Monday, January 26, 2015

(Social) Skillz to Pay the Billz

Week One of Mama's Tanzanian "staycation" (not a vacation per se since she's been here a million times before, is not participating in any tourist activities, and will shortly be put to work by me, her older and much-beloved daughter) is complete and with a modicum of shida.  Sure, she's been doing all the annoying visitor-y things that people do when they first return after a long absence ("Why won't the lights turn on?  Well, when will the power come back?  And, why did it go off in the first place?  Do you know if it will come back in an hour?  Two hours?  A day?  Two days?  The stove doesn't work either?!?!), but for the most part, we've been bonding in mother-daughter bliss.  She's even developed a sense of humor about my kindly suggestions for living in the Tee-Zed: Be sure to check your shoes each morning for scorpions as they like to hide during the night.  Look to your RIGHT when you cross the street and don't expect car, bike, man, or chicken to stop so you may pass.  Boil full pots of water each morning in the probability that the electricity will be cut at some point during the day so we always have drinking water.  And failing that, make sure we have enough wine in the house because, let's be honest, water doesn't truly slake the Rosenbloom thirst.  These be rules to live by, I say.

Anyhoo, we are now rather in rhythm and I am gearing up to go back to the village for Round Three of the "Thrilla in Msaranga," hoping I can maintain my "fight like a butterfly" modus operandi.  Of course, I have already gone back for the obligatory greetings and distribution of zawadi (gifts, in English, also obligatory) and caught up with Vumi and Yacinta, the Standard One and Two teachers, and the Headmaster.  And the kids greeted me back like the Pied Piper of Hamelin on Rat Catcher's Day.  It was ridiculous.  Cries of "Mwalimu Sarah, Mwalimu Sarah!" along with some kind of tailgating activity rang throughout the school grounds as I shrank in embarrassment, my mom also mobbed by the kids, and Vumi just laughing away.  Great.  Shades of what's to come….

But no sooner than we had visited the village and the school than we were off to Arusha for a four-day conference on "The Role of Social Skills for Employment Opportunities and Social Inclusion."  Granted, my kids are nowhere near ready to be employed by anyone or anything, but social skills are obviously extremely important for any child and even more so for those with intellectual impairment and/or developmental delay.  They need to know how to behave in different circumstances so as to be accepted by the greater public.  This reduces both the children's internal feelings of "being different" and helps the community around them to perceive them as capable and productive members of society.  So, it was important that I attend.

In addition, the conference was being sponsored by my good friends at the International Association of Special Education based in the United States, Mary Gale Budzisz and Iris Drower, in conjunction with Sally Mohemedali of the Jaffery Academy here in Arusha.  I had originally introduced MG and Sally back in 2009 when I first started the research on special needs in TZ that would inform The Toa Nafasi Project and they have collaborated on a number of ideas since then.  In fact, Sally is the Tanzanian rep for IASE and the President-elect for the whole shebang once Iris steps down in a few years!  So, our meeting way-back-when was all very Sarah-n-dipitous and it was high time we had a reunion in Tanzania!!

A friend of mine who works in the tourism industry in Moshi did me a solid and got us a great rate at one of the fancy-schmancy hotels in A-Town although some few things were still lacking.  Mama had to make up this impromptu "Do Not Disturb" sign as 8am conferences are not what Mama does when Mama is on a staycation.
So, I attended the first day solo for the introductions from Mary Gale, Iris, and Sally as well as Mr. Eugene Shirima, the Regional Education Officer for Arusha and all the various participants, both Western and Tanzanian.

We set about dividing into small groups to come up with "rules" for how the rest of the conference would run.  Some groups came up with rather fierce examples, verrrry Tanzanian in their Spartanism.
But since she is a newly minted Toa Nafasi board member, I had to insist that Mama come on Day Two by which time the rest of us conference-goers had already become used to MG and Iris's rather spunky seminar style.
There were several themes of the session, one being zebras, and an interesting question was posed on Day One: When you look at a picture of a zebra, do you see a white animal with black stripes or a black animal with white stripes?  Well, turns out most of the Tanzies saw a black animal with white stripes and the wazungu saw a white animal with black stripes!  An interesting commentary on how we regard race to be sure, but in the context of this seminar, MG wanted us to know that people see different things, and may interpret the same thing in different ways….and that is OKAY!  There does not have to be a right and wrong answer and there are many paths that can lead you to your truth.  A rather mind-blowing concept for the very literal and formal Tanzanians.

Another theme of the seminar was Bingo.  Each morning, to open the session, we sang the children's song "There was a farmer, had a dog, and Bingo was his name-o...." and each afternoon we closed by playing a rousing game of Bingo, that old retirement home fave, with one person designated Bingo Master to call out the letters and numbers.  I'm of the opinion, though this was never explicitly explained, that the purpose of the song and game was to utilize our social skills of communication and team-building.  I don't know if that's a stretch but it certainly was a kick to be singing "Bingo Was a Dog" with REO Shirima!  ....  And my mother!!
We also had an opportunity to network with the other attendees and my mom fixated on this one lucky gent, Mr. Michael Pima, a teacher at the SEKOMU school in Lushoto that Angi and I visited last July.  SEKOMU stands for Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University and is a private teachers college that trains individuals in special education and is run by the Lutheran Church in TZ.  I do not know of Sebastian Kolowa was but I gather he was important enough to have a college named after him.

Mama decided that Michael Pima was going to be the fly in her spiderweb and proceeded to grill the poor man about all manner of things: what he was teaching, who his students were, how Toa Nafasi could collaborate with SEKOMU to get qualified teachers in Moshi for the Project, if a visit could be arranged.  In fact, when Mary Gale asked Mama and Michael to tell the rest of the group what they had been so intent on discussing, Michael reported back that "Professor Peterson dominated the conversation."  Indeed.
Aside from themes and lectures, networking and skillstreaming, Mary Gale and Iris also taught us about "foldables" or "3-D, student-made, interactive graphic organizers based upon a skill."  Such crafts included "The Cube" and "The Pinwheel" and are effective activities for following directions, being creative, and ending up with a finished product of one's very own making.  Again, since we are all different people following more-or-less the same instructions, it is inevitable that we will end up with different results….and that is OKAY!  I had this issue come up last year on Paper-Bag Puppet Day when Vumi and Yacinta started chiding the students for not making their puppets EXACTLY LIKE MY EXAMPLE.  I know it's a product of their culture, that they are taught from a very early age strict versions of "right" and "wrong," but my goodness!  ....  What a bleak world that would be!!  Here is Mama struggling to complete her pinwheel.
On the last day of the seminar, Mary Gale, Iris, and Sally helped the Tanzanian attendees to form TASE or the Tanzanian Association of Special Education which would be an offshoot of the IASE.  The newly elected board consists of Sally plus these three chairpeople, one of whom is the beleaguered Michael Pima, nominated by Yours Truly, and probably cursing the Rosenbloom women into the ground for even noticing him let alone giving him all this extra work to do.  Pole, Pima, pole….
And of course we ended, as any proper conference should end, to the tune of a brass band which played loudly at an indoor primary school during the middle of the school week, and accentuated every sentence a speaker uttered as if it were a proclamation from King Henry the Eighth.  It was really awfully noisy.
As the band played on, MG, Iris, Sally, and I zipped into town for a spot of shopping.  The IASE has very generously allotted Toa Nafasi a certain amount of money each year in the form of their "Giving Funds" to be spent on teaching materials for the Project.  The only stipulation is that the money go towards things and not kids or school fees, and that MG get a receipt for everything.  So, we trekked all over town looking for swag to spend on: a brand-new Toshiba laptop, Hewlett Packard printer-scanner-copier, mini laminating machine, and a crap-ton of stationery and office supplies.  ASANTE SANA SANA SANAAAA to the IASE!!
Mama and I are now back in Mo-Town, happily ensconced at the Union Cafe and doing our own individual work - bigshot writer Mama is working on a piece for the New York Times and I am blogging and pondering my (already late) January Quarterly Report.  More news to come next week!!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Eagle Has Landed

I am happy to report that my dear lil' mama has arrived safe and sound in Moshi for her first month in-country as acting Toa Nafasi secretary and brand-new board member!  Truthfully, I think she *may* be coming to get a wee break from the old ball and chain (Dad can be a handful), but we are thinking this might be the first of many years to come that she will accompany me in the salad days of each Toa Nafasi cycle.

I am really looking forward to having her here though it is by no means her first time in Tanzania.  The woman has already been to Zanzibar (twice), on safari (thrice), and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (which we are scheduled to do again this summer to celebrate our 40th and 70th birthdays respectively).  We shall see if that actually pans out....  She had some choice words about her first trek back in 2008....  Let's just say that no hot shower and no red wine makes mama an angry bear....

Here is the photo chronicle of our reunion at Kilimanjaro International Airport last night.

Rosenbloom ladies do NOT travel light!

A bit blurry but it captures the excitement....  The guy who rented me my first car in Tanz happened to be at the airport and was kind enough to get a shot.  (Interestingly, my doofus friend who accompanied me to the airport was nowhere to be found at this pivotal moment; probably on his cell phone somewhere....  Hmph.)

Okay, we do NOT look our ages.  Thank you mysterious Jamaican-Chinese blood coursing through our veins, may it continue to bless us 'til the end of our days!

And Mama did NOT come empty-handed.  Here are some shots of the booty she was kind enough to mule over for me.

Swahili-language Toa Nafasi brochures to give to the parents and villagers.

New Toa Nafasi tees: brown for men, green for ladies, and yellow for the kids....  CanNOT wait to see my little rugrats running around in the bright yellow!

For when the rugrat-running gets to be a tad too much....

Just desserts after hard work!  These should last a while....!!

Show Me the Money

An interesting perspective on donor funding from the Tanzania Daily News....  Actually, it made me quite angry, but what can you do?

The writer *appears* to understand why a foreign donor might want to withhold funding where there's issues with corruption, but then he still manages to blame us for the slow-down in development.

How 'bout the GoT chilling out with the bribes and graft and then we can all feel a little better about disbursing funds, knowing they're gonna go where they're meant to?  Or better yet, how about making that final paragraph a reality??  "It can be done."
When Donors Keep Shifting Goal Posts in Unlocking Aid!

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last week expressed its satisfaction on Tanzania's economic performance where growth was expected to be maintained at above 7 percent levels and inflation tamed in mid-single digits.

The latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that year-on-year inflation for December 2014 reached 4.8 percent which was quite in line with the government's target of 5 percent.

During the period under a joint review by the government and IMF as part of the Policy Support Instrument (PSI) arrangement, most of the country's macroeconomic indicators were healthy.

The IMF officials, however, noted with concern delays in aid disbursements over graft allegations in the energy sector and revenue shortfalls risk.

The Breton Woods Institution pointed out that the trend, if not reversed as soon as possible, might end up undermining Tanzania's sturdy economic growth.  A group of 12 donors said last year that they will only pay outstanding budget support pledges worth nearly $500 million after Tanzania takes appropriate action against corruption.

The donors had by the end of last year disbursed only 15 percent of their pledges to the 2014/2015 Budget Support, insisting that claims of fraud and corruption in the transfer of billions of public funds to a private firm must be probed and proper action taken against the culprits.

The Controller and Auditor General (CAG) concluded the probe, and heads have started rolling.  More action is supposed to follow after further investigations on suspected public officials.

Despite measures taken by the government to address the alleged wrong-doings by some public officials, the development partners are still reluctant to unlock the much-needed government-budgeted support aid.

Some of their representatives were recently quoted as saying that they were still studying the matter and measures being taken before releasing funds expected to finance important projects including infrastructure development, health, education, energy, and water supply.

In so doing, these development partners are frustrating the country's efforts of the implementation of its growth and poverty reduction strategies (MKUKUTA).  These partners include the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank, the European Union, and representatives from Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Japan, and Canada.
The development partners were supposed to contribute over $900 billion during the 2014/2015 financial year, but so far only $140 billion has been disbursed, representing just 15 percent of the agreed amount.

This means the country's plans for infrastructure development, health, education, energy, and water supply for the 2014/2015 fiscal year might not be fulfilled because 85 percent of the funds are yet to be made available.

Under normal circumstances, the donors are expected to disburse about 60 to 70 percent of the pledged funds by the end of the first quarter of the financial year - that would have meant by September 2014.

With the ongoing delaying tactics or shifting of goal posts on the part of donors, the nation will be forced to wait indefinitely for reasons outside the agreed underlying principles of cooperation.

The five agreed-upon underlying principles by the Tanzanian government and the aforementioned development partners include maintaining sound macro-economic policies; committing to the MKUKUTA objectives and millennium development goals (MDGs); strengthening budgeting and public finance management; fostering rule of law and respect of human rights; and maintaining good governance.

It is unfortunate that the donors opted to withhold funds without engaging the government fully before making such a decision.

The Prime Minister, Mr. Mizengo Pinda, rightly observed in the National Assembly last year that the move by the partners was unfair to millions of Tanzanians.

This should, however, remind the nation of an important lesson: the country's destiny is in the hands of Tanzanians and not some foreign brothers.  The time has come to think on building more roads, better schools, and health centers with our own money.  It can be done.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Making Space

Toa nafasi literally translated from the Swahili means "make space" though for the purposes of naming our organization, it stands for "provide a chance."  This subtle differential occurred to me when I came across a recent article from the Tanzania Daily News titled "When Varsity Architecture 'Forgets' People with Disability."  In it, the idea of making schools more physically accessible to people with disability is discussed.  Oftentimes, I think I get so carried away thinking about how to make education more pedagogically accessible for kids with learning difficulties that I too am susceptible to unintentionally disregarding the needs of students with physical disabilities.  Undoubtedly, they too are at a disadvantage in the Tanzanian classroom and their needs must also be taken account of.  Take a look at the article written by Issa Yusuf below!

On Saturday December 13, 2014, I was lucky to be among the journalists who were invited by the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA) for a press conference held at its main campus, Tunguu Village, about 35kms south of Stone Town.
With the traffic jam and pot-holes in the road, which forced us to drive a snail's pace in many areas, it took us about 35 minutes to reach the university still with construction work going on.  Almost all its buildings are new, as the university shifted last year from the State Town where it started operating in 2001.
The new SUZA main campus was planned for a permanent trade fair ground, but the plan failed to materialize, and the Government of National Unity (GNU) opted to make the changes to shift the university.
We started to climb upstairs to the conference room on the third floor, but as we made our way, one of our colleagues asked jokingly whether there was lift because it was difficult for him to climb up!
One of the university staff, who was behind us, answered, "We do not have a lift here."  Our colleague asked further, "These steps are difficult to climb.  What happens to visitors and students with disabilities?  Is there any building on the campus which is friendly to the disabled?"
There was no answer at this time.  While negotiating the stairs, our colleague argued that for a person in a disabled state, it is so difficult to reach the lecture rooms, and also to move around the university premises generally.
Since our colleague is an activist for the right of people with disability, she decided to raise the same question about the university environment and those with disability to the Vice Chancellor of SUZA, Professor Idris Rai, during the press conference.
Professor Rai told many success stories of the university since it was established including increasing skilled labor (lecturers) and well-performing students, but when asked whether the university environment is disabled-friendly, he said, "Unfortunately our university environment is not friendly to people with disability because the current administration was not involved in the designing and construction of buildings."
The situation around the university was poor due to the architecture of the Learning Center, which is located high upstairs with no ramps or lifts to enable people with disability to arrive there.  In more than a decade of SUZA's existence, the school has just recently enrolled at least six students with disability (visual and hearing impairment), and that other students are reluctant to report their disability status.
"We have been carrying out an exercise to identify students with disability in the university so that we can improve the environment, mainly the learning facilities including providing hearing aids and Braille machines." said Professor Rai.
Buildings at SUZA and other higher learning institutions on the islands have not been constructed keeping in mind the special requirements for those with disability.  Floors are unevenly patterned floor which is difficult for the visually challenged, and there are few ramps in place for the physically challenged.
Mr. Adil Mohamed, visually-impaired himself and Secretary of the Zanzibar National Association of the Blind (ZANAB) comments that although there are laws to protect people with disability, and most Tanzanians and Zanzibaris have accepted the conventions for people with disability, still there is no visible and practical commitment in promoting the rights of these people.
He said that there is a need to sensitize people at all levels about the sheer practical requirement of having a disabled-friendly infrastructure and that people with disability require the same access to various places as others.  This means equal access for to all buildings, public spaces, and any other place a person might need to go for work, play, education, business, and services.
Activists and people with disability have been calling upon responsible bodies including the government to make sure that all people have equal opportunity in all sectors, but particularly education.  The universal right to education is reflected in International Law in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 13 and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
This right has been reaffirmed in the 1960 UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, the 1981 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Everyone has a right to an education appropriate to his/her talents and needs and laws in many other countries guarantee education to students with disabilities.  But in many developing countries like Zanzibar, the environment for disabled people still remains practically unfavorable.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international human rights treaty of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.  Parties to the Convention are required to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law.
The Convention has served as the major catalyst in the global movement from viewing persons with disabilities as objects of charity, medical treatment, and social protection towards viewing them as full and equal members of society, imbued with all equal human rights.
It is also the only UN human rights instrument with an explicit sustainable development dimension.  The Convention was the first human rights treaty of the third millennium.
The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect, and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
Backed by the Constitution, the following policies were instated, the 'Zanzibar Rights and Privileges Act No. 9 of 2006,' the 'Zanzibar National Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy, 2010 - 2015 (MKUZA II),' the 'Zanzibar Disability Development Policy,' and the 'Zanzibar Disability Development Fund.'  Yet, still not much has been done for the people with disability, as the environment for education is still unfriendly.
Since many countries like Zanzibar have either passed specific laws concerning the rights of people with disabilities, or have enshrined those rights in their constitutions, they must now enforce the laws.  Ms. Ruwaida Khamis, a graduate in law and visually-impaired person, said it is a matter of fairness and respect: "Everybody has a right to live as normal a life as possible, and people with disabilities have the same rights as others, including the right to fully participate in community life."
Ms. Khamis said that access for people with disabilities improves access for everyone and that making public spaces and facilities physically accessible for people with disabilities also makes them more accessible for people who may not have disabilities.  Making ramps a built-in feature of the environment is good for everyone.
Mr. Abdalla Saleh, a deaf man, has advised that when new public facilities are being designed and/or built as public facilities (e.g. sports stadiums, schools, and other public facilities), they must be made accessible to different groups of people to accommodate people with different abilities.  Good design can make accessibility total and essentially invisible.
It's important that designers, builders, policy makers, government officials, private sector stakeholders, and people with disabilities themselves think about how best to gain access.  In the United States, the University of Kansas, through its 'Community Tool Box' says where there are laws written, they must be enforced in order to have any effect and that ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities means more than building ramps.
The University encourages pressure groups to work with legislators to pass laws that guarantee equality of access and opportunity to people with disabilities.
Spaces that need to be physically accessible include buildings, restaurants, retail stores, hotels, conference centers, medical and other offices, theaters, sports stadiums, educational facilities, historic sites, courtrooms, police stations, and tourist attractions.
Access here includes not only access to the buildings, but also to the specific rooms or halls where events take place or where the public must go to conduct business or receive services.