Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Woman's Work

A man may work from dusk to dawn, but these women's work is never - EVER - done!

Welcome to the Toa Nafasi inner circle, a group of strong, successful ladies, who I think by now you know - yours truly (not pictured), Mwalimu Vumi, Mwalimu Yacinta, and Mama T, all decked out in Toa Nafasi swag.  We make this Project happen and this blog entry serves as mad props to us as we round the corner into Easter Break!!

We finished with the Observation Period far ahead of schedule.  To be honest, I learned a lot last year that I was able to apply this year and which helped things to run more smoothly.  For last year's observation, I allowed a full two months which I now see was KrAzY!  This year, I took just one month but honestly, we could shorten it even more.  Last year, I followed the principles of non-participatory observation to a hilt which kept me removed from familiarizing myself with the students and learning their various strengths and weaknesses in a timely manner.  This year, I engaged with them, not by teaching, but by checking the work in their notebooks and quizzing them one on one as they came to me for correction.

I learned that just because a child has written everything perfectly in his or her book, it doesn't necessarily mean that they understand what they've written or even know what it means!  Tanzanian children are nothing if not competent copycats; most kids can write perfectly what they see on the board but when you ask them to read what they've written, you may very well get a blank stare in return.

Another mistake I corrected from last year's Observation Period was to not concern myself so much with the teachers but rather focus on the students.  I learned their names right off the bat, filled out individual profile forms as I got to know them, and saw firsthand where each child's baseline aptitude lay, and what each child's disposition was.  In this way, I was able to move forward to the Assessment Period with a pretty good idea of who and how many of this year's Standard One students were going to need Toa Nafasi help.

Last year, I feel like I went in guns a-blazin', mzungu flag a-wavin', with a whole lotta criticism regarding the teachers and the system.  I cringe now thinking of how disdainful I was of Mama T (with whom, since then, I have become very close, so much so that I am pretty sure I am already betrothed to her firstborn son) and her teaching methodology.  Of course, it's not up to Western standards or even comparable to the education we are able to receive in America or Europe; WE ARE IN TANZANIA!  She knows that, the kids know that, and I think now, I finally I get that.

So, definitely this year's model for observation is the one to work off of for the future, and I am hoping with every fiber of my being that while I am conducting a month-long Observation Period at Msaranga Primary School in 2015, Vumi will be heading up another at Msandaka and Yacinta maybe at Kiboriloni.  Wouldn't it be amazing to expand??

Anyhoo, back to the present reality.  After completing observation at the end of February, we had information concerning all 129 students in the 2014 Standard One class.  For the most part, they were all new faces to me but there were a few stragglers from last year who were either held back due to age or ability.  Of course, Standard Two this year is my kids from last year's Standard One, so unlike 2013, we didn't have to pull anybody out.  The kids needing help in that class are already Toa Nafasi participants and Vumi and Yacinta continue to work with them, teaching them in the way Angi showed us to help slow learners.

Every one of these kids has achieved some level of success since the beginning of the tutorial sessions in June 2013 and we will keep working with them until June 2014, a full year of Toa Nafasi support.  There are a few from last year who would probably benefit from joining a Special Education classroom instead of continuing at Msaranga, but for right now, everyone except my one little girl at Gabriella remains where they are.  We are scoping out alternatives for the others but no one is in as dire straits either academically or physically as that child, so she will stay at Gabriella studying and boarding for the indefinite future.  If I manage to raise enough money, I'd like to board maybe a couple more and also arrange for some day students to attend.  Still, space and transportation remain potential trouble spots and the whole situation is ongoing, to say the least….

But I digress....  After completing observation, we started assessment with Angi's new and improved exam.  We finished in under two weeks with me, Vumi, and Yacinta testing the kids in record time.  Per Angi's instructions, we did not prompt or tip the kids off in any way.  If they made the mistake of adding instead of subtracting, oh well.  If they made the mistake of reading BE BI BU BA BO as BA BE BI BO BU, oh well.  If they didn't know their left from their right or a square from a circle, oh well.  All's fair in love and assessment!

Out of the 129 students assessed, we came up with 23 who I am sure have some type of issue in the classroom.  Of course, it might not necessarily be a learning difficulty, it could be a medical issue (needing glasses), a social issue (baba hits mama), or something we never even thought of (I have a set of twins, the Shemganga brothers - I kid you not - who we came to find out use entirely different first names at home than in school, so when you call one Rashidi and the other Rajabu in the classroom, neither of them know who is who!).  Because Angi is not here to work her magic and manipulate the data to tell me who we need to focus on first, I have made the executive decision to follow these 23 to the next step which is the parent and teacher interviews, and others who are question marks can wait until Angi has seen the exams and tells me who to add to the Toa Nafasi list.

So that's where we are now.  We have interviewed all the parents or guardians of the 23 kids in the last ten days and also asked Mama T to fill out teacher questionnaires for cross-referencing with the parents.  The findings were pretty interesting.  Lots of parents this year seem unaware that their kids are having trouble in school.  Others might know but are resigned to it.  In some cases, the apples don't fall far from the trees: after meeting Mama Shemganga, I kinda know why the boys don't have a clear sense of who's who.  We tried to do two different questionnaires, one for each son, but mama kept saying "they, they, they" in answer to our questions even though Vumi, when asking, would name each boy individually.  To tell the truth, I'm not entirely sure mama knows which twin is which!  Pretty tough circumstances for a kid to develop a healthy sense of individuality and purpose!!

We will continue to try and get to the bottom of each case, but where parents are concerned, it's difficult.  When they receive a letter asking them to come to school, they are often afraid they will receive bad news of some sort, so they don't come, or they come and are extremely defensive.  We have to really set them at ease when questioning them, explaining the background and purpose of the Project, and showing them their child's exam so they can see what the tatizo (problem) is.  Once they understand that we are not a.) calling them out as bad parents, b.) trying to cause trouble for them or embarrass them personally, or c.) doing anything that would involve them paying for something, they are generally down with the program.  Generally.  But it's still pretty hard to get some of these people to move.  Particularly, I have noticed, when it comes to social issues as opposed to academic ones.

The grandfather of the little girl who is now at the Gabriella Center complained quite a bit while I was in America last year about the fact that this sort of dirty secret was aired and people in the village now openly knew about it.  Of course, he took umbrage to the fact that people were saying he was not caring properly for the child and it reached the point where her behavior was so out of control and she was in so much danger that we had to take action.  Well, pardon me, but he wasn't going to do it....and I would rather risk an old man's already dubious reputation in the village than the mental and physical health of a young child.  Now, this babu is asking me to find another school instead of Gabriella because someone he knows told him that his granddaughter will "turn into" one of the kids with more severe intellectual and physical impairments if she stays there with them.  Sheesh.  It's an uphill battle.  Kilimanjaro-sized, at times....

At any rate, we are pretty much ready to start the Referral Period probably next month as we are off until Easter and then I am traveling for a little bit at the end of this month.  I am starting to put together groups of children to go to CCBRT for hearing tests and speech pathology, KCMC for eye exams, neurological testing, and pediatric visits, and Gabriella for their infamous Weeks of Therapy.  This is all for the new kids.  The old kids continue with their tuition and their own Weeks of Therapy which are scheduled every three months at Gabriella so the students and their parents can check in with the therapists there, explain how things are going, and receive further support and education from the Gabriella staff.  We actually have one such week coming up in a few days.

I think that pretty much sums up our maendeleo (developments) since the last time I wrote a lengthy piece about the Project.  I hope it answers some questions and fills you all in on the work we are trying to do here.  Back at you soon with even further maendeleo and hopefully some really great matokeo (results) in the near future!

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