Saturday, August 27, 2016

Tragic Traffic

Greetings from New York City, dear readers, where I have recently touched down for my yearly Stateside sojourn.  This year, aside from battling the typical jetlag, I have been laid low by a bout of food poisoning resulting from a suspicious (but - at the time - delicious) Caesar salad.  That said, I will be brief as I recuperate, and simply post another current article from the Tanzania Daily News.

This one resonated with me because the lack of traffic laws and traffic safety measures affect all of us in the Tanzanian community, but most predominately, the kids with whom Toa Nafasi (and other organizations) work.

Driving around Moshi town, I often lament the jeopardy of no traffic lights or street signs and bald reliance on roundabouts; the poor planning of parking lots or lack entirely thereof; the utter absence of sidewalks which leads pedestrians to walk unsafely in the crowded streets; and the streets themselves: a hodge-podge of beat-up cars and daladalas (small public transportation buses), wayward motorcycles and careening 4x4s, bicyclists, wheelbarrows and bajajis (tiny three-wheeled vehicles that basically look like kids' toy cars), all competing for the right of way, all moving at top speed.
However, I am relatively safe inside my vehicle and rarely walk around town anymore (aside from the inconvenience and danger, walking around Moshi REALLY takes its toll on your shoes!); it's those who have no choice on their mode of safari who have to bear the brunt of the African "Wild West" streets.

And of course, those most at risk are children, especially on their way to and from school, ESPECIALLY those with intellectual impairments that make them particularly susceptible to the social dangers of the outside world.
It's nice to see that the Tanzanian Traffic Police are now starting to see the problem and are mobilizing the local communities to address it.  Hopefully, this is not a flash-in-the-pan initiative, but rather a plan that will grow stronger and spread wider.

Tanzania: 30 Schoolchildren Killed, 68 Others Injured in Accidents in Six Months

Road accidents have claimed the lives of 30 schoolchildren in the past six months, injuring 68 others, according to Traffic Police statistics.

Traffic Police Commander Mohammed Mpinga said over the weekend that the number of the killed pupils is part of the total 1,580 deaths caused by road carnage.  Mr. Mpinga noted that for the period between January and June this year there were 5,152 accidents.

He was speaking in Dar es Salaam during an event to mark the end of road safety competition for pupils in the city.  Organized by the Puma Energy Tanzania Limited, the competition involved 10 schools whereby a total of 25 pupils participated.

The winner of the competition was awarded various school items and would travel to Geita Region to participate in activities to mark the National Road Safety Week early next month.

Mr. Mpinga said the Traffic Police, through their current strategy, are focusing on educating more children, old people, and people with disabilities on how to cross the road and observe other road safety measures.

"It is through such education that we can save the lives of our schoolchildren.  As we are starting another six months, we should ensure that there is no death of a pupil due to road accident," he pledged.

He added that the education would be extended to the rural areas after learning that road safety awareness is mainly done in urban areas.  Puma Energy Tanzania General Manager Philippe Corsaletti said, "Road safety is part of our agenda.

We should focus on educating schoolchildren since they are at risk most."  So far, the company has reached 30 schools whereby 38,600 pupils were educated about road safety rules.  "We intend to reach all schools in the country, with support from the local governments and Traffic Police," he said.

Ilala Municipality Vocational Education Officer, Ms. Hellen Peter, said awareness on how to cross the road was still low among the pupils, a situation which contributes to the deaths of the school children in accidents.

"We need to strengthen efforts in providing road safety education to the pupils," she appealed.  She also called on extending such education to the children in rural areas."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Samaritan in Same

Hello friends, and pole sana for not writing sooner.  As you may have guessed from my last post, I have been busy welcoming Toa Nafasi's newest staff member, Heidi Lidtke, to the Project, to Moshi, and to life in Africa generally.

We have been awfully busy since Heidi and her husband Geoff's arrival nearly two weeks ago, so I am just gonna post a recent article from the Tanzania Daily News out of Dar es Salaam.  I hope to have original content for y'all in the new few weeks!


Tanzania: Society Urged to Support Disabled Children

Same district, Kilimanjaro region — Mr. Jonas Kadege, who is a member of a non-governmental organization (NGO), The Kitaa Foundation, has called on the society to be closer to children with disabilities to learn and understand challenges they are facing and support them to lead a better life.

Mr. Kadeghe was handing over food and education materials to Same Primary School leadership.  He expressed his concerns on how many parents and guardians stay away from the children.

He said it was pertinent for parents and guardians to make a close follow-up on matters related to disabled children in education institutions so that they make informed decision and attain their goals.

"There are many children in different schools, some have different types of disabilities and they really face complicated challenges, but if we come out, make follow-ups, they will turn them into opportunities, forget their miseries and move forward with success," said Mr. Kadeghe.

He noted that the solution for disabled children is not to separate them from others and build their own school.  Rather, they need affection and support from others who have no disabilities and together could prove successful in lessons and life generally.

Mr. Kadeghe said the government should work together with different stakeholders to ensure disabled children who have neither parents nor guardians live a decent life by getting all their needs, especially education.

"The society around them is duty-bound to take care of them jointly with the government and other stakeholders.  The children will feel that they are equally important like others as they would lead normal lives like those who live with their parents," said Mr. Kadeghe.

He was paying tribute to his former school, saying from then on he would be with disabled students at the school.  He requested other Samaritans to join hands with him for the noble cause.

Speaking after receiving the support, Same Primary School Head Teacher, Mr. Richard Mpokera, unveiled that apart from pupils who have no disabilities, there are those with albinism, with poor sight and the blind, adding that there was a special unit taking care of them.

"We have students who have no disabilities but also here are some with albinism, partial sight while we also have the blind and need proper attention in and out of classes," said Mr. Mpokera.  However, he said the school leadership faced many challenges in meeting the students' needs and serving them, singling out food shortage and medical needs.

He added that the food was mostly needed by those with albinism.  "In the past, we had a sponsor who footed medical costs of all disabled children, so our task was to send them to clinics and clinics in turn sent the bills to the benefactor," he said, adding that the benefactor has since suspended giving funds.  The Head Teacher noted that Same District Council has been in touch with the school, covering some of the costs in transporting students, whose clinics are at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC).

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Hei Hopes

Big news, dear readers, big news!  We have a new staff member at The Toa Nafasi Project!!

Heidi Lidtke has packed up her life (and her husband's!) and moved from the great state of California, U.S.A. to Moshi, Kilimanjaro to join us in the role of Fundraising, Communications, and Program Manager.

She will be working with us full-time to raise the profile of the Project on social media and other related publicity outlets as well as employing her considerable knowledge and experience with grantwriting and fundraising in order to diversify Toa Nafasi's sources of funding.

Basically, she is the trainer and we have just now entered the gym.  So, GAME ON!

Here's Heidi in her own words, and much more to come!

Heidi brings her experience in international development, as well as her passion for community development, to The Toa Nafasi Project.  Heidi has worn a number of professional hats.  Most recently she was adjunct faculty at a California university and taught classes in Community Health, Global Women's Health, and Food Policy and Culture.  Prior to this she worked on numerous grants as a program officer for topics including community development, HIV and AIDS prevention, nutrition, and smoking prevention and cessation.  Heidi has shared her expertise in program development and nutrition through contract and volunteer positions in India, Haiti, Mexico, and a number of African contexts.  She also taught yoga and assisted teaching SCUBA diving for a few years.
Karibu sana Tanzania, Heidi!!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Of Schnoz and Schmeckel

I *think* the title of this blog post is my attempt to outdo Steinbeckian titular alliteration - in Yiddish no less - but pay my cleverness no mind; what I'm really referring to is the work Toa Nafasi does post-assessment.

To refresh, after testing all the Standard One kids in the first couple months of the school year, our Toa Nafasi staff are able to determine who is doing poorly.  From there, we conduct interviews with the parents to find out a bit more about the child's history: Mama's pregnancy and labor, her relationship with Baba, other family members and the nature of the home environment, the child's milestones and general development, significant illnesses or other issues that might contribute to some kind of problem at school.

In past years, we've gotten a bunch of the typical concerns: stomachache, flu, malaria, UTI.  We tend not to do much with these cases unless the child is chronically ill; after all, Toa Nafasi is concerned with Education, not Health - except where Health impedes the flow of Education.
We also get some hearing and vision issues, which we test at KCMC, provided a parent accompanies the student and is present for the doctor's examination and recommendations.  Since Toa Nafasi's inception, we've seen a lot of conjunctivitis and earwax.  Last year, we helped two young students with severe hearing impairment to receive inner-ear surgeries as well.
Other shida (problems) which have presented during the course of Toa Nafasi's tenure are: epilepsy for which we work with the Peds department at KCMC; various skin conditions and allergies, dealt with at KCMC's fine Dermatology clinic; and bone deformities and physical disabilities, again treated at KCMC in the Occupational Therapy department.
This year, we have added the Dentistry department to the list.  Several of the kids have truly rotting teeth which I'm not convinced detracts from their performance at school but certainly doesn't help.  (Neither too does the soda the parents buy the kids while we wait at KCMC.  Last week, while we were there, one little tyke was double-fisting a Coke and a lollipop as we were waiting to hear from the dentist how many teeth he's gonna yank.  When I chastised the Mama, who no doubt had just bought the sweets to quiet down a complaining and tired little patient, she said, "Leo tu."  "Today only."  Better be, Mama, because dental on the Toa Nafasi dime is a one-shot deal!)
Anyhoo, as in past years, we continue to discover children with nyama puani, literally translated as "meat in the nose."  I believe that in prior years, this condition was explained to me variously as adenoids and/or tonsils.  Not knowing what either adenoids or tonsils really are, I kind of just accepted "nose meat" as a viable condition, afflicting multiple children in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania and perhaps beyond.  See:,
This year, faced with another nose meat situation for young Neema, I actually took the time to figure out what the heck everybody was talking about.  Turns out it's really a deviated septum and all these little kids are requiring septoplasty!  Good to know!!  (I should assure my readers here that I never had any doubts as to whether what the docs were doing was legit vis a vis nose meat, since all was explained in Swahili to the parents and they gave their consent, and each child is the better for the nose meat removal, but I do feel a bit more informed knowing now what all this schnoz talk is about....)
Neema had her surgery early last week and is currently laid up at the Ear, Nose, and Throat ward in KCMC recovering.  We hear the procedure was a success and she has been relieved of any unnecessary and unwanted meat in her nose.
Another interesting new condition that we stumbled upon this year is known as "hypospadias."  (And here I must render an aside that THE HUMAN BODY IS ENDLESSLY FASCINATING.  Any aberration is possible!  And most are fixable!!)
So moving from the schnoz to the schmeckel, we can say that "Hypospadias is a birth defect of the male urethra where the urinary opening is not at the usual location on the head of the penis.  It is the second most common birth abnormality in boys, affecting approximately 1 of every 250."  WHO KNEW?!
Since neither Hyasinta nor I is in the habit of checking students' schmeckel health, here's how this situation went down....
We were conducting parent interviews at one of the satellite schools, Mnazi, when we met Mama Twalibu*.  She seemed unsurprised that she had been called in about her child's poor performance in school.  We went through the usual questions and when it came to significant illnesses, well, let's just say it took a while for either me or Hyasinta to fully understand.
Mama called Twalibu over to "show" us the problem but before he could drop trou, we told her it was not necessary that we see said schmeckel, but that we would try our best to help Twalibu who was born with two holes on either side of his penis rather than one on the head.
I don't think there was anything hugely life-threatening about this state of affairs except that the poor child had already endured FIVE botched surgeries to fix it!  And the parents were saving up for a sixth which would have cost them nearly a million Tanzanian shillings (about $500usd), after which point, who would know if this was truly meant to be the final operation??
Additionally, I extrapolated - in my overly empathetic Sarah way - that the kid must have a lot on his mind.  Any difference from your peers is hard on a kid, physical differences even more so since they are so noticeable - I should know, half my body is covered in freckles - but a difference *down there*?  Big shida!  Poor thing was probably agonizing in self-doubt and tortured by his classmates.  Or so I conjectured.
Also, the two holes must have been a rather messy business and here in Africa where the toilets are already dirty ruts in the ground with no clean water and soap to wash, he is open to more infection than the average child.
And when he becomes sexually active, it appears there's a lot of different ways hypospadias can play out....  I'm sure you can imagine....
We took Twalibu and Mama to my doctor, the good Dr. Makupa, where he was given excellent service (I could not bear to subject Twalibu to KCMC for such a delicate task) and referred to a Dr. Mbwambo's clinic in town.  Mbwambo, like Makupa, provided Twalibu excellent and timely service and the little guy is currently recuperating at the clinic, hopefully to return home next week WITH NO NEED OF ANY FURTHER SURGERY.  Schmeckel accompli, Hyasinta reports Mama is very happy and we shall go visit the patient tomorrow!
So, friends, wherever you all are, all around the world, take heart in knowing that Hyasinta and I are here in Moshi, a fearless two-woman team, going around fixing schnozes and schmeckels for under-performing kids in public primary schools in rural Kilimanjaro!  Hapa Kazi Tu!!
*The name has been changed to protect the schmeckel owner's identity.