Monday, December 26, 2016

Happy Toa-Days!

Happy holidays from our house to yours, everyone!

I am safely returned to Moshi and back in a Kilimanjaro state of mind.  We had a busy week last and this one coming will be more of the same, but in between, we found time to party it up just a bit.  Check out the photos and videos below!  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Best Wishes for the New Year!!

Toa teachers, admin staff, and TZ board at our holiday party.
 Some video of our riveting convo over lunch.
Methley, with his new Trump wig.  I give everyone little zawadi (gifts) from the States and he was beyond thrilled with his....
Teacher Dorcas takes her turn recounting mafanikio or successes from 2016.  Top of the list?  How Toa assists our teachers by giving them a worthy employment opportunity!
True dat!!
My LED menorah made the trip over but lost its head
before we could even light the shamas.  :(
Fortunately, back in Boston, my sister had her "menorasaurus" lit.  Although my friend Ali here in Moshi rightly pointed out
that she lit the wrong way.
Thank goodness Ali has her own menorah here in Moshi and lit it correctly - doubly shaming the sisters Rosenbloom!

 Drogo cares very little about Christmas or Hanukkah,
but he did enjoy unwrapping a tuna treat of his own
on Christmas Eve/Erev Hanukkah.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Angi in Zanzi

Hey everyone, I'm still stuck under something very heavy (two huge suitcases filled with work, skincare, gifts for Team Toa, and stuffed animals for Drogo), so have not been able to post something new just yet.  Meantime, enjoy this bit of news regarding our Education Consultant, Angi Stone-MacDonald, who earlier this Fall landed in Zanzibar for her second (!!) Fulbright year working with Early Childhood Education and Special Education Needs in Tanzania.  

As you may recall, I've known Angi since 2009 when we met in Lushoto, TZ where she was passing her first Fulbright.  At that time, I was still working with Visions in Action and just starting to do my research on the ideas that would become Toa.  In 2012, I went to see Angi in Boston and together we revived the idea post-Visions, and have been a great pair ever since.

We are a bit "Laverne and Shirley" in our approaches to the work which actually works quite well.  While I am the mad scientist with the zany ideas and creative flair, Angi is the methodical analyst whose patient hand and steady eye misses no detail and gives us the street cred from which we preach.  2017 marks Year Five of working together on Toa, my Year Ten in Tanzania.

But one (or two) jobs is not enough for Angi.  This year she adds guest professor at the State University of Zanzibar to her resume.  Founded in 1999, SUZA has quickly made a name for itself of academic quality and excellence in the region.  As a public university, it focuses on delivering relevant education geared toward social change and positive transformation.  This in turn contributes to the socio-economic development of the country. 

Please see below what I've shamelessly lifted from UMass Boston's News site, and join me in saying HONGERA SANA! (MANY CONGRATULATIONS!) to Angi!!

Angi in 2016, giving a teacher training seminar
at Msaranga Primary School for The Toa Nafasi Project.


Assistant Professor Angela Stone-MacDonald has received a Fulbright grant to teach early childhood education in Tanzania this September.

Stone-MacDonald, an assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Development's Early Education and Care in Inclusive Settings Program, will be building upon a partnership she has with the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA).

She will be teaching in the early childhood diploma program she helped design last year and collaborating with SUZA faculty on research.  The SUZA faculty also want her to help develop the curriculum for a four-year program that would combine early childhood instruction with inclusive education, Stone-MacDonald's area of expertise.

She is excited about the opportunity to partner with a public university that shares UMass Boston's mission of affordability and access.

"I think it's really exciting that I can move from one public, community-engaged institution to another and try and support not only the two institutions but the two different communities," Stone-MacDonald said.  "For me, this was monumental to being able to move scholarship forward."

There are other parallels too.  SUZA started an early childhood education program in November and is looking to expand; the first students in UMass Boston's Early Childhood Education and Care PhD Program start in the fall.

In December, Stone-MacDonald brought, with the support of UMass Boston's School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, the dean of SUZA’s School of Education to SGSID’s inaugural Building Inclusive Communities: Neighborhoods to Nations Global Conference.  Stone-MacDonald says funding is being sought that would bring students from Zanzibar to UMass Boston.

"We’re really trying to develop partnerships," she said.

In her sixth year at UMass Boston, Stone-MacDonald has been interested in Tanzania ever since she was a PhD student preparing for her dissertation.  She wanted to do something in Africa because her grandparents were missionaries in Africa and her mother, a past Fulbright winner, did research in Liberia.

"The work that I did as a student was on how relevant local context is and it's really exciting to see my work extended to a new location and an early childhood focus," Stone-MacDonald said.

Stone-MacDonald is currently in Tanzania working on The Toa Nafasi Project in Moshi.  (Toa nafasi means "provide a chance" or "give an opportunity.")  In 2013, she started assessing first-graders to identify children who might be able to benefit from being pulled out of the classroom to work in small groups.  Stone-MacDonald analyzes the data to see if progress is being made.  She's currently working with and coaching teachers at four schools.  You can follow her work on her blog:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Specs in Effect

Hello good people, and many salaams from a bitterly cold New York City!  Good thing, next week by this time, I will be back in sunny Kilimanjaro, planning the new year by the pool!!

Because I've been overwhelmed with last-minute business meetings, doctors' appointments, familial obligations, and pulling a few capers with friends and felines, I'm posting an article from one of my new favorite sources for education news: The Parent Herald, an online site delivering quality news on education, kids with special needs, wellness and health topics that focus on parents and the needs of their children.

Though many of their articles are useful only within the context of the developed world (reliance on technology, Western pedagogies), I found this one useful also within the context of the developing world.  After all, we have found that many Toa kids are under-performing due to a need of glasses anyway (this, in addition to hearing issues, speech impediments, and all manner of medical and psychosocial troubles).  What better *small yet effective*(one of my catchphrases!) intervention than a pair of magical specs to turn things around for a struggling young student?!

Cheerio for now.  Original content in the next couple weeks once my "great migration" has been made!!

New Glasses Treatment – Transforming Lives of Dyslexic People

Pupils identified as dyslexic could double their reading speed with the help of specially designed corrective glasses according to the researchers from the independent optometrist group SchoolVision UK.  The 18-month study suggests that mismatched eye muscles in part cause dyslexia, not a problem solely in the brain, as is traditionally believed.

Professor Barbara Pierscionek, a specialist in eye and vision
research, said that the life of a child, as their scholastic and academic performance improves, can be vastly and rapidly transformed through a proper investigation and the correct treatment, which is not expensive.
The research carried out on 69 pupils at Hemyock Primary School in Cullompton, Devon, linked poor reading ability with incompetent eye muscles.  Due to be published towards the end of this year, preliminary findings of the study showed an improvement rate of almost 30 percent in reading speeds with some reading at twice the rate than without the spectacles and others unable to read without them.
According to an article in Sunday Express, the work is backed by previous studies carried out in Austria linking dyslexia in children to problems with their binocular vision.  Findings show that our "dominant" eye gives us positional sense while our "aiming" eye provides an appreciation of where an object is.
On September 4, 2013, an article in FoxNews said that dyslexia is the most affecting language-based learning disorder, making up about 70 to 80 percent of the 20 percent of the population with language-based learning disorders.  The most common symptom is simply trouble reading that is why it often goes undiagnosed.
Adam Banks, 38, had dyslexia for as long as he can remember.  When he shared his struggle with Dr. Morris Shamah, an ophthalmologist at Eye Care & Surgery Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., the latter thought that he might be a good candidate for specially tinted lenses called ChromaGen lenses.  ChromaGen lenses help dyslexic patients see words and texts more clearly and read faster.  Originally developed to treat color blindness, these lenses reduce the visual distortions perceived by dyslexic patients by altering the wavelength of light that reaches their eyes.
In an article published under ScienceDaily, it is stated that dyslexia generates difficulties in correctly and fluently recognizing words, writing without making spelling mistakes, and decoding words regardless of the school level or intelligence of the individual.  An effect on written work and reading, which stops dyslexics from naturally developing the necessary vocabulary and memory are the immediate consequences.  These glasses could be the solution.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Getting to Zero

Hi everyone.  Once again I am a little late to post - sorry for that!  This entry refers to the recent World AIDS Day, marked every December 1st by patients, caregivers, friends, families, and stakeholders all around the world.  I found a nice article out of the Daily News about a call for voluntary testing to commemorate the day in Tanzania.  The title of this blog "Getting to Zero" refers to the goal of zero deaths and zero new infections.

Reminds me of my pre-Toa days when I worked for another NGO called Visions in Action and spent much more time on HIV-related initiatives, including a weekend of testing in Himo one year, about 45minutes outside of Moshi.  I really cannot believe I did that, given my total hypochondria, but looking back, I'm so glad I did.  We worked in conjunction with two other local NGOs in Moshi to: raise tents and put in dividers for privacy; provide pre- and post-test counseling; rapid test hundreds of villagers in a safe and sanitary way; and even hold a little music festival and food court to entertain people while they were waiting.  By providing a secure and intimate environment in which people could get tested as well as counseled by local doctors and nurses, we were able to allay their fears and encourage them to know their status.

So, I guess this World AIDS Day (Thursday, December 1, 2016) was a bit of a #throwbackthursday for me.  Here's hoping a lot of people will take action and get tested soon!

Tanzanians yesterday joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World AIDS Day, with people urged to undertake voluntary testing to avert further spreading of the deadly disease.

The Tanzania Association of Employers (ATE) asked all employers in the country to abide by the HIV/AIDS policy as well as providing education to employees.

"It should be well-known that people spend more time at work than anywhere, therefore if enough education is not provided, several issues that subject them to risk are likely to occur," said ATE's HIV/AIDS coordinator, Ms. Tumaini Kiyola.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it encourages self-testing to improve access to and uptake of HIV/AIDS diagnosis.

The WHO statement said that well-utilized HIV/AIDS self-testing can open the door for people to know their HIV status and find out how to get treatment and access prevention services.  "HIV/AIDS self-testing means people can use oral fluid or blood finger-pricks to discover their status in a private and convenient setting.  Results are ready within 20 minutes or less," WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, was quoted by as saying.

After self-testing, people with positive results are advised to seek confirmatory tests at health clinics.  WHO recommends they receive information and links to counseling as well as rapid referral to prevention, treatment, and care services.

As the nation marks the World AIDS Day today, there are almost 2 million new HIV infections worldwide every year and 1 million people die from the disease annually.  WHO officials estimate about 40 percent of those with HIV (14 million people) are unaware that they are infected.

Tanzania has about 1.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS.  However, only 830,000 of these are on ARVs.  About 36 million people around the world are currently infected with HIV.

According to the Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly, and Children, Ms. Ummy Mwalimu, Tanzania needs, USD 382 million (about TSH 830 billion) until December, 2017 to fund its ambitious plan of putting over 1.4 million people living with HIV on life-long ARVs regardless of their CD4 count.

Yesterday, ATE, as the private sector focal point on HIV response, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Swedish Workplace HIV/AIDS Program (SWHAP), marked the day at the Security Group Africa (SGA) Head Office in Mbezi Beach, Dar es Salaam.

In his remarks read on his behalf by Ms. Kiyola, ATE Executive Director, Dr. Aggrey Mlimuka, said his association was eyeing for zero deaths as well as zero new infections.

"The main objective of the world is to eliminate the disease by 2030, but we cannot attain this achievement if people are not taking precaution measures for self-testing in order to identify the status of their health," he said.

Dr. Mlimuka said HIV/AIDS was still a big problem as it is in other countries in the continent and that its effects were still a thorny issue, something that affects the country's development.

"Although the rate at which the disease has been affecting people has consistently been dwindling, there are regions like Dar es Salaam where HIV/AIDS prevalence is still high," he added.