Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Reindeer Games

As Christmas approaches in New York City, the seasonal festivities reach frenzied levels: Christmas music blares from speakers in stores, on the radio, in one's head of its own accord; the streets are lined with pop-up tree vendors, plying everything from the traditional balsam and Douglas firs to evergreen and pine; cafes and restaurants offer sweet, seasonal treats made from pumpkin and apple, cinnamon and spice; and primetime television stations air the annual roundup of holiday programs that they've been doing, certainly since my childhood, and probably even before that.

One such show, which I watched last week, is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, created in the 1960s and voiced by Burl Ives as the narrator, Sam the Snowman.  It's one of those relics from my youth that both reminds me of the tenderness of being a kid at family holidays as well as how much time has passed since then and how much the world has changed since "claymation" was considered an acceptable form of entertainment.

The story chronicles the experiences of Rudolph, a young reindeer buck who was born with an unusual luminous red nose.  Mocked and excluded by the other young bucks because of this trait, Rudolph is initially shunned by the clan and sets out to find a place where he fits in, only to return after various trials and travails to save the proverbial day.

As I watched Rudolph for the umpteenth time, I was struck by the emphasis the show places on Rudolph's social rejection by his peers and his decision to run away from home.  His being different is initially intolerable to the other members of society including his parents who try unsuccessfully to hide his affliction.  Of course the truth is unveiled, and it is because of the group's intolerance to Rudolph's individuality that he decides to leave the village and find a place where he fits in.

Rudolph is accompanied by a similarly outcast elf named Hermey, whose dreams of becoming a dentist are mocked by the other elves.  Depressed about being discriminated against, they team up with the idea that they're both independent, and that they should be independent together.  Along the way, the duo meets Yukon Cornelius, a boisterous prospector whose one desire is to find silver and gold.

After run-ins with the Abominable Snow Monster and a stint on the Island of Misfit Toys (home to toys with multiple "defects," for example, a polka-dot elephant and a cowboy riding an ostrich), the trio ends up back in the village as wandering heroes.  They have tamed the monster and convinced Santa to find homes for all the misfit toys.  But suddenly, a huge blizzard comes and Santa asks Rudolph to guide his sleigh with his shiny red nose lighting the way.  Rudolph agrees and is finally treated better by his fellow reindeer for his heroism, due to his "defect."

A great story about how we are taught and expected to conform to social norms, as I watched Rudolph this year, I could not help but draw parallels to the Toa Nafasi kids back in Moshi.  Are they not each a Rudolph or a Hermey?  Trying to fit in, but perhaps with a quirk here or a foible there, something that makes them different?And are they not shunned, at least initially, if not outright ridiculed?  Teased and made to feel "other than"??  And might they not, if given the chance to showcase their quirks and foibles, prove themselves just as capable if not more so than their peers, the other reindeer bucks and elves-in-training....?  Toa Nafasi certainly thinks so.

Our whole ethos has always been about inclusion and how, although we are a grouping of diverse and dissimilar characters, we each carry within us something very special.  This Christmas seems like a perfect time to remember and even celebrate that each one of us is unique.  AND THAT IS A GOOD THING.  After all, if a scarlet-schnozzed reindeer and an elf with a dental desire can subdue the Abominable Snow Monster, liberate the Misfit Toys, and save Santa's bacon, I'm betting our kids with Toa Nafasi can do anything they want!  And Toa Nafasi will help them!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

*That* Parent, *That* Teacher

I chuckle wryly kidogo as I post this blog entry because it touches a nerve that was just recently exposed, although in kind of a reverse order as in the article below.

I've been having a bit of an issue lately with some of the parents in Msaranga not wanting Toa Nafasi services for their children, feeling it differentiates them (Negatively?  Unfairly??  Or is it just bad enough to be "different"???), and it has been a real struggle to try to convince them that a.) their child does need extra support, b.) it's okay to need said extra support, and c.) said extra support will be provided at no additional effort or expense to them except to open their minds to the idea.

Rather than lackluster teachers and a broken system holding kids back (as described below), in our case it's stubborn parents unable to make the leap from what they know to what Toa Nafasi is introducing.  I get that it's new and slightly scary, but we've really gone out of our way with some of these parents to put their minds at ease that just because a child is working with Toa, it doesn't mean he's bad or shameful, he won't become any "worse" by playing with more severely impaired kids, and we really are trying to provide a service that, in addition to helping individual children, also benefits the community at large.

Now, no matter how often I have to make this little speech nor how many times this same issue arises, I will never become *that* teacher as the parents are described in the article: demanding, annoying, angry, unrealistic, unreasonable.  It's simply not productive in a community without our Western viewpoint of special needs (only recently acquired ourselves), but I did feel this story resonate with some recent emails back and forth between me and Tanzania this Fall.  Hopefully, when I return in a mere ten days, I can gather my forces and go back in, armed with as much information as possible.  Once informed, it will be up to the parents to have the final say in how the child proceeds in his studies.

Check out this article just posted on The Huffington Post blog by Early Childhood Development expert, Laurie Levy: "How School Systems Create *That* Parent for Children in Special Education."  As a strong believer in diversity and the rights of children with special needs, Levy seeks to empower parents and educators, and create caring and just communities.


Demanding.  Annoying.  Angry.  Unrealistic.  Unreasonable.  Every teacher, principal, and school district administrator knows *that* parent.  In special education, there are much greater numbers of *that* parent, and I'm sure school systems feel irritated and challenged by the threats of law suits and seemingly endless fights over Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals.  But do they realize their role in creating *that* parent?

In an earlier post, I begged teachers not to force parents to become *that* parent, explaining that all parents, and especially those of children with special needs, want to be liked and work in partnership with their children's teachers.  The incident I cited was the failure of a special education teacher to communicate with the parents of a non-verbal child, or even to answer their emails asking about the child spending time in a "quiet room" and the lack of a behavior plan for its use.

After five emails, the teacher responded and offered to meet.  The meeting consisted of her pulling the child's mother aside during pick up time to reassure her that the room was actually more of a closet with a door that didn't lock, that the child chose to go to the room, and that it helped to regulate his behavior. 

These parents are so polite and accommodating that they accepted the explanation and decided to wait a few days before requesting a more formal meeting.  They had arranged for a visit from a specialist in teaching reading to non-verbal children, and she was coming that week to train the special education classroom teacher.  These trainings were part of the child's IEP.  Except the training didn't happen because the school failed to arrange for a sub.  Instead, the school district special education department suggested a classroom aide could be trained.  But it is not legal for anyone other then a special education teacher to carry out the instructional minutes mandated by the IEP.  So no, that didn't happen.

Now the parents transitioned from being nice to being extremely angry and frustrated.  Now they became *that* parent.  Yes, they admit their child can be difficult and they are aware of his behavioral challenges.  But they also know their child is capable of learning and can actually read.  His capacity to learn is demonstrated in private therapy and at home.  Just not at school.  In short, he has been deprived of years of education by a school system mainly focused on his behavior and managing it.

In her blog Let's Be Blunt: The Illusion of Inclusion, Karen Copeland writes about how parents of children receiving special education services evolve into angry parents:

"We are told we need to stay calm and polite in meetings in order to be respectful.  The challenge is that these very systems have set us up and created us to be these angry parents by virtue of the fact that we have had to fight so long and so hard to get our children and families even a fraction of the accommodations and support we need."

Copeland shares the journey of many parents of children with special needs in our public schools:

  • The frustration of not being informed about or consulted when important decisions are made for their children, despite assurances at IEP meetings that they are valuable partners.
  • The need to advocate constantly for the extra support their children require, the support promised to them by law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • The isolation their families experience in the school setting as parents of typically developing children ignore them and complain that their children are taking too much teacher time and too many resources.
  • The lack of appropriate support and learning adaptations for children placed in general education classrooms without access to resource rooms and specialized teaching.

Like all parents, those of children with special needs want their kids to succeed and live up to their potential.  They also have dreams for their children and believe their children are capable of learning at their own pace.  Like the parents of the child spending time in the "quiet room" closet and being denied appropriate educational interventions, they try to supplement what the schools fail to provide.

Copeland reminds us that schools should never give up on a child regardless of age.  "How many people would write off their own child if he/she was different?"

A school psychologist commented on my earlier blog, "Please be *that* parent.  Your child deserves no less, and your special education team needs the feedback to support your child's success."  Speaking on behalf of all parents of children receiving special education services, I am asking school districts to collaborate, communicate, and consult rather than evade, fight, and blame.  Try it.  I'm sure fewer folks will become *that* parent.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Like Whoa

Hello, friends, and welcome to Winter!  It's now December on the East Coast of the United States and the temperatures are showing it.  As per usual, the first signs of chill and frost and my patriated African blood can't take it - I'm sick!!  Fortunately, it's post- most of the important events of 2015 like the Toa Nafasi Friend-raiser and most other Toa tasks, so I can afford to take a few extra days rest and park it on the couch a hot minute.

Speaking of the annual Friend-raiser, we held it last week in Washington at the home of my parents.  It was a smaller gathering than in previous years, but it was a nice turnout with lots of friendly and familial faces to buoy our spirits.... and fill our pockets!

But because I'm feeling under, I'm gonna let the photos do the talking and just caption the whole damn bloggo, "Like Whoa," for Black Rob's eponymous song about all that is awe-inspiring and amazeballs.

As in Stacking dough in DC is like whoa....


Guests in the living room.

 My dad standing behind longtime Toa supporter, Lee Lockwood.

 More guests.

 The guy on the right is my GE hookup.  Love him!

 That's me.  Blathering on.

 Blather, blather, blather.

 My Momager running the projector.

 Board member Romana Li says a few words over the shoulder
of one of my besties, Nia-Malika Henderson, of CNN fame.

Mugendi Andrew Zoka from the Embassy of the United Republic of Tanzania repped his country.

Coincidentally, Zoka is good friends with one of my good friends
in Moshi, Noel!  Zoka brought his wife Winnie to the party
and my childhood bestie, Lesley Devrouax, attended as well.
Lesley visited me in TZ in 2009 well before I started Toa but when she was there, she met Noel, so all four of us thought it would be a hoot to take a selfie and send it back to him in Moshi!
Zoka gets the last word.
It may have been a little overwhelming
for his first Rosenbloom shindig, but I think Zoka was impressed.  He ended the night's remarks with a short speech
about the new President and how perhaps his inauguration
might usher in a new age of inspiration and action.
Amen to that!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Austerity for Posterity

Happy weekend, all!  It's just after the Thanksgiving holiday over here in the U.S. and that means it's getting to be time for me to get my booty back over to Tanzania!!

Typically, my yearly term in the States lasts from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, but this year I will extend to just after Christmas in order to see my good friend (and fellow Moshian) Shay Bell in her home state of Florida before we both head back to the Motherland....

Still, that doesn't mean "outta sight outta mind" - obviously, since I have been in New York, I have been thinking about Toa Nafasi constantly: fundraising, administrating, and networking.  

Now, I am starting to figure out the lay of the land for when I get back - how we'll start the new year in Msaranga, prepare the additional schools for our infiltration, and resign myself to enduring the frustrations of living and working in a developing country.  (That last one has typically been a bit of a challenge for me!)

One big change for all of us living in Tanzania is that we have a new president!  I blogged in October about the political campaigns of the various players, but now that it's all over and the dust has settled, John Magufuli has defeated Edward Lowassa to become the fifth president of the United Republic of Tanzania.

It's unclear as yet how this new guy will affect the daily lives of his constituents, but I gotta say Johnny Pombe might be my new hero!  If he's serious about what he's saying as per the article below from The Citizen, I think I might actually be down to get down with a Tanzanian politician - cue up the flying pigs here.  He seems to be inclined to cut down on the crap and beef up the beneficial.  I know it's still early going, but let me be cautiously optimistic and say, Hongera sana, Bwana Rais!  (Many congrats, Mr. President!)


Magufuli Demonstrates He's Not a Joker, Means Business

Public servants have been put on notice: change and serve the people or go.  Only three weeks after being sworn in, President John Magufuli has already made clear that when he preached 'work and nothing else' in his campaigns, he meant it.

Though heads have not yet started rolling, the directives which he has given in his first three weeks in office have sent a clear message that the 'business as usual' syndrome will not be tolerated by Dr. Magufuli's government.  And for people who think that it is those politicians from the opposition party who are going to suffer from the new no-nonsense head of the state, indications show that the first culprits of Dr. Magufuli's quest for change will be those working in his government.

For one thing, Dr. Magufuli has already indicated that he will not entertain spendthrift government.  His decision to cut foreign travel by public officials except with permission from his office, as well as the slashing of the parliamentary 'cocktail budget,' has clearly shown what he meant by 'cost-cutting measures.'

Dr. Magufuli reinforced his message in his inauguration speech in which he outlined what he intends to do in the next five years.  In the speech, Dr. Magufuli showed the challenges which the country faces, but he went further to draw a road-map showing how the government will tackle the problems.

Dr. Magufuli listed corruption as the first problem which he encountered during election campaigns.  He told the Parliament that in all the areas where he went during campaigns, corruption topped the list of people's complaints.

He also said citizens are dissatisfied with the performance of the Local Government Authorities (LGAs).  Areas which he cited as most wanting in LGAs' performance include revenue loss, failure to collect revenue, misappropriation of public resources, and poor implementation of some development projects.

On issues pertaining to land, Dr. Magufuli said conflicts between farmers and pastoralists should be resolved, the double allocation of plots should be stopped, people who horde large lands which they have not developed should start to think on how they are going to develop the land, municipal authorities and councils should start implementing land plans immediately, and people who have invaded open-spaced and other reserved areas should start parking now.  In fact, in Dar es Salaam, demolition of houses built on open spaces has already started and television footage has shown some of the posher houses being pulled down with their owners witnessing.  This could not be imagined in the past regime.

The Head of State also indicated that he wants to see corruption, theft, and bureaucracy at the port become issue of the past.

Dr. Magufuli has also put the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) on notice.  In his speech he said TRA should find solutions to thorny issues including tax evasion, corruption among its officials, bureaucracy, and revenue loss to list but a few.  He indicated that his government would not tolerate any TRA official who will impede government resolve to collect enough revenue, especially from large businessmen.

The power utility firm, Tanesco, was also given a task to ensure that intermittent power cuts be addressed and power rationing should come to an end.  

Noting that some government officials participate in poaching, Dr. Magufuli asked the Tourism and Natural Resource docket to find lasting solutions to the problem which has tarnished the image of the country abroad.

"How come elephant tusks are impounded in China or Europe while they passed at the port of Dar es Salaam?  Something should be done to make sure that this situation does not recur," he said.  But he also asked the docket to address perennial conflicts between villagers and national parks and forest reserves concerning revenue loss.

On health services, Dr. Magufuli told Parliamentarians that the government would do everything possible to make sure that health services are made available in all villages in order to reduce congestion in the few existing health facilities.  He also said it is his resolve to ensure that cost-sharing is moderated so as to remove all unnecessary contributions which patients have to make.  One solution he proposed is ensuring that all people are enrolled in health insurance schemes.  This will also address the problem of the shortage of drugs in public health facilities.

Immigration is also on  the President's radar.  He said that the haphazard issuing of work permits should come to an end, and the department should also be prudent in issuing residency permits and closely follow what the foreigners who have been granted work permits are doing.  He said he wants to end the trend where foreigners have been engaged in activities which locals could handle easily.

On education, Dr. Magufuli said it is his dream to see that the government addresses notorious problems in the sector such as the shortage of learning and teaching materials, removal of unnecessary contributions for guardians and parents, unending teachers' complaints, poor learning environments, and lack of teacher houses and others.

He said that he recognizes efforts taken by the Judiciary to address problems under its area.  But, he said more needs to be done to ensure that cases are heard quickly.

On mining, he said his government would make sure that locals benefit more from Tanzania's God-given resources by - among other things - ensuring that small-scale miners are allocated areas for their activities and they are facilitated with equipment and markets.

Generally, Dr. Magufuli showed that his government is ready to work together with other stakeholders to realize his government's dreams.  And the way he has been executing his duties, Dr. Magufuli has started to endear himself to many people, earning accolades from even some of the opposition politicians who were critical of him during the campaigns.

Kigoma Urban MP, Mr. Zitto Kabwe is one of the opposition politicians who have bought into Dr. Magufuli's promises in tackling corruption, especially at higher levels.  The ACT-Wazalendo national leader says he has decided to support Dr. Magufuli on those issues because in the last ten years, the country has been rocked by a number of grand corruption scandals.

"Therefore, it is only logical to support someone who has shown determination to deal with that situation," says Mr. Zitto adding, "We have built a strong opposition based on a grand corruption agenda.  Now we have a president who has decided to join us in this crusade.  Why should we oppose him?"

Mr. Ramadhani Dau, the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) director, is one of the people who have been elated by Dr. Magufuli's speech in the Parliament.  He said that for years the NSSF has been working together with the government in the improvement of social services.

"We are now more than ready to work in assisting the government to achieve its dream of reviving and strengthening industries in the country.  We are ready to venture into this area with the government because we believe that industrialization would solve several problems facing the country currently," he said.

It is now clear to everyone what the fifth phase of Tanzanian government wants to do to advance the country and improve people's lives.  The problem at hand is whether Dr. Magufuli will have competent and committed people to assist him carry out this responsibility.

For the targets to be achieved, there is one major obstacle which the country needs to overcome and that is the mindsets of most Tanzanians.  Over the years, Tanzanians have been molded into a certain type of social-political-communal mode of living.  The public service has also not been spared in that trend.

Looking at what Dr. Magufuli wants the government to achieve and the way he wants it to do that, and his hint that he would need a lean cabinet, it points to one obvious thing.  He will need a team of people who are ready and able to do things differently.  A minister who only relies on what has been written in books when dealing with emerging problems will not fit into Dr. Magufuli's plans.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Deaf, Not Dumb

Here's a nice article from the Tanzania Daily News pertaining to expanding services for deaf students.  It's about a month old but since it's direct from Moshi, I thought it would still be relevant.  Especially given that 2015 was a year filled with earwax and other various ENT shida in Msaranga.  Take a look!


The sky is the limit for everyone, including the deaf, if only they could get essential support.  Kilimanjaro is one of regions with a number of deaf children, some of whom are yet to be identified, as some parents or guardians tend to keep them indoors.

While guardians are not happy to be associated with such children in public, others are not aware that they could do extremely well in studies and later get employment.  Deafness is a situation caused by many different events including injury, disease, and genetic defects.  One of causes of deafness is exposure to loud noises.  A deaf person may have mild to profound hearing loss.

Temporary deafness has many causes including wax in the ear, drugs, or an infection.  This year, International Week of the Deaf came up with a theme: 'With Sign Language Rights, Our Children Can!'  In Kilimanjaro, the week was coordinated by a local non-governmental organization - Childreach Tanzania, bringing together the deaf community and stakeholders.

Mr. Goodluck Chanyika is Childreach Program Officer for Deaf Education and Development Program (DEDP) that has targeted to reach about 400 deaf children and young people as well as about 200 parents and guardians in Moshi Rural District and Moshi Urban District.

It is geared towards breaking communication barriers through conducting sign language trainings to teachers, pupils, and parents.  He says the program covers the deaf aged between 7 and 25 years in primary and secondary schools and colleges as well as those in society at large.

Mr. Chanyika says it is pertinent that the deaf acquire Sign Language early in life, so that they can improve on it and use it in study from preschool to the highest possible level of education.

As a way to ensure that after their studies, the deaf students can be incorporated in the employment sector and work along with other people, Childreach has organized apprenticeship opportunities for 16 final graduates from Ghona Vocational Training Center for the Deaf.

Mr. Chanyika says the apprenticeships take place soon after negotiations and the sensitization workshop in the first and second year.  They are done with business people, after having established contacts with those who have accepted to support and offer internship placements for deaf youths.

He notes that the internship program is then conducted for 20 days, the main objective being to strengthen deaf graduates' practical skills in carpentry and tailoring.  This in turn strengthens their employability skills so that after graduation they can look for jobs in their communities.

The deaf will undoubtedly be happy afterwards as their entrepreneurial skills are strengthened so that they can start their own business.  The apprenticeship instills business skills after they stay in these business centers and gives them an opportunity to develop new skills, abilities, and confidence in their jobs if secured.

Mr. Sultan Meena is one of the deaf persons who volunteers as a sign language teacher.  He is happy with what Childreach does and wants other stakeholders to follow suit as the NGO alone cannot accomplish everything in every area.  Speaking on behalf of the deaf community, he encouraged more deaf persons to come out so that they advocate for their rights.

He asks the government in Kilimanjaro region to play its part in supporting the deaf so that they overcome hurdles in life by constructing special preschools and an extraordinary secondary school for them.

Mr. Meena says the situation is so bad at most schools that many deaf students drop out at Form II.  The issue is that Sign Language is taught at some primary schools - with limitations - while at secondary schools it is not taught at all.  This leads to the deaf students finding it difficult to grasp what is taught and come national examination, they fail and cannot join Form III.

He says the basic solution is to ensure Sign Language is introduced from a young age at the community level, at special preschools, primary and secondary schools, and higher learning institutions.  Mr. Meena, who teaches at Msandaka Primary School, says deaf children find it difficult to learn Sign Language and it is not widely used at the village level.  Plus, not every primary school offers the service.

"We plead for the Education Department in the Northern Zone, Kilimanjaro Region, and Moshi Municipality to construct preschools and at least one special secondary school for the deaf so as to help us fight ignorance."

"The deaf are facing so many challenges that they should not if everything is addressed properly by the authorities," says Mr. Meena.  He urges the government to train more teachers on Sign Language as the teachers present are not enough.  He also advised other officers at health facilities, police stations, courts of law, and district and regional offices to learn Sign Language so that they can serve well the deaf.

Mr. Meena says the deaf could do a lot in nation-building if they are empowered in education.  This should be done by first identifying the deaf children in society, knowing their ways of life, changing their challenges into opportunities, and ultimately helping them attain education at the highest levels possible.

Regional Chairman of the Tanzania Deaf Association, Rev. Enock Meas, says many deaf people are marginalized in society for failure to communicate properly and some end up in trouble while others are denied their rights simply because of the communication barrier.

Rev. Meas says efforts should be put up to ensure all deaf people get formal education, employment opportunities, and are in leadership positions as well because they are able to perform duties just like, or even better, than those without deafness.  He calls upon religious leaders to join hands with the government in the task.

Mr. Jesh Lupembe is a senior Moshi Municipal Council (MMC) education officer who says his office is aware of challenges faced by the deaf.  He says the municipal council has successfully persuaded some teachers to take up special courses in sign language at Patandi College in Arusha so as to make certain the deaf get quality education.  Mr. Lupembe says the government always issues financial assistance to the deaf students.

He challenges respective schools to prepare a write-up on how they could establish preschools for the deaf and his office will share the idea with other stakeholders towards its realization.

The officer says the plea to construct a special secondary school is a request for the municipal council, the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, and the Prime Minister's Office to see how to go about it.

He, however, finds merit in having such a school in Kilimanjaro.  With all stakeholders having one voice, it is possible that at last the deaf will get right treatment and support.  This would start with being taught sign language at a very early age in the communities, continuing through education institutions, all offering the same sign language training, and at last getting employed by merit.  In future, they may even forget about their disability.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Shimmy Shimmy Ya

Happy Friday the 13th, one and all!  I, for one, am extremely glad it's furahi-day as the last couple weeks have been real doozies!!  Mama needs to catch up on her beauty sleep....  And by "mama," I mean me!!

The title of this post not only refers to a late '90s Wu Tang track (RIP to the ODB), but also one of my students from 2013, Shamimu, whom I lovingly nicknamed "Shim-Sham," (although there are many other acceptable derivations of this moniker, as you will see below)Those of you who know me, know that I am ALL ABOUT a nickname, so this is a point of partiality on my part, not poking fun.

Shamimu was part of our first-year cohort and one of the children we identified as unlikely to thrive in the inclusive classroom.  In addition to being far behind her peers academically, Shimmy-Shammers was behaviorally troubled and living with her elderly grandparents who were unable to care for her properly.  Intellectually impaired, she was left vulnerable to the social dangers facing kids with disability, and it became a real shida.  I was heartbroken, quite frankly, working with her that first year (http://toanafasi.blogspot.com/2013/08/row-row-row-your-boat.html).

However, what does Toa Nafasi do in the face of such a dilemma?  We fix it!!  Vumi and I talked at length to Sham's grandparents and after some cajoling, we got the go-ahead to enroll her at Gabriella.  She started boarding and schooling there in February 2014, and has been thriving in that environment ever since (http://toanafasi.blogspot.com/2014/02/my-triumphant-return-part-15.html).

For starters, she's safe from the threats that no 8-year-old should ever have to know about let alone experience.  Without that distraction, the employees at Gabriella have been able to capture her attention and hone in on what her natural learning style is and how best to accommodate it.  Through updates from Brenda and periodic visits to the center, I have been pleasantly surprised to watch her grow from a troubled little girl to a fairly well-adjusted lil' lady!  In fact, this Fall, Shamimu will join classes at a regular public school (like Msaranga Primary) nearby to the center while continuing to board there!!

All of the kids that I work with are special, of course, but the case of Shamimu is a particularly affecting one for me.  There are many implications at play here: my first taste of the really dark side of this work, the uncovering of some deeply disturbing stuff; recovering from that discovery and working with Vumi to find a solution that would be beneficial to Shamimu but would also satisfy her grandparents who were really stuck on the stigma of her disability; and, her amazing growth once removed from Msaranga and given the extra attention she needs.

Shimmy-Shams has really flourished under the care of the Gabriella staff in a way that even I could never have imagined.  From not knowing "A" from "1" and her eyes from her ears, this kid is on fire, reciting the English alphabet for anyone who will listen and even reading and writing in short sentences in Kiswahili.  I am so pleased with her progress and hope that she can come back to us soon at Msaranga once we're sure she'll be safe from any predatory types in the village.

Of course, Shim-Sham is also a lasting link between me and Vumi, and when I think of her, I think of the difficult work that Vumi and I did back in 2013 and 2014.

I think of my hopeless tears ("We're too late!") and being ready to give up upon finding out what had happened to her, and Vumi soldiering forward, determined to find a way out.

I think of confronting the grandparents, especially the Babu, and how hard Vumi and I had to work to convince him that Gabriella was the best option for the child.

I think of visiting her at Gabriella with Vumi and how excited she was to see us each time ("Mwalimu SarahMwalimu VumiMwalimu, mwalimu, mwalimu!!"), especially if we came with candy.

I think of this past year's World Autism Day parade through downtown Moshi, marching proudly towards the stadium with the Gabriella group.  Once there, we called Vumi on my cell phone since she couldn't be there in person, and I could hear the warmth in her voice as she told Shams and the others how proud she was of them.

Ahhhh, Vumi!  You are still here.  You are everywhere.

Here's Shamimu at Gabriella dancing to the ngoma (drums).  I actually remember this day well; it was not too long after we first enrolled her.  Vumi and I had commented on her kitambi (belly) as she had clearly put on weight since boarding at Gabriella.  I like my kids happy and well-fed!
This is my beloved Vooms at a seminar at the center for teachers working with kids with disabilities.  She liked to put up a fuss about having her photo taken.
The classrooms at Gabriella are colorfully painted (unlike at typical public schools) making it a fun environment for learning.  The timetable is kept with a pictorial schedule so that all the kids at the center know what they will be studying and when.  Shimmy-Shams was so happy to be able to show off her newfound reading skillz when my aunt Danna and cousin Philip came to visit.
Outside, the center grounds are just as inviting.  The kids tend a vegetable garden, raise goats and rabbits, and PLAY!
Older kids are shown how to make crafts which they can sell to make some pocket money.  They are taught basic math as well as reading and writing so they can sustain small businesses.  Younger kids like Shammers are told to kumbuka or "remember" some simple self-worth adages: everyone is unique, everyone has something to be proud of.
And, saving the best for last, this smile has made the journey - the highs and the lows - all of it .... all worth it.
'Course now I hear Vumi's voice telling me the journey ain't over and I should acha kucheza (stop playing around) and get back to work.  Okay, Vooms, whatever you say, Boss wangu!

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Dutty Professor

Well, it's official.  The United Republic of Tanzania has a new President, Mr. John Pombe Magufuli.

And in addition to a new bum in the highest seat of the land, there are many others across various levels of the political scenery.

From the Nairobi Star, in fact, it has been reported that down south in Morogoro region, legendary Tanzanian hip hop artist Joseph Haule aka Professor Jay is the new Mikumi constituency member of parliament.  Ch-ch-ch-check it out!!


Joseph Haule, or Professor Jay as he is known in Bongo Flava circles, a 40-year-old rapper with five solo studio albums, has beat his fellow contestants in a hotly-contested election that happened on Sunday.  He was running on a Cha Dema party ticket.

"I am not just here to speak for musical artists but also the Mikumi people I will be representing.  After this, I look forward to getting a government appointment to represent my people better, probably a ministerial position or something.  That way, I will be the first East African rapper/minister," Jay told a Tanzanian reporter prior to his win.

He garnered 32,259 votes against 30,425 votes by his closest rival, Jonas Nkya of CCM.

"We won by a difference of 1,834 votes.  Thank you God and Mikumi constituents for believing in me," he posted on his social media pages to confirm his big win.

Jay started making music in 1994 as a member of the group Hard Blasters, before going solo in 200.  Some of his hit songs include Nikusaidiaje and Zali la Mentali.