the Form 6 National Exam and therefore was cut off from further education.  Nevertheless he walked miles each day to teach math without pay at the Kilimahewa Educational Center where I was assigned at the time on a one month volunteer trip.  Tom became our first sponsored student.  He had to start with a Certificate program in IT and used his good grades in this program to gain admittance to the Tumaini University from which he will graduate shortly.  This is success – short-term and long-term – for Tom, his family and EdPowerment.

Winnie became a part of EdPowerment’s sponsored family last year.  She successfully graduated from Form 6 but did not receive any government loans to support University studies.  Although her father is a community leader with a solid small business, his obligations to his (extended) family prevented him from affording Winnie’s dream – to be come a doctor, specifically a gynecologist would help fill the void of female medical care in this region.  After interviewing Winnie and investigating her circumstances, EdPowerment has committed to paying her tuition and fees, which leaves her family to cover her board and personal expenses.  Winnie’s average in her first year of Pre-Medical Health Studies was a B+.  Right now she is on break teaching sciences at Kilimahewa.  In September she will resume studies as a First-Year Medical Student.

Angel came to the EdPowerment office last summer to appeal personally for an opportunity to pursue law at Mzumbe University.  Angel’s story is a testimony to desire, resourcefulness and perseverance.   Briefly, Angel’s mother died when she was born, leaving her parentless.  She subsequently came under the care of several relatives who allowed her to attend primary school sporadically as circumstances allowed. When her relatives no longer could pay her secondary school fees, Angel would hide in the bathrooms when students were called up and sent home because they had not paid fees.  Ultimately, Angel appealed for help to her teachers and community, and through the kindness of certain teachers was able to complete Form 6 studies and gain entrance into Mzumbe-Myeya Campus.  But Angel’s troubles were not over.  She was rejected for a government loan and once again left nowhere.  Angel wrote, “My hopes were destroyed when I end up with no loan.  I felt disappointed and asked God why I passed this difficulty from the day I was born until now. But all impossibilities to God are possible…” This time she took it upon herself to visit the village ward’s office.  The ward officer knew of EdPowerment and told her to write a letter that he subsequently left under our office door.

Today Angel has successfully completed her first year of law studies. Her first semester grades were all As and Bs and we are awaiting her second semester results as we try to help her find an internship for her two month break.

Tom Kway, our Operations Administrator, showing Angel how to use her new laptop.             How excited is she!


Sunday, August 4, 2013



Anyone who has worked for educational and social advancement for the poor knows that the road is fraught with obstacles, frustrations, setbacks and unexpected surprises - not all good. Over time, a lot of deep breaths, regrouping and resets take place.

Sometimes, however, there are moments that signal progress, accomplishment and yes, success.  Kerri Elliott, one of EdPowerment's founding team of educators, is still in Tanzania, while Jillian, our volunteers and I have headed or returned home.  So this week, it was great to get two emails from her that I simply am copying and pasting below.  They are in the "feel good" category and speak to the years of hard work and on-the-ground involvement that marks EdPowerment's efforts to bring education to some of the poorest and most neglected adolescents in the villages outside of Moshi. (I inserted some explanations in red).

Hello Ladies-

I wanted to write you and tell you what a great Thursday I had and how much our work is starting to make real awesome change.  

So I went to Kilimahewa around 12pm to help with the tree planting (these are fruit trees which not only beautify the Center but will supplement students and teacher lunches.  The best part is that we purchased them from Cocaya, an organization that raises plants and trees as part of sustainable businesses to help the deaf)...  It was quite an eventful day.  We planted 50 trees around the grounds.  I will have more pictures to come later but here are some of the ones I was able to get before my camera died. 

I then witnessed Godlisten's class using microscopes and had 4 of the girls make a 10 minute video on all the parts of the microscope and why it is important to have it.  They prepared their speeches and presented them while I videotaped the other students.  I will send it to Maria (the professor whose university donated the microscopes - see past blogs).  These 4 were selected by Godlisten to be the microscope experts and to assist with all microscope lessons.  He based his selection on ability, skill, and interest in science.  I will post many of these videos when I get home.  

After that I witnessed the library in action and took a bunch of photos.  I think every kid was lined up to check out a library book.  I then noticed them walking around the grounds reading them right after.  It was pretty amazing.  I am excited to see the library finished.  Also while kids were checking out library books the Kilimahewa community meeting was going on so all the village elders got to see the kids reading.  It was pretty exciting and they seemed very happy.  

After that I stepped in to see the computer classroom and the improvement they have made in only 3 short lessons.  Their typing skills are coming along and they are working hard on using the home row keys and starting to move to the upper and lower keys.  Next to the computer class was the remedial class working on their swahili skills.  I had one of those moments standing on the patio thinking... Oh man how far we have come. I thought I would share that and some of the pictures of the day!  On that day I truly felt the difference we are making in this village at this school.  

And the next day:

Hi ladies-

I was visiting the project of a Rotarian today, an orphanage by KCMC (Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center), and saw a special needs student.  I was talking to a mzungu (local term for white foreigner) that works at the center and she talked about how she heard about Gabriella (the Centre for disabled youth that we help to staff and support in other ways) and took the boy and his grandmother there.  She said that she was struck by what an amazing place it was.  She claimed it was a center better than any she had seen in Tanzania and she had made an appointment for the boy to get evaluated during therapy week and possibly attend.  

Made my heart feel good knowing we helped make this happen.