Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Happier Days

Sorry for not posting any original content in recent days.  I have been overwhelmed by the amount of administrative work I've had to do while in the States as well as suffering against the cold, which I am not used to, and has somehow sunken into my bones and nestled there.  I'm currently writing under a thick duvet, loads of extra blankets, and my favorite oversized sweater, and I'm STILL not warm.  I guess ten years in equatorial Africa will do that to you!

Anyway, I just thought I'd put up this cute video of me and my mom from the year that former Toa board member, Barbara Finkelstein, came to visit Moshi.  We had descended upon Msaranga Primary School for one of our famous "Friday Fundays," and were making paper crowns, pirates for the boys and princesses for the girls (, not that Toa insists upon sticking to traditional gender roles.  Always down for hijinks with the kids, Carla went all out on her princess crown.

It's a nice memory from a time in my life that felt really hopeful and happy unlike my current mood which is pretty much just overwhelmed and anxious and COLD at all times.  Sigh.  I know this too shall pass, but I am not enjoying life as a depressed popsicle....  At least I'll be back in Moshi in a mere six weeks!

Be well, everyone!!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Race Space

Please have a look below at this fascinating article from the Hechinger Report, a news outlet that "covers inequality and innovation in education with in-depth journalism that uses research, data, and stories from classrooms and campuses to show the public how education can be improved and why it matters."

I have reprinted the bulk of the lengthy and informative article written by Sarah Butrymowicz and Isaac Carey, but you can find the whole thing here, with some interesting tangential links:  Apparently, this piece is part of a larger series in collaboration with the Huffington Post that I will have to delve into at a later date when I have more time, but which can be found here if your appetites are whetted:

My point in sharing this piece is to highlight the difficulty in providing quality education to special needs students of color in a developed context.  How then to educate special needs students in Africa?  The story of Colson Brown is heartwarming and I applaud his mother for her persistence in getting her kid the care he needed to succeed.  But the story of Kenyatta Burns and the Durham Public Schools is a much more common reality.  I'm guessing that's true here in the United States as well as on the African continent.


Special Education's Hidden Racial Gap: Across the country, black and Latino children with special needs are far less likely to graduate than their white peers.

WASHINGTON — At the age of 3, Tyrone Colson was diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic abnormality that is often accompanied by developmental disabilities.  Because of this diagnosis, an individualized education plan (IEP) — documents detailing Colson's special needs, and a plan for how his school would help him reach his potential — was already in place when Colson arrived for his first day of school.

In theory, being diagnosed before he even started school should have given Colson a leg up.  The odds he faced, as a black boy in special education, were actually stacked against him.

"The services are out there, but a lot of times, parents of color just don't have the information and resources they need to fight for them," said Daisy Brown, Tyrone's mother.  Brown spent years pushing schools to follow the law, after giving up her job doing administrative support work for a government relations firm.

White students with special needs are far more likely to graduate with a traditional diploma than are their black and brown peers.  In ways big and small, the effects of race and racism magnify the negative consequences that often come with being placed into special education.  Not only are non-white students more likely to be assigned to lower resourced schools that struggle to provide them with the services they are entitled to, but navigating the special education system often presents unique challenges for parents of color, experts say.

A Hechinger Report analysis of federal data exposes the stark racial gap between different groups of special education students.  Nationally, 76% of white students in special education who exited high school in 2014-15 earned a traditional diploma.  That falls to 65% for Hispanic students and 62% for black students with special needs.  But those racial gaps are much wider in some states.

In Wisconsin, 84% of white students in special education who exited high school in 2014-15 earned a traditional diploma, while just 53% of black students and 71% Latino students with disabilities did so.  In Nevada, which has some of the very worst outcomes in the country for students with disabilities, just 17% of black students and 27% of Latino students exited with a regular diploma.  Nearly 40% of Nevada's white students with special needs received a diploma.

In essence, a special education placement exacerbates racial inequalities seen throughout the education system.  Experts say black and Latino parents often feel ignored and belittled at meetings with school officials, and their special needs children are more likely to attend schools in high-poverty districts that lack the resources to provide them with the services they need to catch up.

Paul Morgan, an education professor at Pennsylvania State University, said that the economic disadvantage often faced by black and Latino special needs children has been exacerbated by the way Congress funds special education.  The federal government has failed to pay 40% of the "excess cost" of educating children with disabilities, a responsibility outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The burden of making up for those unfunded expenses falls on schools, and particularly hard on the poorer school districts that disproportionately serve black and brown students.

But the problem runs much deeper than differences between school districts.  In Washington, D.C., where there is just one school district, 77% of white students with special needs who exited during the 2014-15 school year left with a diploma, while just 57% of their black and Latino peers did.

In addition to being more likely to live in neighborhoods with better resourced schools, white and affluent parents are also often better positioned to take advantage of federal disability law to get what they need for their children, said Morgan.  "These services are often difficult to secure, they're expensive and schools don't necessarily want to provide them," he said.  "So it's parents who are better resourced, in terms of information and social networks and time, that are able to persist and go through the legal wrangling sometimes necessary to get what they need."

Morgan's research demonstrates that even when children in the same schools display the same needs, white English-speaking children are more likely to receive the services that they need to excel.

Even a well-informed parent like Daisy Brown, who spent hours on the internet researching special education services after she became her ailing mother's full-time caretaker, hit roadblocks when she tried to advocate for her son.  In middle school, administrators wanted to cut back the number of hours of speech therapy Tyrone received from one and a half hours a week to half an hour per week.  Brown was certain that her son would fall behind without those extra hours, so she used Tyrone's health insurance, a Medicaid program for children with disabilities, to get him help from outside services.  Brown picked him up every Thursday afternoon to go to a local hospital to get the additional therapy.  For the next five years, "Therapy Thursdays" became a family tradition.

The next hurdle came while Colson was still in middle school, when Brown realized that he had been placed on what is called the certificate track, which meant he would graduate with a certificate of completion, an alternate diploma that is not recognized by most colleges and employers.  That began a four-year-long fight to get him onto the diploma track.  "I just wasn't going to let them put him on the certificate track, where they just give them a piece of paper so they could work at a gas station," said Brown.

Colson, who is on the autism spectrum, initially had trouble using and comprehending complex words, but thanks to the additional therapy he received, Brown felt he had made great strides.  But school administrators ignored that progress, Brown said.

"He was smarter than anyone in the class.  The teacher counted on him to help her with the other students," Brown recalled.  "I would just keep going in and telling them, 'I think my son can be on the diploma track.'  But they put up brick walls."

Around the country, black and Latino students are far more likely to be put on the track toward these alternative diplomas.  During the 2014-15 school year, the most recent year of available federal data, more than 37,000 students with special needs graduated with a certificate instead of a diploma.  And while black and Latino students made up just 45% of students who exited the special education system that year, they made up 57% of those who received a certificate.  White students, on the other hand, were much more likely to leave high school with a traditional diploma.

Brown eventually used Tyrone's insurance for a second evaluation, outside of the school.  "The school's evaluations will tell you that the school is giving the child exactly what they need," said Brown.  The outside evaluation convinced school administrators to retest Colson: This time, they found he was ready for the diploma track.

While district spokesperson Kristina Saccone declined to address the specifics of Colson's case, citing federal student privacy laws, she said that the district is aware of these achievement gaps and is committed in its new strategy plan to addressing them.  Among the plan's strategic priorities is strengthening instruction for special education students.

"It's really important to continue to look at the achievement gap; it's a challenge for us and it's something that we are working on," said Saccone.  "We just got a report from the American Institutes for Research, highlighting the progress the district has made, but also specifically focusing on the achievement gaps that remain particularly for students of color and special education students."

Colson became one of the students to narrow that gap.  He eventually graduated with a traditional diploma, and is currently enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia.  Brown's voice fills with pride when she talks about how her son excelled once he was placed on the diploma track.  "His transcript looks so beautiful, it's scary.  It starts out with him on the certificate track in ninth grade, and then he moves over to the diploma track, and there isn't a single C or D on that diploma-track work," she said.

Brown is matter-of-fact when she talks about the sacrifice she had to make to ensure her son beat the odds, however.  To help him succeed, she had to quit her own career.  "I realize that if I didn't leave the workforce my son wouldn't be as far along as he is," said Brown.

Not all students are as lucky.  Kenyatta Burns' story highlights what happens to the many black students in special education who don't have a parent in their corner, let alone one who is willing and able to quit their job and devote themselves full time to advocating for their child.  As a child, the now 20-year-old North Carolina native was in and out of foster care and often struggled with behavior problems.  Eventually, she received a diagnosis of ADHD and bipolar disorder.  The diagnoses should have triggered extra supports at school, but Burns said that much-needed help never materialized.

While Burns struggled at a Durham, North Carolina, elementary school, she says she began to catch up academically after she transferred to a middle school in nearby Raleigh.  But her success was short-lived.  She ended up back at Durham Public Schools in eighth grade.  That year, the school didn't ask her to take any end-of-course exams.  Instead, she was put in a room to watch movies while other students took their tests.  She was passed up to ninth grade anyway.

"When I got to high school, I crashed.  I didn't know what was going on," she said.  "I was screaming for help with work....  I would just sit in the room and let the days go by."

At the end of ninth grade, Burns' mom gave her a choice: go to school full-time or work full-time.  She picked working at a McDonald's.  Since making that decision, Burns has changed course, and is now pursuing a high school equivalency degree, with tutoring help from the Durham Literacy Center.  When she started going to the center two years ago, she said, she didn't even know how to multiply whole numbers.  She added she's learned a lot — including how inadequately the public schools prepared her.

"Now I thank God, I didn't let them skip me up.  I would have had a high school diploma, [but] would have never known how to.... use my commas, put in periods, capitalize words," she said.

The tutors at the literacy center work with Burns one-on-one and are patient when she doesn't understand something.  "That's what I wish I would have had in high school," she said.

"An IEP doesn’t mean that you're slow, it just means you have a hard time learning things," she added, referring to an Individualized Education Program: a set of documents, services, and supports given to all students in special education.

So far, Burns has passed the language arts portion of the high school equivalency exam and is hoping to go into real estate when she finishes the other sections.

Chip Sudderth, chief communications officer at Durham Public Schools, confirmed in an email that Burns had been a student in the system.  Sudderth said that the majority of students receiving special education services are on track to receive a regular diploma and spend the bulk of their time in classrooms with their general education peers.  The unique needs of each student are determined by a team of educators, the parents, and sometimes the student.

Meanwhile, in Washington, after learning how to make the system work for her son, Daisy Brown started looking for ways to help other children.  Brown now sits on two committees, one put together by the District's Department of Disability Services and another run by the D.C. Medicare program from which Tyrone received outside services and evaluations.  Both committees aim to help Washington children navigate the special education system.  As part of that work Brown runs workshops for parents on how to advocate for their children.

"It's not just about helping that child, it's helping that family be able to help that child.  Parents must learn how to get the help that they need," said Brown.  "As a parent, you have to break down the bricks that they put in front of you.  It's not an easy thing to do."

Parents who are aware of their rights can help close the gaps for their kids, Brown said.  "The first time, a parent sits down at an IEP meeting and can talk about what these scores mean and what concerns them, their [officials'] mouths drop," she said.  "They see this is not a parent who I can pull the wool over their eyes.  I've seen so many doors opened for parents."

Michelle Fine, a professor of psychology at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, said the problem is much deeper than an information gap.  Racism and a lack of cultural competency often pervade meetings between school officials and parents and make it difficult for black and brown families to get what they need for their children, she said.

"Often people blame families for not being more involved, but schools are more likely to listen to white and upper-class parents," said Fine.  "Privileged parents are listened to.  When poor parents and parents of color fight for their children, they are seen as aggressive....  They are treated as if they don't know what they are talking about."

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Come Together

As anyone working in development can attest to, the most important thing of all (besides donors, besides resources, besides impact metrics and theories of change) is a solid public-private partnership with the local government players.

Without this fundamental groundwork in place, any change an NGO attempts to enact will likely fail or be short-lived.  One cannot underestimate the worth of local buy-in when trying to effect change in a developing country - not just at the community level, which is fairly easily won if you have a good idea and a vision of how that idea will bloom into action, but also at the government level, whether it be ward, district, region, or national.

Toa has made significant headway in solidifying our relationships with the Regional Commissioner of Kilimanjaro, the District Executive Director of Moshi Municipality, and all the various councilmen and women in the wards where we work.  I'm hoping to further strengthen these relationships in the year to come as Toa cannot operate in Tanzania without this all-important support.

Thus, the following article from the Tanzania Daily News caught my eye and piqued my interest.  It is about the insistence of the Zanzibari government that the state and NGOs be partners.

I'm pretty sure that the title of this blog entry, a nod to a popular Beatles song, is about some weird '60s druggy stuff, but for the purposes of Toa, let's keep it clean and focus on this couplet from the ditty: I know you, you know me / One thing I can tell you is you got to be free.

Come together.  Right now.  Over me.


The Minister of State at the President's Office, Zanzibar, Mr. Issa Haji Ussi, yesterday urged non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to complement the government's efforts to provide the best education possible to Tanzanians.

He said they should work closely and collaboratively in pursuing social development agendas, to neutralize the perception by some community members, that they were rivals.  Mr. Ussi made the remarks when gracing an event to launch a new office for Green Light Foundation in Zanzibar, an NGO which supports and motivates students across the country.

"NGOs should not fight or antagonize the government but work collaboratively with government institutions instead, towards achieving our development goals," the minister said.

Mr. Ussi said civil societies had a great role to play in supporting the government's provision of social services that include education, and commended the GLF for its commitment to address challenges facing Tanzanian students.

"As a nation, we need to create a learned society and I commend you for supporting that cause, thereby helping students prepare a better future for themselves, their families, and for the nation at large.  Without educating our young people, and imparting skills and knowledge on them, the nation will hardly attain the much needed success," he said.

The chairperson of the Green Light Foundation, Mr. Salim Omary, told the minister that the foundation was focused on motivating and inspiring students who are in need of both tangible and intangible assistance in Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania.

"We normally provide them with financial and material assistance including uniforms, bags, text and exercise books, and calculators that would enable students to best and easily cope with the educational challenges.  "But we also visit them, talk to them, and inspire them to pursue their dreams and avoid distractions that spoil their future," Mr. Omary said.

As part of the activities to mark the opening of the foundation's office, GLF conducted a tour to the State University of Zanzibar where two young entrepreneurs, Jokate Mwegelo and Nice-Monique Kimaryo gave motivational speeches to students.

The key theme was inspiring the student population to recognize self-employment as a viable career path.  The two young women shared their success stories and offered advice on how the students could venture into entrepreneurship amid the rising unemployment rate among college graduates.

"Let your education be a tool for exploiting many opportunities around you.  Set your dream and follow it relentlessly; you can be anyone you want to be as long as you stay focused," Ms. Jokate, a renowned actress and CEO of Kidoti Company, remarked.

Jokate was named by Africa Youth Awards as among the 100 Most Influential Young Africans in August of this year. Her company produces slippers, wigs, school bags, and other fashion accessories, under the Kidoti brand.

Ms. Nice-Kimaryo, a recent accounting graduate and co-founder and director of Go-Kimz Ltd, urged the would-be graduates at SUZA to use the education they had acquired to formulate business ideas.

She said they started with almost nothing, but gradually, and after studying the market, they were able to launch a brand called Kimz Hair that sells quality hair for crochet and other styles and their business had grown tremendously.

"Pitch your ideas to people and they will support you.  There is nothing like using the opportunity that you have right now: for instance, how do you use social media?  For us, our brand has grown through the use of social media.  We have many followers right now," she stated.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Diaspora Ubora

Diaspora (noun, English): a scattered population whose origin lies within a smaller geographic locale; the movement of a population from its original homeland.

Ubora (noun, Swahili): excellence, quality, superiority, supremacy.

Greetings, dear readers, from a gray and foggy New York City on a Sunday morning.  My apologies for not getting this exciting blog post out sooner, but I wanted to take the time to make sure I did it justice.

Our subject today is the recent DICOTA (Diaspora Council of Tanzanians in America) Health Forum, which was held in the greater Washington DC area last weekend.  I had the pleasure of attending, along with Carla (my "momager"), as well as being featured in one of the afternoon's breakout sessions about mental health and learning disabilities, and how the diaspora can help to address issues of stigma and awareness back home.

Well.  I was utterly blown away by the people I met, the voices I heard, and the ideas I saw literally jumping into action from the expertise, excitement, and enthusiasm of my fellow conference-goers.

By the time of my panel in the late afternoon, I had to preface my remarks by saying, "I am the least qualified person in this room, at least credential-wise...."  Surrounded by doctors and nurse practitioners, ambassadors and government luminaries, and professors, humanitarians, and CEOs, I was definitely not in rural Kilimanjaro anymore.

The day opened with Ambassador Masilingi, whose remarks Carla and I missed, getting slightly lost on our safari from DC proper.  However, he was in attendance for most of the morning, and was well-received by the crowd as he posed a plucky challenge to one panelist about the relationship between awarded certification and actual competence.  Ambassador Masilingi is the current Tanzanian ambassador to the United States.  I'd not met him before, but have received letters from him and hosted a representative from the embassy, Mugendi (Andrew) Zoka, at Toa's last friend-raiser in DC in 2016.

Also in the house was the woman who formerly held his post, Ambassador Mulamula, with whom I had exchanged quite a few letters and emails in the years prior to Amb. Masilingi's induction.  She is now the head of African Studies at George Washington University, and a truly lovely human being.  She remembered The Toa Nafasi Project from our correspondence quite vividly and was thrilled to put my face to my name.  I am hoping to keep in touch with Amb. Mulamula for some time to come.

One guy who really impressed me and Carla was Dr. Frank Minja, originally from Kilimanjaro but raised and schooled in Dar.  Dr. Minja spoke at length about his work in neuroradiology at Yale New Haven Hospital and the missions he arranges with others in his field back to Dar's Muhumbili National Hospital.  Of course, then I had to Google him, and found out that he went to Harvard Medical School, interned at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and is pretty much the smartest person I have ever met.

Dr. Minja's story is one that I think many of the Tanzanians whom I know and with whom I work could benefit from hearing: a regular guy born in sub-Saharan Africa (just like them) who made it to the top of a highly-prized career ladder and one that is lucrative to boot (just like the Western ideal).

Here are Dr. Minja and Mr. Lunda Asmani (the hero of this event and the man who gave me the opportunity to attend) on the dais, giving their opening remarks as co-chairs of the forum.

And here is Dr. Minja speaking on what he considers the "first step": showing up.  Amen to that.  (This what we at Toa went through in February with the teaching staff, which led to my near-mental breakdown and Kaitlin's leadership intervention:  It's pretty basic: you're not gonna get very far if you don't show up to begin with.
An amazing moment from the morning's activities came when Ambassador Chihombori-Quao of the African Union Mission to the USA spoke.  In what can only be described as a deafening call to action, this amazing lady asked the gathered crowd, "ARE YOU COLONIZED?"  Her speech was incredibly powerful and contained lots of rhetoric about colonization and neo-colonization, which really resonated with me as a mzungu living and working in Moshi these past ten years, and my mixed feelings about running a program aimed at bettering the lives of the local population.

Amb. Chihombori really ran home the point that, "Hey, Africa, wake up!  This is our continent, these are our countries, we were already divided up and pitted against each other once by others, now we're waiting for those others to put us back together again?!"

Carla, herself the daughter of a diasporan Jamaican mother, loved this sentiment and really appreciated Amb. Chihombori's passion and, almost, anger at the rather preposterous situation.

The ambassador then told us a parable of two men, one black and one white, selling water on opposite sides of the street.  The water came from the same well, in the same bottles, with the same labels, for the same price.  And yet, she posited, the bulk of Africans would buy their water from the white guy thinking, it must be better.  She summed up, "The only difference between us and them is they believe in themselves, their children, and their grandchildren."  Indeed.

This statement garnered a nervous chuckle from the crowd, and brought back for me the memory of Mwalimu Hyasinta in one of Kaitlin's interviews saying that "Wazungu do things better, they have God-given talents that we don't have."  I remember that reading this, I was both exasperated and a bit sad that she felt this way, that she truly believed she was somehow naturally inferior.

Now, however, I will return to Moshi armed with the proof of the plethora of Tanzanian ubora at this conference.  It's not that I didn't believe it either; it's that they don't believe it at home.

So, one of the main questions that threaded the day together was, "How can diasporan Tanzanians help Tanzanians at home?"

Dr. Minja and many others have already arranged and planned future medical missions (remember, the focus of this particular forum was health), aiming to bring over not only supplies but also experts in the field who have the ability to train Tanzanian medical professionals on the latest innovations in healthcare.

Diasporan Tanzanians are well poised to be both linguistic and cultural ambassadors for change.  Who knows Tanzania better than a Tanzanian, after all?  Who knows the daily grind, the thought processes, the expectations and the doubts?  For diasporans to show by example that change/mobility is possible, that a better life is attainable, that taking preemptive measures and thinking about the future in a positive way.... well, that is everything.

To apply one of my favorite Michelle Obama quotes: "When you've worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you.  You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed."  This is what I see DICOTA doing.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not pooh-poohing the achievements of the last quarter of my life nor mzungu-initiated change completely.  I'm just admitting that, while well-meaning, it is kinda sorta another form of colonization: we are coming over, we are taking charge, we are enacting the ideas we think are best for the local community.  The conclusion I drew from this forum is that it's time for Africans to heed the call to action by their fellow Africans, that diasporans are the bridge between Africa as it is and Africa as it could be.

I think I'll go one step further and put my special "sarah" spin on things, informed partly by my recent experience at the 15th Biennial Conference of the IASE (International Association of Special Education) in Perth, Australia this past June (heads-up, next one will be in Lushoto, TZ in July 2019!) and partly by my own sense of social justice and inability to be a passive bystander.

If we believe that strength comes in numbers, as Amb. Chihombori tells us, then Africa has strength in spades.  Of a continent with 1.2 billion people, Tanzania alone has gone from a population of 45 million to 55 million citizens in the time I've been there.

However, in order to modernize and achieve development goals, Africa in general and Tanzania in particular needs the engagement of their whole citizenry.  No one can afford to be marginalized.  Whether it's wanawake, watoto, wagonjwa, walemavu, waombaji, wakata, or any other down-and-out group of people in the general population, the divisive parsing of the African population by Africans weakens the continent as a whole and keeps it down.

Former President Jakaya Kikwete promised as his campaign slogan: Maisha bora kwa kila mtanzania or "a better life for every Tanzanian," but I have given some thought to this statement and feel it really should be flipped on its head: Kila mtanzania kwa maisha bora, "every Tanzanian for a better life."  Kikwete's version intimates an outcome, but no idea of how to reach it.

I think I'll leave the pontification there, and end with some photos and captions from the event.  By the way, all of the photos in this blog entry (save the very last two of me!) are credited to Iska JoJo whose work can be found here:

This all-female panel was pretty spectacular.

Two important DICOTA folks:
President, Charles Bishota, and Secretary, Nisa Kibona.

Throngs of attendees to the left and to the right.

DICOTA leadership and distinguished guests.
The evidence of my participation!

Friday, November 10, 2017

TZ in DC

Hi all, hope everyone is well and enjoying this lovely Fall weather.  I know I am and, though I feel bad for those slogging out the heat and short rains of vuli in Tanzania, I am glad I'm not there! 

However, it should feel a bit like my other home tomorrow when I attend the DICOTA (Diaspora Council of Tanzanians in America) Healthcare Forum of 2017 in Washington DC.  With over 100 participants and 20+ organizations in attendance, this event should truly be an unparalleled collaboration of the brightest minds in healthcare and academia, focused on Tanzania. 

Per the welcome note of DICOTA president Charles Bishota: "This is a record-breaking forum hosted by the Tanzanian diaspora in the US and made possible by our sponsors and your participation.  At the forum we will have two "Super Sessions" planned, in which Tanzanian-based professionals will reflect on their experiences pursuing healthcare projects, and US-based professionals will give insights on opportunities for the Tanzanian diaspora in healthcare.  We are also offering four breakout sessions, all of which were selected to be of global interest, highly stimulating, and thought provoking.  Topics span from what it takes to execute a medical mission to Tanzania to learning how to effectively partner with organizations working to address the social stigma from mental health and learning disability in Tanzania."

For my part, I will be on a panel on mental health and learning difficulties, speaking a bit about what Toa does as well as my experiences trying to affect change from the ground up.  I will discuss Toa's public-private partnership with the GoT and how we work within the existing school system to support the majority of public primary school students to succeed in their lessons.  A full report to come next week when I am back in New York; meantime, check out the posters below and, for the Swahili speakers who might be reading this, peep the video!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Gift-Giving in a Tightened-Belt Economy

Hey guys, check out the article below from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.  Doesn't bode well for this year's giving season, but only time will tell!


Fewer Americans Find Room in Their Budgets for Charity, Chronicle Data Shows

Fewer Americans are making room in their budgets for charity, and nonprofits are increasingly relying on the affluent for support, according to a new study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Only 24 percent of taxpayers reported on their tax returns that they made a charitable gift in 2015, according to the analysis of Internal Revenue Service data.  A decade earlier that figure routinely reached 30 or 31 percent.

With fewer Americans giving to charity, nonprofits are increasingly leaning on the wealthy for support.  Three-quarters of all itemized donations in 2015 were from taxpayers who earned $100,000 or more; those earning $200,000 or more accounted for more than half.

Economists caution that the number of people who itemize their taxes and report charitable giving can vary for many reasons; Americans in the past decade have taken fewer deductions of any kind. 

But The Chronicle analysis is in line with other studies that indicate that fewer Americans are making donations.  Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy estimates that the share of households contributing to charity has dropped from 67 percent in 2004 to 59 percent in 2012, the latest year for which figures are available.

Texas A&M economist Jonathan Meer, who has found a similar drop in giving in his research, says the recession may have broken the habit of giving for some Americans.

"People say to themselves, 'It turns out that my house isn't going to appreciate 15 percent every year.  I could lose my job that I thought was really steady and safe.  And so I'm going to adjust my giving pattern,' " says Mr. Meer.

Narrowing Support
The decline in itemized giving could accelerate under the tax plan put forward in recent days by the Trump administration and congressional leaders.  That plan would roughly double the standard deduction, meaning millions fewer taxpayers would itemize their tax returns.  Researchers earlier suggested that Trump tax proposals could reduce charitable giving by $13 billion.

Also, the Trump administration and Congress are weighing significant spending cuts that could affect nonprofits and increase demand for their services at the same time.

Outside the policy world, there are concerns that the data reflect a nonprofit world increasingly divided into haves and have-nots.  Rob Meiksins, chief executive of the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee, says area charities have rebounded since the recession, but many small, community-based organizations continue to struggle, in part because they don't have the profile or connections to tap into the area's wealth.  "The bigs are going to get theirs, but I don't know that smaller organizations are seeing a windfall."

United Way Worldwide, which is financed in large part by small donations from average Americans, has seen revenue decline significantly in recent years.  The organization for decades raised more money than any other charity nationally, but it was knocked from the top spot last year.

"We're for sure seeing fewer middle-class Americans with the ability to give," says Brian Gallagher, the organization's chief executive.  "They have way less discretionary income, and charitable giving is the most elastic gift anyone will make; it's completely driven by discretionary income."

Mr. Gallagher worries that the wealthy, while key contributors to philanthropy, are growing too dominant.  "If you don't have ways for average Americans to be involved" in the work of nonprofits, he says, "it threatens civil society."

Stretched Thin
In San Jose, Calif., taxpayers making $200,000 or more a year account for all but 11 percent of itemized charitable contributions.  The middle-class donor is stretched thin by Silicon Valley's high cost of living, says Kathy Jackson, head of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, in California.  "Our impression is that middle-class families who have been the historic bedrock of our giving are struggling," she says.  "We've seen a diminution of their giving."

Other demographic and cultural shifts may also be contributing to the decline.  Millennials have overtaken boomers as the country's largest generation, and studies widely indicate that they aren't embracing traditional ideas of giving.

Also, people are increasingly busy and bombarded with information and requests for help.  A 2014 report on a YMCA survey concluded America was suffering from "engagement fatigue" when the results showed double-digit declines in both charitable giving and volunteerism since 2010.

$195 Million for Detroit? 
The Chronicle's How America Gives also illustrates the uneven rates of charitable giving nationwide.  In each state, metropolitan area, and county, we analyzed the charitable contributions of taxpayers who made $50,000 or more annually and who itemize their giving.  Using the 2015 IRS data, we determined the average percentage of income that taxpayers who itemize their giving donated to charity.

In each state and locality, we also calculated the "giving opportunity" — the dollars that could have been raised if giving rates in each of four income groups had matched their national average.

In 36 of the 100 largest metro areas, each of the four income groups donated to charity at above-average rates, so there was no giving opportunity.  Such places include Provo, Utah, where each income group gave at 150 percent of the average rate or better; Atlanta (32 percent or better); and Grand Rapids, Mich. (25 percent or better).

But the other 64 large metro areas all had some giving opportunity.  Worcester, Mass., where all of the four income groups were giving below average rates, had the most to gain.  Raising the giving rate in that Boston suburb to the benchmark could have boosted charitable contributions from $342 million to $617 million, an 80 percent increase.

More giving by Worcester taxpayers earning $200,000 or more could have made a big difference.  In 2015, they donated just 1.8 percent of their income to charity; if they had given 3.3 percent — the national average for that income group in large metro areas — their charitable contributions would have been $274 million, not $151 million.

In some cases, even small increases in giving could have had a big effect.  In Detroit, for example, taxpayers who earned $200,000 or more gave 2.8 percent of their income to charity — about $14,000 per individual.  Yet if those taxpayers had given 3.3 percent of their income — just another $2,400 per person — charities would have had another $195 million available.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Rewriting the Book

Hey guys, check out this excerpt from the executive summary titled "The Learning Generation" from UK-based executive advisor and asset manager, Educate Global Fund, written by Sandrine Henton and Prateek Jain.

It discusses some of the challenges facing education investment in Africa, and a lot of its points jibe with Toa's mission, which can be summed up by the theme of the 2017 biennial conference of the IASE which was "Addressing the Exceptional Needs of the Whole Child."

It was brought to my attention by George Soros's Open Society Foundations website.  A copy of the whole paper can be downloaded at
Schools do not exist in isolation.  They are embedded in neighborhoods and communities.  Students do not magically disappear from the school gates every afternoon; they venture out into the streets as residents, whose reality and prospects are inexorably linked to the conditions that surround them.

This simple fact, however, is not recognized by the current approaches to impact investment in education, particularly in places like East Africa.  Here, efforts primarily focus on improving in-school conditions as a means to address traditional markers such as attendance, grades, and dropout rates.

What these approaches fail to recognize is that improved school infrastructure, enhanced classroom resources, and modern pedagogical approaches only go so far.  These fixes will be of little benefit, for example, to a child who might be eager to study but is forced to stay home twice a week due to water-borne gastrointestinal illnesses.  Similarly, community education programs alone will do little to combat the stigma associated with menstruation; girls will continue to drop out of school past puberty as long as they lack access to affordable and effective sanitary products and reproductive health education.

We at Educate Global Fund believe that an enabling external environment is essential to youth development.  This is why we have chosen to break away from the traditional investment paradigm to focus instead on small and medium-size businesses that provide essential goods and services to low-income communities.

For example, we are working with a local distributor of affordable sanitary pads in Kenya to address school attendance of girls during menstruation.  In addition, we will act as lead investor in a firm that produces porridge enriched with vitamins and minerals and distributed to schools; a meal a day at school has been shown to increase attendance and concentration.

We believe that addressing living conditions in these communities, in coordination with government efforts to tackle the public education system's shortcomings, can have a profound effect on children's education, especially among vulnerable populations like refugees or residents of rural areas and informal urban settlements.

Our unconventional investment approach, presented in our recently published report, has been shaped by a two-year grassroots effort that brought together schools, orphanages, businesses, government, and community members across East Africa.  Working closely with a select group of businesses in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya, we developed case studies documenting business models and measuring their impact, while also integrating input from children, parents, school staff, and community members.  By democratizing the design process, our aim was to ensure that the results emphasized by our approach are in line with those most valued on the ground.

We've now established an evidence-based framework that will allow us to further trace the link between these environmental factors—health, nutrition, sanitation, energy, and technology—and improved educational outcomes over a 10-year period.

But the lessons we've drawn from our design approach and presented in the report have applications not only for our investors, but also our investees.  Just as good assessments in the classroom must allow teachers to identify a breakdown in learning, good impact measurement systems must help ventures improve and grow their services.

The promising findings presented in our paper are only preliminary; further research in conjunction with partners, civil society organizations, and local philanthropists are necessary to fully flesh out our strategy.  But with continued conversations around novel investment and impact measurement approaches, we are approaching the day when all children, regardless of where they call home, have the best chance to succeed in school.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Disastrous DeVos

Being back in New York definitely has its perks, but it also has its pitfalls, one of these being the immediacy and urgency of news media in daily life.

You could say, "Don't read the paper," or "Don't turn on the news," but there's really no escape.  The headlines will still find you.  And generally disgust you.

Here is one such news story.  From the website Refinery29, written by Caitlin Flynn, check out this piece titled Betsy DeVos Has Rescinded Over 70 Documents Protecting The Rights Of Disabled Students.

Then, have a good cry.

While this clearly bodes poorly for the United States and other Western nations, what does it say to developing countries like Tanzania when the big boys start doing away with the rights of marginalized peoples?


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rescinded over 70 policy documents that outline the rights of disabled students, The Washington Post reports.

In a newsletter written on Friday, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services stated that "a total of 72 guidance documents... have been rescinded due to being outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective — 63 from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and 9 from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA)."

Advocates for students with disabilities are in the process of reviewing the move to assess its potential impact.  Lindsay E. Jones, chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, noted that the removal of documents outlining how schools can use federal funding for special education is particularly concerning.

"All of these are meant to be very useful…in helping schools and parents understand and fill in with concrete examples the way the law is meant to work when it's being implemented in various situations," Jones said.

As reported by Newsy, the documents included guidance and directives on vocational programs, independent living services, and "free appropriate public education" for students with disabilities.

According to Jones, the Education Department held a hearing in February regarding potential changes to special education guidance.  She says education advocates and disability rights groups urged officials to keep all 72 guidance documents in place.

"Much of the guidance around [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] focused on critical clarifications of the regulations required to meet the needs of students with disabilities and provide them a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment," Representative Robert C. Scott (D-VA) said in a statement.  "Notwithstanding the actions taken by the Department today, the regulations still remained enforced; however they lack the clarification the guidance provided."

The guidance documents included detailed information about the rights of students with disabilities and clarified how federal funds could be used for special education.  According to The Washington Post, some of these documents had been in place since the 1980s.

Although it's not uncommon for new administrations to update these documents, Jones says this is the first time she's seen so many eliminated at once.

"If the documents that are on this list are all covered in newer documents that were released — which sometimes does happen — that would be fine," she said.  "Our goal is to make sure that parents and schools and educators understand how these laws work, and the department plays a critical role in that."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Conference in the Clouds

Hello friends, and many salams from beautiful New York City.  I have just arrived in the Western world, and am fully enjoying the luxury of consistent electricity, hot water, and wifi.  Of course, a part of my heart is always in Tanzania when I am here (just as a part of it remains in NYC when I am there), but my work here is cut out for me, and I must dedicate this Fall season to fundraising in order to keep the Project going yet another year.

There will be much more news on that front in blog entries to come, but for today, I am writing about my recent trip to Lushoto with the planning committee for the International Association of Special Education's next biennial conference.

Earlier this month, Mary Gale Budzisz, Iris Drower, Sandra Trevethan, and Susan Pursch, the lovely ladies of the IASE, descended upon Tanzania from various points around the world.  Mary Gale, the past president of IASE, is a mid-westerner who currently lives in South Carolina, though she spends precious little time in any one place!  Iris is the current president of IASE and a professor at Arizona State University.  Sandra is an Australian transplanted in Malawi where she runs a project called Mwayi Trust which encourages secondary school students to volunteer and support youngsters with special needs.  And Susan is a member of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod who has a lengthy history with Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University (SEKOMU), where we all gathered for conference planning.

Just before heading out to Lushoto, where the university is located, a good five hours from Moshi town and another hour up into the clouds of the gorgeous Usambara Mountains, I met up with this formidable foursome in Arusha for "power-shopping" with Mary Gale.

Power-shopping, for those of you who don't know, is an extreme sport.  Especially when you go with Mary Gale.  It is not for the faint of heart, and you must - YOU MUST - bring your A game.

Every year, the IASE kindly bestows a certain sum of money on each of its various Volunteer Service Projects around the globe, of which Toa Nafasi is one.  This is a FANTASTIC benefit for Toa because we do not raise money for things, only services, and these "giving funds" from IASE can only be used for things and not services.  So, it is a really great way to top up the supplies needed by our teaching staff and students alike.  This year, IASE supplied Toa Nafasi with two laptops, one printer, school supplies for the children, and teaching resources for the teachers.  THANK YOU, IASE!  WE ARE SOOOO APPRECIATIVE!!

The following day, bright and early, the ladies (with Gasto in tow!) drove to Moshi to pick me up on the way to Lushoto for our "recon mission" to plan the 2019 biennial conference (you'll recall that I repped Toa at the 2017 conference this past June in Perth, Australia:

After a good rest in the fresh mountain air, we spent the day touring various venues for extracurricular site visits for conference-goers as well as lodging options.  Lushoto and its surrounding areas are really mountainous and tucked away, so the recon entailed a bit of driving, but we were able to identify sites and accommodations now so as to cut down on travel time for guests later.

The sites we are including in our offerings are Irente Rainbow School, a day school for children with special needs and physical disabilities; Irente School for the Blind, a small residential facility, originally dedicated to girl children only, but currently providing services for both sexes; and Irente Children's Home, an orphanage that teaches young local women to care for the tiny babies abandoned in the area.


All three sites are located in - you guessed it - Irente!  Because of their convenient locale, these three community-based organizations will make a really nice package for interested attendees to check out and see what kinds of services are available for special needs and other marginalized children in this part of Tanzania.

The next day, we spent the whole day at SEKOMU, the site of the actual conference.  Gasto and I stayed fairly quiet as we toured the buildings, and let the ladies, who are seasoned conference-goers (and planners) make the decisions about the auditorium, lecture rooms, and roundtables.


However, one we sat down with the local committee and began the process of delegating responsibilities, we both piped up where appropriate.  I think we did a good job for novices, though we both now realize the tremendous amount of work involved in planning an international conference.  Especially one to take place in the clouds!
At this time, we solidified the players on the local committee which included Pastor Mbilu, Professor Bagandanshwa, and Mr. K, all of SEKOMU, as well as - dum dum dum DUM! - me and Gasto of Toa Nafasi fame.  I had thought I was on the international committee, but it appears I'm double-dipping, hanging out on both sides of the globe.  Typical.  :)

On the very last morning, just before departing Lushoto, we had the pleasure of meeting with Mama Munga, the provost of the entire university, and a formidable force in her own right.  We rehashed what we had gone over with the local committee the day before, and after receiving her blessing, headed back to Moshi and Arusha.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip and I'm so looking forward to working with all these amazing folks to help make this conference a great success.  Mark your calendars: July 13 - 17, 2019 at SEKOMU University in Lushoto, Tanzania.  Be there or be square!