Wednesday, June 29, 2016

AmsterJam

By now, you all know that I'm a pretty informal person and that this blog, though primarily for Toa Nafasi and related news, sometimes lends itself as a vehicle for more personal entries: general life in Tanzania, me and my crazy friends, cats....

So this post will just be a brief recap of my recent vacation in Amsterdam with my friend, Kathy, who I have known since we were fifteen years old when we met at the Barnard Pre-College Program in New York City.  Twenty-five years later and 10,000 miles between us (for the last nine years, anyway), we are still besties and she is someone I will always consider family.

Kathy actually came to Tanzania in 2010 when I was still working with Visions in Action and living the life of a wee volunteer.  I was hoping she would come to Moshi this year and see how I've moved on up since starting Toa, but I actually needed a break from Tanz, so we planned to meet in Amsterdam for five craaaazy nights.

Well, not that crazy actually, given that we are forty now, but at least a lot of fun.  We had a blast hitting all the sights: Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt House, Rijksmuseum.  We also did a little investigative work in the Red Light District (shocking!), had massages at the Waldorf Astoria (divine!!), and took a lovely canal cruise during which we managed not to drop either of our iPhones into the water (that we achieved this was probably more shocking than what we witnessed in the RLD....)

It was just what I needed to gear up for the rest of my year in TZ.  As usual, I will be headed back to NYC from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, so I really needed this little European respite before powering through the next two months.  Which, by the way, will be BUSY.

School opens up again after a one-month vacay for the kids and we'll be testing the Toa Nafasi groups at each school for the second time to check their progress.

Additionally, we have made some major changes to the Tanzanian board of directors and our constitution.  And now that we have our TIN, we are ready to pay our taxes and get the teachers set up with social security and pension funds.

I have also just hired our new Fundraising and Communications Officer, Heidi Lidtke, who will be coming over with her husband, Geoff, from California in early August.  We'll have a couple weeks overlap to get her settled and then I am leaving her to her own devices!!  Much more on Heidi later as it's early days yet, but that's another exciting development.

Lastly, but definitely not leastly, I'm climbing Kili with my dad in just about two weeks.  He heard so much about my trek with my mom last July that he wants to try his hand at it.  Here's hoping we don't kill each other....  Or Methley, my friend and our guide....

And July also brings up some more significant dates: the 2nd, my dream of being Mrs. Derek Jeter shall be officially dashed; the 4th is my nine-year anniversary since coming to Tanzania; the 19th is my third year since quitting smoking; and of course, the 24th will be one year since my beloved Vumi left us.  All significant, if bittersweet, memories....

At any rate, enough of my emotional chowchow.  Check out some photos below from Kathy and Sarah's Excellent Adventure!


Me at the iconic "I amsterdam" sculpture.  Kathy was NOT into it....


Canal ride.  It was windy.


Our version of a "Dutch treat."


Like a homing pigeon to its nest, of course I had to check out my peeps at the Portuguese synagogue.


Possibly my favorite activity of all - a visit to the cat museum, a collection of art and knickknacks, all feline-inspired.  Meow.


I had to buy new hiking boots for Kili since mine are pretty facacte after two treks already and many a rainy season in Msaranga.  The Dutch shoe salesman was quite intense about his job and we almost missed our massages due to his footwear thoroughness!

That's it for now folks, more from Moshi to come!!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Siku ya Mtoto wa Afrika

From the Swahili, it means "Day of the African Child," and apparently it has been celebrated every June 16th since the year 1991.  It pays homage to those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in Soweto, South Africa on June 16, 1976.

On that day, about ten thousand black South African schoolchildren marched in a column more than half a mile long, protesting the poor quality of their education and demanding their right to be taught in their own language.

Scores of young students were shot.  More than a hundred people were killed in the protests of the following two weeks, and more than a thousand were injured overall.

These days, the Day of the African Child is an international holiday that raises awareness for the continuing need for improvement of the education provided to African childrenEvery year, governments, NGOs, international organizations, and other stakeholders gather to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the full realization of the rights of children in Africa.

I did not know this.

I was alerted to the existence of the Day of the African Child this year - the week before it was meant to take place - when I opened an email written solely in Swahili from the Regional Office of Community Development, inviting The Toa Nafasi Project to helping in the planning process.

Of course, the planning party was scheduled for the very next day, so I could see we were already on a laissez-faire-to-the-last-minute Tanzanian scheduleGetting ready to go on vacation, and refusing to give in to my normal reaction and rise to the panic of working on short deadline, I sent Hyasinta to the planning meeting and I went off to Amsterdam.

Upon my return, Gasto and I attended the actual Siku ya Mtoto event as spectators only.  We decided we had too short time to plan signs and banners, speeches and brochures, so we agreed to use this year's gathering as a trial, then get more involved next year.  (This worked well for Siku ya Usonji - http://toanafasi.blogspot.com/2015/04/usonji-day_16.html, http://toanafasi.blogspot.com/2016/04/usonji-day-20.html)

So, we spent the day observing and taking notes for feedback to the Community Development people, though truth be told, I'm not entirely sure how well they'll take to our "constructive criticism.Nevertheless, we thought: If we go this year as bystanders, then next year we can offer our opinions when we ante up our own involvement.

Oh, where to begin, where to begin?

First off, we couldn't find the event or any information about it anywhere.  And I mean, anywhere.  Online mailing lists, social media platforms, a web search brought us no closer.

We went to the regional office itself and no one knew, even people who worked right across from those concerned with the dayDefinitely, the planners need to do a better job of letting people know the what, when, where, and why of this significant day.

Secondly, the audience was confusing to us.  Who is this holiday for?  Gasto noted that the kids looked bored while the adults listened to the speeches, but yet the day was dedicated to the kidsAdditionally, the speeches themselves were not appropriate for the youth.  Frank discussions of child abuse with harsh language seemed unsuitable to discuss in front of young children.

I think it would have been worthy perhaps, to have separate speeches for the kids, using less radical language and encouraging self-reliance and self-protection.  Throw in a little drumming, face-painting, and food, and everybody's happy.

Lastly, when we finally did discover where the occasion was being held, we were dismayed to know it was in Kahe, Moshi Rural, about an hour outside of town proper.

Umm, seems to me that if you want people to come to an event, you might want to make it fairly easy for them to get there.  Having the celebrations at a secondary school in what is basically a tumbleweed-ridden ghost town was not brilliant.

That said, it was fairly well-attended given the aforementioned limitations.  Check out the photos and videos below, including a shot of a lil' friend I made and the schedule of activities for the day.






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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Legally Tanzanian

Hello all, and many greetings from Moshi where I have just returned after a glorious week in Amsterdam (blog post to come!) on holiday.  I had meant to post this entry before I left, but alas, it was not meant to be, so I am posting now.

Most of you probably know that prior to founding The Toa Nafasi Project, I was a volunteer with Visions in Action, a small grassroots organization out of Washington DC, that places international volunteers with local NGOs in developing countries and oversees their stays.  After six months of that in 2007-8, I then went on to work for Visions for the next 3+ years after which Toa Nafasi took hold and I devoted my time to the Project.

Upon leaving for TZ the very first time, I started a fun and cheeky (if not always politically correct) blog titled "Legally Tanzanian," so that friends and family could keep up with my exploits.  As with this blog, I had a lot of fun writing and was dutiful about posting, but it was definitely a little racier that this Toa Nafasi blog.

The name "Legally Tanzanian" came out of a joke that me in Tanzania was about as likely as Elle Woods at Harvard in the movie franchise, "Legally Blonde."  Guess both me and Elle proved the masses wrong as I believe she made her way at the Yard and I have (more or less) made my way here in Tanzania!

For the purposes of this entry however, "Legally Tanzanian" refers to The Toa Nafasi Project's newfound status as a one hundred percent entirely legal institution in Tanzania!  Not that we were doing anything wrong before; in fact, most of our paperwork was done, but we were awaiting the all-important TIN or Taxpayer Identification Number for the organization.  

I have a personal TIN for my car, but we had a terrible time procuring one for Toa.  I really didn't understand why, as the TIN is a free piece of paper that allows me to pay taxes to the Tanzanian government as well as provide benefits and pensions to my Tanzanian employees, and entitles me to no personal gain whatsoever, but logic isn't always useful here.  And, as the daughter of a prominent international tax lawyer, it just looked really bad that we didn't have the TIN.

We started the application process towards the end of Angi's first trip to Moshi which was roughly three years ago, and was followed by massive amounts of shida/excuses.  The file was lost (once, twice, three times, four times); the person working on our case at the Tax Authority left the job (once, twice, three times, four times); the Toa staff member responsible for following up on this issue was irresponsible (still too angry to talk about this); and the multitude of typically Tanzanian responses from TRA about our plight such as "maybe tomorrow," "in a few days," "try again," or "I don't know."

Everything else was in place fairly quickly: constitution, board, registration, my immigration status, but the TIN remained a thorn in our sides.  Even as recently as this past February when my mother was in Moshi, we were bemoaning our lack of TIN and the fact that not having it puts us and our staff in an awkward position.

Well, behold at long last, I give you The Toa Nafasi Project's Taxpayer Identification Number, on paper and in the flesh.  Now, never mind that "Toa" (a three-letter word) is spelled wrong; once we had it, I wasn't gonna give it up for anything!  And since then, we actually did get it fixed fairly easily.  

So, as of June 2016, Toa Nafasi is LEGALLY TANZANIAN!  WOOHOO!!  We are too legit to quit!!


Next thing on the road to full-blown legitimacy was getting our finances in order and we were able to find a proper Tanzanian accountant to help us with our in-country income and expenditures.  My mom and I met Mr. Mkawo for the first time last year after having been duped by a phony Tanzanian auditor and several frustrating visits to the Tanzania Revenue Authority.  He won Carla over when he proclaimed his distaste for "mediocrity."  Indeed.

Here is video from last year of Mkawo jumping rope as he planned to climb Kilimanjaro for his 70th birthday, just like my mama.  (Sad note: this was shot the day that I found about Vumi's death, so it has some meaning for me as one of the last things I did before the world changed....)

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Anyhoo, Mkawo came through on his accounting duties just before I left for Amsterdam so with that and the TIN, we are in pretty good shape.  Check out his certified financial documents below.  

I took out all the figures since that's obviously privileged information, but we had an interesting talk as we were going over the numbers about how Toa Nafasi's wealth lies in its people and not its things.  

Truth be told, we have no things!  Mkawo kept asking me about assets and I could not think of a single one to name!!  My greatest asset at school is for sure Hyasinta and in the office, it's Gasto.  Can't put a price on that, can you?!  Mkawo agreed and it was all gooood.


 
Finally, a very tangential and rather random but funny side note.

We just celebrated the Kili Fair here in Moshi at the start of this month, a three-day outdoor trade fair in which local businesses (tour operators, hotels, clothiers, restaurants, and even NGOs) showcase their wares.  

Toa Nafasi didn't bother with a booth - as I just said, we have no things! - but apparently, the Department of Immigration Services represented....

 
Or did they....?  :)  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Not in Kansas Anymore

Direct on the heels of Angi's visit to the Project and her work with the teachers to help them improve their lesson-planning and strategies for teaching slow learners, Toa Nafasi was fortunate enough to receive more guests with even more wisdom to bestow.

This time, it was Dr. Marilyn Kaff, a professor of Special Education at Kansas State University.  Like Angi, I had known Marilyn in the past, though not so well.  She also worked in Lushoto at the Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University (SEKOMU), a private teacher training college dedicated to serving people with disabilities.  Our paths had crossed several times over the years as our missions in Tanzania are cross-collaborative.  This year, we were able to finally connect as Marilyn came to Moshi for a short period on her way back to Lushoto with four undergrads and a whole lotta book learnin'!

Marilyn and her students (Katie, Caitlyn, Alyssa, and Mary) spent a full day with us visiting all four Toa sites and then spending time with the teachers doing a "storyboard" of The Little Red Chicken or, in Swahili, Kuku Mdogo Mwekundu.


A storyboard is a sketch of how a story is organized and a list of its contents: Who are the characters?  Where is the setting?  What is the plot?

By having both texted and text-free versions of this simple story, teachers are able to elicit participatory responses from their young pupils.  We can ask the children who they see in the text-free version, where they are, and what is taking place.  These things can be verified or refuted by then reading the texted version.

I don't know, honestly, if the Tanzanian teachers will use this technique in the Toa classrooms, but they sure had fun learning a new way of teaching our kids to use their critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as another way to read a book.

Even though time was short, I think Marilyn and her Kansas kids enjoyed their visit to the Project and their short presentation on storyboards.  They were certainly effusive and enthusiastic!

For my part, I enjoyed the infusion of youth in imparting this new strategy, and the hopeful and buoyant spirits of the four lovely girls; their vision of our Project through the gaze of youth and novelty was truly energizing.

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