Thursday, September 15, 2016

In a New York Minute

Hi everyone and many greetings from the Empire State!  I have been back in the U.S. for just over three weeks now and am completely over any trace of jetlag, food poisoning, or other malaise (except for missing Drogo, of course!).  After going down to Washington two weeks ago and spending a hot second at our favorite national park in West Virginia for Labor Day, I quickly returned to the City to get back into my New York groove.
What groove, you ask?  Well, I'll tell you!  Basically, days consist of an early wake-up, checking the telly for what's going on in the world, running downstairs for coffee (the gas has been out in my apartment building for months now, which is fine since I use my oven for storage, but not being able to boil water is a little annoying), heading to the gym for a workout (on a proper elliptical machine - my little legs are so happy!), coming back up to shower and dress (loooove Western water pressure - almost makes up for the gas sitch!!), and then off again to find a quiet, comfortable work space where I can camp out for the rest of the day and address Toa needs.
At first, I was just going around the corner to the Starbucks on Greenwich (aka the Derek Jeter Starbucks, where he was often photographed when he lived in the West Village and where I spent countless hours stalking him sipping delicious coffee beverages last year).  Now, I have been going farther afield, investigating the small libraries around my alma mater, Columbia, as well as down at NYU, and other non-Starbucks coffee shops and, let's be honest, wine bars around town.
I knew it would be a busy Fall and I must be Kreskin (call me amazing!) because that prediction is totally on point.  Every waking minute of the day, there is something to do!  Good Lord, this business of expansion is busy-making!!  But it's also a lot of fun and I love that the running of Toa Nafasi has gone from a one-woman show to a full-blown Team Toa effort.
Here, in the States, Mom and Pop are on-board as Secretary to the Board and General Counsel respectively.  Our U.S. Board of Directors are all here in Washington with the exception of Veronica Rovegno, who resides in Dar es Salaam, and who I hope to catch up with upon my return to Tanzania.  We are also a newly minted pro bono client of the law firm Akin Gump whose associate Lucy Lee is helping us to navigate the murky waters of corporate sponsorship and matching grants.  With her contacts and a perky presentation from Yours Truly, we are hoping to entice employees of places like JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Citibank, and Bank of America to contribute to the Project.
Back "home" in Kilimanjaro, my affectionately nicknamed troika, HGH (Human Growth Hormone or Hyasinta-Gasto-Heidi) are holding down the fort, Heidi quite literally as she has taken up residence in my "Fort Knox" while I'm gone.  We keep in touch with regular email and Whatsapp contact and are whipping things into shape slowly but surely.
The big thing to be done this Fall is to get our operating budget in proper working order.  Obviously, this informs EVERYTHING else, so Heidi and I are working to make it as accurate as possible.  Once that is more or less finalized and approved by the Board, we can use it in future grant applications, reports, and the like.
A part of getting this budget into workable shape is figuring out the new system of paying the teachers' salaries with NSSF (basically, social security) withholding and income tax.  It's been a bit difficult to get everything just right, but I think we are now on the level and once the system is in place, it will be a cakewalk to keep up.
We are also shoring up our list of potential funding opportunities.  Heidi has created a list of resources based on what came before, mainly through Rhiannon's and before her, Lizzy's, work.  Carla and I have attempted to add possibilities to this list by going down the the Foundation Center and spending a little time searching their databases.
I am also working on a paper titled "Gaining Through Training: Cultivating a Professional Persona in a Rural Setting" which, if accepted, I will be presenting at next year's IASE (International Association of Special Education) biennial conference in Perth, Australia.  It addresses the way in which Toa Nafasi has provided employment opportunities to local women which have not only bestowed them with a paycheck but also with a newfound skilled status.  Additionally, the current and past presidents of the organization have invited me to be part of the planning committee for the 2019 conference to be held....  Dum dum dum!....  In Arusha!!  Of course, I told them that Team Toa would be most delighted to help.
Heidi has already made herself invaluable to the Project by creating a cache of new documents that will enable us to keep track of things more smoothly.  In addition to the Funding Resources List, we now have a template for a donor database which I will start to fill out with all our current donors and their information.  We also now have templates for MOUs with our participating schools, parental consent forms, photo/video consent forms, an agenda for our introductory meeting to parents new to the Project, and the start of an employee handbook which will clearly state the rights and responsibilities of each staff member.  Asante sana, Heidi!
The Toa Nafasi video is nearly complete and we are just waiting on a few finishing touches by Miss Marytza, videographer extraordinaire, so we shall soon be sharing that footage with all our friends of the Project.  Asante sana, Marytza!
Lastly, we are finalizing Toa Nafasi's first official report since being awarded a grant!  Last year, The Masalina Foundation, a family foundation out of Paris, France, awarded The Toa Nafasi Project a generous grant for which we are incredibly grateful.  The terms of the funding however were quite loose with not much reporting requested from their side.  Yet, under Heidi's tutelage, we (mostly Heidi, Carla, and myself) have taken this opportunity to draft a report back to them to show how we spent the money.  It's been a bit of a learning curve for me though I have made progress.  The idea is that grant-writing and then the subsequent report-writing utilize language that is very different from what I would normally use (no shock there!), so the question becomes how do I write a report that employs that type of writing without losing my own voice?
Definitely a give-and-take process, and I probably wouldn't care so much about this particular report except that it was our first grant and one on which Rhiannon and I had so much fun racing to the deadline to complete, so I want to give it it's due diligence.  Thus, I've been line-editing and proof-reading for over a week and it's still not quite right.  For future proposals and reports, methinks I'll leave the grant-writing and its attendant vernacular to Miss Heidi, but I'll just finish this one up and be out of her way!
Think that's all the news that's fit to print (though there's soooo much more: I highlighted my hair, signed up for OkCupid, and bought a new pair of boots, for starters....), so I shall sign off now and come back to y'all next week with further haps.  Take care, everybody!!

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