Thursday, September 27, 2012

Flotsam and Jetsam

Not in the sense of nautical wreckage but rather in the way of odds and ends, I have a bit of “F and J” to share with y'all.  Seems like I haven't had time to write a proper blog entry regaling you with all my goings-on for weeks now, but I suppose that means I must be busy doing something, right?  And the Kardashians are on hiatus, so it must be work-related….

To start with, I've been talking to everyone and anyone with ears about The Toa Nafasi Project and, quite delightfully, my incessant chatter has been met with positive results!  I have a list of potential partners starting with a woman I met back in 2009 when I first began researching this project.

Angi Stone-MacDonald is currently Assistant Professor of Early Education and Care in Inclusive Settings at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.  When I met her three years ago, she was doing research for her dissertation on the role of culture and local context in developing curriculum for students with disabilities at Irente Rainbow School in Lushoto, Tanzania.  I reunited with Angi over email and then a lengthy phone conversation.  Next weekend, I'm headed to Boston to see her in person and go over plans for the assessment and curriculum modification phases of the project.  I'll be armed with copies of the Tanzanian syllabi for Standard One and Two subjects and I imagine we'll hash out details of our gameplan.  I obviously am headed back to the motherland in just a couple months, but Angi will be coming over to help implement the assessment next summer.  So not only am I gaining a partner, I'm also getting a roommate, at least for a couple of months!

Mary Gale Budzisz from the International Association of Special Education is next on the list.  I've mentioned her before on this blog and I'm sure her name will come up many times in the future.  Retired from the profession, but a tireless crusader in support of children with developmental disabilities across the globe, Mary Gale is powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm.  Under her watch, IASE has built up projects in schools and hospitals in Mexico, India, Bangladesh, Malawi, and Tanzania and they supply a steady stream of volunteers to each of these sites.  I'm hoping she will be adding The Toa Nafasi Project in Msaranga to the sites she already has going in Tanzania: Mnazi Mmoja Hospital in Zanzibar, Diana Women Empowerment Organization in Tanga, and Sebastian Kolowa University College in Magamba.

Speaking of Sebastian Kolowa (or SEKUCo as its known by its acronym), the third person on my list is a current IASE volunteer at that site.  Richard Zigler has been heading up the masters program at SEKUCo since 2010 and is very keen on staying in Tanzania long-term.  I met with him in Moshi on my last trip this past June and he gave me lots of advice and feedback about the project and proposed activities.  Now, due to *issues* at SEKUCo, he finds himself looking for alternate employment in the Tee-Zed.  Enter Toa Nafasi.  Not only will he find further purpose in Africa using his special education skillz, he will lend credibility to my project and provide invaluable insight and guidance.

Another excellent contact is Dr. Derrick Matthews, an American pediatrician currently based at Selian Lutheran Hospital in Arusha.  Just like everybody else, I first met him in 2009 but reconnected with him recently now that Toa Nafasi is a reality.  We have yet to sit down again and talk in detail but I think he could be a good resource in the referral phase which is when I will address students who are under-performing due to reasons other than a learning difficulty, possibly medical or psychosocial.  Says Doc Matthews, “I may have to contribute in the areas of treatment of physiologic disabilities and behavioral management by pharmacology means when necessary.  There is definitely a need for this type of approach to children with special educational needs.”

Aside from blabbing about the need for special ed in TZ, I’ve also been flexing my artistic muscles designing a logo and putting together an identity kit of business cards, letterhead, brochures, and a website.  Oy vey, it’s a heavy-duty job, this business of branding.  Not only is it time-consuming, it’s expensive!  My first year budget has been sadly whittled down….

Oh!  That’s another thing I’ve been up to….banking.  Business banking is a real bee-yatch.  And CitiBusiness Online does not make things easy.  There’s about a million passwords and tokens and secret codes.  It’s like safe-cracking just to get into my own damn account.  And wiring money to Tanzania?  I’ve tried three times now.  Haiwezekani.  I can’t wait until I’m too legit to quit and can hire a proper accountant….and IT person….and marketing manager….

Finally, and possibly most importantly, I’ve entered the world of fundraising.  Now that the IRS is officially considering The Toa Nafasi Project for tax-exempt status, I need to get my ish together and produce a viable plan for how I’m going to keep this damn thing afloat.

Easier said than done. 

However, I’ve started off by attending seminars at the Foundation Center, which is an amazing resource and I highly recommend it to anyone who is considering starting their own NGO or is currently in the nonprofit sector.  The library is fantastic, the database is comprehensive, the classes are informative, and the instructors are incredibly knowledgeable.  The headquarters is in New York (of course), but there are branches and various sister libraries all across the country.  So far, I have taken Introduction to Fundraising Planning and Grantseeking Basics.  These will be followed by Introduction to Finding Funders, Social Media, Starting a Nonprofit, Before You Seek a Grant, Sustainability, and Grantseeking for International NGOs.  Check out some of the handouts from Intro to Fundraising Planning below.  Methinks my stool is a little one-sided, no?  And I’ll never get any earned income from this project….Maybe I can just put a balled-up napkin under the chair leg like you do with a tipsy table in a restaurant….?

Anyhoo, I may jest, but this part of the process is definitely the most daunting, especially in this economic climate.  Nevertheless, I am still optimistic enough to think that after a few applications and a few events, I’ll get the hang of it.  After all, I was a publicist in my former life; I know how to persuade and cajole people into doing what I want! 

The big difference here is that this is something I’m really passionate about and, as opposed to getting an author into the New York Times Book Review or on National Public Radio, this work is about quality of life, not luxury.  That raises the stakes tremendously and is actually pretty scary.  What’s also scary is that this whole project is entirely dependent upon me: my ideas, my passion, my energy, my direction.  So far I’m doing okay, but who knows what the future holds?  When I can’t sleep, I think about what I’ll be doing (and where I’ll be living) a year from now.  I don’t think that last year I would have ever thought I’d be here, in this place, in this moment, today.

At any rate, there it is, my long-awaited update.  I hope I haven’t bored you with my various views and random ruminations.  Stay tuned for next week’s entry which will no doubt be just as fascinating….!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Worthy Example

Busy as a bee and very little time to write, but wanted to share this article I peeped online at which talks about an inclusive education program for students with special needs being launched in Liberia.  This is exactly the kind of precedent (if it works) that Toa Nafasi needs to legitimize our ideas in the Tee-Zed!  Kudos to the Liberian MoE and Handicap International for thinking about how best to protect and encourage the most vulnerable learners, and ways in which to uplift and promote teachers who often regard their jobs as dismal and thankless.


The Ministry of Education in collaboration with Handicap International over the weekend conducted a one day workshop on 'inclusive' education rather than special education.

Speaking to journalists last Friday at the Corina Hotel where the workshop took place, the Director of Special Education at the Ministry of Education, Madam Kemeh Gama, said the one day event is part of a memorandum of understanding signed with Handicap International to pilot a three year inclusive education program.

Madam Gama said that the program was intended to make education accessible to everyone especially those with disabilities.  "So we are piloting in three counties, Montserrado, Bomi and Margibi, and in each of these counties, we have two pilot schools and four cluster schools.  The cluster schools will learn from the pilot schools, but we will direct our attention to the cluster schools," Madam Gama stated.

She named some of the pilot schools as Samuel D. Hill in Clay District and Sumo Town Public School, both in Bomi County, and Paynesville Community School and Dauzon Public School in Montserrado County.

Madam Gama said the schools were strategically selected due to their own surveys and the 2008 national census report.

"We put the project in public schools because too long our teachers have complained of their inability to take care of the children in school," she said.  According to Madam Gama, through the inclusive learning program, teachers will be taught how to talk and take care of students thereby creating an enabling environment for the students and even those with disabilities.

More than forty participants including Ministry of Education officials, county education officers, and principals of some pilot schools attended the workshop.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Summer Has Come and Passed

Today feels a little sad for obvious reasons and I can't bring myself to write about the generally-noble-but-somehow-made-mundane-by-the-magnitude-of-this-day activities of my life, even this project.

This is the first time I have been in New York on September 11th since 2006, then the five-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks and, while I have never forgotten what I saw or experienced on that day in 2001, I have not felt as close to it as I do right now.  On a more positive note, I've not felt as much a New Yorker in years as I have since I've been back on this trip.  Bittersweet indeed.

Nevertheless, I continue to be hugely busy with The Toa Nafasi Project and have been working on a big update for this blog (and for my board of directors, and for my organizational consultant, and for my Tanzanian staff, and for my parents!), but I can never seem to find enough hours in the day to perfect my prose and send the damn thing off.  Fortunately, the "there's no hurry in Africa" mentality has stuck with me and I'm not giving into a typical Sarah freak-out....  Quite frankly, there's too much work to be done and the stakes are too high for me to have a meltdown right now!  So, I'm keeping calm and carrying on....  There is always tomorrow.

I'm just about to head off to bed but I'll leave you with actual proof that the IRS knows who I am, and inform you that I am thisclose to hiring a graphic designer for the branding of Toa Nafasi.  Tomorrow, I return to the Foundation Center to basically squat at their library and, over the weekend, I'll be reunited with one of my most favorite people in the world, Mary Gale Budzisz, the past president of the International Association of Special Education, who will be in the city for a UNICEF conference.  I'll try and get some time to write more about those aforementioned mundane activities o' mine by early next week.

So with a lil' old Green Day on this chilly early Fall night, I say, "Usiku mwema, lala salama, njozi njema...."

Summer has come and passed / The innocent can never last / Wake me up when September ends ....

.... As my memory rests / But never forgets what I lost / Wake me up when September ends ....

.... Ring out the bells again / Like we did when spring began / Wake me up when September ends ....

Monday, September 3, 2012

Fruits of My Labor Day

Happy Labor Day to those of you reading this blog entry from the United States, and happy regular old Monday to everyone else.  I’m currently writing to you from Cacapon State Park in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia where ¾ of the Rosenbloom fam (my sister Julia couldn’t make it being a busy doctor type and all that) are celebrating the end of summer, all-American style.  (We’re also trying not to draw too much attention to ourselves as the mixed-race/mixed-religion, highly educated/highly opinionated bunch of New York Times-reading, CNN-watching, pinot noir-sipping city dwellers we really are since WV is an exceptionally red state, so I’ve taken to going incognito in a Redskins cap and we're all discussing the upcoming election in hushed tones.)

At any rate, I think that this week, for the first time since I left Tanzania, I can finally say that events have occurred worth blogging about!  However, due to time constraints and a faintly "African" internet connection out here in the boonies, you'll have to wait for a more complete update later this week when I am back in Washington and have more time to work and access to a better computer network.  However, I'll leave you with this image of my Tanzanian Certificate of Registration and the news that the IRS has cashed the check accompanying the 501c3 application so they have definitely received the packet and are hopefully on their way to reviewing and approving it.  So allow me to enjoy this last remnant of the first wet hot American summer I've experienced in five years and concentrate on getting out of Appalachia in one piece; expect a full report on Toa Nafasi haps in about one week!