Monday, April 24, 2017

Graph Math

Yo yo yo, hey there everybody, and many salaams from a cold and windy New York City.  I have been back in the States just about one week and, aside from missing Drogo (the best housecat in all of Tanzania), I am starting to enjoy Western amenities once again.

For one thing, abundant and unfettered Wi-Fi at all hours of the day and night makes my heart sing with joy.  It truly does help to have access to the best technology when trying to address these "off-the-ground" tasks that Toa operations require.

When I'm in Moshi, I am almost glad when I can't get online as I have generally been in school all day, surrounded by over-excited munchkins and trying to make myself understood in another language.

Either that, or taking meetings with local government types trying to make myself understood in my own language but regarding concepts that at times seem so foreign to them, we might as well all be speaking Mandarin.

So, suffice it to say, it's nice to be able to work freely on the computer and not have to worry about auto-saving every five seconds....just in case!

One thing I've been in a big hurry to post are the results of our third test of last year's cohorts, something I had trouble doing from Tanzania due to PDF - TIFF - JPEG yadda yadda.

As you all know from a couple blog entries back, Kaitlin and I went to see Angi in Zanzibar at the end of March where we were schooled in the art of data entry.  Once entered, this data informs the graphs that Angi creates demonstrating the efficacy of our Project.

For 2016, we have now tested the cohorts at each school for the third and final time and, as expected, the biggest change occurred within the first six months.  Still, it is heartwarming to see that within the second six months, the students were able to keep up with their studies.  This bodes well for their next few years of primary school, in which we hope they will continue to succeed on their own, now knowing coping mechanisms to help them work independently.

Two of our four schools had some shida or problems last year with testing and subsequent data entry, so below please find Angi's graphs for the remaining two.

The numbers speak for themselves, my friends!  The Toa Nafasi intervention at these two schools for the 2016 cohorts have been a grand success!!


Friday, April 21, 2017

Usonji Month

I think most of you will remember that April 2nd of every year is World Autism Awareness Day or in Kiswahili, Siku ya Usonji Duniani.  You can refresh your memories with our posts from last year ( and the year before (

This year we celebrated with the kids from the Gabriella Children's Rehabilitation Center, where we board five students from Msaranga Primary School whose intellectual impairments prevent them from remaining within the public school system.  They are not autistic, per se, but each has issues of developmental delay so they need the extra support and resources that Gabriella has to offer.

Two of these students, Danny and Vincent, have become master drummers as a result of their time at Gabriella!  In addition to making friends and learning appropriate social behaviors as well as studying basic literacy and numeracy skills, the Center helps kids with such impairments to channel excess energy into creative activities.  Some kids love to draw or paint, others like to make things with beads or leather, others still take to farming and planting, and then there is music and dance.

Because the main organizers of Usonji Day chose to focus on next year's celebration in a big way, not too much was done this year on April 2nd itself.  There was no march to the stadium, no speeches, no lunch.  So Gabriella decided they would embark on a month-long celebration of autism awareness and kicked it off with a series of road shows around Moshi in which the kids performed and the Gabriella staff spread the word about what autism is, how it can be coped with, what to do if you suspect your child is autistic, etc.  Check below for some footage of these great road shows!

Practice makes perfect!  Here are Danny and Vincent drumming to their hearts' content with Mzee leading the beat at the Gabriella Center.

Performance ready!  The boys await their first road show in the Kiboriloni marketplace while the Toa staff (and Kaitlin!) look on in their Toa garb.

Time for their close-up!

And finally it's showtime!!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Printed Hints

Hi everyone, and apologies once again for the long delay in posting.  Things got quite hectic after our Zanzibar trip and the subsequent flu we suffered.  Then, it was two weeks back in Moshi full-on preparing for my early departure this year and making sure Kaitlin would be okay on her own.

At any rate, I am currently back in NYC attending to some Toa-related off-the-ground business - the website, for one, requires my immediate attention, and of course, chasing up fundraising opportunities will keep me busy for a bit.

Now, especially that we were unsuccessful with the Echoing Green fellowship, it is important that I devote a bit more time stateside to seek out new and diverse sources of funding.  With Carla's new ideas and support and Kaitlin's energy and enthusiasm, I think we have some good leads, but 2016 and 2017 have definitely had a different "feel" fundraising-wise, and Toa needs to adapt accordingly.

Anyway, this little missive will be a brief one about branding, something many people might find superficial and of little import, but that is actually pretty important in the world of name-building, fundraising, and furthering the Toa professional persona.

Earlier this year I had been bemoaning to someone or other (Carla?  Gasto??  Kaitlin???  Hyasinta????  Probably all of the above....!) that there was no place in Moshi to do bulk printing and other "office superstore" type activities.  (Here in NYC, I used to take Staples for granted; now, I realize Staples is a blessing sent from God to developed countries!).

But then I got the hook-up.

Enter Rishi Jotangia of Ramotec, a lovely Indian man who owns the closest thing to Staples Moshi has to offer, a hidden gem in the heart of town.

With Rishi's help, I have been able to print easily: 600+ assessments, 10 assessments kits, 400+ parent questionnaires, hundreds of Angi's graphs to pass out to the parents as proof of the efficacy of our Project, and various other bits and pieces.  All streamlined and Toa-branded.

In addition, with Rishi's amazing ability to produce exactly what is needed on time and per cost, we have established a new incentive for the teachers, a "Teacher of the Month" plaque, which we have now bestowed upon two Toa staff members.

February's plaque went to Mwalimu Sia whose work on the assessments was outstanding.  Sia went above and beyond to test each child at Msandaka Primary School correctly, filling the assessments out clearly and thoroughly with notes that made it obvious she was attentive to each student she tested.  Hongera sana, Sia!

The March plaque went to Mwalimu Mshiu, our resident old-schooler.  A retired government school teacher, Mshiu joined Toa after Vumi's death, but has since decided that she is ready to retire in earnest so has recently left Toa.  Just before she did, however, we gave her a plaque for her remarkable work with Kaitlin during the observation period.

Tanzanians are typically pretty gun-shy about asking questions.  Culturally, it is not done perhaps because it is expected that one should understand a concept after just one explanation and there is some shame in having to have that concept repeated.  Of course, this is the diametric opposite of how Westerners approach a new concept.  We generally ask questions ad nauseum until we are 100% sure of what is going on, what is expected of us, and how we are to approach the given task.  There is no shame in question-asking for us, generally.  Rather, asking questions generally signifies an interest in something new, a desire to learn, and a commitment to doing a job well.

At any rate, it was surprising to me to hear from Kaitlin that old-school Mshiu was full of questions when it came to filling out the observation forms.  These forms require our teachers to observe each new student over a two-week period and write about: gross and fine motor skills; social behaviors; cleanliness and adaptive behaviors; literacy and numeracy; vision, hearing, and speaking skills.  According to Kaitlin, Mama Mshiu was all about learning how to fill these forms out properly, asking questions left and right, and wanting to know what each field means.

So, serendipitously, Mama Mshiu earned her stars in her last month with Toa and went out with a bang.  Who will get the April plaque is anyone's guess, but I will be excited to find out, even from afar!  Now that Team Toa is back on track, I expect these ladies to give each other a run for their money when it comes to performance.  And I will enjoy every second of that!!

Finally, a last note in Toa branding is the TZ staple of an advertising wheelcover.  Originally, Rishi had designed a much more commercial cover (tagline and website included) but since Moshi is such a small town, I thought it better to go simple with just the logo on a white background.  What do you guys think?!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

From Zanzibar, with Love

Hi all, a little late to post this one as we have been back from Zanzibar a week now; but we did not come back alone, rather with a flu somewhere on par with the Bubonic, so forgive my tardiness in writing. 

As you may recall, our educational consultant, Angi Stone-MacDonald, is in Zanzibar at the State University for the academic year 2016-2017, and has been unable to come to Moshi.  So, Moshi just had to go to her! 

Needing her wisdom on how to enter the data we've culled from the children's assessments, I went armed with last year's 3rd tests and an irrational fear of Excel spreadsheets. 

Not wanting to brave the world of cells and sums alone, I took my lil' liege, Kaitlin, along for the ride and off we went to Stone Town. 

Though we did indeed do work on Thursday and Friday, I will say that a fair part of our trip was NSFW, which is what you get when you put together a 19-year-old and a 42-year-old (median age = 30.5years) after two months of solid, nonstop, grueling fieldwork, and send them off to an exotic island with fruity drinks. 

Just kidding, we were very well-behaved, and I totally killed at Excel.  But we did both manage to come down with the flu and basically crawled our way back to Moshi. 

Since then, it's been a long road back to recovery, but we made it to school on Thursday and Friday of this week and imparted our newfound wisdom on to the teachers. 

Below, check out a view of the Indian Ocean; my selfie; what our Excel spreadsheets should look like; Kaitlin dying on the plane back to Moshi; and a video of the teachers this past week sorting the new exams for us to begin data entry for 2017.  Hurrahs all around!