Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Elusively Inclusive

Hi all, and sorry for the late post this week.  Work has kept me running apace and I haven't had an extra moment to whip up a frothy blog entry.  All in due time....

Until then, check out the article below from The Tanzania Daily News that ran a couple weeks ago regarding the all-but-forgotten National Strategy on Inclusive Education....only time will tell if this initiative really comes to pass someday, but it looks like a pilot project is actually in the works!


The government is planning to introduce a policy whereby all teachers' colleges will enhance special education training, with the aim of eventually implementing the inclusive education strategy.

Addressing residents in Kibaha, the Deputy Minister for Education and Vocational Training, Mr. Philipo Mulugo, said the move is aimed at increasing school enrollment of disabled students.

He was speaking during the launch of the Modeling Inclusive Education (MIE) project to be carried out in the three districts of Kibaha, Mkuranga and Kisarawe on the coast.

The five-year project will be handled jointly by the Tanzanian government and the NGO, Action on Disability and Development International (ADD).  Mr. Mulugo urged local government leaders and education officials to conduct frequent censuses to get accurate numbers of disabled children in every household so that no one misses out on the education opportunity.

It's widely acknowledged that only 3-5% of disabled children in Tanzania go to school - a fact that had already resulted in the National Strategy in Inclusive Education, which was initiated in 2009.

According to a study which was conducted by Mr. Cosmas Mnyanyi, a consultant from the Open University of Tanzania (OUT), the few who have made it into school face a wide range of challenges including a lack of supportive devices such as Braille machines, hearing aids, and ramps and access points for wheelchairs.

"There are very few teachers who have an understanding of disability issues, a shortage of data on types of disability, a scarcity of workshops where crafts and trades can be taught, as well as issues facing all schoolchildren such as a shortage of books and classroom space," said Mr. Mnyanyi.

ADD International is one of the organizations that commissioned the report and its country director, Mr. Sixbert Mzee, said the findings form the first step in this five-year plan to increase greater access to schools and improve educational performance and achievements amongst disabled students.

"As a result of this report, the realities of being a child with a disability are there for all of us to see.  Together with other campaigners and supporters we have to ensure that we work even harder to bring down barriers first in the coastal region and then across Tanzania," he said.

ADD International Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Tim Wainwright, said the program focuses on transforming the existing Tanzanian education system to provide disabled children with friendly and educative environment.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Goin' to Gabriella-Ella-Ella

This past week, Toa Nafasi has continued to make connections in the area of special education with other organizations in Moshi.  We had already conducted clinics at the hospital, KCMC, and a disability center, CCBRT, both of which were successful (and to be repeated shortly), but we made our first foray into a possible long-term partnership with one particular organization that I think will be very important in the future.

The Gabriella Rehabilitation Center located in Kibosho, just outside of Moshi proper, is an NGO aimed at supporting children with disabilities.  Their goals are to identify these kids early, assess them properly, and assist them to eventually become self-sufficient members of the community.  Sound familiar....?!

Gabriella consists of an integrated primary school for both disabled and non-disabled students as well as a full-time boarding facility for those who need it.  They also have on-site occupational therapists and teachers to assist kids with autism and learning disabilities, and to provide education and awareness to parents and the community at large.

Angi and I had visited the Center on a recon mission some weeks ago, but this time I went with eight of the students from Msaranga who we were most concerned about to get them assessed by Gabriella standards and to compare the findings with our own assessment.  I chose not to take photos out of deference to the Gabriella staff but, next time we go, I will at least take pictures of the grounds which are extremely nice.  (You can also check out Angi's blog which has a few shots of the environment at www. blogs.umb.edu/angelastone/.)

Anyway, all of the children were assessed and their parents gathered for the results.  The bottom line: Brenda, the Gabriella director, wants to see everybody back for a "Week of Therapy" in October during which they will conduct more in-depth examinations of each child and the home environment.  But we have confirmed that all these kids do indeed have issues that must be addressed and that perhaps two or three of them will need to be enrolled at the Gabriella school because we don't think they can succeed at Msaranga Primary, even with Vumi's and my interventions.  So, come October, Vumi's gonna step up and be the "Head Mbongo In Charge" and organize the Week of Therapy with Brenda while I am in the United States knockin' down doors for contributions.

Until then, the plan is to continue with the tutoring sessions which Vumi and I initiated this past week.  Per the instructions of one Godfrey Mbowe, a social worker at KCMC, we started these classes with drawing in order to discern some of the children's "inner worlds."  Very interesting stuff we uncovered.  Check it....
The work of our most "troubled" student; when we asked her what she was drawing, she told us "a picture."  A picture of what?  "A white picture."  But what is it?  "A person."

This little girl is so sweet, so trusting, so loving, but she needs SOOOO much help.  I am TERRIFIED for her safety.  All it would take is one jack*ss to lure her into the shamba and have his way with her.

And this is from a kid we pulled from Standard Two, so he's a bit older than the others.  According to his mama, he is very aggressive at home and fights a lot with his siblings.  He does not enunciate well when speaking and was late to meet his milestones (crying, walking, talking, etc.)  Now, he's doing poorly in school as you an see from the "captions" next to his drawings, though he appears to know how to write at least a few of the syllables.  I think we can work with him though Vumi and I joke that maybe he is Maasai because whatever he's trying to spell looks like something out of their language!

Here are three heads bent, each concentrating hard on the task at hand, occasionally reaching for a new color from Vumi's lap.

This little girl is another student pulled from Standard Two.  Without revealing too much about her personal history, I can say that she was abandoned by her birth mother and taken in by a babu and bibi who, as far as I can tell, are not related to her in any way.  She is impossibly thin though by all accounts, she is well-fed and well-cared-for.  We went ahead and had her checked out by a physician, and there is nothing medically wrong with her so now we just have to try to draw her out of her shell.

Thanks to Angi, we were able to practice fine motor skills with these laminated sheets and dry-erase markers.  All the kids save one had great motor skills and enjoyed the exercise.

And don't go thinking Toa Nafasi is all work and no play.  There is a bromance a-bloomin' betwixt these two formerly silent and sullen young gentlemen.  I don't think they even knew each other prior to last week and now look at them!  Just fantastic to see and hugely uplifting as the social aspect of this work is just as important as the cognitive/critical thinking stuff.  The better they feel about themselves, the more open they'll be to trying new things in the classroom and the higher their chances of success in the future.

I love this picture.

Vumi's smile is like warm milk chocolate dripping onto three fluffy kittens underneath a rainbow made of shooting stars.

And this boy is one of the bros above, who usually hides his face and slouches so much that I took him to a doctor at KCMC to inquire about scoliosis.  Turns out he just really needed to color....

More - SO MUCH MORE - to come next week!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Early Childhood, Into the Woods, and Baked Goods

Our last week together was a busy one.  Angi and I accomplished a ton of stuff, both professional and recreational and, while we pretty much exhausted ourselves, we were also extremely satisfied.

We started our countdown by taking six Standard One students from Msaranga Primary School (along with their parents and Vumi) to Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center or KCMC where we inaugurated the referral phase of The Toa Nafasi Project with visits to the vision, pediatric, and neurology departments.  These were kids who we knew were under-performing due to my observations, our assessment, and the quarterly school test.  We were able to further delve into each of their backgrounds by questioning the parents and teachers and talking with the students one-on-one.  We then determined that some of these children might not under-performing due to learning difficulties, but possibly some other kind of medical issue.

We had four children whose vision was questionable so we took them to the eye clinic for full testing.  Two more children had health issues that required a personal pediatric examination.  One of these, a girl we held back from Standard Two, is very tall and thin and I had thought she might have Marfan syndrome, but at the very least we wanted to get her checked for malnutrition and anemia.  The other, a boy also removed from Standard Two, is not talkative and exhibits flu-like symptoms more often than is typical, so he needed a check-up as well.  Two other kids, both boys whose vision we tested in addition, we took to the neurology department where a Dutch neurologist conducts a weekly clinic.  One of them we checked for microcephaly as his head and neck are unusually underdeveloped and the other had a history of headaches according to his parents, so we wanted to follow up on that information.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, we found out that all of the kids we brought to KCMC were fine and without issues in the areas that we were concerned with.  It's obvious why this information is good, but the bad thing is that we are now back to that gray area of learning difficulties where the solution is something much more abstract and amorphous than, say, a pair of glasses or a vitamin supplement.  But that's what Toa Nafasi is here for and I am already working on creating lesson plans and practicing teaching methods for working with this group of young students.

In order to offset the intensity of the Project, I tried to show Angi a good time while she was here in Moshi.  Unfortunately, she came at a period where I've been laying low and keeping to myself plus it's "winter" here in TZ so nights are pretty cold to go out and about.  So, the bar/club scene was basically ruled out, and instead, we kept to some, good clean fun, first by going on a loooong day hike up Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route with my dear friend Methley and then by lunching at Melinda's farm, also located in Machame.

When I wanted to climb Kili back in 2008, there was no one else I could ask to take me except one Methley Emanuel Swai, mountain climber extraordinaire.  At that time he was working for his brother's company, but now he has branched out and created his own company called Just-Kilimanjaro which offers a boutique mountain-climbing experience in that Methley basically does everything himself, from the marketing and publicity to the bookings to the hiring of assistant guides and porters, to lead-guiding every single group himself to cooking, cleaning and general TCB'ing.

Professionally, he is knowledgeable, reliable, and pretty much just amazeballs; personally, he is the yin to my yang, the calm to my crazy, and also fairly amazeballs.  He has met all the members of my family and many of the friends who have to come visit me here, arranging safaris and birthday cakes, playing golf with my dad and setting my sister up with his brother.  So, suffice it to say that when it comes to spending an inordinate amount of time with someone in likely uncomfortable circumstances and doing strenuous exercise for days on end without a shower nor a glass of wine, this is the guy you want to be with.  Ain't he cute?

The plan for the day was to hike to the first camp on the Machame Route, appropriately named Machame Camp.  (I had climbed the Rongai Route back in 2008, a longer and more meandering course which we had decided upon because I was with my parents who are obviously older folks.  They made it to Mawenzi Tarn Hut before Carla decided a glass of red wine, hot shower, and pool time at the Impala Hotel was an infinitely more appealing way to spend her vacation, and David reluctantly followed her down the mountain.  I made it to Gilman's Point before I decided that keeping all ten fingers and ten toes was an infinitely more appealing option of the future than breaking off a couple due to hypothermia.)  Machame is known to be challenging but beautiful and it is the preferred route of Methley and his family.  Our day was to consist of 11kms up and 11 down, with a gain of 1200 meters in altitude.

We started fairly flat but the ascent crept up on us in a hurry.  This route was definitely more difficult than I remember Rongai being!  And all the time as we were going up, I was thinking that  "what goes up must come down," and how hard it was going to be to get back.  I'd much rather exert myself and feel the burn in my bum climbing than grip my toes and slip and slide on the gravel descending!!

Methley tends to be a bit more adventurous than I am (or than I would want him to be when we are together!) plus I think he wanted to show Angi the undiscovered beauty of the mountain, so at one point we veered off the path to see if there was a ravine or a gorge or some damn thing.  I could have done without the side excursion, but of course I blindly followed Mkuu (Chief) and then complained bitterly when I caught up to him....

About three quarters of the way to camp, we could see Kibo (the snowy peak) from the path and Angi took this beautiful shot (and I gotta give her props here for several other of the shots for this entry - thanks Angi!!).  We also got to see Mt. Meru in Arusha from this vantage point.  We also got to pee.

When we finally reached Machame Camp, the path really opened up and we got a great view of Kibo, where we all posed for photos, Methley doing his Usain Bolt impression for the camera.  We had lunch which, as I said before, Methley takes pride in preparing personally.  He whipped up a fabulous tilapia salad complete with olive oil, ground pepper, and fresh chili: natural, healthy, carb-and-sugar-free; does this guy know me or what?

People are always riding me about not making it to the summit last time I climbed, to which I generally protest and say that I did indeed make it to the summit, or a part of the summit anyway, just not the *true* summit, Uhuru Peak.  Well, that situation is soon to be rectified as Angi and I plan to climb together with her husband next year (won't that be fun for Keith?!).  In the meantime, here is proof that I can at least make it to the first camp.

As predicted, the trek down was long and arduous even after fueling up on tilapia salad.  I was constantly lagging behind prompting Methley to berate me ("Mowgli, keep up!"  For whatever reason, something about my appearance prompts him to equate me with Disney's Jungle Boy) though I will point out here that of the three of us, the only one who didn't fall on the downward trek was none other than the Jungle Boy herself, so while slow-and-steady may not win the race, it does keep you upright.

Aside from the slowgoing of the walk itself, we had also dillydallied sufficiently looking for gorges and grinding pepper that we were pretty late to get back to the gate.  It was nearly 8pm by the time we made it to my car and, while the memory of my feelings at that particular time has faded, I am pretty sure I had some choice thoughts going through my head for old Mkuu there....especially with all the "Mowgli, keep up!" blather.

At any rate, the hike was a tremendous success and Angi and I had an amazing time.  We will definitely be hiking next year with Methley and Just-Kilimanjaro and if anyone out there is thinking about climbing Kili, I can guarantee you that THIS is THE guy to go with.  He will make sure your trek is perfect in every possible way and he will do it all himself.  I like to say that he is to Just-Kili as I am to Toa Nafasi.  So, feel free to contact me if you're thinking about a climb and I'll give you the hook-up!

The following day, feeling the burn from our 22km "walk in the park," Angi and I decided some R&R was called for so we went back out to Machame where a Dutch woman named Melinda lives with her husband who manages a flower farm.  Melinda is an amazing cook and opens up her home and grounds to the public on the weekends and serves things like "beetroot, feta and spinach quiche" and "char-grilled red paprika and carrot soup served with toasted seed bread."  Do I have to say it? .... AMAZEBALLS!  Definitely in order after busting our butts on the mountain.  I had the soup and a feta salad and Angi and our friend Shay had chicken and tzatziki sandwiches.  I'm not much of a dessert person but since Melinda is known for her sweets, Angi and Shay partook in this chocolate monstrosity and we all enjoyed a beautiful, if slightly cloudy, day in the country.

Last but not least, THIS also happened last week, but far as I can tell, not too much came out of it except a bunch more traffic jams in Dar.

And now, everyone is safe and sound at home - me, Angi, Methley, President Obama - and all is well with the world.

Tomorrow, the gears start grinding again as I return to school to conduct a few last-minute parent and teacher hojajis and prepare for this week's visit to the Gabriella Center, a rehabilitation clinic where we hope to place a couple of our children who we do not think will fare well in a regular school even with Vumi's and my support.  My notes on that to come, as well as a report of how our new lessons are going, next week!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Kwa Heri Angi!!

Angi left last night and I am back to my solitary routine.  In some ways it's nice to have the "me" time and be alone again but in other ways, it's quite a shock and I miss her a lot!!  The camaraderie of having a work colleague and roommate was actually really nice and it will be a little while before I am totally re-adjusted to the single life.

But I have a busy schedule ahead and can rely on work and social occasions to keep me busy until I go back to New York at the end of August.  I am working on a blog entry about the last few things Angi and I did while she was here, but it's slow-going, so wait for that, hopefully sometime this weekend.

In the meantime, check out this photo of Angi just being gifted a kitenge by Mama T.  Look familiar??

Me and Mama T circa three months ago!!