Sunday, February 21, 2016


Hello, my dearest readers, and a BIG pole sana for not providing an original blog entry lately.  I have been extremely busy in school and with Mama and her friend (and Toa Nafasi board member!) Barbara Finkelstein.  It has been an exciting time, entering into the new schools as planned and hosting Mama and Barbara after hours, but also a bit exhausting.  I have discovered that I am actually not Superwoman and have allowed myself a few days' off to rest and relax and gear up for what is bound to be another busy week.

Still, I don't want to leave my loyal viewers without any idea of what we've been up to in these parts, so this entry is gonna be Snapchat-style with a mishmash of our comings and goings, happenings at school and at home, and just the general shenanigans that we've gotten ourselves into.... and out of!  Enjoy!!

Teacher Clara reads the *classic* Sungura ni Mbaya ("The Rabbit Is Bad") to a group of enthralled students.  Check out the open-mouthed agog of the little bugger front and right!

Fridays remain "Fundays" in Msaranga.  This week, I introduced the Etch A Sketch to which Mama Mshiu and Hyasinta took an immediate interest.

I think Teachers Imelda, Rose C., and Rose A. were more frustrated by the toy than anything else!

We also made paper crowns for pirates and princesses which the kids loved.  So did Mama and Barbara and Barbara's "handler," Jackie.

Hyasinta gives Clara a break from the umpteenth reading of Sungura and takes on the task herself.

But not everyday is Friday.  Earlier in the week, Clara taught new teachers, Rose C. and Sara, how to do assessments.

Meanwhile, in the world of politics, new president Magufuli made sure the public heard his stance on some matters of great importance.

And my mom bagged a giant bug.

Over a driving rain, Gasto played motivational speaker and talked to all the teachers, old and new, about the ethos of Toa Nafasi: cooperation, love of children, and strengthening education.

Last weekend, Mama and I went to Arusha where we heard famed primatologist Jane Goodall speak about her work with the chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park in Kigoma, Tanzania.

We also did some shopping at the Cultural Heritage Center where I struggled to pick out a "Pumba" to go with my "Timon."  See: for point of reference....

I also had a hard time picking out a new Uru bracelet to go with the one I got last year after trekking Kili.  I actually really like the way my existing one looks alone with my "Vumilia" bracelet which I had made for myself and all the teachers to honor Vumi.

Last but certainly not least, I have a new man in my life!  His name is Drogo after the mythical warlord of Game of Thrones fame.  We haven't known each other long, but we fell in love immediately.  He makes me feel like a true Khaleesi!  And Mama approves!!

That's the haps for now, kids, more next week!!

Disability Not Inability

In 2013, on December 3rd - the International Day of Persons with Disabilities - Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, stated: "Disability is part of the human condition; almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life.  There are currently more than a billion people with disabilities around the world – that's around 15% of the population of the planet.

Many of the challenges for persons with disabilities are obvious, such as physical obstacles.  But a major challenge is one that may be unseen and can, at times, seem almost insurmountable: the ignorance and misconception about disability that fuels stigma and discrimination.

Let’s focus on what many of us already know - that fairness to  persons with disabilities is not charity, just good sense.  Let's stress that they have equal rights and are valuable resources that are good for the bottom line.  Above all, let's spread the word – that disability is NOT inability."

Two and a half years later, in this week's Tanzania Daily News, reporter Iddy Mwema reported: "The Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office responsible for People with Disabilities, Dr. Abdallah Possi has implored the media to ensure fair coverage on people with disabilities and avoid using discriminatory words against them.

He said people with disabilities have the same right to receive information as any other citizen in the country and therefore he directed television stations to provide sign translators during education programs and important events of national interest like parliamentary proceedings and the president's speeches.

He cited the Persons with Disabilities Act No. 9 of 2010 section 55 (1) which states that 'All television stations shall provide a sign language inset or subtitles in all newscasts, education programs and other programs covering national events.'

According to him, the Minister responsible for people with disabilities shall direct media houses to use sign insets and proper words that will not show any sign of discrimination to the group and requested the media to immediately start implementing the Act.

'Media houses have been champions in various group movements including the gender equality movement and the media should direct the same efforts as well by having a good number of education programs to educate people with disabilities and the society in general,' he said.

He referred to one report that showed a state of discrimination.  This is when people with albinism fought at State House.  'I was there that day and what I saw was people fighting and not albinos fighting as it was reported by most of the media the next day.  Why albinos?  We should change this kind of reporting,' he said emotionally.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Name Game

Hi everyone, and hope this blog post finds you all well.  This past week has been one of the busiest of my ENTIRE life, I think, as Mama is here and I have been spending time with her everyday, but also because we started the Kipindi cha Utafiti (Observation Period) at Msaranga Primary School.
After re-testing the kids in the program from 2015 for the second time (nearly all 50+ of them have made dramatic improvements), and using that experience as an example of the Assessment Phase to the new teachers, we started the process of the Project anew with Phase One - Observation - of the Standard One students for the academic year 2016.  Again, we are using Msaranga as an example so the new girls can watch and learn from me, Hyasinta, and the others who have been around longer.
We went in and first took down all the kids' names and then had them stand for photographs so we could more easily identify each child by face and designation.  This seems a simple task on the surface, but actually here in Tanzania, it's not such an easy feat.
Names are a very interesting concept here, a fluid one, whereby a child might have multiple names and multiple ways of spelling each.  Rather than first name, middle and last, people are known by first name, jina la baba (father's name), and jina la ukoo (clan name).  Because there are relatively few clans in Kilimanjaro (maybe 20 or 30 really popular ones), the clan name is not such a great differentiator.  You hear these same names over and over again - Ngowi, Kessy, Macha, Swai - kind of like in Korean (Kim, Lee, Park, etc) and Chinese (Wang, Chung, Chu, etc.) cultures.
So we like to go off the child's first name followed by the name of the father.  For example, if I was a Tanzanian, I would be Sarah David rather than Sarah Alix Rosenbloom as I am known in America.  I have tried explaining to Tanzanians that Rosenbloom is not a clan name and rather a family name, but this distinction is difficult to explain and I'm not sure anyone cares.
Problems arise for various reasons while we are doing this census-taking, many of them revolving around this issue of names.  The kids are unused to the primary school classroom, having just entered in January: wearing a uniform, being away from home for the whole day, under the supervision of new teachers with big sticks and lots of others in the room, making noise and creating a lot of confusion, expected to do tasks that they are unfamiliar with.  Then, we come in, a bunch of other Tanzanian teachers and some weird mzungu (me!), asking a lot of questions and doing things that are even more unexpected.  They tend to clam up and speak in fearful whispers, or they act out and try to get my attention, anticipating zawadi (gifts) from the white girl.  It's hard to observe them naturally as my mere presence in the classroom is unnatural.

If we ask them their names, we usually get a slow-blinking, open-mouthed gape followed by the tiniest whisper which of course leads to mistakes and confusion.  Jennifer becomes Janet.  Barnaba becomes Baraka.  And on and on.  In addition, checking against the teacher's logs or seeing what the parents have written on their children's notebooks may not offer the clarification one might think.  Written language is fluid here and names can have multiple spellings.  Jennifer --> Jenifer --> Jenifa --> Jenipha.
Then, even if we say a thousand times that we want their first name and their father's name only, we will get a lot of crazy answers.  Sometimes the names are simple like "Alex Emanuel."  We have had two of those in the past two years.  Other times, names are more exotic as in "Kelvin Kidogola" and we have to determine whether the child has given us some foreign clan name or if the baba has a more locally derived first name.
There's also the issue of the kids having more than one name themselves.  Lots of families give their children two first names, one for home and one for school.  And to make things even more confusing, these names might be very similar.  This year, we have a "Jordan Bariki" whose school name is "Jackson."  To heap another bewilderment on top of the pile, Jordan/Jackson is a twin.  The brother's name?  "Johnson Bariki."  Not sure if that's his school name or home....

Finally, kids loooove getting their photos taken so if we go in one day and do the rounds, the next day when we come back, we ask if we had missed anyone the day before and the kids love to trick us and say they didn't get their photos taken so we have to do it again!  This creates confusion and frustration for ME as the picture-taking is not meant to be fun and games but rather a comprehensive way of knowing how many and who we are dealing with.  But since they're kids and they're cute as hell, they get a free pass on this bad behavior.  It's just annoying after a long day at school, and then attending to my mom, to have to go through 150 or so photos to make sure there are no duplicates and no one has pulled the wool over my eyes!

After matching up the kids' photos and names, we then try to observe each child individually so we have a clue of what we're working with prior to assessing them.  Sometimes, the Standard One teachers are able to point out who they have identified as a slow learner or who doesn't hear or see well.  This year, we have a few kids who will definitely need the support of the Project, either via our pullout program of extra tutoring or through referral appointments at the eye doctor or hearing clinic.

With forms in hand, we make the rounds in the classroom, looking for issues with motor skills, behavior, adaptive skills, self-management, and social skills.  If a child shows up to school very dirty or is quiet and keeps to himself as opposed to playing with friends, we might make a note of these red flags as well as the child's academic proclivities.  We have pretty much finished this process at Msaranga Primary so this coming week, Hyasinta has divided the teachers (my Taylor Swift girl squad!) into small teams, some of whom will go into the new schools to do Observation there, others who will remain with us at Msaranga to begin the next step, Assessment.

We are looking at another VERY busy week and I am both happy about that as well as mildly fearful.  But I know that I am not alone, the teachers are behind me, and with Vumi guiding us from above, we cannot fail.  In addition to observing at the new schools and testing in Msaranga, we have a child headed to Gabriella for Therapy Week and one of the new girls will go with him and his dad.  Thursday, we have two kids to attend the eye clinic at KCMC and Hyasinta and I will take them along with their parents as we do not do referral appointments without the presence of a guardian.  I think my mom will also come with us so she can experience firsthand the glory of the Tanzanian health system!  (,,,

For now, check out the photos and videos below of Observation from last week.  Feel my pain?  Just kidding, it's hard work, but soooo worthwhile.  More anon!


Monday, February 1, 2016

The English Patient

Hello, dear readers, and many greetings from Moshi!  Mama has arrived in town and I have been busy the last couple days settling her in and accommodating her needs.  Because she has been here many times before, it's not so difficult, but I have not had time to write up any original content for this week's post, so instead I am reprinting an article from the Guardian about Magufuli's plan to remove foreign teachers from the Tanzanian school system.

Ostensibly a good idea (the promotion of the local population into important and consistent work is always great), the general consensus from the masses is that Tanzania is not quite ready for such change.  The country still needs the guidance of foreigners in such positions as English teachers because our own workforce is not yet competent to take over.

Ain't no shame in this game, but perhaps Magufuli would be best advised to set up a system in which Kenyan and other East African teachers in Tanzania were able to support their Tanzanian counterparts, get them up to speed with the language and any other subjects they might not be fully adept at, and then have a schedule whereby, polepole, the foreigners made their exits rather than all at once, and under such negative circumstances.  Check it out!

The country's education system is feared to plunge into darkness following the government's decision to send packing foreign teachers employed in private English-medium schools.

Various education stakeholders interviewed by the Guardian on Sunday expressed their fears, warning that the sector would deteriorate further because few Tanzanian teachers were capable of teaching in such schools.

In recent months, the government has been deporting unskilled foreign workers, including teachers employed in various private schools in the country, in a move calculated at freeing up the jobs for locals.

However, several education stakeholders said this would affect both students' and schools' performance, making it hard for the country to have quality experts in the near future.

According to them, private school owners had no option but to hire foreign teachers due to the acute shortage of local teachers qualified to work in English-medium schools.

Tanzania Association of Managers and Owners of Non-Government Schools and Colleges (TAMONGSCO) Secretary General, Benjamin Nkonya, told the Guardian on Sunday that the decision to deport foreign teachers would have serious impact on private schools.

"The decision made by the government will have a major negative impact on private English-medium schools since many Tanzanian teachers are not competent in English and Science studies compared to foreigners," he told this newspaper in an interview.

He said teacher colleges in the country did not train enough primary school tutors who focused on English studies, rather most of them prepared tutors for history and geography studies.

According to him, Tanzania had a shortage of teachers as there were currently only 27,000 employed local teachers, which was equivalent to 40 percent of the actual demand, adding that the deportation of foreign teachers would compound the situation.

He said that up to December of last year, about 3,500 teachers from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, and Zambia faced expulsion in a crackdown on illegal immigrants in the country, and the number of tutors who volunteered to leave the country had now reached 5,500 by January of this year.

He also called on the government to reduce fees imposed on foreign teachers to work in the country, citing Kenya which allowed teachers from Tanzania to teach Kiswahili in its schools without charging them residence fees.  
Nkonya said most private schools could ill afford the $2,000 fee for a two-year work permit and Tsh2 million charged for work permits for foreign teachers.

Bonaventura Godfrey, a program manager for research and analysis at HakiElimu, said the challenge in education was how to get Tanzanians who could teach a child to understand, write, and speak fluent English and do well in science subjects.

He said although the government had heavily invested in increasing the number of teachers, many teacher colleges in the country focused on geography and history studies.

"Deportation of foreign teachers will gravely affect many private English-medium schools since there are no substitute teachers in the country who can teach English language.  If we don't have the requisite expertise inside, we must import from outside," he said.

He said that other countries with similar economies as Tanzania imported teachers from outside because it would require a huge investment in order for local teachers to become competent in the English language; failing this, Kiswahili should be used in all the subjects.  
"The government and private school owners must sit together and look into how they can solve this crisis and identify the actual needs.  Since they have taken the step to deport foreign teachers, there must be substitute teachers to train the pupils," he said. 

For her part, Tanzania Education Network (TenMet) Coordinator, Catherine Sekwao, said although there was shortage of science and English teachers in the country,  it was not a good enough reason for Tanzania to allow illegal immigrants to work without permits.

She said deportation of foreign teachers would not affect all the schools in the country.  However, most private English-medium schools would be affected as they mainly hired foreigners, adding that even some Tanzanian teachers from public schools were competent in the English language.

"Primary schoolteachers are supposed to learn and be able teach any subject, depending on the directive from their supervisor.  
Due to this, it is possible for some of them to be incompetent; however, some of them are very fluent in English and they are in public schools," she said. 

Commenting on the issue, Tanzania Teachers Union (TTU) President, Gratian Mukoba, said it was advisable for the government to go slowly on the matter because Tanzania is a signatory to Commonwealth and East Africa Community agreements which require member states to exchange experts.

He said the shortage of English and science teachers was not in their numbers alone, but that most were incompetent.  
"For instance, a certain school may have more than three English teachers but none of them can write one good, straight sentence," he said.

Mukoba said that before the 1970s, Tanzania had competent English teachers, but later on the number decreased due to the adoption of jargon words.  He said currently there were few teachers who could write and speak fluent English.

"We  are not against the government decision to deport illegal immigrants but, in the education sector, if we want to have children who are well-trained, there is a need to have foreigners who will help us to teach the future generation," he said.