Thursday, December 19, 2013


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.


Sunday, December 15, 2013


“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


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.