As expected, it has been a busy Fall thus far with much fanfare expected by its finale! (You guys know how much I loooove a good alliterative blog subject, right?!)
I have been in the States since late August, busily working on Toa matters. Whereas in TZ I am on-the-ground and in school, in NYC I am behind-the-scenes and often working in solitude. It is a different "hat" but one that is necessary to wear to keep this whole machine rolling on.
First order of business has been to re-order our collateral products. This means editing and re-printing brochures, creating business cards and setting up Toa emails for key staff members, and ordering Toa tee-shirts for the expected 2017 cohort. This year, we were fortunate to receive support from the International Association of Special Education, who helped to offset the cost of the shirts. Asante sana, IASE!
Next on the list has been to meet with our web designer and discuss an overhaul for the Toa Nafasi website. Last week, Carla and I sat down with Michael Schafer of Openbox 9. He will be in charge of this undertaking, and Heidi and I are already busy collecting photos and writing copy for use on the site.
True to her title, Heidi has also been heading up our grants research, investigating options for further sources of funding and putting all the data in order. Additionally, she has revived our social media platforms and, polepole, we are developing an online presence once again. Asante sana, Heidi!
The U.S. Board of Directors had its first physical meeting of 2016 just last week in Washington at which we fleshed out year-end plans. We developed a timeline of email blasts, social media touches, and of course, our actual Friendraiser event, which will be held in Washington DC on Tuesday, November 15th.
For me, personally, I am devoting some time to writing. Toa has decided to apply for a fellowship from Echoing Green, which is "a social innovation fund that acts as a catalyst for impact." They invest in people with ideas that suggest innovative solutions to issues like Education, Economic Development, Hunger and Poverty Alleviation, and Health. I'm also developing a paper for the next IASE conference, to be held in Perth, Australia. It's actually a nice change of pace to be able to step outside of the flurry of day-to-day activities and think about the larger impact Toa is making on this community, not just the children but their teachers as well.
Of course, I can't just while away my days, writing from lofty highs and intellectualizing the Project however much I want to; there's plenty of "icky" stuff to do as well. Falling into that unfortunate – but obviously, necessary – category are: preparing the 2017 budget, hiring a U.S. accountant, and reaching out to potential new donors in the corporate world.
The budget is icky just because it requires numbers, and numbers in cells, and formulas for those cells, and, well, I'd rather be writing with the Roman alphabet from lofty highs.... Thank goodness, Heidi is now on staff for guidance and support. Ditto the accountant – not really my thing, but as Toa expands, so too do our needs. The outreach to new friends in corporate networks is not so much icky as scary. I certainly believe in Toa, its mission, and its model, but it's a little nerve-wracking preparing to take meetings with executives at international investment firms. It's a loooong way from Msaranga Primary School to Morgan Stanley! Here's hoping I still have some of that winning book publicist charm from pre-2007!!
Back in Moshi, Hyasinta seems to be handling things ably: the teachers carry on with their work, the students continue with their lessons, and everyone is generally happy. Gasto is working on the issues that still persist: lack of classrooms, particularly at Mnazi; Toa paperwork in Dar es Salaam; and various administrative duties specific to the Tanzanian aspects of the Project.
We are starting – at Heidi's initiative – a new enrichment program for the teachers whereby once a month, we will have some sort of professional development or life skills workshop. Last month, Gasto and Heidi arranged for a Social Security officer to come and talk to the staff about the newly implemented benefits system. In coming months, we are planning health seminars and round table discussions on various articles I've found and will have translated into Swahili. We will also be featuring each teacher, in due course, on the blog and in her own words. Hyasinta has conducted interviews with all the women and, as soon as I have time to translate, I will put them up one by one.
Finally, check out this photo that Heidi recently took of a child so intent on his studies, he forgot to stick his tongue back in his mouth! Sometimes, school is just that interesting!!