Friday, July 20, 2012

The Village People

Not much of note has happened since I wrote last week, so I wanted to take this moment of calm and clarity to fill in some of blanks concerning the “who” and “where” of The Toa Nafasi Project since I’ve already addressed the “what” and the “why” in my last post.
Of course, since I was recently disassociated from my camera, I can’t offer you any current photos of the key players and the stage itself, but I’ve searched my computer (which I still have, by the grace of God) and come up with a few images to give you an idea.
The pilot project that Toa Nafasi aims to implement (the aforementioned three-tiered program of assessment, referral, and curriculum modification) will take place just outside of Moshi town, in a village called Msaranga.  I don’t have any pictures of Msaranga itself so I hope you will settle for a.) a photo of downtown Moshi with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background, and b.) a photo of a daladala, the common means of public transportation by which I will get to Msaranga.

Speaking of me, I don’t have any appropriate pictures of myself to share (which isn’t to say that I am an inappropriate person as such, just that I suppose I don’t take many photos of myself on my own camera).  Anyway, here’s me on safari in Ngorongoro Crater which has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the project nor on Msaranga, but which is a lovely place.  I guess we can go ahead and call me the Founder and Director of The Toa Nafasi Project.

Next, we come to one Harrison Ngowi, more generally known as Baba.  The word baba means “father” in Swahili and Baba is nothing if not my father here.  He has provided counsel (sometimes unsolicited) to me on everything from my career to my wardrobe to my romantic adventures.  He is the Project Officer for Toa Nafasi.

A very important person in my own Tanzanian timeline and in the naissance of Toa Nafasi is Mr. Genesis Kiwelu.  He is the diwani or councilman of Msaranga, and because it is his ward that we aim to help, he has been highly involved in the set-up and registration process.  In fact, he is currently in Dar es Salaam dealing with the Social Welfare Office, trying to get our paperwork sorted, and hopefully in my next entry, I will have an update on his success.  Before he became diwani, I knew Mr. Kiwelu as Program Manager at WODEF or Widows, Orphans, and Disabled Development Foundation, the local NGO in Moshi where I first worked when I came to Tanzania.  It was because of Mr. Kiwelu, himself a resident of Msaranga, that I first got to know and teach in that village.  Here, Mr. Kiwelu is taking a turn as teacher….

In Msaranga, there were three different nursery schools at which I originally taught in 2007.  One was affiliated with the Lutheran church, another with the Pentecostal church, and the third was without religious orientation.  The Lutheran church is a huge deal in Tanzania and very influential in terms of programming and development.  Here is Pastor Lyatuu of the Lutheran church in Msaranga talking to some villagers.  I am expecting that he will be helpful in garnering community support.

Formerly of the stand-alone school and now at the Pentecostal one, Mwalimu Vumi is one of the most compassionate and caring people whom I have met since coming to Tanzania.  Mwalimu means “teacher” in Swahili and unlike a lot of the people in the profession and given the moniker, Vumi actually embodies it.  She is kindhearted, patient (her name itself, Vumilia, means “patience”), and creative when it comes to teaching.  She just had a baby herself about a year ago, so she has not been at school on a regular basis for some time, but she often holds impromptu after-school tutorial sessions in her living room, complete with Fanta and fried bananas.

Baba’s wife, Mama Ngowi, is another important person in my life and I am hoping that she will also be integral to the success of the project.  Like Baba, I have known her on intimate terms for the past five years and we have often exchanged ideas on everything from work to relationships to politics.  She recently went back to school for an advanced degree in counseling, so I am thinking that when we come to the referral phase of the pilot project, her knowledge and expertise will be vital.  She doesn’t usually dress like this (or smile so big) but she was part of a wedding party in this photo.

Finally, I mentioned two children in last week’s entry who were significant to my starting up this organization: Salome and Daniel.  Both were vulnerable learners though in very different ways.  Salome was a poor student, but she was also behaviorally challenged and I am ashamed to say that not only did I not know how to help her, I probably added to her problems.  It is frustrating to work with kids who don’t “get it,” and it requires huge stores of vumilia in order to work with them.  Add on to that sheer naughtiness and you have a formula for disaster.  I can only hope that Salome is somewhere safe and that she has someone to love her and keep her protected.
Daniel was different.  He was also quite naughty (see his photo below; doesn't he look like the most menacing little thing?!), but it was in a more acceptable "that's how little boys will be" way.  However, it was his absolutely perfect dyscalculia that fascinated me.  So much so that I took a picture of it (also below), though it’s blurry so I don’t know if you can read it.  Basically it says:
2 = 1 + 1
8 = 1 + 7
16 = 7 + 9

But, if you can see, in addition to his equations being backward, all of the symbols are backward too; an unbelievable phenomenon in my eyes.  Of course, the teacher in that classroom didn’t realize that his math was actually correct and thought that he had just written a bunch of gibberish so she dismissed him as stupid, but I actually tried to work with him a little bit to see if we could get him turned around as it were.  Not having trained in special education, I was unsuccessful, but his is exactly the kind of affliction that Toa Nafasi aims to address.
I think I will end on this note of turning kids around and straightening them out, providing each one the chance to succeed on his or her own terms.  I’m not feeling quite as strong today as I was last week, but I still feel optimistic.  I think I can still say that nothing is impossible.
Oh yeah, and my small serendipitous moment of the day?  I walked the two kilometers from my house to the main road alone for the first time since the mugging.  Of course, I promptly slipped on the gravel and fell when I reached the small duka or shop I was going to, but what’s one more scrape or scratch?  I’m discovering that I'm quite patchable....

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