Thursday, May 30, 2013

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

I was going to write about the glorious denouement of our assessment phase this week (yes, we did indeed complete the whole darn thing in well under two weeks!!), but a recent visit of "inquiry" to Msaranga Primary School by three well-fed Tanzanian immigration officers prompted me to register myself on the website of the Embassy of the United States, Dar es Salaam, and I got sidetracked.

President Obama is coming to TZ!  So far, we do not know his exact itinerary (so I can't genuinely confirm any dinner plans with him as yet), but we can guess Dar will be one confirmed stop and probably Arusha as well.  Hopefully, he will make an appearance in Kilimanjaro at some point, but Moshi is often overlooked.  I don't believe either Bill Clinton nor George W stopped here on their presidential visits....would be amazeballs if this POTUS could roll through and sort out some of the legalities of my expat status....

Check out below the "Statement by the Press Secretary on the President's Travel to Africa" as issued by the Embassy:

President Obama and the First Lady look forward to traveling to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania from June 26 - July 3.  The President will reinforce the importance that the United States places on our deep and growing ties with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including through expanding economic growth, investment, and trade; strengthening democratic institutions; and investing in the next generation of African leaders.

The President will meet with a wide array of leaders from government, business, and civil society, including youth, to discuss our strategic partnerships on bilateral and global issues.  The trip will underscore the President's commitment to broadening and deepening cooperation between the United States and the people of sub-Saharan Africa to advance regional and global peace and prosperity.

I also peeped this pic of the Ambassador, Alfonso E. Lenhardt, and find him to be a silver fox!!  Maybe a return trip to Dar is in order?  To introduce The Toa Nafasi Project, of course!

(More on the assessment and our future plans next week....)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Testing, Testing, I'm Just Suggesting

Hello, friends!  As promised, this blog entry is dedicated to the arrival of my friend and colleague, Angi Stone-MacDonald, and her work with Toa Nafasi.

Angi arrived in Moshi about a week ago and, after a not-so-restful weekend (setting up house, grocery shopping, helping me look for a new car, a road trip to Arusha, yada yada yada), she has finally settled back into life in TZ....I think.

I'm pretty sure I mentioned in a previous entry that Angi lived here for the year 2009, doing research for her dissertation in Lushoto (about 4-5 hours from Moshi in Tanga region) on developing curriculum for children with intellectual impairment in order that they learn life skills to be as self-sufficient adults as possible.  A major part of her work was trimming the fat on the academic subjects being taught to mentally challenged students and focusing on the "community funds of knowledge" whereby they received instruction in areas they actually needed to know, such as math for money value, or reading for boarding a bus.

At any rate, she is now back after four years in the U.S. (during which time she became an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, in Early Education and Care in Inclusive Settings) and on board with Toa Nafasi in a consultancy capacity.  The situation is ideal and mutually beneficial: for me, to help assess my kids in Msaranga, and for her, to inform further research on schoolchildren with disabilities in Tanzania. 

On Monday, Angi came to Msaranga Primary School for the first time and met Mama T and Dada M as well as Vumi.  She also had the chance to introduce herself to the kids and get to know a couple of them and look at their work.

Then, we began our work on the assessment the next day with a tutorial from Angi for me and Vumi on the various components of the test and how to execute it.  The assessment is comprised of a bunch of different sections designed to examine cognitive skills (literacy and numeracy), gross and fine motor skills, and social and adaptive skills.

Vumi and I watched Angi with one of our brightest (and youngest at only 5 years old!!) pupils, and tried to learn from her example.

Then Vumi and I each had a trial run with students of our own while Angi watched and gave us pointers on what was good and what we should change about our approach.

That first day, we got through only five complete assessments - slow because of us newbies, and a small source of worry for Angi who thought maybe we wouldn't be able to get through our nearly 160 Standard One schoolchildren during the two months she will be here, one of which the school will be out for "summer" vacation.  Fortunately for all of us however, Vumi and I are quick studies and the next day, we collectively got through 28 tests and the following day, 32.  I'm guessing if we continue at this clip, we'll be done by the middle of next week and then able to analyze the data and start making our plans for referrals and curriculum modification.  Already, we have seen students that we want to test for poor vision, color-blindness, speech therapy, dyslexia, Marfan syndrome, and anencephaly.  Others Angi has identified as having mild intellectual disabilities or simply needing extra help outside the classroom to catch up.  Though the work is hard and in the past three days I have already run the gamut of emotion from a.) near tears, b.) steaming mad, c.) sick and tired, and d.) exultant, I feel as though I am doing something really important and worthwhile.  Plus, Angi, Vumi, and I make a threesome on par with a special ed Charlie's Angels tag team!

The only problem is that now with this assessment in full gear, I have been neglecting my little boyfriend Ema from Standard 5!!  He waits by the classroom door for me everyday but I don't take breaks long enough to chat with him and by the end of the day, I am exhausted and dirty and just want to go home.  Poor thing actually issued me this letter via paper airplane trying to get my attention.


At any rate, Toa Nafasi is now going gangbusters and I am very happy if a bit fatigued.  Stay tuned for more from next week's entry!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Office Space Redux

Well, it took two and a half months, but the sign at the Toa Nafasi office in Moshi is finally hung!  We had a spot of shida getting the proper implements as well as a person to implement them - as Baba Ngowi would sum up, "This is the problem with fundis" - but the job is now done and we have our Tanzanian headquarters in place.

The great thing about our office is that Baba is also acting as an M-Pesa agent, so you can come into Toa Nafasi, learn more about kids with special needs, AND send money to your broke auntie in Morogoro.  Good times.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mamma Mia!

I am back at school after about ten days off and my love affair with Mama T continues to flourish.

First thing in the morning upon my return, she greeted me with hugs and kisses, karibu-ing me back left and right.  I was actually just as glad to see her to be honest.  Vacations are good fun, but the break in my schedule and the stoppage of work is always a little tough for me who lives and dies by habit and routine.

Plus, I missed the camaraderie of us teachers in the Standard 1 classroom at Msaranga Primary School.  Needless to say, we settled right back into our ways after the initial salaams, with Mama T haya, haya, haya-ing the kids into quietude, Dada M taking her time writing identical examples and exercises on the board, and me and Vumi catching up about everything from my love life to her wonky fridge to the endless rainy season.

Then, much to my surprise, I was gifted with the kitenge pictured below!  Apparently, Mama T had been awarded a prize for teaching and this cloth was part of her zawadi; amazingly, she chose to share it with me!!  I wanted to suggest we make matching outfits and coordinate days to wear them, but I didn't go that far.

Still, it was such a kind and thoughtful gesture on her behalf and I was deeply touched.  Definitely a bright spot in an otherwise rainy, muddy Msaranga school day.

Angi arrives from the U.S. next week so I hope to produce a great couple of blog entries while she's here.  Assessment due to start very shortly and much more anon!!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hongera Sana Sally!

A recent article in the Tanzania Daily News fetes a good friend of mine, and esteemed colleague in the field of special education, Sally Mohamedali.  Sally is the Head of Department in Special Education Needs at the Jaffery Academy in Arusha.  She is also amazeballs.  Her knowledge of and enthusiasm for teaching children with learning difficulties is simply incredible, outmatched only by her stamina for getting things done in the tangled web of Tanzanian bureaucratic red tape.  I have known Sally since 2009 and it is immensely gratifying to see her awarded International Teacher of the Year.  Check out the props below.


Tanzanians have immense potential to reach the stars, as shown by Mrs. Swaleha Mohamedali Chandoo, who has won the International Teacher of The Year award from the Division of International Special Education (DISES) under the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) of Illinois, USA.

Mrs. Mohamedali who works at the Jaffery Academy in Arusha at Njiro pioneered a Special Education Unit at the school in the year 2006 that facilitates both inclusive and exclusive education for cognitively challenged children.  The award ceremony was held in San Antonio, Texas last month where Mrs. Mohamedali was honored by the DISES and CEC.

She is also renowned for introducing oral examinations for the dyslexic students sitting for the Class 4 National Examinations in Arusha.  Being a member of the International Association of Special Education (IASE), an esteemed organization that works globally to unite people in the field of special needs, she has recently been appointed the National Chair of Tanzania.

These are but a few of her achievements that have brought her this honorable award.  "I have long realized that while educating, practicality is as important and essential as ethical values.  The desire for 'giving' has always driven me to find diverse ways to improve and progress the Special Education Unit curriculum in my country, Tanzania!

"Personally, the past 18 months have been some of the toughest times at the Jaffery Academy's SEN department, but while doing all this very exhaustive work, I learned the real, true meaning of 'giving.'  It was painful, and at times I wanted to give it all up but I found hope in the thought of building a better future for my cognitively challenged students," she said.

"I believe that teachers like us, who dedicate our lives to inspire children, will realize there will always be rocks on the road ahead of us.  They will be stumbling blocks or stepping stones; it all depends on how we use them."