Monday, December 26, 2016

Happy Toa-Days!

Happy holidays from our house to yours, everyone!

I am safely returned to Moshi and back in a Kilimanjaro state of mind.  We had a busy week last and this one coming will be more of the same, but in between, we found time to party it up just a bit.  Check out the photos and videos below!  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Best Wishes for the New Year!!

Toa teachers, admin staff, and TZ board at our holiday party.
 Some video of our riveting convo over lunch.
Methley, with his new Trump wig.  I give everyone little zawadi (gifts) from the States and he was beyond thrilled with his....
Teacher Dorcas takes her turn recounting mafanikio or successes from 2016.  Top of the list?  How Toa assists our teachers by giving them a worthy employment opportunity!
True dat!!
My LED menorah made the trip over but lost its head
before we could even light the shamas.  :(
Fortunately, back in Boston, my sister had her "menorasaurus" lit.  Although my friend Ali here in Moshi rightly pointed out
that she lit the wrong way.
Thank goodness Ali has her own menorah here in Moshi and lit it correctly - doubly shaming the sisters Rosenbloom!

 Drogo cares very little about Christmas or Hanukkah,
but he did enjoy unwrapping a tuna treat of his own
on Christmas Eve/Erev Hanukkah.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Angi in Zanzi

Hey everyone, I'm still stuck under something very heavy (two huge suitcases filled with work, skincare, gifts for Team Toa, and stuffed animals for Drogo), so have not been able to post something new just yet.  Meantime, enjoy this bit of news regarding our Education Consultant, Angi Stone-MacDonald, who earlier this Fall landed in Zanzibar for her second (!!) Fulbright year working with Early Childhood Education and Special Education Needs in Tanzania.  

As you may recall, I've known Angi since 2009 when we met in Lushoto, TZ where she was passing her first Fulbright.  At that time, I was still working with Visions in Action and just starting to do my research on the ideas that would become Toa.  In 2012, I went to see Angi in Boston and together we revived the idea post-Visions, and have been a great pair ever since.

We are a bit "Laverne and Shirley" in our approaches to the work which actually works quite well.  While I am the mad scientist with the zany ideas and creative flair, Angi is the methodical analyst whose patient hand and steady eye misses no detail and gives us the street cred from which we preach.  2017 marks Year Five of working together on Toa, my Year Ten in Tanzania.

But one (or two) jobs is not enough for Angi.  This year she adds guest professor at the State University of Zanzibar to her resume.  Founded in 1999, SUZA has quickly made a name for itself of academic quality and excellence in the region.  As a public university, it focuses on delivering relevant education geared toward social change and positive transformation.  This in turn contributes to the socio-economic development of the country. 

Please see below what I've shamelessly lifted from UMass Boston's News site, and join me in saying HONGERA SANA! (MANY CONGRATULATIONS!) to Angi!!

Angi in 2016, giving a teacher training seminar
at Msaranga Primary School for The Toa Nafasi Project.


Assistant Professor Angela Stone-MacDonald has received a Fulbright grant to teach early childhood education in Tanzania this September.

Stone-MacDonald, an assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Development's Early Education and Care in Inclusive Settings Program, will be building upon a partnership she has with the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA).

She will be teaching in the early childhood diploma program she helped design last year and collaborating with SUZA faculty on research.  The SUZA faculty also want her to help develop the curriculum for a four-year program that would combine early childhood instruction with inclusive education, Stone-MacDonald's area of expertise.

She is excited about the opportunity to partner with a public university that shares UMass Boston's mission of affordability and access.

"I think it's really exciting that I can move from one public, community-engaged institution to another and try and support not only the two institutions but the two different communities," Stone-MacDonald said.  "For me, this was monumental to being able to move scholarship forward."

There are other parallels too.  SUZA started an early childhood education program in November and is looking to expand; the first students in UMass Boston's Early Childhood Education and Care PhD Program start in the fall.

In December, Stone-MacDonald brought, with the support of UMass Boston's School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, the dean of SUZA’s School of Education to SGSID’s inaugural Building Inclusive Communities: Neighborhoods to Nations Global Conference.  Stone-MacDonald says funding is being sought that would bring students from Zanzibar to UMass Boston.

"We’re really trying to develop partnerships," she said.

In her sixth year at UMass Boston, Stone-MacDonald has been interested in Tanzania ever since she was a PhD student preparing for her dissertation.  She wanted to do something in Africa because her grandparents were missionaries in Africa and her mother, a past Fulbright winner, did research in Liberia.

"The work that I did as a student was on how relevant local context is and it's really exciting to see my work extended to a new location and an early childhood focus," Stone-MacDonald said.

Stone-MacDonald is currently in Tanzania working on The Toa Nafasi Project in Moshi.  (Toa nafasi means "provide a chance" or "give an opportunity.")  In 2013, she started assessing first-graders to identify children who might be able to benefit from being pulled out of the classroom to work in small groups.  Stone-MacDonald analyzes the data to see if progress is being made.  She's currently working with and coaching teachers at four schools.  You can follow her work on her blog:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Specs in Effect

Hello good people, and many salaams from a bitterly cold New York City!  Good thing, next week by this time, I will be back in sunny Kilimanjaro, planning the new year by the pool!!

Because I've been overwhelmed with last-minute business meetings, doctors' appointments, familial obligations, and pulling a few capers with friends and felines, I'm posting an article from one of my new favorite sources for education news: The Parent Herald, an online site delivering quality news on education, kids with special needs, wellness and health topics that focus on parents and the needs of their children.

Though many of their articles are useful only within the context of the developed world (reliance on technology, Western pedagogies), I found this one useful also within the context of the developing world.  After all, we have found that many Toa kids are under-performing due to a need of glasses anyway (this, in addition to hearing issues, speech impediments, and all manner of medical and psychosocial troubles).  What better *small yet effective*(one of my catchphrases!) intervention than a pair of magical specs to turn things around for a struggling young student?!

Cheerio for now.  Original content in the next couple weeks once my "great migration" has been made!!

New Glasses Treatment – Transforming Lives of Dyslexic People

Pupils identified as dyslexic could double their reading speed with the help of specially designed corrective glasses according to the researchers from the independent optometrist group SchoolVision UK.  The 18-month study suggests that mismatched eye muscles in part cause dyslexia, not a problem solely in the brain, as is traditionally believed.

Professor Barbara Pierscionek, a specialist in eye and vision
research, said that the life of a child, as their scholastic and academic performance improves, can be vastly and rapidly transformed through a proper investigation and the correct treatment, which is not expensive.
The research carried out on 69 pupils at Hemyock Primary School in Cullompton, Devon, linked poor reading ability with incompetent eye muscles.  Due to be published towards the end of this year, preliminary findings of the study showed an improvement rate of almost 30 percent in reading speeds with some reading at twice the rate than without the spectacles and others unable to read without them.
According to an article in Sunday Express, the work is backed by previous studies carried out in Austria linking dyslexia in children to problems with their binocular vision.  Findings show that our "dominant" eye gives us positional sense while our "aiming" eye provides an appreciation of where an object is.
On September 4, 2013, an article in FoxNews said that dyslexia is the most affecting language-based learning disorder, making up about 70 to 80 percent of the 20 percent of the population with language-based learning disorders.  The most common symptom is simply trouble reading that is why it often goes undiagnosed.
Adam Banks, 38, had dyslexia for as long as he can remember.  When he shared his struggle with Dr. Morris Shamah, an ophthalmologist at Eye Care & Surgery Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., the latter thought that he might be a good candidate for specially tinted lenses called ChromaGen lenses.  ChromaGen lenses help dyslexic patients see words and texts more clearly and read faster.  Originally developed to treat color blindness, these lenses reduce the visual distortions perceived by dyslexic patients by altering the wavelength of light that reaches their eyes.
In an article published under ScienceDaily, it is stated that dyslexia generates difficulties in correctly and fluently recognizing words, writing without making spelling mistakes, and decoding words regardless of the school level or intelligence of the individual.  An effect on written work and reading, which stops dyslexics from naturally developing the necessary vocabulary and memory are the immediate consequences.  These glasses could be the solution.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Getting to Zero

Hi everyone.  Once again I am a little late to post - sorry for that!  This entry refers to the recent World AIDS Day, marked every December 1st by patients, caregivers, friends, families, and stakeholders all around the world.  I found a nice article out of the Daily News about a call for voluntary testing to commemorate the day in Tanzania.  The title of this blog "Getting to Zero" refers to the goal of zero deaths and zero new infections.

Reminds me of my pre-Toa days when I worked for another NGO called Visions in Action and spent much more time on HIV-related initiatives, including a weekend of testing in Himo one year, about 45minutes outside of Moshi.  I really cannot believe I did that, given my total hypochondria, but looking back, I'm so glad I did.  We worked in conjunction with two other local NGOs in Moshi to: raise tents and put in dividers for privacy; provide pre- and post-test counseling; rapid test hundreds of villagers in a safe and sanitary way; and even hold a little music festival and food court to entertain people while they were waiting.  By providing a secure and intimate environment in which people could get tested as well as counseled by local doctors and nurses, we were able to allay their fears and encourage them to know their status.

So, I guess this World AIDS Day (Thursday, December 1, 2016) was a bit of a #throwbackthursday for me.  Here's hoping a lot of people will take action and get tested soon!

Tanzanians yesterday joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World AIDS Day, with people urged to undertake voluntary testing to avert further spreading of the deadly disease.

The Tanzania Association of Employers (ATE) asked all employers in the country to abide by the HIV/AIDS policy as well as providing education to employees.

"It should be well-known that people spend more time at work than anywhere, therefore if enough education is not provided, several issues that subject them to risk are likely to occur," said ATE's HIV/AIDS coordinator, Ms. Tumaini Kiyola.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it encourages self-testing to improve access to and uptake of HIV/AIDS diagnosis.

The WHO statement said that well-utilized HIV/AIDS self-testing can open the door for people to know their HIV status and find out how to get treatment and access prevention services.  "HIV/AIDS self-testing means people can use oral fluid or blood finger-pricks to discover their status in a private and convenient setting.  Results are ready within 20 minutes or less," WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, was quoted by as saying.

After self-testing, people with positive results are advised to seek confirmatory tests at health clinics.  WHO recommends they receive information and links to counseling as well as rapid referral to prevention, treatment, and care services.

As the nation marks the World AIDS Day today, there are almost 2 million new HIV infections worldwide every year and 1 million people die from the disease annually.  WHO officials estimate about 40 percent of those with HIV (14 million people) are unaware that they are infected.

Tanzania has about 1.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS.  However, only 830,000 of these are on ARVs.  About 36 million people around the world are currently infected with HIV.

According to the Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly, and Children, Ms. Ummy Mwalimu, Tanzania needs, USD 382 million (about TSH 830 billion) until December, 2017 to fund its ambitious plan of putting over 1.4 million people living with HIV on life-long ARVs regardless of their CD4 count.

Yesterday, ATE, as the private sector focal point on HIV response, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Swedish Workplace HIV/AIDS Program (SWHAP), marked the day at the Security Group Africa (SGA) Head Office in Mbezi Beach, Dar es Salaam.

In his remarks read on his behalf by Ms. Kiyola, ATE Executive Director, Dr. Aggrey Mlimuka, said his association was eyeing for zero deaths as well as zero new infections.

"The main objective of the world is to eliminate the disease by 2030, but we cannot attain this achievement if people are not taking precaution measures for self-testing in order to identify the status of their health," he said.

Dr. Mlimuka said HIV/AIDS was still a big problem as it is in other countries in the continent and that its effects were still a thorny issue, something that affects the country's development.

"Although the rate at which the disease has been affecting people has consistently been dwindling, there are regions like Dar es Salaam where HIV/AIDS prevalence is still high," he added.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


So, this blog post is a little late, but they say "better late than never" so here goes....

This past Thursday, we here in America celebrated Thanksgiving, a holiday which (despite its problematic historical significance) is a much beloved day by families and friends across our fifty states.  As written in the International Business Times, "Thanksgiving is a day to count one's blessings, reconnect with friends and relatives, and gorge on traditional turkey day fare while trying to avoid popping any seams.  Just like the first Thanksgiving feast, when New Englanders and Native Americans came together to share a meal, American families across the country will join around the dinner table to celebrate what was historically the end of the harvest season."

To apply this sentiment to The Toa Nafasi Project, we can say that the year up until now has been the planting of the crops, the tilling of the fields, and now finally, we enjoy the fruits of our labor: the bounty of the harvest.  On behalf of myself and everyone on Team Toa from Moshi, Arusha, and Dar es Salaam to Washington DC, New York City, and Boston, and points far beyond, we want to take this opportunity to give thanks for the bounty of 2016.

Indeed, we all worked hard - me and Heidi on operations, Gasto on facilitation, both boards with advice and guidance, Hyasinta and the teachers in school, our referral partners who provided wonderful care to our schoolchildren, and of course, those children themselves, who worked hard not only to succeed in Grade One but to move on to Grade Two with triumphant exuberance.

We are thankful for these successes, to be sure, but we know well that they could not have been achieved without YOU, our blog readers and email recipients, our Twitter followers and Facebook friends, and most of all, our donors.  Your support cannot be measured.  That you care, that you give, that you love - it means the world.  Happy (belated) Thanksgiving, everybody!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Party in the USA

Hi everyone, it continues to be a busy time for The Toa Nafasi Project.  Earlier this week, we held our annual "friendraiser" at my parents' home in Washington DC.  Though we got a good response from our RSVPs, the turnout was rather intimate as many apologetic cancellations came in at the last minute.  I'm blaming it on - like everything else - Donald Trump, and the country's collective depression (minus the nincumpoops who voted for him).
Nevertheless, despite the small, cozy crowd, it was also an engaged and enthusiastic one with a lively Q&A after my short slide show, the reveal of our new Toa video (©Marytza Leiva), and some words from the members of the U.S. Board of Directors.  Many of the guests had already contributed so this was a nice time for them to see where their funds went and to ask questions about the Project.  Thanks to Heidi's prep work, especially on the budget, I was able to answer questions easily and proficiently.  It was a smoother performance than ever before!
I'm now back in New York, working away on donor thanks, email blasts, and website content.  It's a lot of work, but Heidi has been on-point, teaming up with me for this aspect of the work while Gasto and Hyasinta (and the teaching staff!) as well as our TZ Board of Directors hold down the fort at "home."  I am assured all is well in Moshi and we are on track for a productive and successful new year.
To that end, I leave you now with a few photos from the party.  You'll notice a common theme: booze.  Again, with the onset of the Trumpster, alcohol intake is sadly on the rise....  Sigh....
Barbara Finkelstein and Romana Li, members of the U.S. Board.

Mom and Dad.  He had just come from Tax Club, at which someone proposed the abolition of the IRS.  Needless to say, he was rather worked up....

The spread.  Waaaays too much food.  We're Jews....

Guests milling about.

Guests enraptured and impressed by Team Toa and our amazing Project!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Reliving the #Giving - Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

Hi everyone, and hope all are well.  I'm writing today to remind you all it's that time of year again....  The holidays are nearly here, and along with spending time with family and friends, and over-extending our waistbands and wallets, it's also a good time to remember those less fortunate than ourselves and dedicate a moment to "giving back."

This year, The Toa Nafasi Project is hosting another of our annual "friendraisers" next week in Washington, DC as well as launching a bit more robust of a campaign for end-of-year donations.  Because of our recent expansion, and plans for further expansion, we recognize our growing needs require a similarly growing budget.

So, you'll be hearing from us on this blog and various social media platforms, and in your inboxes and mailboxes, for the next couple weeks as we wind down 2016 and prepare to usher in 2017.

As always, we so appreciate the support and friendship of our loyal donors and we want to take this time to say THANK YOU as well.  Because of you, Toa triumphs on and slow-learning kids in Kilimanjaro are getting the attention they need to succeed.  Asante sana - Thank you very much.

Below, please find a a bit of info on #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration, from the official #GivingTuesday website.  It is a great way (and day!) to kick off the end-of-year giving season.


Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources.

Created by the team at the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y—a cultural center in New York City that, since 1874, has been bringing people together around the values of service and giving back—#GivingTuesday connects diverse groups of individuals, communities, and organizations around the world for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving.  A team of influencers and founding partners joined forces, collaborating across sectors, offering expertise and working tirelessly, to launch #GivingTuesday and have continued to shape, grow, and strengthen the movement.  Globally, #GivingTuesday has engaged more than 30,000 organizations worldwide.

#GivingTuesday harnesses the potential of social media and the generosity of people around the world to bring about real change in their communities; it provides a platform for them to encourage the donation of time, resources, and talents to address local challenges.  It also brings together the collective power of a unique blend of partners—nonprofits, civic organizations, businesses, and corporations, as well as families and individuals—to encourage and amplify small acts of kindness.

As a global movement, #GivingTuesday unites countries around the world by sharing our capacity to care for and empower one another.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Africa on Trump

In shock.


Please read below about various African presidents' reactions to the Trump victory, as reported by Quartz Africa.  I just gotta say, there's a lotta shade being thrown these days.  The outlook definitely seems uncertain....

Africa's populists and strongmen are some of the first to welcome a Trump presidency

While the world continues to react to the shocking reality of a Donald Trump presidency, some African leaders have rushed to congratulate the new president-elect.  Although it's not unusual for global leaders to congratulate newly elected presidents, a look at the first African presidents who have congratulated Trump reveals an uncomfortable theme.

Mr. @realDonaldTrump, on behalf of the people of Burundi, we warmly congratulate you.  Your Victory is the Victory of all Americans. 

Burundi's president, Pierre Nkurunziza, became an international pariah after staging a controversial constitutional amendment last year to win a third term in office.  Nkurunziza's insistence on a third term did not soften in the face of violence and a near-total breakdown of the country's economy. 

Egypt's President Sisi is the first World leaders to personally call and congratulate President-Elect Trump

Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the first world leader to congratulate Trump according to some accounts, is a military dictator bent on suppressing dissidents and regulating public life.  Sisi came into power in 2014 on the back of a military coup against Egypt's first democratically-elected president.  Sisi's coup involved a crackdown on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood in which over 1,000 people were killed. 

President Jacob Zuma has on behalf of the Gov & people of congratulated President-elect @realDonaldTrump on his victory.

South Africa's embattled president, Jacob Zuma, who is facing yet another career-threatening scandal, was also among the first to congratulate Trump.  For much of his time in office, Zuma's presidency has been bogged by corruption scandals. Last week, a public prosecutor report uncovered large-scale corruption in the government.

Congratulation President-Elect Donald Trump and the People of America. Tanzanians and I assure you of continued friendship and cooperation.

Tanzania's John Magufuli, initially commended for his focus on government prudence and accountability when he was elected last year, has seen his popularity diminish due to "undemocratic actions" like banning opposition rallies.  Under Magufuli, Tanzania has stepped up policing of public opinion, particularly on social media, with criticisms of government and political dissent defined as cybercrimes under a new controversial law.  In September, five Tanzanians were charged with criticizing the president on social media.

Congratulations to @realDonaldTrump for a well earned victory.Looking fwd to continued good relationship w/ United States&new administration

Rwanda's Paul Kagame, while overseeing years of economic growth and prosperity for his country, is another polarizing figure.  His status as one of the continent's most forward-thinking, progressive leaders has been dented by claims of a stronghold on free press and for holding a controversial, albeit popular, referendum that would allow him to stay in power until 2034.

I congratulate @realDonaldTrump upon his election as USA president. I look forward to working with him like I've done with his predecessors.

Uganda's Yoweri Museveni has been in office longer than most presidents anywhere in the world.  Put another way: Donald Trump is set to become the sixth president America has had since Museveni took power through a rebellion in 1986.

Congratulations to Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States, ally of Gabon
Only two months ago, Bongo was reelected to a second term after a disputed election which saw him win by a slim margin of 6,000 votes.  With a number of irregularities observed during the elections (voter turnout was a staggering 99.9%), EU observers said the election lacked transparency.  With Bongo's rival Jean Ping disputing the result, violence broke out in the oil-rich Central African country.  In response, Bongo's government imposed an internet curfew and cracked down on the media.

Even before the elections, Zimbabwe's longtime president Robert Mugabe had warmed up to the idea of a Trump presidency.  In a July meeting with US lawmakers, Mugabe reportedly suggested Zimbabwe's relations with America would improve under a Trump presidency.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Echoing Green

Hello, my good people, and many salaams from the Berkshires as I continue my tour of the Eastern seaboard.  I'm currently in Lenox, Massachusetts enjoying a bit of R&R (and working my bum off, of course, who are we kidding?!) after the frenzy of preparing and submitting Toa Nafasi's application for an Echoing Green Fellowship earlier in the week.

Echoing Green is an nonprofit organization that provides funding for "social innovation."  In their own words: 

Echoing Green Fellows are the innovators, instigators, pioneers, and rebels that reject the status quo and drive positive social change all over the world.  While their work, their geographies, and even their approaches may be as varied as the problems they are working to solve, their common passion and commitment form the base of this robust, active community of leaders.  Our social entrepreneurship Fellows work on six continents, on issues such as: Economic Development; Education; Environmental Sustainability; Health; Justice and Human Rights; Hunger and Poverty Alleviation; and, Racial and Gender Equality.

Echoing Green will provide more than $4.6 million in unrestricted seed-stage funding and strategic foundational support this year to emerging leaders working to bring about positive social change.  Over the past three decades, our total investment is over $40 million to more than 700 world-class leaders.

Fellows include the founders of Teach For America, City Year, One Acre Fund, and SKS Microfinance, as well the First Lady of the United States, a mayor of Providence, RI, and the director of the largest environmental law center in the U.S. 

So, with the First Lady and Teach For America as Fellow role models, you can see how we at Toa Nafasi have our work cut out for us!

Don't want to divulge much more about our application as it's early days yet and there's much more work to be done, but here's a small portion from the Short Answer round regarding my "passion" for your delectation.

Be well, folks, and another blog post next week!


I came to development work late in my professional life.  Having spent ten years in book publishing, it seemed my career track was set.  But my time as a volunteer nursery school teacher in Tanzania brought me to a different world, one in which benefits I took for granted were not even thinkable.  I am not a Toa kid.  I have always been a quick learner and a fast reader.  I have always had opportunities, educational and otherwise, at my disposal.  When I saw Tanzanian children struggling with kindergarten lessons with no support from (and in some cases actually fearing!) their teachers, I felt very lucky.  And feeling lucky motivated me to give back.  Since then, I have spent nearly ten years in Tanzania.  I have strong personal as well as professional reasons for wanting to see the Project succeed.  I believe that given the opportunity, thousands of public primary schoolchildren can do better than they currently are, or even than what's expected of them.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Bell Curve

Hi everybody, hope all is well.  We at Team Toa are still super-busy this week, so I am posting an article from the nonprofit news organization, Chalkbeat, that is devoted to coverage of our American education system.  This piece titled "When Is a Student 'Gifted' or 'Disabled'?  A New Study Shows Racial Bias Plays a Role in Deciding" is a nice coda to the article I posted in September's "Talented Tenth" blog entry,  Check it out!


Racial bias among educators may play a larger role than previously understood in deciding whether students are referred for special education or gifted programs, according to new research from NYU.

The study, the first of its kind to show a direct link between teacher bias and referrals for special services, found stark differences in how teachers classify students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds showing identical signs of disability or giftedness.

Teachers were more likely to see academic shortfalls as disabilities among white students, even when students of color demonstrated the same deficits.  They tended to see these struggles as "problems to fix," the study explains, if students were white.  And students of color were more likely be referred for special-education testing when they had emotional or behavioral issues compared with identical white peers — and were less likely to be identified as gifted.

Those findings may help inform a debate that has divided researchers: Is special education racist if students of color tend to represent a greater share of its population?  Or do problems associated with poverty that can affect cognitive development (lead exposure, for instance) mean that students of color might actually be underrepresented in special education settings?

The study, which is set to appear in the journal Social Science Research, doesn't resolve that debate.  But it does offer evidence that bias plays a role in both over- and under-classifying students for certain services.

"The issue is that racism affects all of us, and teachers are in positions of power," said Rachel Fish, the study's author and a professor at New York University's Steinhardt School.

Educators are an important focus because they are responsible for about 75 percent of all referrals for gifted or special ed programs, according to the report.  And in the vast majority of cases, the evaluation process confirms a teacher's suspicion.

Fish was able to isolate a student's race as a deciding factor by giving 70 third- and fourth-grade teachers culled from an unnamed large, northeastern city a survey that described identical behaviors, but signaled different racial identities.  Teachers were randomly assigned to read profiles of fictional male students who showed signs of academic challenges, behavioral/emotional deficits, or giftedness.  The only thing that changed was their name: Jacob, Carlos, or Demetrius.

The teachers who participated were more likely to see academic deficits in white students as "medicalized problems to fix," while black and Latino students with the same deficits were seen as ordinary.  The implication, according to the study, is that "low academic performance is normal for [students of color], and not a problem to remediate."

And in terms of behavioral challenges, black and Latino students' actions were "seen as more aggressive and problematic than misbehavior by white boys."

That could have troubling implications for equal access to appropriate education services because students who are classified as having behavioral issues tend to be treated differently.

"If you're labeled with an emotional behavior disorder, you're likely going to be excluded from the general education classroom and it's likely you'll be greatly stigmatized," Fish said in an interview.  While there isn't much conclusive research on how students' classifications affect them down the road, there is evidence that being labeled with a behavioral disorder is associated with future incarceration.

The study also found that bias helped determine whether students were considered gifted: Teachers evaluated white students' skills more favorably than their black and Latino peers.

The picture is slightly more complicated for English learners.  Teachers tended to refer a student with mild academic challenges for special education services if he was a white ELL student, as opposed to a black or Latino ELL peer.  They were more likely to perceive Latino boys as having behavioral issues if they were non-native English speakers.   But they were less likely to perceive white ELL boys as having behavior problems than their white non-ELL peers, according to the study.

Many of these problems are evident in New York City, where students of color are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, and white students often face less severe behavioral interventions.

Still, Fish acknowledges that the study has some limitations and shouldn't be overgeneralized.  Because it relies on a small group of teachers evaluating fictional students, it's hard to claim that her findings apply in real situations across the board.

But Celia Oyler, a professor at Teachers College who studies inclusive education, said that while previous research has shown racial disparities in gifted and special education, this study is among the first to describe one mechanism of how that sorting happens.

"We don't really have very good ways to get at implicit bias," she said.  "And this is a really, really good way."

Still, like Fish, Oyler is careful to point out that the findings don't suggest teachers should be branded as racists; there are larger institutional factors at play that enable implicit bias.

"What is wrong with our system that we continue to sort and label kids at both ends of the imagined bell curve," she asks, "and then give them different kinds of educational opportunities based on what we perceive them to be?"

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Old and Infirm

Hi guys, please check out a recent article from the Tanzania Daily News titled "Old Age and Disability Is Not a Curse."


"When I was in primary school, I used to tell our teacher that I could not see.  I would ask: 'Can you please read for me?  But the teacher would say, 'Why do you come to school then if you cannot see?'" narrated Robert Bundala, a peer researcher.

While the government has invested much in improving the education sector in the country, a report called "Hear My Voice: Old Age and Disability Is Not a Curse" of September 2016 notes a number of challenges including poor infrastructure and unfriendly learning environments for persons with disabilities.

The recently launched report by Sightsavers in partnership with ADD International, HelpAge International, and Ifakara Health Institute reveals many of society's misconceptions and beliefs around people with disabilities and the aged.

This report found out that people with disabilities and older people in Tanzania face disappointing issues such as lack of access to education and health services, sexual violence and marriage break-ups.

There is also poor treatment from family members as well as violence and discrimination towards people with albinism due to traditional beliefs and practices.

The Country Director of Sightsavers, Mr. Gosbert Katunzi, is of the view that disability and old age are issues concerning all Tanzanians and, as the report makes clear, the groups have an active duty to playing a role in all spheres of society.

Discrimination against children with disabilities and limited teacher training have also been reported as obstacles in accessing education.  The research notes that more teachers should be trained to provide quality inclusive education for children with disabilities.

Curricula in primary schools should be flexible and adapt to the needs of diverse learners so children with disabilities can benefit from quality education.  On the other hand, parents of children with disabilities should be sensitized to the importance of taking their children to school to receive education.

Limited accessibility of health services has also been cited in the report, as well as shortage of medical equipment and supplies at health facilities, and poor communication skills among healthcare providers and high costs incurred when seeking care.

A peer researcher, Elizabeth Bukwela, narrating a story of a 32-year-old participant with a hearing impairment, said: "I usually go alone to the hospital but I have been experiencing a lot of difficulties because I couldn't express myself, since healthcare providers do not understand sign language.

Another participant was quoted as saying: "I remember another sad story in which a pregnant woman who was blind had gone to give birth at a health facility.  She delivered twins but reported that she was given one baby only."

Based on those aspects, the research calls on social welfare officers to conduct frequent visits in villages to inquire and understand the needs of persons with disabilities and older persons.  It is also noted that health facility infrastructures should be made accessible to persons with disabilities and should include trainings of healthcare providers on how to interact with the disabled and older persons.

Strict measures should be put in place so that health facilities can make sure that health staff who abuse or mistreat persons with disabilities and older persons are taken to task.

Lack of employment is also pointed out as among challenges for persons with disability, thus there is a need for a call for support and guidance from local authorities and the government by way of establishing income generating activities as well as entrepreneurship skills.

Communities, on the other hand, should be supportive enough to the groups so that they can actively get involved and share their skills, life experiences, and knowledge.

Parents of children with disabilities were identified as the reason for their children's relationship difficulties and marriage breakdowns, because they were taking over the role of choosing fiancées or partners for their children.

It has been identified that females with disabilities have been frequently humiliated by being forced to live with men who were not of their choice.  Older people felt neglected by their families and communities because they were poor and had no incomes.

The report notes that persons with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities should be made aware that all matters related to marriage, family, parenthood, and relationships should be decided freely on an equal basis with others.  Women with disabilities should not be exploited, threatened, or mistreated.

It was further explained that peer influence contributed to women with disabilities being harassed in their marriages.

Measures should be taken to raise awareness on gender equality and discrimination in communities, including the need to report physical, verbal, and sexual abuse to the police.  Participants have recounted mistreatment by some parents who see their children disabilities as a burden and therefore decide to abandon them.

"I stayed at home because they said that a person with hearing impairment is like a patient, that should not be engaged in any activity," revealed one participant.  More awareness should be created to reduce stigma and discrimination of persons with disabilities and older people.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Fall Fanfare

As expected, it has been a busy Fall thus far with much fanfare expected by its finale!  (You guys know how much I loooove a good alliterative blog subject, right?!)

I have been in the States since late August, busily working on Toa matters.  Whereas in TZ I am on-the-ground and in school, in NYC I am behind-the-scenes and often working in solitude.  It is a different "hat" but one that is necessary to wear to keep this whole machine rolling on.

First order of business has been to re-order our collateral products.  This means editing and re-printing brochures, creating business cards and setting up Toa emails for key staff members, and ordering Toa tee-shirts for the expected 2017 cohort.  This year, we were fortunate to receive support from the International Association of Special Education, who helped to offset the cost of the shirts.  Asante sana, IASE!

Next on the list has been to meet with our web designer and discuss an overhaul for the Toa Nafasi website.  Last week, Carla and I sat down with Michael Schafer of Openbox 9.  He will be in charge of this undertaking, and Heidi and I are already busy collecting photos and writing copy for use on the site.

True to her title, Heidi has also been heading up our grants research, investigating options for further sources of funding and putting all the data in order.  Additionally, she has revived our social media platforms and, polepole, we are developing an online presence once again.  Asante sana, Heidi!

The U.S. Board of Directors had its first physical meeting of 2016 just last week in Washington at which we fleshed out year-end plans.  We developed a timeline of email blasts, social media touches, and of course, our actual Friendraiser event, which will be held in Washington DC on Tuesday, November 15th.

For me, personally, I am devoting some time to writing.  Toa has decided to apply for a fellowship from Echoing Green, which is "a social innovation fund that acts as a catalyst for impact."  They invest in people with ideas that suggest innovative solutions to issues like Education, Economic Development, Hunger and Poverty Alleviation, and Health.  I'm also developing a paper for the next IASE conference, to be held in Perth, Australia.  It's actually a nice change of pace to be able to step outside of the flurry of day-to-day activities and think about the larger impact Toa is making on this community, not just the children but their teachers as well.

Of course, I can't just while away my days, writing from lofty highs and intellectualizing the Project however much I want to; there's plenty of "icky" stuff to do as well.  Falling into that unfortunate – but obviously, necessary – category are: preparing the 2017 budget, hiring a U.S. accountant, and reaching out to potential new donors in the corporate world.

The budget is icky just because it requires numbers, and numbers in cells, and formulas for those cells, and, well, I'd rather be writing with the Roman alphabet from lofty highs....  Thank goodness, Heidi is now on staff for guidance and support.  Ditto the accountant – not really my thing, but as Toa expands, so too do our needs.  The outreach to new friends in corporate networks is not so much icky as scary.  I certainly believe in Toa, its mission, and its model, but it's a little nerve-wracking preparing to take meetings with executives at international investment firms.  It's a loooong way from Msaranga Primary School to Morgan Stanley!  Here's hoping I still have some of that winning book publicist charm from pre-2007!!

Back in Moshi, Hyasinta seems to be handling things ably: the teachers carry on with their work, the students continue with their lessons, and everyone is generally happy.  Gasto is working on the issues that still persist: lack of classrooms, particularly at Mnazi; Toa paperwork in Dar es Salaam; and various administrative duties specific to the Tanzanian aspects of the Project.

We are starting – at Heidi's initiative – a new enrichment program for the teachers whereby once a month, we will have some sort of professional development or life skills workshop.  Last month, Gasto and Heidi arranged for a Social Security officer to come and talk to the staff about the newly implemented benefits system.  In coming months, we are planning health seminars and round table discussions on various articles I've found and will have translated into Swahili.  We will also be featuring each teacher, in due course, on the blog and in her own words.  Hyasinta has conducted interviews with all the women and, as soon as I have time to translate, I will put them up one by one.

Finally, check out this photo that Heidi recently took of a child so intent on his studies, he forgot to stick his tongue back in his mouth!  Sometimes, school is just that interesting!!