Friday, August 24, 2012

The Latest

So, as you may have guessed, I did NOT attend the webinar this past week.  Though it looked promising and certainly the subject matter would have been beneficial for the Project, my computer (and let's face it, me myself) rejected the idea completely.  The first sign that it wasn't gonna happen was when I tried to prepare my Mac by downloading something called "wimba" or "wimba wizard" or "a-wimoweh" which was apparently crucial to participation.  My computer just would not load the program, something to do with Java or Cookies or some other item one would think you'd get at Starbucks and not on the internet.

I called the NYU Tech Help Desk and the girl from “Level One Assistance” was at a loss as to what the issue was though I tried my best to explain it to her.  I am sure however that my increasing agita did not help the situation, and eventually she gave up on me and told me to expect a call from the next level up.  But instead of waiting for “Level Two” or whoever, I called the NYU department responsible for holding the webinar and was told that if the Help Desk couldn’t assist me, the best they could do was offer me a refund so I took them up on that because really, isn’t starting your own non-profit organization in the midst of an economic downturn hard enough without the added pressure of trying to join a webinar??

Anyhoo, in successful seminar-not-webinar news, I have signed up for two classes at the Foundation Center, one called “Introduction to Fundraising Planning” and the other called “Grantseeking Basics.”  Both of these will be good follow-ups to the six-week NYU course I took in February on proposal writing, which I think I’ve got the hang of, but which the Foundation Center also offers instruction in should I want to get a refresher.  Fantastico, right?

I also sorted out the Toa Nafasi Citibank account, so Mama's got a shilling or two in her pocket these days.  Thank God the interventions I am proposing are fairly simple and cost-effective and I've no capital costs (construction, expensive equipment) nor capacity-building costs (increasing staffing) to contend with.  In fact, most of my anticipated expenses are programming-related and even then, I am fairly sure I can count on volunteers and donated materials for the most part.  However, that means fundraising will be tough because the major costs then will be overhead (my flights, staff salaries, fringe) and those are generally not covered by grants, or just a very small percentage.  Oy vey.  I guess I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Not too much else to tell you all at this point except for one sad note.  Pastor Lyatuu of Msaranga has died.  Apparently, his death was caused by diabetes and high blood pressure, which is actually quite common in Tanzania.  The food is high is salt, sugar, and oil and people do not exercise often nor do they regulate their diets.  You hear a lot about illnesses related to "sugar" or "pressure" like limbs that have stopped working, circulatory problems, or heart attacks.  It's really too bad because of course these things are completely preventable, but I know from having worked with other NGOs in the health sector that there are people dealing with these issues, educating the masses about proper diets and moderating the bad stuff, including alcohol.

At any rate, though I have been to many Tanzanian weddings and even baptisms, I have never been to a Tanzanian funeral, so I don't know quite what to say and pole or even pole sana does not seem enough.  This was a man who I knew very well, who welcomed me into his community and made me feel at home.  Obviously, he was a man of God and so that should be noted, but he was also a man of the people and I can attest to the fact that his parishioners really loved him as I attended church services on several occasions.  Obviously, I'm Jewish, but I feel that Pastor Lyatuu was sensitive to this and never tried to push the churchy stuff on me too much which I really appreciated.  (Even the Ngowis who I love like my own family want to save me.)  I'll just end this entry with remembering Pastor Lyatuu as an integral character in one of the seminal stories of my first few months in Tanzania in 2007.

I was walking to school one morning on the route that I had grown accustomed to taking when a man who was seemingly loitering aimlessly on the side of the road jumped me and, after a rather violent struggle, ran off with my bag.  (This was my first mugging in Tanzania; the second - and hopefully last - occurred just weeks ago in Dar es Salaam.)  Of course, I became hysterical and after a few moments, some of the villagers heard my cries and took me to the church.  By that time, everyone in Msaranga knew I was Mwalimu Sarah, their mzungu, and they were very protective of me.  It was fairly easily discovered that the culprit was one Freddy Lyimo, a known drug abuser and "very bad boy" in the village.  Pastor Lyatuu consoled me and apologized for the misfortune I had suffered in his community.  He then made it his mission to retrieve what he could from my stolen bag and put the word out on the street of the items I had been carrying and what Freddy was likely to sell in order to supply his habit.

After I'd say no more than two weeks, I had everything back.  I mean, EVERYTHING.  Not cash, of course, but my wallet, my books and school supplies, my bank card and ID, etc.  All due to Pastor Lyatuu's efforts.  He had even gone so far as to buy my phone back from the mama who had unknowingly bought it off Freddy.  I had only been in-country a few months and yet the kindness I was shown by these villagers with Lyatuu at the helm was remarkable and I will certainly never forget it.

Hopefully, he went quietly and peacefully, dreaming of sweet, full-fat milky tea and thick, buttery chapatis.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Webinar Schmebinar

Unfortunately, it's been another fairly uneventful work week and I don't have much new to report on Toa Nafasi haps other than some upcoming events.

The first is a "webinar" sponsored by New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies in which I will participate on Tuesday.  Ugh.  I was in a rush when I signed up for this course otherwise I would never, ever, IN A MILLION YEARS, have agreed to take part in a "webinar."  I don't even know what that term means, and I don't want to!  Now, I have to spend part of what should be a lazy Sunday afternoon (I'm currently in my pajamas on the couch, mud mask on my face with a diet Pepsi on my left and a fresh Us Weekly magazine on my right - all the makings for a perfect Sunday chillax session) figuring out how to log into the NYU system and "access the Epsilen online academic platform" in time for Tuesday morning's webinar jam.  It's even more ironic because when I got the email invitation to join the class, I started to register online but huffed off because there were too many damn fields to fill out, so I ended up calling the office instead.  Now it seems there's no way to avoid technology.  Highly annoying.  (And what on earth is "Epsilen"??  Sounds like a depilatory product....)

However, the seminar itself, "How to to be a Successful Fundraiser, Including the Art of the Ask," looks interesting and I think it will be a good way to ease into the fundraising arena (a slightly premature move since I'm still waiting on my 501c3, but definitely in my future.)  Topics to be covered are: planned giving, capital campaigns, annual campaigns, major gifts, the use of technology, and the latest methods of research as well as direction on how to ask for money like where an "ask" should take place, what the best approach is in making an "ask," and who should make it.

The next big thing coming up in a couple weeks is a meeting with a graphic designer about the logo which will then inform the shape and design of the website, promotional brochures, and business cards among other things.  I have a few ideas such as an educational emblem like a pencil or a book, an image of a child engaged in an educational activity, or a symbol representing "opportunity" which is what Toa Nafasi is all about.  Check out a few of the images I found online and feel free to comment on what you all like.  None of these will be the real deal, but they are starting points to work with.

Other stuff in the works: going to Citibank and activating Toa Nafasi's account; keeping up my correspondence about the Project, with folks both here and in Tanzania; organizing a meeting with my U.S. board members to apprise them of the things I accomplished on the trip; a ton of research; a ton of meetings; and framing my official documents including the Tanzanian Certificate of Registration!  So that's where we're at two weeks before Labor Day, and I'm hoping I can get a lot of it done before the break.  We shall see.  At any rate, stay tuned for next week's post which will be sure to include some kind of Sarah-type rant about the webinar.  (I know I should embrace modern technology and the age of innovation, but I HATE IT!!  Which reminds me, I'm overdue for a Tweet....!)  Until then....

Monday, August 13, 2012


Pardon me for hitting and running this week, but I wanted to post a lil' sumpin sumpin though I have very little time and even less energy.

The major news is GOOD, however, which is a nice change from my usual trend.

The Toa Nafasi Project is officially registered as an active international NGO in Tanzania!! 

I found out just before I left the country last week though of course it was not without some stumbling blocks that we got the job done.  However, faced with two long days of travel and three months stateside to follow up on my 501c3 and work on branding and programming from the U.S., I tried not to sweat the small stuff.

The biggest issue we faced was that, for some bizarre and unknown reason, the Tanzanian government authorities rejected the word "project" in Toa Nafasi's name.  They seemed to think that it suggested a for-profit outfit as opposed to a humanitarian organization, demonstrating in my opinion not only a dubious grasp of the English language but also a certain pestiferous tendency to meddle in totally inessential matters.  So when Diwani Kiwelu went to register for me in Dar and was told as much, he went with the word "organization" as opposed to "project," i.e. "Toa Nafasi Organization" instead of "The Toa Nafasi Project."  Naturally, when I was told of this news, I pitched a fit of rather gargantuan proportions, but was gradually appeased when Baba, Kiwelu and I came to the conclusion that "organization" could be used solely on the legal documents, simply "Toa Nafasi" would be printed on our office signboard, and the proper name, "The Toa Nafasi Project" would be used everywhere else.

It's not perfect, but it's done and that in itself is an accomplishment.  I have a proper Tanzanian board of directors, a set of bylaws in Swahili, and a certificate of registration as well as two staff members and an office.  If I want to amend the name legally - I would have just registered as "Toa Nafasi" had it been me in Dar or had Kiwelu consulted me - I can do so after six months.  But it's not crucial, and there is much work to be done in other areas.  I've only been back in the States a few days and already my To Do List is several pages long and fairly demoralizing.  But polepole, things will get done.  Hopefully, by the time of my next post I will be in better spirits and a bit more organized and encouraged.

So, until then, I leave you with this methali or Swahili proverb which I find to be apropos for the moment at hand: Hakuna masika yasiyokuwa na mbu.  It means "There is no rainy season without mosquitos."  Sigh....indeed....

Friday, August 3, 2012


I’m not sure if my silly pun translates in writing, but it’s what came to mind as I was thinking of how to begin this blog entry. 
To elucidate, the “501c3” part is in reference to the tax-exempt status needed by charitable organizations to fundraise and operate freely as dictated by the Internal Revenue Service in the United States.  And the “PO” part plays on the “c3” as in C-3PO (or See-Threepio), the protocol droid from the Star Wars trilogy.  Lame?  Maybe so, but it’s how my mind works.  And it’s actually mildly apropos as the skinny golden guy was essentially a cultural liaison in the movies, a robot-man who attempted to facilitate relations between the humans and the space creatures so that meetings amongst the different cultures would run smoothly.
So if you can stretch your imaginations for a moment and bear with me, imagine that the 501c3 status I am currently trying to obtain for The Toa Nafasi Project will enable me to be a cultural liaison or C-3PO of sorts here in Tanzania, bringing new teaching methodologies and practices into Tanzanian classrooms in order to better provide services to the most vulnerable learners.  Still lame?  Yeah, it’s been a slow week….
At any rate, all of this is to say that the application for 501c3 status is a fait accomli as of two days ago.  All 29 pages of the nearly incomprehensible and hugely daunting 1023 form have been filled out, Exhibits A, B, C, and D have been attached as have the Certificate of Incorporation and Bylaws as well as my own CV.  Now, we just wait on the suits at the IRS to make their decision, yay or nay, hopefully the former so I can get cracking on implementation.
In the meantime, I am still hard at work taking meetings, making contacts, doing program research, and preparing for the future of Toa Nafasi.  The Tanzanian registration process continues on at lightning speed (forgive me a soupcon of sarcasm) and I am plagued by a whole other set of issues there that I can’t even talk about for fear I’ll go apoplectic.  Suffice it to say, it has been a challenge.
But that is what life is all about, si ndiyo?  Challenges arise, you face them, hopefully you overcome them.  I was at a seminar last week at Selian Lutheran Hospital in Arusha as part of the Special Interest Group in Mental Health and the topic was “mindfulness.”  Now, I’m still not altogether sure I understand the concept completely as a psychological modality, but one thing the speaker did say that resonated with me was this: When we find ourselves in trouble, we each do one of the following three things, fight, freeze, or flee.  I’m a fighter, how about you?