Saturday, February 22, 2014

My Triumphant Return, Part 2

Here – at long last – are a selection of the testimonials I've transcribed from some of the students and parents from the first year of the program as well as the teachers at Msaranga Primary School with whom we continue to work closely.  I have loosely translated their remarks, which I think are really encouraging.  Unfortunately, due to intermittent power and a janky internet connection, I could not upload all the vids, so for a couple, I've just included their remarks and hope you'll trust my translations!


1.) Standard One Teacher
She received a very big picture of what Toa Nafasi is and how it concerns intellect, health, and social issues.  With our help, the children are being followed up by parents and teachers together in these areas.  She believed that she had students in her class who could benefit from the program as they had lots of problems and she sees now that whether it's a matter of intellect, health, or social issues, they will get the help they need.  She has seen big changes since the start of the program in that those students she thought could never succeed, now they can.

2.) Standard Two Teacher
From when we began the program in February 2013 until now, a year later, she has seen big changes.  Children who could not identify letters, now they can.  Children who were hiding in the bushes instead of coming to school, now they are in the classroom.  Those who couldn't even hold a pencil, now they do.  Those who had only runny noses, now they don't.  For example, one of these children with just a runny nose, these days he laughs and plays and if you call him, he comes.  In the past, if you called him, he was afraid and now he's not.  He smiles because now he thinks, "Me, I can do it!"

3.) Headmaster
When the program continues in the future, he thinks that the children whom we have discovered to have problems should continue to be provided services, but also when there are new students, we should include them as well.  We should also continue to provide information to the authorities at the district level in order both to get their advice and to be congratulated on our good work.

4.) Grandfather
When we called him to come in the first time until now, he has seen big changes in his grandson.  At the start, he did not think the child could change to the way he is now because his brain is not good.  When he was taught something, he did not understand.  Now, he has changed and if you tell him to do something, he will do it.  Maybe he will make a mistake, but it's a small mistake and he can be corrected and do the task well.  This already is a big accomplishment.  If he continues to do well, he can reach far.

5.) Mother
She believed 100%, not 25%, that her child needed help from Toa Nafasi.  She has already seen his accomplishments which are very big since he started his exercises until now.  The changes are big, and they are in everything he does; it is the reason she has heart again.  Even this morning, if he is called to school, he will come quickly, he will drop everything in order to come to school.

6.) Boy
He felt good when we called him for tuition.  If he is called again, he will come; if he is not called, he won't come.  It is his happiness.  (This is typical Tanzanian child-speak; kids do not offer much information even when solicited.  It is not customary to ask a child for his/her opinion and so, when asked, it's tough to get a very in-depth response.  Check how Vumi tries to draw him out by repeating his answers and using soothing tones.  And still, no dice....)

7.) Girl
She feels happiness at being called for tuition sessions with Toa Nafasi.  She is now in Class 2 so she knows how to read, but she doesn't want to stop attending tuition.  She wants to continue in order that she knows even more so that one day she'll be reading a big stack of newspapers like the Daily News.


Back when we first mapped out how we would conduct the Toa Nafasi tuition sessions, Vumi and I thought it was best we do a week of literacy followed by a week of numeracy.  We decided that we would keep switching the lessons up like that in order that the students focus on an academic subject for a few days, enough to build a foundation of knowledge so that they don’t quickly forget, but not too much to become routine and boring.
Then, we thought it would be cool to turn Fridays into ziada (recreational) days in which the kids could do fun but educational activities.  This would promote non-scholastic qualities important to the development of a well-rounded child: communication, cooperation, participation, critical thinking, appropriate social skills and get the drift.
To that end, I went on a buying binge at Barnes and Noble while I was home this past Fall and stocked up on puzzles, mix n' match games, and various other fun stuff.  (My nutty sister insisted I buy an origami kit, so we'll see if these youngsters can fold a paper crane....actually, it's a good test as to whether they can follow 2-step directions, so I shouldn't call Julia out on this odd choice....)
So now, Fridays are indeed furahi-days (happy days) in which the kids revel with the new toys and learn some new concepts through play.  Check out the scene below:

You can see that in the video, one of our students, Danny, kinda bogarts the putting together of the puzzle, but his assertiveness and big smile are such a tremendous change from the way we found him last year that neither Vumi nor Yacinta (a new TTNP hire!) has the heart to tell him to let the others have a chance.  Perhaps we can make that part of next week’s TGIF lesson: sharing is caring!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bata, Bata, Bata Bukini

'Kay, so I'm still going through my video and notes from the student, teacher, and parent testimonials, and I'm actually staying home from school tomorrow in order to finish that up as well as to do a bit of admin work, so this post is just gonna be a throwback for all you older readers out there who want to relive their misspent youth.

The title of this entry can be translated as "Duck, Duck, Goose" and refers to that game of yore we all knew and loved.  The Swahili version is a bit different; there's no ducks and no goose, rather a rotten egg that smells bad like a samosa - I kid you not - but the competitive concept is the same.  The leader picks an unsuspecting participant to race until he/she a.) gets back to his place in the circle safely, b.) is tagged out, or c.) face-plants into the ground from exertion and over-excitement.  Not sure which outcome occurred here, but the kids were definitely having fun!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My Triumphant Return, Part 1.5

Okay, so I am late to post again as is now my norm....what can I say?  When in Africa, I follow African time!!  But actually, no, I have been HUGELY, AMAZINGLY, FANTASTICALLY, AND STUPENDOUSLY busy at school!  And it has been a blast!!  I know that as far as smooth sailing goes, we are just lulling along and will at some point hit rough waters, but honestly, this year has been LEAPS AND BOUNDS easier, more enjoyable, and an overall better experience than last year.  I AM ENJOYING MYSELF, PEOPLE.  It's kinda crazy....
Now, I know I promised testimonials from last year's group, the kids and their parents and the teachers at Msaranga Primary School, but though I've taken tons of photos and videos and Vumi and I have interviewed everybody, I've not yet had time to do all the transcriptions or weed through the footage, so....patience, dear readers, patience....
As for this blog entry, I'll just continue to give you the haps on what's been taking my time away from blog-writing and you all can be the judges of my work.

Nine days back at school and we have:
1.) re-assessed the 19 students from last year who have been attending special ed tuition with Vumi.  Last week's post concerned their progress; flip back in case you missed it.
2.) completed testimonials from a fair number of these students, their parents, and the Standard One and Standard Two teachers.  I am still waiting on a good time to talk with the Headmaster and I hope to get that done soon so I can post all the testimonials together, maybe this weekend.
3.) resumed tuition of last year's students with the help of one new hire, a young lady named Yacinta, who was brought on and is being trained by Vumi.  Hopefully by next month, she will be sufficiently instructed in our Toa Nafasi ways to take a real position with us.  I've not known her long, but she seems kind, patient and, above all, to actually care for children and their education.
4.) started observation of this year's Standard One kiddies with a new system whereby I don't fully dis-engage from the class and watch from afar, but rather allow Mama T to teach her lessons and then when the kids need their work corrected from their notebooks, I can do a kind of pre-assessment with them by marking it myself.  This does several things: it helps Mama T to not go nuts; it helps me to focus on the pupils rather than the teacher (my rookie mistake last year); it allows me to learn who is struggling and in what way; and it keeps me fully engaged the whole day long.  Win-win-win-win.
5.) successfully moved the little girl I have been writing about from Msaranga to Kibosho where she will attend classes at the Gabriella Centre during the day and get the special education support she needs as well as board there at night and stay safe from the social dangers she faces as an intellectually impaired child.  We brought her and all her things (packed carefully in one of Angi's old suitcases left behind last summer) along with her babu (grandfather) for enrollment this morning.  After paying the first month's school fees and settling her in with the matron, we left her happily waving goodbye and running off to her new "family."  Possibly the biggest coup of my Toa Nafasi career thus far.
From Msaranga Primary School.... a new room.... the start of a whole new life!!

My only disappointment since I last wrote has been that I did not get farther than my LOI with the family foundation I had approached.  It seems their current funding priorities do not accommodate the scope of Toa Nafasi's work, so it's not a good fit at this time.  While I was pretty bummed at first, I rallied long enough to eke out an email asking for some constructive criticism.  I feel comfortable sharing with you all what I got back since I actually think despite the rejection, I am moving in the right direction.
At the moment, we are placing an emphasis on supporting organizations that are addressing issues relating to reproductive health - and particularly on those that are engaging youth in the provision of adolescent sexual reproductive health services.  That being said, our funding priorities do shift from time to time; I would encourage you to check in with our website periodically to see if any bullet points have been added or changed to the Thematic Areas of Interest section of the Request a Grant page.
With regard to your application, I would first say that it was well-prepared.  You presented Toa Nafasi's mission clearly and you articulated well thought-out goals for the organization's future growth.  I can't speak to the criteria that other donors use to evaluate applications, but as far as we are concerned I would say that we have a short list of components that we like to see potential partners meet.
First and foremost is the thematic fit as described above; then the presence of strong, African voices in the organization's leadership; evidence of diversified and sustainable sources of funding; and active partnerships with other grantees in our portfolio and/or other organizations working in the community.
I hope you find this feedback helpful and wish you all the best in your work in Msaranga.
And, do you know what?  I do find her feedback helpful and I believe she does wish me all the best in Msaranga!  And I also believe that while this opportunity did not pan out the way I had hoped, enough good stuff has happened in the last nine days to make up for it, and to spur this Project on to further successes.

Forward....MARCH!  And, while you're at it, enjoy this panoramic viewing of the afternoon class performing their best Oliver Twist at lunchtime.