Friday, March 17, 2017

Marrs Attacks!

Do you guys remember the movie "Mars Attacks!"?  It was a Tim Burton sort of dark comic sci-fi that came out in 1996??  Jack Nicholson as the fictional POTUS uttered these words, which somehow ring kinda true today: "I want the people to know that they still have 2 out of 3 branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad."

Well, this post is about someone who was born the year after that movie hit theaters and the same year I graduated college.  (No comments, please....)

Meet Kaitlin Durdan Marrs, a nineteen-year-old New Yawker transplanted to Boulder for her freshman year of college.  Wait a sec, make that transplanted to Boulder and then to TANZANIA for her spring semester freshman year.  (Okay, it must be said, or rather sighed, "Ahh, to be young!"

The daughter of a former tax law protege of my dad's, Kaitlin has been with us nearly six weeks already, but since we're all "hapa kazi tu" these days, I'm just now getting around to introducing the wee one.

Fresh on the heels of Heidi's departure (a mutual decision on both hers and Toa's parts), Kaitlin has come to spend the months of February, March, and April working with Toa Nafasi AND still taking a full course-load at University of Colorado.  (Again, do we all remember youth and how amazing it was?!)

February was busy with Carla (who ADORED Ms. Marrs) and the teacher meltdown, and March has been busy with rectifying the meltdown and my case of amoebic dysentery that had me laid low for a solid two weeks, during which Kaitlin took over like a champ and ran the program in my stead.  (Did I mention she's really young and full of energy?)

Ostensibly here to work with the kids, with whom she feels a sort of kinship as she also suffered learning difficulties and unsympathetic teachers as a child, she actually has become a champion of the teachers as this most recent drama unfolded.  And, we couldn't be happier to have her!

Here's Kaitlin in her own words.  Enjoy!!


"I come to keep the peace among the teachers."

Hey there, Toa followers!  Kaitlin here, Toa's newest addition.  I touched down in Moshi the beginning of last month and jumped right in, tackling the motivational lag within the Toa community.

I have been working alongside Sarah to develop a series of leadership and empowerment groups to run with the teachers in the hopes of reviving the team environment, and preparing them for the year to come.

While my primary focus is Toa Nafasi, I am also writing a research paper for my International Affairs degree on the importance of intercultural communication within INGOs as it applies to my experiences here.

I do believe it is safe to say this topic has proven to be more applicable than I could have ever predicted!  Can't wait to see what happens next!!


And here's a photo of Marrs attacking our girl squad of teachers and working her team-building magic.  They sure look the part, don't they?  Hopefully, by this month's end, we'll be a team in true contention.

Monday, March 13, 2017

"Word Up."

A sentiment of acknowledgement or approval, an indication of enthusiasm.

The damn truth, definitely.

Basically, "I comprehend what you are saying and verify that your statement is true, my good brother." 

Again, not much more to say than what's printed here, from The Citizen.  Major shida that needs to be addressed ASAP.


Tanzania: Pupils Stare At Bleak Future in Skewed Teacher Allocation Plan

Public primary schools in rural areas, still battling with an acute shortage of teachers, may have to wait a little longer for relief, official data that reveals the glaring uneven distribution of teaching staff across the country suggests. 

The government, which has announced that it would recruit over 40,000 teachers, faces a Herculean task to address the disparities that have had a hard-hitting impact on schools in rural areas. 

A recent analysis by The Citizen of dataset dubbed 'Pupil to Teacher Ratio in Government Primary schools in 2016' as of March last year, reveals that some regions with low enrollment have more teachers than those with the highest number of pupils. 

It's a contradiction that has, for years, created unequal learning opportunities between pupils in state-run schools in Kilimanjaro, Arusha, and Dar es Salaam, who have adequate teachers, and their counterparts in Kigoma, Mara, Mwanza, and Rukwa where there are critical shortages of teaching staff. 

Data from the government's open data portal, which The Citizen verified through physical visits to selected schools in these regions, reveals that inequality in teacher distribution plays a major role in academic performance, with disadvantaged areas doing badly in the Standard 7 national exams. 

Even in cities where the majority teachers prefer to live, there is still glaring inconsistency in how teachers are distributed with Arusha having more numbers than Dar es Salaam, Mbeya, Tanga, and Mwanza. 

For example, Dar es Salaam had 485,389 pupils and 12,813 teachers, almost the same number with Mwanza, which had 627,695 pupils.  Mwanza, which had 142,306 more pupils than Dar es Salaam, had 12,833 teachers only. 

With a total enrollment of 333,601 pupils in primary schools by March last year, Simiyu Region had 71,484 more pupils than Arusha (262,117 pupils), but it had only 7,093 teachers, while the latter had 7,605 teachers, according to the data.  This means Arusha had 500 more teachers than Simiyu despite having a relatively low enrollment. 

The pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) in Simiyu stood at 52 against Arusha's 37, making it one of the 10 regions with the lowest number of teachers.  And while more than half of public primary schools in Ruvuma have pupil-teacher ratio above the normal standard of one teacher for 40 pupils, in Kilimanjaro, more than three quarters of the schools enjoy the best PTR. 

Data shows that Kilimanjaro with 253,263 pupils had 8,279 teachers, about 1,962 more than Ruvuma with a larger number of pupils.  Ruvuma, a southwestern region with a PTR of 47, had a total enrollment of 271,701, but had 6,341 teachers only. 

Though it has been claimed that the availability of teachers alone does not guarantee quality of education, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, and Arusha, which top all the regions in numbers of teachers, have been performing well in the past Primary School Leaving Exams (PSLE). 

The three regions have been clinching top 10 positions almost every year, including 2016, while regions like Kigoma, Dodoma, and Tabora lag behind. 

Generally, Tanzania has persistently faced a serious shortage of teachers in both primary and secondary public schools, particularly for science and mathematics subjects. 

By the end of December last year, according to data obtained by The Citizen from the President's Office, Regional Administration and Local Government, the nation was short of 47,151 teachers for public primary schools.  That may be a conservative figure - the situation could be worse, independent sources of data suggest. 

A 2014 report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s Institute for Statistics (UIS) says Tanzania needs to recruit at least 406,600 new teachers by 2030.  This translates to an average of 25,412 teachers' recruitment annually from back then. 

The reason for higher numbers of teachers in urban schools is a no-brainer.  Rural schools lack the basic facilities that can attract even an average, less-experienced teacher. 

Most run with no classrooms, no desks and chairs, no clean and safe water, and no decent houses for teachers.  Getting to some of the schools in remote areas is a nightmare.  There are no proper roads, no electricity.  Teachers are forced to walk for hours to the nearest town. 

If they are to use a bodaboda to get to the nearest bus stops, they have to dig deeper into their pockets - despite the fact their monthly salaries are hardly enough for basics. 

In some regions, where The Citizen visited recently, a teacher has to build his own grass-thatched mud house on arrival because there are no houses - not even to rent.  In short, the working environment is pathetic and unbearable.  For those who have endured over the years, it's been a life of sacrifice all the way. 

At Chohero Primary School in the Mvomero District of Morogoro, for instance, the two teachers who handle 510 pupils walk almost 20 kilometres to the nearest bus stop.  Last year, only six out of the 49 Standard 7 pupils who sat the PSLE passed with an average of C. 

In an interview with The Citizen, Kigoma Regional Education Officer, Omari Mkombole, said the uneven distribution of teachers was a direct result of the difficult life in most rural areas.  Teachers who quit join private schools in town. 

"If the government provides more incentives for teachers, they may be motivated to teach in rural areas.  In Kigoma, we will prepare our own package to retain teachers; directives have already been sent to all District Commissioners," he said. 

Mr. Juma Kaponda, the Director of Education Management in the President's Office (Regional Administration and Local Government), says the disparity in distribution is due to a number of reasons, but mainly health and social factors affecting teachers.  Married couples prefer working in the same area, and there are teachers with health complications - these would want to be close to hospitals. 

But Mr. Kaponda admitted that the disparities had proven costly, and the government was working on rectifying them.  "Teachers in areas with critical shortages are being overworked, reducing their efficiency and producing poor results," he says. 

"Directives have already been issued to municipal councils to ensure that they re-allocate teachers to fill gaps in those areas facing scarcity.  Also, this year the government will employ 40,000 teachers for primary and 10,169 science and mathematics teachers for secondary schools to fill the gap," adds Mr. Kaponda. 

For education experts, the disparity betrays the absence of a clear policy on incentives for teachers living in harsh environments.  Dr. Luka Mkonongwa, a lecturer at the Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE), reveals just how bad the situation can be.  "Due to poor working conditions in many rural areas, some teachers are forced to lie that they are suffering from certain diseases in order to be transferred," he says. 

He also says the opportunity to relocate due to marriage is also leaving some female teachers with no option but accepting marriage proposals only from men living in towns. 

"It's very difficult to block transfers where marriage or sickness is cited as the reason for a request.  Therefore, there is no long or short term measure that can solve this problem without investing in better social services across the country, and providing special incentives to teachers living in rural areas."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Follow the Leader

This past week, we underwent some drama with the teachers and their lack of motivation.  I would have been at my wit's end (done under also by a bout of amoebic dysentery - NOT pretty) except that wee Kaitlin was here to help.

And help she did.  Our tiny taskmaster took charge like a boss and whereas my kvetching at our, primarily well-meaning and generally effective, teaching staff, fell on deaf ears, her exercises in leadership intervention and our new catchphrase of "team-building through communication and trust" turned a mini mutiny into calm seas.
After all, we cannot help the kids we are meant to if our team is broken and the teachers are not invested.  How then, to get them invested and to recognize that working for Toa is not about making this mzungu happy, but rather about creating a professional persona for each of these young ladies where one did not exist before.

It's a new thought for sure, and perhaps I took for granted that they saw it all along.  It may have been just about a paycheck for them in the past, which is totally fine, but I wanted them to see that by showing up late or leaving early, not coming at all or coming and then not being active, the person they are letting down is not ME.

Rather, walimu wetu, it is your students who are counting on learning their lessons, it is your colleagues with whom you share the workload, and it is you yourself, who deserves, and can achieve, more than a paltry monthly stipend and the confines of a rural shamba.

In the spirit of this past week's International Women's Day, let's be bold, let's be the change!

In the videos and diagram below, we all tried an exercise to figure out what kinds of leaders we are: flexible, people-pleaser types; opinionated stand-takers; unemotional analysts; or impassioned forces of nature.  Check it out!!

Friday, March 3, 2017


A versatile declaration, originating (more or less) in hip-hop culture.

Has no single meaning, but is used to convey a casual sense of affirmation, acknowledgement, agreement. 

Check out this recent editorial from The Citizen. 


Tanzania Needs More Teachers Now Than Ever Before

With the introduction of the free education policy by the fifth phase government, by March there were 8,340,128 children in public primary schools across the country.  We saw desk-making campaigns in a bid to ensure we don't have scenes of children learning seated on dusty floors. 

To teach the over 8 million children, there were 191,604 teachers, which gave a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:41.  The distribution of teachers is far from even, as it has been found that at some schools, the ratio was one teacher for every three learners at two schools in Tabora Region and one in Tanga.  The worst scenario was at a school in Kigoma Region that had one teacher handling 727 pupils! 

According to the Tanzania Teachers Union, public secondary schools have a shortage of 40,000 teachers.  At least 30,000 of the "missing" teachers are for science subjects.  This situation notwithstanding, the government has plans to employ only a tenth of the required number this year. 

Apart from budgetary constraints, people expect to be told why we have a big teaching staff shortage when there are so many qualified teachers who are waiting to be employed.  Right from lower primary school, the playing ground for education is uneven.  Much as we need more teachers, the distribution has to be streamlined, for quality education is a right for every Tanzanian child. 

Incentives have to be offered to teachers, monetary and non-monetary, especially those posted to remote areas.  Working conditions and accommodation have to be tackled urgently. 

Local government leaders need to promote community participation especially in rural schools.  Many teachers are forced to find additional income to augment their meager earnings, which invariably has a serious negative impact on their overall performance. 

The government needs acknowledge that it is only through a well-developed education system that the country will realize its dream of becoming a middle-income economy by 2025.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Postcards From the Edge

Well, hel-lo there!  Sorry for the long silence, things have been cah-razy busy in the hizzy, and I've not had time to write!!

Carla is "out of Africa," as they say, and safely back in the United States, so this piece is an ode to her time here.  While we are certainly a madcap mother-daughter team, we are nowhere near the level of dysfunction Shirley MacLaine and Meryl Streep portrayed in the film based on Carrie Fisher's life, but still, I thought it was an apropos title for this post since there were definitely many times we felt on "the edge" of something or other....

As she has done in past years, Carla came for a little over a month, mostly to help with Toa Nafasi administrative matters and to generally crack the whip and make sure all of us are doing our jobs.  (Note: Some of us are not.  And Carla is not happy.)

As a seminal member of the U.S. Board of Directors, my mom takes an active role in the scaffolding that keeps Toa propped up.  Her support is HUGELY (bigly?) helpful to me as when she is here, especially at the start of the school year, I can entrust certain tasks to her (accounting, copyediting, logistics) while I can be in school doing intake, observation, and testing.  The relationship is ideal as it keeps both of us busy but not so busy that we are anywhere close to "the edge." 

Anyhoo, this year Carlita touched down in Kilimanjaro with her usual aplomb and we got to work.  Since I had arrived just six weeks or so before her, and experienced the theft of some stuff from one of my suitcases which had ostensibly been searched by TSA (TSA or KIA, I wonder?!), she came correct and left little notes to would-be robbers in her suitcases.  Of course, she rolled through twenty-four hours of international travel, customs and passport control completely unscathed.  She's Carla, after all.

Our first couple of weeks were relatively peaceful as we made the rounds to the bank, accountant and auditor, each school for salaams, and dinners out with my friends.  At 72, Carla is spry but jetlag, red wine, and keeping Drogo out of her room did her in at night.

We managed to visit the schools several times over the course of her month here, some visits positive (greeting the headmasters and teachers and seeing our Toa staff at each site), some negative (the construction of the tent at Mnazi is still nowhere near complete and the excuses are off the charts: the soil needs to be watered before the concrete can be laid?  O-kay.)

Carla particularly enjoyed meeting the new headmaster at Msandaka, one Mr. Mlinga.  I would not be lying if I said that there was nearly a love affair between the two, culminating in a rather intimate scene that both Kaitlin (Toa's new volunteer) and I were unfortunately witness to.

Carla loved herself some Mlinga as he did not ask us for anything above and beyond what the Project was already providing, and in fact, he vociferously thanked us for the work we were doing here in Tanzania and our dedication to the children at his school.  This is a rare thing for us.  A rare and beautiful thing.

On another visit to Msandaka, Kaitlin and I found out that Mr. Mlinga speaks French!  Mais, oui!!  Knowing that ma petite maman would get a kick out of this (she was raised in Geneva), I promised Mr. Mlinga that I would return with his amour before she left so they could converse en francais.

Fast-forward the intimate scene a deux that I can't erase from my mind and see Mlinga's ode to Carla penned below and delivered by Kaitlin whose glee in doing so was about on par with Drogo's when I open a fresh can of tuna.

PLEASE, do not think he means ME when he writes "Dear Sarah."  Oh no, he DEFINITELY means Carla, but I'm not quite sure who then he thinks I am....  Oh well, tant pis.  (Note the heart and the message, tu es ma lumiere, which they called each other in the meeting of intimacy, "you are my light.")

Unfortunately for Mlinga, Carla was quite the little minx on this trip and he was not her only BF.  She also got on quite nicely with Mr. Liana, the District Education Officer for Moshi Municipal and a man we REALLY need to have on our side.

Theirs was a different sort of love affair, however.  Less gentle and lumiere-y.  I think it was a case of two strong-willed personalities meeting, discussing, and coming to a mutual respect for each other.  Certainly Liana shall not be forgetting Carla Peterson anytime soon.  Here they are discussing pit latrines, of all things.

But wait, there's more.  After meeting with Liana at the Municipal Council, we toddled on up the stairs (Carla's idea) to seek out the mayor of Moshi who happens to also be my neighbor.  Whoa.  WHOA.  WHOA.  More love.  BIG love.

I have lived across the street from Ray Mboya since 2013 and never met the man.  I always felt safe knowing he was there and appreciated the proximity in that way, but I never really considered that he might be useful to the Project.  Or at least that he might open some doors for us.  Well, I think Carla accomplished that task with our meeting with the Honorable Lord Mayor, who is about my age and might want to date me (jury's still out on that one).  He was certainly taken with her, and you know what they say: like mother like daughter.  He did mention that we were conducting "public" business in his office but since we are neighbors, we can meet on "private" matters at home.  Hmm....

Last but not least, there is Mr. Makenga, the headmaster at Kiboriloni who is also brand-new and who was also tickled pink by my dear mama.  No clue why as they met for all of five seconds, but he was so enthralled that he asked her to come back so that he could bestow her with a "surprise."

We met him just a couple days before Mom was due to depart so our meeting was really meant to be a hello/goodbye collabo but Makenga was having none of it and tracked us down the very day that Carla left so she could receive her surprise.  Check the video that Kaitlin took of the great unveil below.

All in all, it was a lovely visit and we miss her dearly here in Moshi.  Me, Kaitlin, and Drogo are making do, but really it is not the same without her.  And I think all her "boyfriends" here would agree!  Ah well, farewell dear Carla, until next year!!