Thursday, January 21, 2016

Update from the Other Side

Hello.  It's me.  I must have called a thousand times.
Just kidding, enough with that darn song!  (But it's soooo gooood!!)  Here I am, back again with an update from Moshi, Tanzania.
Busy these last couple weeks with the requisite chores in order to make my house once again habitable, car drivable, and life generally livable, I have finally cleared my schedule to be able to spend more time at school, meeting the new teachers and seeing all my former students.  It's definitely more fun than renewing car insurance.
However, my most prideful achievement during this "settling in" period has definitely been the set-up of my new printer (well, it had been sitting in its box since I got it last year!) and I sense a real life-changer in this little HP 3-in-1; I'm feeling extremely satisfied with myself, working away in the early mornings and late afternoons at my dining table and spending the middle of the days at school and then in town running errands.  With, of course, time for a proper workout on my Tanzanian elliptical machine, still functional after all these years.  It's a nice, simple life that I'm enjoying with a sense of calm and contentment.  We shall see how long this lasts!!

After greetings and introductions to the new teachers, I have started (with Hyasinta) to observe their work and make notes on their strengths and weaknesses.  So far, I am impressed!  They have been with the Project since October as teachers-in-training (during my absence) and January is the first month of their appointments as true Toa Nafasi teachers, so I was curious to see how it would go, but Hyasinta has stepped up and trained them well.  Which means Vumi trained her well.  Which means this Project has a future and our little team is flourishing into a real workforce.  It is very exciting to watch!!
Since the school year has just started here in Tanzania and the climate is a bit chaotic, we are waiting until the beginning of next month to start working with any new students.  We will continue these next two weeks to tutor the 2015 cohort and then to test them for the second time.  The second test was meant to happen in August before I left, but we were all too exhausted from the events of last year to carry on and so must do that now.  It's actually working out well as we can use these guys as a sort of practice for the new teachers to get used to the assessment period.  We can work out the kinks on these guys and then be ready to test in earnest the 2016 groups once we get the go-ahead from the schools.

Our hope is to enter into three neighboring public primary schools and start the process of replicating the program.  The work will be substantial and laborious, but we now have the manpower, and if we can keep our hopes high and our stamina strong, I do believe we can succeed.  Which is not to say there won't be hiccups and snafus along the way – I expect to be writing some very interesting blog entries this year!  Check out the original "girl squad" below.
On the administrative side, my right-hand man, Gasto Lekule continues to be a vital member of our team, handling the local aspects of running the organization: the Tanzanian board of directors, financial accounts, governmental powers-that-be, etc.  But my Gal Friday, Rhiannon Chainey, has left Toa Nafasi in order to head up another organization here in Moshi and we wish her well with that.  Unfortunately that means I'm down another staff member and in need of a new hire.  So, anyone out there looking to do grantwriting/fundraising and publicity/social media for a tiny NGO in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, send me your resume!  I'm also starting to think about recruiting some Western volunteers to help the teachers make learning materials for each of the new schools (perhaps I will be brave and pull my laminator out the box this year, as well as the printer!!), but what with the new Tanzanian government just settling into place, there are some immigration issues to be dealt with first.

Speaking of visitors, Carla is set to arrive at the end of the month for her second year of service with Toa Nafasi and I am excited to have my mama back in the Motherland!  We had such a great time last year and it was so gratifying to be able to share my Tanzanian life with her….  And for her to really "get" the way things work here: the good, the bad, and everything in between.  She will stay for one month during which her friend and former colleague at the University of Maryland, Barbara Finkelstein, will be joining us as well for the last two weeks.  Both Barbara and my mother have places on the Toa Nafasi board in the U.S., so it's important that they see firsthand the way the Project works and can explain to others back at home.  Their endorsement will help to entice other friends and donors to the Project, and also to document our evolution and improvement.  Karibuni sana, Carla and Barbara!
Last but not least, I thought I'd share some video from the classroom.  These will give you an idea of the conditions we are working under.  The first video is barely audible due to the massive rains we've been having in Moshi this year.  They are very early and quite torrential.  I am terrified of another car-in-ditch-sitch (, but what can I do in the face of Mother Nature?
The second video however gives another example of how the teacher's voice can get muffled.  Next door, the chekechea (nursery school) kids go nuts until about 11am when they close up shop.  In addition, today, on the other side of our classroom, someone had decided to keep a pair of goats for the day, so we could hear alternately a deep-voiced BAAAAH and a higher-pitched baaaah, and thank the good Lord that Mother Nature did not spur those two on to doing their goat thang!

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