Thursday, August 10, 2017

Team Fox

One of the really fun things about working in development in Africa is the unique and interesting partnerships you make along the way.

This past week, my dear friend Deus Haraja, whose wife Jenn I worked with at The School of St. Jude in Arusha back in 2008, came to Moshi with a group of clients to "climb for a cause."

This phrase is bandied around quite frequently, and I cast no shade on those who use it, myself never having climbed for any cause other than getting my damn self to the top of that blessed mountain.  But for those who do it for charitable reasons, raising money for various organizations, I have nothing but the utmost admiration.

Deus's group was part of Team Fox, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, and each climber is in some way affected by the disease him/herself, including Jenn and Deus.

Unfortunately, Jenn was unable to make the trip to Tanzania, but I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely group of people from the United States and Canada: Chuck, Lydia, Natasha, Kevin, Anne, Marsha, Dawn, and Josh - if I am forgetting a name here, please forgive me, it's simply a factor of an overtaxed brain and not in any way a personal slight, as meeting each and every one of you and hearing your stories was really a beautiful experience!

The day prior to their trek, Deus asked if they could come out and visit one of Toa Nafasi's participating school sites, and I happily obliged.  The guests brought small gifts for the kids which were met, as you can imagine, with squeals of joy and rapture.

Then Teacher Rose A., who is subbing in for Hyasinta while she is on maternity leave, gave a nice talk about what Toa does in her own words.  (I mean, why should I be the one talking when the teaching staff is doing all the heavy lifting?!)

We also got to peek into the regular Standard One classroom (aka, chaos) so the guests could see the difference between the two learning environments and how Toa is helping to support the kids who are flagging amidst all that noise.

Yesterday, the climbers began their trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro via the Lemosho Route, and will return on the 17th of August.  I can't wait to share some of the stories of their journey and also to join in their celebration.  Though I am down here in Moshi town, a little part of me too is "climbing for a cause" this week.

Below, please find some photos and videos of the guests' time at Msaranga Primary School, and to learn more about Team Fox and Deus's outfit, check this link:


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

It's Good to Be Green

Peep this from Nic Corbett, USAID's blog editor.  Soooo, she may be a little bit biased, but she's damn right, this is a good guy and it is good to be Green!  I only wish he was still here in the ole Tee-Zed!!


7 Facts You Might Not Know About USAID's New Administrator

On Aug. 3, Ambassador Mark Green was confirmed as USAID's administrator.  Read on to learn more about him.

1. He grew up in the Midwest. 
Ambassador Mark Green was born in Boston, but he attended high school and college in Wisconsin.  He majored in English and political science at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and was named to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics All-America team in swimming.  He received his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School. 

2. He volunteered in Kenya.
Along with his wife, Sue, Ambassador Green volunteered as a high school teacher in Kakamaga, Kenya, through WorldTeach.  The organization was founded at Harvard, and recruits American college graduates to volunteer overseas.

3. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania.
In 2007, Ambassador Green was appointed as the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania by then-President George W. Bush.  He led more than 350 U.S. and Tanzanian nationals representing 11 distinct U.S. government entities, and was a prominent voice for U.S. interests, as well as democratization, anti-corruption, and HIV/AIDS.  He still speaks kidogo ku ("just a little") Kiswahili.

4. He has a diverse family background.
Ambassador Green's father is South African and his mother is British.  Both of his parents have been proud Americans for more than 20 years.  He also has close relatives in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. 

5. He served in Congress.
In 1999, Ambassador Green was elected to represent Wisconsin's 8th District in Congress, where he served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.  He helped craft legislation that launched the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an independent U.S. government foreign aid agency, as well as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), an inter-agency initiative that has transformed the global HIV/AIDS response across more than 60 countries.  He was later nominated to serve on the MCC Board of Directors by then-President Barack Obama. 

6. He's respected by the international development community.
Most recently, Ambassador Green was president of the International Republican Institute.  IRI is a non-profit that advances freedom and democracy worldwide.  Previously, he served as president and chief executive officer of the Initiative for Global Development, senior director at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, and managing director of Malaria No More.

7. He has strong bipartisan support.
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ambassador Green earned praise from congressional leaders — both Republicans and Democrats.  Here are some quotes from the hearing:

"Mark's exemplary character and unique qualifications make him an inspired choice to lead USAID in the future." — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) 

"He has the deep personal passion and commitment to do this job, as shown through years of work in advancing our common good on the international stage." — Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

"He has an uncanny ability to bring people together of differing views [and] of differing backgrounds and get them to work on the same page.  He is a person who knows what it takes to improve and transform the lives of others." — Speaker Paul Ryan  

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Gift of Voice

From Autism Parenting Magazine, this article warmed the absolute cockles of my heart.  For realz.  Check it out and see what amazing parents of special needs children are doing for their equally amazing kids!


Two Special Dads Give the Exciting Gift of Voice 

Most dads like to give gifts to their children.  Some dads give toys, some give treats.  Others give money, books, or clothes.  But one pair of dads—whose children had no speech of their own—gave a gift that meant much more than any of those.  They gave the gift of voice.

Brian Whitmer and Scot Wahlquist had one big thing in common—each of them had a child who could not communicate vocally.

Brian's daughter, Becca, was born with Rett Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that left her unable to speak or control her body movements.  For years, Becca could only communicate by indicating "yes" or "no" with her eyes.

"I just wanted to find her," Brian said.  "I wanted to know what she thought and felt.  I wanted her to be able to break out of the shell of her body and connect with the world, because I knew she was in there."

Scot's son, Adam, has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and like one quarter of all children on the spectrum, he is nonverbal.  Adam has better control over his body than Becca and began using an iPad in order to communicate with his family; however, his energetic escapades often resulted in a missing or broken speech device.

Convinced there had to be a way to help his daughter, Brian, a computer programmer by trade, dedicated himself to creating a cloud-based Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) application that works on nearly all devices.  It has created strong supports for parents, teachers, and therapists who encourage an AAC communicator.  He called it CoughDrop.

"When you've been talking too long and your voice goes hoarse, you throw a cough drop in your mouth so people can hear you better," Brian said.  "I wanted to provide a cough drop for nonverbal communicators so they could grow and connect with the people in their lives."

The moment he learned about CoughDrop, Scot knew he wanted to be a part of it, because it was exactly what his son needed.

"I contacted Brian to learn more about what he was doing and to see how I could get involved," Scot said.  "This was more than just a professional curiosity for me.  I've seen the heartache on Adam's face when his device—his voice—is broken.  I loved the idea that my son's voice wouldn't be tied to only one piece of hardware.  His speech information could be saved in the cloud and available from any computer, tablet, or phone."

Brian felt the partnership was a great idea.  "I hadn't met Scot before, but I knew he was passionate about AAC, and that drive would help us to keep moving forward.  We are both in it for our kids, and that's a pretty solid motivation."

Following intense research and input from dozens of speech professionals, Brian shaped CoughDrop into an AAC app that could fit any communication need.  He wove in features to provide reports and usage information for parents and therapists.  He created ways for communicators to share messages via email or social media straight from the app so they could connect with the world.  He worked hard to make the program user-friendly and easy to maneuver, and he added a two-month free trial so people could try it out for themselves before buying.

While Brian wrote the code and crafted programs, Scot began spreading the word and encouraging CoughDrop to grow.  Suddenly, the pair of fathers-turned-app-designers was not only bringing their own children a pathway to speech, they were also traveling the country trying to bring a voice to any person who needed one.

"We know we don't have all the answers, so we rely on professionals to give us guidance," Scot said.  "But we do live this reality every single day, so we really feel strongly about it and want CoughDrop to be its best.  After all, this is the way our kids speak too."

Because they knew first-hand the struggles a family faces when communication is an obstacle, these fathers wanted to help others overcome similar problems.

"When it comes down to it, we're just a couple of guys who love our kids and want to share the solution we've found with other people who need it," Brian said.

Brian keeps striving to make CoughDrop the best AAC app possible.  Scot keeps working to help families learn that there is a way to help people without speech be heard.

But deep down, they are really just two dads who want more than anything to give an incredible gift—the gift of voice–to the children they love best.