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.