Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Seasons Greetings 2013

Greetings, readers!  I hope everyone is in fine form this Christmas season!!  I am well, currently on a brief stopover in Amsterdam on the way to Kilimanjaro.

I, along with my parents (sister couldn't come as she is an OR doc, but is sorely missed) are enjoying all that the city has to offer before returning me back to my second home (and life's work!) in Moshi.  It's cold and rainy here and I am poorly dressed for the weather, having packed for the 85-degree heat of Tanz, but we are managing to survive with the help of some gorgeous museums and sumptuous restaurants.

Not too much more to report at this time except to share this video taken at the Concert Gebouw; to me, there is nothing more iconic nor evocative of the holiday season than the sounds of Handel's Messiah.
 
Merry, merry and happy, happy!!  Next week, I write from Moshi!!

video

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Mis-Education of Sarah Rosenbloom

(For Julia) 

"Every man has two educators: that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself.  Of the two kinds, the latter is by far the more desirable.  Indeed all that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself.  It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment.  What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves." -- Carter G. Woodson 

####

As I prepare to leave a snowy, cold New York City for the warm, balmy clime of Moshi, Kilimanjaro, I have taken some time to reflect on my life to date and, in particular, the dualities and dichotomies that have presented themselves since the very beginning.

Obviously, the circumstances of my birth -- being biracial and raised with strong ties to both sides of the family as well as exposed to two religions -- has played a key role in forming this double-sided nature of mine.  Neither black nor white (Mom is Jamaican-Chinese and African American, Dad is of Eastern European semitic descent), neither Christian nor Jewish (raised Jewish, attended Hebrew School religiously (haha), had a Bat Mitzvah, but will never be fully recognized as such because Mom is "shiksa"), I struggled to make a place for myself in the world where no place naturally existed.

It was tough going.

As a young child, I had not one but TWO imaginary friends.  (Yes, I am willingly sharing this information in a public forum).  They were twins known as "The Jacky Boys."  My parents remember quite vividly my relationship with these guys, the proverbial angel and devil on my shoulders.  Predictably, one twin was good and one was bad.  And one side of Sarah was naughty and the other nice.  Very naughty and very nice.

Later on, I believe the words "identity crisis" were never more fully realized than in the teenage version of myself.  This played out most deeply in my thoughts about my appearance and I went to absurd lengths to straighten my hair including daily blowouts at the salon before school followed gales of tears if this couldn't be accomplished.  It was as though I wanted to blast away my strange, mixed-up ethnicity along with my big, kinky curls.  Green contact lenses, and various body image issues came next, seemingly in an effort to "whiten" myself.  Midway through high school, I switched lanes and somehow decided being white and Jewish was actually quite uncool and rejected that identity in favor of Funkdoobiest-era blackness ("We real cool" and that type of thing.)  With the advent of hip hop and my own burgeoning interest in slam poetry, I was able to justify a juvenile split from my Jewishness.

Over the course of the 20 or so years since then, my identity has changed in a multitude of unexpected ways, one of which has resulted in my expatriation from my homeland nearly seven years ago.  Upon reflection, it feels as though I have finally found that place I've been seeking out where both sides of myself can peaceably co-exist and neither has to push the other out.  I don't mean that Tanzania is geographically this place, but rather that the work that I am doing now, and the way the Project is set up has allowed me to have the best of both worlds: East and West, developing and developed, village and city, African and American, field and office, flip-flop and stiletto.

As I reflect on my return (T-minus 48hours!), I see the life I've cultivated to this point as remarkably whole as opposed to the divisive way I used to live.  Sure, those who know me (and some of you know me VERY well) know that there will always be some element of "all or nothing" in the way I run my affairs (such is the curse of the OCD perfectionist), but as for the overarching schematics of my persona, they have been strangely blended together in this new me: Sarah Rosenbloom, Founder & Director of The Toa Nafasi Project.  Who woulda thunk I'd have to travel 7,500miles from home to "find myself"??

So, I consider myself doubly lucky to have had the education I have, and I hope to be further educated by the experiences that lie ahead.  I have two homelands, two cultures, two families, and two traditions that I can call my own and, fairly seamlessly, pass between them.  And, even luckier than having these things, I am really super-duper lucky that most of the people in my life have accepted and understood this new situation; that family and friends have remained as constant and supportive as they have is a huge relief.  And a blessing.

The education that I was given was certainly not foolish discourse, that I concede.  Even with my identity crises and all the confusion of my formative years, I was given a pretty good jumpstart, thanks to Mom and Dad.  But what has set me apart today, ON THIS VERY DAY, is the education I have given myself.  Had I never left the West Village back in 2007, had I never left book publishing or the comfort of my five-floor walk-up, I certainly would be nowhere near as informed about the world I live in as I am today.  I would not have this awareness of other people, the experience of living amongst them, and the empathy to try to help them in some small way.

And, while I can give myself the props for getting on the plane that first time, it is actually all the people I met in Tanzania, all the experiences I had (both good and bad; yes, Freddy Lyimo, I am talking about you), and all the work I have done in the past seven years that has edified me.  The Toa Nafasi Project was born out of a need I identified in Msaranga when I first taught there years ago!  And now, it is my raison d'etre!!  It's actually quite remarkable....

At any rate, forgive my self-indulgent post this week and look out for next week's entry from Amsterdam where I'll spend a couple of days before landing in Moshi on Christmas Day.  After a couple weeks of preparation, I'll be back at Msaranga Primary, observing a new set of Standard Ones with Vumi and Mama T, and it'll be all about the kids again and less about me, so....stay tuned!!
THEN: my first night in Moshi, 2007.

NOW: sunday lunch in Msaranga with Angi, 2013.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Event-fully Yours Redux

Okaaaay, finally a moment to breaaaathe!!

So, I think by now most of you have gathered that the Friend-Raiser in Washington, DC last month was a huge success.  I was pretty nervous in the days leading up to the event, knowing that 50+ guests would be in attendance from all walks of not only my life, but the lives of all my family members!  I had friends from grade school there, colleagues from the publishing world, colleagues from the development world (some of whom I had only met a few times or just spoken with via email!), friends and colleagues of both my parents, my childhood nanny (who roasted the most enormous turkey you've ever seen), and my college boyfriend!!  It was....you guessed it....AMAZEBALLS!! 

But despite the build-up, the sensation of so much being at stake, performance anxiety, and general collywobbles, the actual day of the event, I was a veritable ocean of calm.  It was actually my parents who were snapping at each other, so much so that my mom took a vow of silence in the last couple hours prior to the evening in order to calm her own nerves.  My sister was really the only sane one in the house and together we went through my PowerPoint and speech a couple times so she could give me the pointers I so sorely needed.

 
Me and Julia, four years younger and four inches taller....
life's not fair!! 

Once we reached the venue (the house of a dear family friend, and now new TTNP board member, Romana Li), I was running on adrenaline alone.  Angi came early as did Scott Livingston who produced the logo, business cards, brochures, etc.  My parents and my sister ran around Romana's house sorting the comestibles while I set up the Razoo donation page on the computer, the PowerPoint slide show, projector, and screen, and the guestbook and name-tags.  Then, the first guests began to trickle in....
 
 
Believe it or not, this is the best picture of me and Angi....
 
 
Me and Scott, partners in crime!
 
Our hostess, Romana Li, introducing me.
 
 
Romana and my parents. 

Everyone and everything was really lovely from that point on.  I think all four of us Bloominators were beaming with pride and happy to be there together.  I spoke to many, many people individually about the Project in advance of the presentation and then gave a ten-minute or so speech with the slides.  This was followed by a Q&A session at the end of which a representative from the Ambassador's office showed up and voiced her support for Toa Nafasi.  

 
Speech!
 
 
Mindi saying a few words....
 
A slide of downtown Moshi projected onto Mindi! 

I think it was really effective to have me speaking from the heart first, Angi chiming in during the Q&A from the POV of the Special Ed expert, and Mindi from the Embassy, legitimizing the Project all-around.  I can't totally remember all the details of what I said or how it all went down as it felt a bit like a dream (my Cinderella moment!), but I know it was one of the best nights of my life!!

Aside from the funds raised (and believe me, Mama made bank!), I was also feeling the love and in some ways that's even more important than the money....however....if you have not yet made a donation to The Toa Nafasi Project, take a moment to do so this holiday season either by going online to www.toanafasi.org or sending a contribution to The Toa Nafasi Project, P.O. Box 20086, New York NY 10014. 

And to all those who were unable to attend the 2013 event, I hope to see you at the next event in 2014, and hopefully we'll be able to do one in DC and NYC as well!

I'll end here with some more photos and a really nice note from Ambassador Mulamula herself.  Next week will be my last missive from NYC; the following Friday, December 20th is Travel Day and you'll be hearing from me from Schiphol Airport, my midway point between here and Kili!!

 
Guests,
 
Guests,
 
 
And more guests!

 
Romana's husband, Bruce, talking with Scott.

 
My former Swahili teacher, very good friend,
and TTNP board member, Veronica Rovegno!!

####

Dear Sarah,

I wish on behalf of the Tanzanian Embassy and on my own behalf to congratulate you and your team at Toa Nafasi for a successful event.

I couldn't attend in person but I believe my colleague, Ms. Mindi represented us effectively.  She was really inspired by your work and efforts in fundraising for the good of our children.

We thank you and Veronica once again for your kind invitation and thoughtfulness.

With warmest regards and appreciation,

Amb. Liberata Mulamula
Tanzanian Embassy
Washington DC

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

#GivingTuesday

I know I'm late to download on the epicness of my "Friend-Raiser" in DC last month, but dammit, there simply are not enough hours of the day to do all I have to do so, to my most loyal readers, apologies, but you'll just have to wait another week....


Until then, this is more important: TODAY is "Giving Tuesday," a national day of giving to kick off the annual holiday season added to the calendar on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday.  #GivingTuesday is a campaign which celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations.

So, TODAY, Tuesday, December 3, 2013 is the second annual Giving Tuesday and, in the same way that retail stores take part in Black Friday and online retailers Cyber Monday, the creators of #GivingTuesday want the giving community to come together, asking that partners create and commit to a project for/on #GivingTuesday and then help spread the word to their networks.  (May I politely suggest The Toa Nafasi Project??)

#GivingTuesday started with New York’s 92nd Street Y which brought the expertise of nearly 140 years of community-management to the project.  The United Nations Foundation then joined as partners, adding their strategic and communications clout.  An amazing team of influencers offered their ideas, contacts, and wisdom to help shape and improve the concept and a powerful list of corporations and non-profits agreed to be founding partners, spreading the word and committing to their own #GivingTuesday initiatives.  Since then, countless organizations, friends, and leaders have all added their support and talents to make #GivingTuesday a reality.

As a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a specific initiative, The Toa Nafasi Project is a legitimate humanitarian cause capable of accepting tax-deductible charitable donations at this time.  Businesses, families, and individuals are encouraged to be generous in whatever ways matter to them, whether that means volunteering with or donating to a favorite cause.  So, please consider The Toa Nafasi Project this Giving Tuesday and throughout this holiday season!  Cheers!!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Event-fully Yours

Well, kiddos, it's been a week since my big "Friend-Raiser" and though I'm late to write a blog post, chalk it up to basking in the post-event glow!!  To put it mildly, I killed it.  Sure, there were jitters and nerves and snafus and flubs but, by and large, it was an amazing first experience in hosting a fundraiser and I can only see it getting better from here.

I am running off to be interviewed for the NFL website (yes, it's true), so I can't expand much now, but I'll post a longer entry and more photos this weekend.  Until then, check out the images below!

  Guests entranced by my fascinating spiel.
Me rockin' the mic.
A beautiful event display produced by my design guru,
Scott Livingston.
Me with Mindi Kasiga, 
Communications Officer from the Tanzanian Embassy!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Postscript from the Front Line

Mwalimu Vumi continues to rock my world this week, which is fantastic since I am truly about to lose my mind in the final planning stages for the inaugural Toa Nafasi "friend-raiser" which will take place in Washington DC this coming Wednesday.  Food has been ordered, a screen and projector have been rented, and RSVPs have been counted.  So far, 61 lucky souls are scheduled to be in attendance at the party with me acting as the emcee/ringmaster.  I seriously don't think I have been this excited/anxious/terrified of having to perform in front of so many people since my Bat Mitzvah.  Oy vey.

Anyhoo, back to Vumi.  Her latest email to me reads thus: 

Pole na kazi mwalimu, naamini sherehe itaenda vizuri, usijali rafiki.  Sasa tumeanza mitihani tangu Jumatatu, nimefanya hojaji na Baba Emmanuel Jumanne, hakuna tatizo kubwa labda ukirudi apelekwe kwenye speech therapy.  Jumamosi kuna semina Gabriella nimepewa mwaliko inahusu special needs.  Nimefurahi sana kuona blog yako, ni nzuri.  Walimu wengi wa Msaranga wanakuulizia sana, ina maana wanakupenda na ninakupenda kwa sababu unaipenda kazi yako. 

####

Sorry for work, teacher, I believe the event will go well, don't worry, friend.  Now we have started exams since Monday, I did the questionnaire with Baba Emmanuel on Tuesday, no big problems, maybe when you return he should be taken for speech therapy.  Saturday, there is a seminar at Gabriella for which I was given an invitation, it concerns special needs.  I am really happy to see your blog, it is good.  Many teachers in Msaranga are asking for you, meaning they love you and I love you because you love your work.

####
 
I mean, seriously?  Could she be any more adorable and amazing?  I am so lucky to have her as a friend and colleague.  To quote Jerry Maguire (sort of): She had me at "habari."
 
Okay, gotta run and practice my PowerPoint presentation for the event....I'm considering it the 2013 version of my Haftorah portion....

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Notes from the Front Line

Sorry for the delay in posting this past week.  I've been swamped with work, and slightly under the weather as winter has rolled up in a hurry - sniffle, sniffle, cough, cough.
 
At any rate, after another industrious and fulfilling work week, this entry is going to be devoted to the fruit of someone else's labor as opposed to me blabbing about all my affairs.  I received an email from Vumi the other day that just made my heart sing, so I thought I would share it with everyone.  See both the Swahili original and English translation below* - Boo!
 
 
Mambo poa mwl.  Kuhusu Emmanuel ameingia kwenye mradi ameanza kujifunza na anaendelea vizuri labda atasoma kwa muda mchache na ataendelea na tuition na Temba na mzazi ametumiwa barua na akifika atajaza hojaji.  Kuhusu Joseph na Hussein bado nawatafuta wazazi pia nawasiliana na Brenda aweze kunipa wiki nyingine kwa wao.  Naamini nitafanikisha hilo.  Sina wasiwasi nao kwa sababu wanaendelea vizuri na kipindi changu.  Kuhusu Abedi  alienda Gabriella na anaendelea vizuri sana na Brenda amesema anaweza kubaki Msaranga hata mimi nakubali.  Ukweli ni kwamba watoto wanaendelea vizuri ukirudi TZ utawaona wamebadilika sana karibu wanafunzi wote wa mradi wanajua kusoma shida kubwa ni Willbard, Agatha, na Erasto ndio bado wana matatizo makubwa.  Matokeo ya Adam, asome kidogo na mradi badaae aendelee na Mshiu kwa tuition, tayari nimeanza kumfundisha na anaendelea vizuri.  Nakutakia kazi njema.  Erasto amevunjika mkono tangu ijumaa hivyo hawezi kufika shule.
 
####
 
Things are good, teacher.  About Emmanuel, he has entered the program, he has begun to learn and continues well, maybe he will read after a little while and will continue to tuition with Temba.  His parents have been sent a letter and upon arrival will fill out a questionnaire.  Regarding Joseph and Hussein, I am still looking for their parents, also communicating with Brenda if she can give me another week of therapy for them.  I promise to achieve this.  I am not worried about them because they continue well with my lessons.  Regarding Abedi, he went to the Gabriella Center and continues very well and Brenda has said he may remain in Msaranga and even I agree.  The truth is that the children continue well and when you return to Tanzania, you will see they have changed a lot.  Almost all the students in the program know how to read, the only big problems are Willbard, Agatha, and Erasto and it's true that they still have big struggles.  The results of Adam's assessment are that he should study a little in the program and later he can continue to tuition with Mshiu.  Already I have started to teach him and he is doing well.  I wish you good work.  Erasto has broken his arm and since Friday, he cannot come to school.
 
*Names of students have been changed to protect their privacy.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

For Your Information....

As usual, work with The Toa Nafasi Project continues apace and I am racing to keep up with own speed!  But it's fun and rewarding and I can't believe that in only six short weeks, I'll be back in Tanzania, doing the on-the-ground work that I love so much.

Until then, several projects have me occupied: the planning of the Toa Nafasi inaugural "friend-raiser" to be held later this month at the home of a dear family friend in Washington DC; the fine-tuning of the webpage and other branding materials; discussions with and expansion of the U.S. board of directors; and, of course, the bane of my existence: budgeting, business banking, and fundraising.  What they say about money is true: it really does make the world go 'round, but it also is the root of all evil!  Well, maybe not all evil, but I'll say it is a necessary evil and, at least for me, managing it is a bloody headache!!  Be nice to get enough funds in the bank in order to hire an accountant....

Anyhoo, I leave you for this week with images of the just-printed Toa Nafasi brochure which I totally adore.  My design guy, a Mississippian with a bent for "African time," might be a tad slow to deliver but he is a genius!!  Kudos to Mr. Scott Livingston for all his hard work!!

 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Reading Rainbow

Hey readers, I hope this blog entry finds you all well.  As for me, to say I am hugely busy would be the understatement of the year.  There are not enough hours in the day for all the things I have to do or want to say.  But actually, that's a good thing, isn't it?  My lack of time to post clever Facebook statuses, Tweet my every move, or Instagram my latest outfit must mean I am doing something meaningful, staying in the moment, living life to the fullest....right?

Well, here's the scoop this week.  En route from one meaningful life event to another, (I'm sure), I peeped a group of schoolkids on the 1 train, ALL OF WHOM were quietly engaged in today's most underrated pleasure activity: reading.  It was, in a word, FANTASTIC.  So, if a bunch of multicultural Upper West Side primary PS'ers can be this engrossed in text, can those of the Tee-Zed be that far behind?

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Search for Avonte Oquendo

 
This post was compiled sourcing ABC and CBS News.  It concerns Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old kid from Queens who suffers from severe autism.  He is non-verbal and has "the mental capacity of a 7-year-old."  He has been missing for two weeks, and the search to recover him is reaching a frantic note.

It is all very sad and scary and I have been following the story in the papers, on television, and in person as there are missing person posters plastered all over the city and police officers passing out flyers on the streets, particularly near subway stations.  Avonte's case is a disturbing reminder of the social dangers that face children with intellectual impairments, particularly as I am still dealing with my own case in Msaranga.  It is clear that we, all over the world,  must take responsibility for these children, arm them with as much awareness as possible, and care for them if they cannot care for themselves.

Avonte has not been seen since October 4th when he ran away from the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City.  Across the street from the school, police have set up a mobile command center and the family has been holding a vigil in two tents where they wait for word.

NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says that the NYPD has recently expanded its search for Avonte beyond the city because the child is fascinated with trains and may have gotten aboard one, perhaps to New Jersey or beyond.  They have also intensified their efforts with police using helicopters and additional officers on foot and boats.  Divers also searched the East River near the school.  Because of the boy's love of trains, much of the search has been focused on the subways.  The NYPD says all 468 stations in the system as well as all tunnels, bathrooms, and abandoned stations have been searched. 

Avonte has previously been found at various train stations.  Most recently, in August after he wandered away from home, family members found him at the 67th Avenue Station in Forest Hills.  Five years ago, he took the subway from Jamaica to Kew Gardens/Union Turnpike Station where he was found by transit police.  And seven years ago, he was found at the Fresh Pond Road Station in Ridgewood.

The failure to find Avonte thus far has led the family to think he may have been abducted.  "I think someone has to have him.  If he has been out and about someone would have seen him," said his brother Danny Oquendo Jr., who came up from his home in Orlando to help with the search.  "New York is a big city but there are millions of people that would have had the opportunity to see him if he was on trains wandering around."

Roc Conti, a cousin said, "If somebody does have him, release him, because he can't even tell on you.  Write a note, put it in his pocket, write a note on his forehead, send him off."

And his grandmother, Doris McCoy who is convinced someone has her grandson and that he is still alive, begged, "Please bring him back, don't keep him if you have him.  Be good to him.  Don't abuse him.  Don't hurt him."
 
Family attorney David Perecman says Avonte's special education learning plan calls for "constant supervision," but Avonte is clearly seen in the school video with no supervision whatsoever.  Says Perecman, "The family doesn't know where their son is, and at the very least, they should know how he went missing, they are entitled to that."

Police are also playing a recording of the 14-year-old's mother out of emergency response vehicles hoping the boy will hear it.  The message says, "Hi Avonte, it's Mom.  Come to the flashing lights, Avonte."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Matokeo

(Results)
 
In an apropos follow-up to last month's "Maendeleo" entry, this post is titled "Matokeo" which means "results" in Swahili....and, I gotta say, it feels darn good to finally be able to write about some of those!!

Since I just composed the Toa Nafasi quarterly report, I'm gonna crib from that document cuz I'm a wee bit tired from producing said results.  Some of this is clearly repetition for any loyal blog followers out there, but if you keep calm and read on, you will find that the big finale does not disappoint!!  (I've also highlighted the news in red type in case some of you just wanna get there faster....)
 
####
 
 
Since completing the assessment in May, we were able to identify those students who needed further follow-up to determine why they were under-performing in the classroom, approximately 20 children.  We conducted that follow-up in the form of teacher questionnaires, parent interviews, and doctors’ appointments during the months of June, July, and August.  We discovered a few children who demonstrated hearing, vision, and psychosocial difficulties and we attempted to address those issues with the help of partner organizations such as the Gabriella Rehabilitation Center, Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center, and Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania.
 
We also familiarized ourselves with new teaching methodologies incorporating the use of manipulatives in small group tutorial sessions in order to better teach those children who do in fact have intellectual impairments.  In this way, we have begun to change the outcomes of their academic work in the Standard One classroom, and we are happy to report that the teachers have seen the fruits of our labor!  I think I can officially say that the pilot program of The Toa Nafasi Project was indeed a success!!
 
At the end of August, I returned to the United States for the purposes of fundraising.  I have planned an event for Wednesday, November 20th that will feature: a speech and slides about the Project; a Q&A session afterwards; the signing of a guestbook to keep track of potential donors’ contact information; distribution of informational brochures about the Project; giveaways of Tanzanian crafts to the guests; a fun “pub quiz” to test guests’ knowledge about Tanzania; the introduction of various American participants in the Project, either from the programming side or on the U.S. board of directors; the planning of a group of trekkers for a 2014 Kilimanjaro “climb for the cause;” and of course, cocktail hour!
 
I am also pleased to announce that the website for The Toa Nafasi Project has finally been launched and is able to accept donations online!!  It took quite a while to get to this point, and it will undoubtedly evolve over time, but we finally have the all-important web presence that we so urgently needed at www.toanafasi.org.  We have also printed brochures forthcoming and are working on t-shirts and various other marketing materials. 
 
Other administrative tasks on the list of things to do while I am stateside include: business banking, locating more sources of funding, contact networking, and gathering more teacher resources.
 
Finally, the Tanzanian staff continues to hold down the front lines back in Msaranga.  Vumilia Temba is heading up the tutorial sessions with our approximately 20 “slow learners” and, together, they have been making great strides.  Vumi is also taking a few of our most intellectually challenged students for further testing at the Gabriella Center this month in order to consider whether they might be better off in an exclusive classroom.  Harrison Ngowi mans the desk at Toa Nafasi headquarters in Moshi town, dealing with various managerial issues pertaining to the NGO in Tanzania.  We thank him vociferously for being the one to face the Tanzania Revenue Authority, no doubt a wearisome task!  Headmaster Kennedy and Teacher Mshiu support our efforts at Msaranga Primary School and Councilman Kiwelu and other local government officials advocate our efforts in the village.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Happy World Teachers' Day!


From The Daily Telegraph (UK):

"I take for granted that my toilet flushes, that the bin men come every Tuesday and that, when I pull the cord in my bathroom, the light comes on.  I take for granted that I can drink the water from the tap, I can access information from my phone, and – especially at this time of year – that my central heating will come on in the morning.

We take a great deal for granted in life, especially the fundamentals, like being able to read and write.  Most of us have also taken our teachers for granted.

Take a moment to consider the skills you have now and the person who taught these skills to you.  Remember your first English teacher, who taught you the "i before e" rule, your ABCs and the difference between a noun and a verb.

Remember your first Math teacher who taught you to add and subtract, to tell the time, and who explained the 24-hour clock, even though there are only twelve numbers on a clock face.

Tomorrow is World Teachers' Day – a UNESCO initiative that celebrates teachers around the world.  Since 1994, WTD is held annually on October 5, to raise awareness and address the issues pertinent to teachers while recognizing the contribution they make to education.

Isn't it curious that one of the most pivotal professions in our society, that impacts our young people, influences our leaders of tomorrow, and affects the way we live our life, rarely receives the respect or acknowledgement it deserves?

Teachers and school communities are a vital component to the healthy functioning of our society and yet in the UK, teacher morale is in crisis, external criticism is rife, and sickness due to stress is exploding.

Tomorrow is the day to appreciate teachers and the extraordinary job they do to teach, support, and inspire our children.  As you finish reading this article, raise a glass to the teachers who inspired you.  Say thank you to the teachers who made a positive difference in your life.

Start singing the praises to your children's head teacher, the governors of their school, and your MP's, about a teacher who has helped, encouraged, or inspired your child to grow, progress, and understand the world.

Teachers are the most valuable resource in education.  It's time to appreciate their value in our society.  You cannot put a price on inspiring a child to be the best he or she can be.  Teachers are the unsung heroes of our communities.

Today of all days, let's acknowledge and celebrate their foundational influence in our lives."

--Kathryn Lovewell, author of Every Teacher Matters

Friday, September 27, 2013

It's That Time of Year Again

Nope, not the holiday season just yet, but Fall is indeed falling in NYC which means the United Nations General Assembly has convened.  In an article from yesterday's Guardian titled "JK Confident Tanzania Will Achieve Most MDGs," the Tanzanian president downloaded his views on the state of the nation (TZ) and his thoughts for the future.

IMO, he's a little overly optimistic regarding the timeline of events, and a touch quick to say that the reason TZ won't make some of the other goals is due to donor lagging, but at least it seems things are headed in the right direction, particularly in the area of malaria prevention, care, and treatment.  Check it out.
 
####
 

At the ongoing UN conference in New York on Tuesday, President Jakaya Kikwete said that despite delays experienced in the disbursement of funds by development partners, Tanzania will achieve five out of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

"Tanzania will achieve the second goal of universal primary education, which notes that all children must be enrolled in schools, the fourth that concerns the reduction of child mortality, the sixth of combating HIV/AIDS and malaria, and part of the seventh goal which is about clean water provision," he said.

He hastened to add, "The third goal that focuses on the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women including their equal representation in Parliament and an equal number of boys and girls in primary and secondary schools and tertiary education can also achieved by 2015."

However, he said that due to slow progress by development partners to dish out funds, the country's implementation reports indicate that Tanzania is not likely to achieve at least three of the goals.  "We have taken major steps and put more effort on this but it is necessary that we increase the speed of implementing some of the projects in the remaining two years."

"Generally, the MDG implementation report in Tanzania shows that it is impossible to meet three goals which include the first that concerns the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the fifth that talks about improving maternal and child health and the seventh that speaks about sustainable environment."
 
Organized by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank, the conference focuses on how to speed up the implementation of MDGs.

Among those who attended the conference on Tuesday were UNDP Director Hellen Clark, World Bank President Jim Kim, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Ghanaian President John Mahama, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla Miranda, and Tonga Prime Minister Lord Siale'ataongo Tu'ivakano.

MDGs have been implemented in poor countries since 2001 with the aim of transforming the economies into middle income nations.

Meanwhile, President Kikwete applauded the United Nations for its efforts in the fight against malaria which have born fruits – the reduction in malaria cases is expected to reach 25% in the world and 33% in Africa in the coming ten years.

Still, despite the tremendous achievements recorded in Africa in general and Tanzania in particular, malaria still claims at least 650,000 lives every year in Tanzania.

"Our main challenge is how to make these achievements sustainable and deal with the remaining goals....Malaria cases were reduced by 18% among under-five children by 2007, and between 2007 and 2012, the cases were reduced further by 50%.  In Zanzibar, we are in a transitional period towards completely eradicating the problem.  I take this opportunity to thank the donors for their help which has taken us to where we are now."

Nonetheless, he warned that this is the third time the island has reached the point of eradicating malaria but the scourge keeps recurring.  Investigations have shown that it is still being transmitted from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar.

Worldwide, malaria continues to threatens at least 3.3 billion people and, on the African continent, at least one child dies every minute.

President Kikwete is currently on an official visit to the United States and is among the leaders attending the United Nations General Council.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Can You Hear Us Now?

Last week, I gave mad props to the ladies of the Tee-Zed, but this week I'm giving them to the kiddies.  Again, outta the Tanzania Daily News earlier this month, there was an article that caught my roving eye.  It was titled "Children with Disabilities in Kagera Form Own Council" and concerns a group of deaf children living in the northwestern region of the country.  Check it out.

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Children with disabilities in Kagera region have formed their own council and elected office bearers.  At their annual general meeting held in Bukoba municipality on Wednesday, September 4th, Wilfred Wilbard from Mugeza Co-Educational School for the Deaf was elected chairman while Gelda Geofrey from Muleba district was elected vice-chairperson.

The members also elected Roja Macheli from Misenyi as district secretary general while Jeremiah Nestory from Muleba District became assistant secretary.

Others elected were Digna Damagi from Muleba district (treasurer) and  Prosper Anseth from Misenyi district (assistant treasurer).

Kagera Regional Community Development Officer, Charles Mafwimbo, appealed to residents in the region to give priority to children with disabilities in order to enable them get education, shelter, health services, and other social amenities.

He said all the seven districts of Bukoba, Muleba, Biharamulo, Ngara, Karagwe, Kyerwa and Misenyi had been directed to set up special schools to cater for children living with disabilities.

He noted that children living with disabilities had equal rights like other children and urged people to avoid stigmatizing this vulnerable group.

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Kudos to these kids and the RCDO of Kagera for taking initiative and putting the rights and needs of those living with disabilities at the forefront.  Hongera sana!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hear Me Roar

Three recent articles in the Tanzania Daily News have caught my eye in recent days.  Firstly, they attracted my attention because of their relevance to my post about the intellectually impaired girl in Msaranga who has been a victim of various sexual abuses; secondly, because of the recurrence and intensity of the pieces; and thirdly, that they had even been published at all in a country as socially conservative as Tanzania.

On September 7th, I found this piece titled "Education on Sexual, Reproductive Health Rights Underscored Strongly," written by a woman (journalist Hilda Mhagama) and focused primarily on the words of a woman (Anna Mushi, Gender Advisor to the Wazazi na Mwana Project, a locally run venture from Jhpiego, out of Johns Hopkins).  Seems that if a real change in this area is going to take place, we're gonna have to look to the ladies for support.  Check a few snippets below:

Improvement in social attitudes towards Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) education is crucial in ensuring that young people become capable in applying it and enjoy a healthy and risk-free adult life .... Ms Mushi said that the right to education gives young people access to important information on reproductive health which can guard them against abuse and exploitation .... She said that when this right is denied, the results are lack of knowledge, lack of access to modern contraceptives, decreasing social status, increased sexual harassment of women, and an increase in HIV infections .... Girls in marginalized communities are most discriminated against, in their own homes as well as at educational institutions and health centers .... "The government should give priority to sexual and reproductive education as it is unsafe to have a community which is not conscious of those matters," she added.

The following day, another article ran with the headline "Society Owes Youths Reproductive Health and Rights Education."  This time, there was no byline and I noted that the language was more candid and concentrated than the previous day:

Growing up can be very daunting for many young people not so much in terms of physical growth, but more that they are ignorant of what is happening to their bodies .... Without accurate and timely information on sexual and reproductive health, many teenagers may make decisions that cost them their wellbeing and ruin their futures .... They need to be comfortable with the fact that what they are going through is normal and that they now have the responsibility of protecting themselves from harmful sexual practices .... The question here is who is teaching our young people the facts of growing up?  Parents want the schools to do it but fail to agree on how they should be taught and at what level.  The schools claim they are waiting for guidelines from the authorities concerned while religious leaders insist on taking the moral high ground of 'thou shall not preach such matters.'  So while this circus carries on, more girls are getting pregnant and are thrown out of the very same schools that do not want to take responsibility of teaching them sexual and reproductive health! .... It is time stakeholders got their heads out of the sand and addressed the problem squarely once and for all because as they run helter-skelter, it is the non-governmental organizations that come to the rescue .... Young people have a right to access information on reproductive health yet their society as a whole denies them that right as they refuse to take responsibility.  Parents, schools, health centers and even religious institutions need to wake up to the reality that young people need the support now and not later.  Later is too late.

Finally, more from Hilda on the 12th under the headline "Change of Attitude Crucial for Reproductive Health."  (PS: While I know that most of this campaign for SRHR education is for the benefit of older schoolkids, I can't help but feeling like my little ones could also profit from some direct edification about sex and their bodies.  If someone had told my little II girl in Msaranga that once you put your chupis on in the morning, you don't take them off until you reach home again, you don't let anyone touch you between your legs, and you don't talk to strange men who call out to you spontaneously from the shamba, maybe then she would still be an innocent .... in every way.)

"We have to improve awareness among youths by creating an enabling environment for them and advocating SRHR friendly policies in the education and health sectors," Ms. Mushi explained .... Speaking about family planning services, Ms. Mushi said that health centers need skilled service providers so that they can provide proper education and services to youth and women .... She further said that it is also important for sexual reproductive health education to involve men instead of approaching women only as the matter is crucial for both genders without exemptions.

So, all the way from the USA, I stand in solidarity with Ms. Mushi and Hilda Mhagama in roaring this out: FIX THIS PROBLEM, TZ!  "LATER IS TOO LATE!"


Friday, September 6, 2013

Maendeleo

(Developments)

So, I've been back in the USA just over a week now and things are going great.  I've had a couple meetings, and plans for the website and collateral are back underway as well as preparations for not one but TWO fundraising events.  It will be a lot of work but, as usual, I am up to the challenge.  Plus, even though my work in Moshi was also pretty full-on, it was of a vastly different nature, so I am definitely ready to tackle tasks of this variety for a while and then I'll be in good standing to go back to Msaranga at the end of the year.

I'm not gonna lie though; it ain't easy to leave your "baby" behind, even in the best of hands and for just a short time like three months.  Fortunately, Vumi is coming strong out of the gate and I woke up this morning to the following email from her:

Pole na safari mwl naamini umefika salama.  Naendelea vizuri na watoto wote wanaendelea vizuri.  Tuna mgeni, Esta Mgeleja, nimempa mtihani, hajui kusoma, ataendelea twisheni na mwl.  James Daudi amehama.  Calvin George nae anataka kuhama.  Bado Mama Aroni hajafika kwa hojaji.  Kesho tutafunga shule kwa wiki moja, darasa la saba wanafanya mtihani.  Pia nitaanza kuwakumbusha wazazi kwa wiki ya therapy Gabriella.  Kazi njema.

Basically, it's an update regarding a new student whom she tested, a couple kids who have moved, and some other news at school.  Bless her little heart for sending it in such a timely manner with such complete information!  Does this girl know me or what?!  And to think, just a couple months ago, she had never even touched a keyboard.  Next year, methinks we're getting her a Skype account and opening her Twitter feed....

I'm off to NYC in a couple hours having rested for the holidays (Labor Day, Rosh Hashanah, my mom's birthday) here in DC.  This coming week has me working hard on the web copy and other publicity materials, and I'll post again next week with more maendeleo.  Until then, a few photos from a world away....





 

Friday, August 30, 2013

New York, New York

Start spreadin' the news!!  I am back taking a bite outta the Big Apple after 24+ hours of grueling travel followed by a couple days of much-needed vegetation on the couch.

I'm about to head down to DC for the holiday weekend and some work meetings next week, one with my web designer and another with Africa Grantmakers' Affinity Group.  Hopefully, I'll be able to iron out the details of the Toa Nafasi website and the rest of the identity kit (brochures!  pens!!  t-shirts!!!  boxer shorts....?!) as well as to put my fundraising plans into motion.  More on all that and then some next week after the holiday is over.

Until then, enjoy this gorgeous photo of the NYC skyline taken yesterday by city enthusiast Inga Sarda-Sorensen - glad to see it on my Twitter feed as I didn't leave the house even once all day!!

Happy Labor Day, y'all!!


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Samaki Mtu

In an effort to lighten the mood from last week's super-serious post, today's will just be short and sweet.

I finished up at school for this year on Thursday and was gifted with this drawing from my little boyfriend, Ema.


It's a samaki mtu or "fish person," directly translated.  I'm not sure if there's a real word for mermaid in Swahili, but samaki mtu makes sense enough, I guess.  And I love that it reflects the whimsy and imagination of childhood.  Anyway, like the proud mama I am, I hung it up on the fridge and it makes me happy to think that I'll be greeted by my fish person when I return to Tanzania at the end of the year.

In the meantime, I've left the case of the little girl in the hands of Vumi, Baba Ngowi, and the headmaster at Msaranga Primary School.  I've been told they are going to go to the village authorities after talking to the child's grandparents.  Hopefully, they will also engage Godfrey's services as social worker because she is deeply in need of counseling.  Baba and Vumi have promised to give me updates via email and I'll share what transpires here on the blog.
 
My next post will come at you from good old New York City, so until then, kwa heri to my readers, to my Tanzanian friends, and to life in the Tee-Zed.  It's time to go home!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

*WARNING: This blog entry is disturbing and graphic in nature.

Continuing the nautical theme from last week's entry, today's post will be framed by this well-known nursery rhyme that I've been told is an allegory for life's difficult choices. 

ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT.... 

I guess some scholarly types say the boat refers to oneself or to a group with which one identifies.  The act of rowing is a tedious practice that yet requires skill and directs the vessel. 

....GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM.... 

The idea that human beings travel along a certain stream suggests the path we all take in life and the rules we are bound by. 

....MERRILY, MERRILY, MERRILY, MERRILY.... 

The challenges we meet along the way should be taken in stride and greeted with optimism. 

....LIFE IS BUT A DREAM. 

Some have questioned the song's implied necessity to row one's boat downstream but this may be a commentary on the paradox of the passage of time with man's free will in a world of causality.  Especially if you take into account this last line.

Okay.  So much for deep thoughts.

I am troubled, my friends.

I am about one week away from returning to New York for a three-month respite during which my plan has always been to finish up the website and identity kit as well as to start fundraising fo' realz.  I feel very ready for this break; I am tired and in need of some Western comforts.  But....  It is hard to leave....  Especially given the events of the past week.

Last Tuesday, Vumi and I discovered that one of our students, an intellectually impaired six-year-old girl, was raped.  It was obviously an extremely disturbing discovery, but what makes it even more heartbreaking is that it seems to be a habitual occurrence rather than a one-time thing.

We extracted the details of her case very slowly and carefully as it is hard to know if she is telling the truth; she sometimes changes her story or forgets things she has already said.  What we have established is that she has been sexually molested more than once by an older man, maybe around 50 years of age, a fundi or handyman who does work near the school.  He lures her into a dilapidated house with the promise of some sort of gift, a few coins or chips, soda, candy.  And it is clear that this behavior has been going on for some time now as the child is so accustomed to it that she has no fear nor pain, neither emotional nor physical.  In fact, in explaining it to us, she was giggling and seemed thrilled to share her sexual adventures with us.

It has not gone unnoticed by me that not only is this rape and pedophilia, but also, *technically,* it is a form of prostitution since it has become transactional at this point.  Of course, the onus is on the man, not the child, particularly as she is quite developmentally delayed.

In further questioning, we found that this child has engaged in sexual activity with others beside this older man.  We uncovered a whole network of children with whom she has been having sex, it seems, for quite some time: her agemates in Standard One, older boys in higher levels of primary school, neighbors at home, youths in the street.  She does it in these old abandoned houses, school toilets, neighbors' beds, shambas or fields.  She is not discriminating and at this point I am not clear why she does it with all these others.  From the older man, she gets gifts, but from the little boys only, "kidude chake" ("his little thing," in her words).  She lives fairly unsupervised with her grandparents and her baba who does not work and is known to be a drunk, so her activities are unbeknownst to her family.

My worry about saving her before this conduct had taken hold is obviously a moot point now.  She has become, unknowingly, (and really, how could she know any better??) a tiny prostitute who does not have the ability to decide for herself or protect herself.  I had planned to take her to the Gabriella Center and enroll her there so she could grow up learning basic literacy and numeracy in order that she become a self-sufficient adolescent and adult, but I don't know if they will take her now.  Her behavior is so entrenched that I worry she might act out there and I don't want to bring problems to others.  The issue here is that previously she was being called by others to do these things, but now she is the solicitor: she has learned that when she feels hungry or lonely, she can seek out a patron and her needs are fulfilled.  She even propositioned Vumi right in front of me which shows either that she is extraordinarily indiscriminate or that she does not know the difference between men and women.

I guess my point in writing about this issue on the blog and bringing it to light is to address openly and without rose-colored glasses the social dangers that mentally challenged children face, anywhere in the world, but particularly in developing countries where support systems are limited and education and awareness is lacking.  This thing that has happened to this child was my fear for her from the very beginning, even upon first meeting her, and I went to great lengths to prevent it not knowing that the whole time, she was already deeply ensconced in it.  Vumi thinks I'm psychic for saying so, but the truth is that culturally I was prepared to see the big picture while many Tanzanians (particularly in the smaller villages) generally take things one day at a time, not able to anticipate the consequences of certain actions.  I was hoping that we would catch this child early enough and put in place a safety net for her, and perhaps it is not too late to try to force a behavior change, but I would like in the future for Toa Nafasi to address the issue of sex abuse and other communal threats to which intellectually impaired children are highly susceptible (dropping out of school, running away, drug abuse, pregnancy, and disease).  This will certainly entail a gathering-together of the community to take collective responsibility for these concerns and to find constructive solutions.  The only alternative is the subsequent impossibility of these children performing well in school and growing up to be self-sufficient members of society.

I think I'll stop here because it's probably a lot for most of my readers to digest and I apologize for the disturbing and graphic nature of this post.  It is the last thing I would have wanted to deal with in my final week in Tanzania and, while it scares me to leave with this situation looming, it also scares me to stay and discover more.  Better that I lay down my oars now and let my boat drift a little, so that I can get some distance and some insight into this ugly side of life that I really never could have guessed existed.  Hopefully, by the time I return in December, Vumi and the teachers and the Ofisi ya Kata in Msaranga (local authorities) will have come to some resolution about how to deal with this problem, hopefully a resolution more active than just sweeping it all under the proverbial rug.

At any rate, this is certainly not the first challenge I have faced in this work nor will it be the last, but it is a bitter pill to swallow: the abuse of any kind of any child anywhere in the world, but particularly of the most vulnerable - young, intellectually impaired, living without proper parental support and in abject poverty.  It is a challenge that will take me some time to take it in stride or meet it with any kind of optimism.  As for life being "but a dream," it feels more like a nightmare right now.  It's time to go home, rest my head, hold my heart, and save my soul.  I'm not a super-religious gal, but I believe in God and I pray for this child and for the people of Msaranga.