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!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The War Against Women

Direct on the heels of my last post in which this year's Nyerere Day was celebrated with a nod to his philosophies about a Tanzanian citizenry that includes every member - women! - I found this piece from The Financial Times, which both saddens and infuriates me.

Around the world, vile abuses are still being perpetrated against the female sex in such high profile cases as the Dominque Strauss-Kahn rape; Roger Ailes sexual harassment; Bill Cosby's drugging of women; Donald Trump's groping and bragging; and Harvey Weinstein basically being a creature from hell.  And there are many more.

These headline-making cases are revolting enough, but the crimes that occur against women in a low profile context, in developing countries, or from low-income households, without voices, and without advocates are beyond sickening.

Take President Magufuli's ban against pregnant schoolgirls in Tanzania.  Not only is it one-sided and grossly sexist, it robs both these young women and their children of any right to fulfilling and productive lives while at the same time creating a double-headed drain on Tanzania's meager economy.

Whether his reasons for the ban are his strong religious beliefs, the patriarchal attitude that pervades the country, or the notion that these pregnant youngsters will somehow "infect" their peers, Mr. Magufuli needs to wake up and take a dose of reality.

Sex happens.  TEENAGE sex happens.  Nothing is going to stop that.  So his best bet is ramping up a sex education curriculum in order to prevent early and unwanted pregnancy among this sector of the population.  This includes educating the male students as well.

Second to that is providing services to these young mothers-to-be so that they may care for themselves and their children even without a formal education.

By cutting pregnant schoolgirls off from education and therefore employment, he is creating a situation in which they are left with no means of self-care; moreover, he is taking no preventive measures to stop the wave of teen pregnancies.

Mr. Magufuli might think he is punishing these women.  He is.  But, more to the point, he is punishing his whole country.
Tanzania's Enemies of the State: Pregnant Young Women 

The country's president has condemned teenage girls who become pregnant as 'immoral,' banning them from ever returning to school.

The Financial Times has a strict no-reprint policy, so please do check this link to read the article: 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

All the President's Women

Check out the opinion piece below written by Sauli Giliard, reprinted from the Tanzania Daily News, titled "Why Women Should Remember Mwalimu Nyerere."

As most of you know, Julius Kambarage Nyerere was the first president of Tanzania and every year on October 14th, all across the country, Tanzanians commemorate the anniversary of his death. 

Nyerere worked as a teacher for most of his adult life until 1953 when he became to the president of the Tanganyika African Association.  This would be his first foray into politics and the precursor to the fight for independence which he eventually gained in 1961. 

In 1964, Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form Tanzania, and Nyerere became the country's first President.  He resigned twenty years later, relinquishing power to his hand-picked successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, and remained chairman of the ruling party for five more years. 

Despite the fact that Nyerere's reputation is controversial, he is often regarded as the most popular president of Tanzania and Baba wa Taifa or "Father of the Nation."

The op-ed below describes the effect of Nyerere's beliefs on the role of women in Tanzanian society, and why today's Tanzanian woman might owe him a debt of gratitude.... 


This week has been the "Mwalimu Julius Nyerere week."  As the nation is set to commemorate the 18th anniversary since Mwalimu Julius Nyerere departed on October 14, 1999, a lot has been discussed about him and his legacy.
The Arusha Declaration has been part and parcel of the discussions in radio and television programs and feature articles have been written in local newspapers.

The 1967 declaration, famously known as Azimio la Arusha contained the key features of socialism and Mwalimu Nyerere's philosophical point of view is strongly featured.

Though former Tanzania Assembly Speaker, Pius Msekwa, says there were some weaknesses during the implementation of socialism and self-reliance backed by the Arusha Declaration, he admits that there is a lot to learn and still to be implemented.

Decades have passed since the Arusha Declaration came into effect and the nation is commemorating the 18th anniversary since Mwalimu Nyerere passed away in London Hospital, United Kingdom.

Currently, human rights groups in the country have invested heavily in supporting gender parity movements in the country.  Education, economic empowerment, domestic violence, and gender-based budgets have been on top of its agenda.

On the other side, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan has been very supportive to women on the rights movement geared towards rescuing women from all forms of segregation.

However, did Mwalimu Nyerere's brain child, Azimio la Arusha, lay the foundation for women's rights?  Examining the content of the Arusha Declaration, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) had stipulated principles that entail a lot about the rights of women.

In this article, some of these principles are going to be discussed in relation to gender movements in the country.

It was declared that "all human beings are equal" and the Arusha Declaration believed that there should not be segregation in respect to sex, religion, or tribe affiliation.  Hence, in accessing social services, or utilizing available resources available in the country, women were not left behind in the declaration.

Therefore, gender movements aimed at bringing equality should be an ongoing process until all traditional customs which act as obstacles toward eradicating gender inequality in the society are addressed.  For many years now, Tanzania has been struggling for women's empowerment in economic, social, and political spheres.  As of now, women are seeking a 50-50 percent representation in the Parliament.

It was during Mwalimu Nyerere's tenure that it was declared through the Arusha Declaration of 1967 that "every citizen is an integral part of the nation and has the right to take an equal part in government at local, regional, and national levels."  The term "citizen" does not omit women.

Mwalimu Nyerere treated all human beings equally, hence the 50-50 demand of representation in the Parliament or any posts in the public and even private sector can also be traced from the Arusha Declaration.

"Every individual has a right to dignity and respect," is another loaded phrase proclaimed in the 1967's declaration.  Everyone needs to be respected regardless of gender, religion, or tribe affiliation.  There are some traditions that affect women, causing endless domestic violence in the community.

Stakeholders from both public and private institutions should spearhead initiatives to build a society that treats women with respect and dignity.

The Arusha Declaration stated that all citizens together should own all the natural resources in the country in trust for their descendants.  But in this context, land has been a contentious issue for many tribes in the country and left women behind in ownership of it.

Women have mostly been engaged in agricultural activities, but denied the right to own land.  Rights' activists have been fighting for this for many years in vain.  However, there have been positive outcomes out of the movement seen in some tribes, where women have been allowed to own land for agriculture and other economic activities.  In both formal and informal sectors, women are earning little in comparison to their male counterparts.

A CNBC feature titled "Men Still Earn More Than Women with the Same Jobs," published last year states that studies have shown that even when a woman has the same level of education as a man, the latter can be paid higher.

"Even when comparing the sexes with the same job title in the same company and using similar education and experience, the gender pay gap still persists.  Men earned 2.4 percent more than women on average, down slightly from last year."  Since inequality in pay between men and women has been a global issue, TANU spotted this and insisted on economic justice for all.

It is the role of the leaders and local activists now to team up and make sure that everyone in the society enjoys basic human rights and women's position in the society is recognized, not just as mere observers.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Waiting

Hey kids, sorry this post is so late, things have been a bit hectic 'round these parts.  At any rate, this blog entry is kind of dedicated to Tom Petty, whose early demise this week at age 66 has all of us classic rock fans a bit shocked.

"The Waiting" is one of my favorite Petty songs, reminding me of sweet days with a college boyfriend before the world and my own insecurities got in the way....

Anyhoo, for the purposes of Toa Nafasi, however, "the waiting" refers to spending a day at KCMC (Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre), the referral hospital of Kilimanjaro region, situated in Moshi town, which I have written about on this blog many times before.

Last week, I had the opportunity to accompany one of the Toa teachers, Mwalimu Glory, on a referral visit for a student whom I am following closely.

Meet Malaika*, a student in the Standard One class at Msandaka Primary School, one of Toa's satellite sites.  Malaika is a lovable and much-loved child, with two caring parents and a roster of friends at school and at home.

Shida (trouble) is, she is not doing well in class, and currently weighs over 62kgs (132lbs) at age 7.  At birth, Malaika weighed 6kgs (13lbs), so I am pretty sure she has a hormone, thyroid, or endocrine disorder, but we have tested her for everything under the sun, and this kid is healthy as a horse.... and happy as a clam.

We have not been able to pinpoint the reason for her excessive weight, so we have just advised Mama to punguza chakula (reduce food), especially carbs and sugar.  Because Mama is caring and involved in Malaika's life, she has been more than happy to cooperate, and really appreciates Toa's support, both in the classroom and on the referral appointments.

Unfortunately, Malaika's excess weight on top is causing her wee bones to bend below, and her tibias are becoming bowed.  Hence, our most recent visit to the ortho clinic.

But don't feel too bad for Malaika because with Toa's support and the advice of the medical professionals in Kilimanjaro, this spry youngster will get the help she needs to succeed both in the classroom and in life generally.

And, of course, we thank you, dear readers and donors and friends and family.  Without you, Toa could not do the work it does, and we are so grateful to you for our achievements.

Below, find pics and video of our last visit to KCMC's orthopedic ward.  You will see beautiful, sweet Malaika; Mwalimu Glory with Malaika; and video of how we pass the time: any free moment is a teaching moment!

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the child.