Friday, January 26, 2018

The Parent Trap

On my last night in New York for the foreseeable future, I leave you with this article from the Citizen.  It concerns parental contributions to students' tuition and other school fees despite President Magufuli's "free education" policy.

Knowing firsthand, as many of us do, that this policy does not NEARLY cover the costs associated with sending a youngster to school, I am squarely on the side of the parents.

If their kids are not getting services or materials for free, OF COURSE they should feel it their parental duty to top up the nation's "freebie" policy.  We all know that "free education" does not truthfully exist and I applaud those parents who give a sh*t to help their kids succeed in very difficult learning environments.

Next time I write, kiddies, it'll be from the flip side.  Check ya laterz!


Tanzania: Mixed Views Greet Order On Contributions 

The decision by President John Magufuli to ban all forms of contributions by parents with children in primary and secondary schools has been received with mixed feelings.

The government issued Circular Number 5 in 2015 on the implementation of the 2014 Education and Training Policy, directing all public institutions to ensure that education is free in primary and secondary schools.

But President John Magufuli noted with concern last week that the policy had not been fully adhered to.

The President directed the Education, Science, Technology, and Vocational Training Minister, Professor Joyce Ndalichako, and her counterpart in the President's Office (Regional Administration and Local Government), Mr. Selemani Jafo, to ensure that the circular was respected.

Speaking to the Citizen, a headmaster at a public secondary school, who preferred not to be named due to the nature of subject, said although the free education policy was a good thing, it was also important to note that schools may suffer because the government does not provide everything needed.

Professor George Mtalemwa of the University of Dar es Salaam said the President's directives "are very positive" and that what was required was mutual understanding among parents, schools, and the government.

"No school will prosper by depending on the government's money. On some occasions support from parents is significant," he said.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What a Mess Is Texas

A story that has been breaking stateside in the last couple weeks but probably has not gotten its due attention, either here in the U.S. or abroad, is the recent failing of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to ensure that disabled children across the state of Texas - the second-largest of the United States - are being provided adequate access to special education resources.

The Department of Education led by (the generally on the wrong side of things) Betsy DeVos condemned the state's existing policy, which contains an "enrollment target" resulting in a surplus of children denied support they sorely need, and to which they are entitled.  A massive overhaul on the more than ten-year-old policy has been called for.

Check out the New York Times article reprinted below for "just the facts, ma'am" and then go to this link for a heartbreaking behind-the-scenes look in the San Antonio Express-News: 


Texas Illegally Excluded Thousands From Special Education, Federal Officials Say

For years, Texas education officials illegally led schools across the state to deny therapy, tutoring, and counseling to tens of thousands of children with disabilities, the federal government said Thursday.

In a letter to the Texas Education Agency, which oversees education in the state, regulators from the federal Department of Education said the state agency's decision to set a "target" for the maximum percentage of students who should receive special education services had violated federal laws requiring schools to serve all students with disabilities.

The target, enacted in 2004 and eliminated last year, was set at 8.5 percent of enrollment, and school districts were penalized for exceeding that benchmark, even though the state and national averages had both long been about 12 percent.  As a direct result of the policy, regulators determined, the share of students receiving special education services in Texas dropped from 11.6 percent in 2004 to 8.6 percent in 2016 — a difference of about 150,000 children.

In the letter, federal regulators ordered the state to design a plan to identify students who were inappropriately kept out of special education and to figure out how to help them, among other corrective actions.

The order brought to an end one of the Department of Education's most extensive reviews in recent history.  Investigators spent 15 months holding public forums, interviewing teachers, and visiting school districts.  The letter represented the first major state monitoring decision approved by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who at times has been criticized for relaxing some special educations regulations.

"Every child with a disability must have appropriate access to special education and related services that meet his or her unique needs," Ms. DeVos said in a statement announcing the regulatory action.  "Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services."

Texas state officials had denied for months that any child had been inappropriately kept out of special education.  But the state's governor and education commissioner responded to the federal review on Thursday by pledging corrective action.

"The past dereliction of duty on the part of many school districts to serve our students and the failure of the TEA to hold districts accountable are worthy of criticism," Governor Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to the Texas Education Agency, referring to the agency by its initials.  "Such failures are not acceptable, and the TEA must take steps now to significantly increase the oversight provided to ensure our special education students are receiving the services they deserve."

Mr. Abbott, a Republican who took office in 2015, ordered education officials to draft a corrective action plan within seven days.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath issued his own statement, noting that the state already had increased resources for parents and hired 39 additional special education workers across the state.

"I am committing today that there will be more," he said in the statement.

The federal review was prompted by a 2016 investigation by the Houston Chronicle, which revealed the enrollment target.  The newspaper quoted dozens of teachers saying that the target had forced them to withhold services from students with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, mental illnesses, speech impairments, or even blindness and deafness.

In the resulting outcry, Texas lawmakers ended the policy and passed several bills overhauling special education.  Still, the federal review found that years of pressure from state officials to enroll fewer students in special education had created a culture of noncompliance with federal law that had outlasted the policy.

Among other issues, the federal regulators found that many Texas schools have trained teachers not to try to find out whether struggling students qualify for special education until regular classroom teaching techniques like "Response to Intervention" have been tried for years without success.  That approach runs counter to federal law, which requires schools to evaluate students as soon as a disability is suspected.

The letter said regulators identified a statewide pattern of evaluations being "delayed or not conducted for children who were suspected of having a disability because these children were receiving supports for struggling learners in the general education environment."

Advocates for children with disabilities praised the federal government's action on Thursday, while cautioning that there was more work to do.

"The Commissioner of Education must immediately embrace the corrective actions required by the U.S. Department of Education and take additional steps, in collaboration with stakeholders, to ensure that all students who were previously denied special education services now rightfully receive compensatory services," said Dustin Rynders, the education director at Disability Rights Texas, an advocacy group based in Houston that receives federal funds.

Mr. Rynders was the first advocate to discover the state's enrollment target.  He filed complaints about it with state and federal officials in 2015, but he was ignored.

"Texas students with disabilities who have been ignored and shunned by the special education system have some measure of validation today," he said.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Peridot Is a Girl's Best Friend

Sometimes in life, you meet the coolest people and make the craziest connections and it's as though they were just meant to be a part of your story from that day forward.

(I will acknowledge that this happens a lot in the two places I tend to spend the bulk of my time: New York City, as you might expect, given the sheer number of lonelys and loonys; and Moshi, Tanzania, a town about the size of my graduating college class.

So, while I might be slightly better poised than most for meet-cutes, platonic and otherwise, I really do think it's true that if you open your heart - and your mouth - and get to know new people, you find out, a lot of them are just like you and pretty damn interesting to boot!) 

That said, this past summer while still in Moshi, my friend Deus (a Tanzanian national living in California with his American wife, also a good friend of mine) returned to Tanzania with a group of folks intent on "climbing Kili for a cause."  This cause was Parkinson's disease as Deus's mother-in-law suffers from the illness and the people he brought over have all been touched in some way or form by the disease.  For a refresher on how their trek and trip went down, check out this blog entry:

Now, back in NYC, while finishing up my fundraising marathon and miles away from Kilimanjaro, I was recently reunited with a bunch of these Team Foxers for dinner in early December and then again last week when my mom and I trained out to Larchmont, NY with former Toa intern Kaitlin to do a little "shopping for a cause." 

Meet Dawn and her husband, Chuck.

They are pretty awesome. 

After taking them to Msaranga and spending time with them in Moshi town in August, it was my pleasure to reunite and catch up.  Well, not just catch up but get to know each other even better.

Turns out when Dawn isn't climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, she is curating her gorgeous shop, Peridot Fine Jewelry (named after the bright green semi-precious stone), just outside NY city.  After visiting one of the Toa school sites on her recent trip to TZ, she was inspired to share what she learned with her client community.  So, in lieu of sending the usual teas or chocolates for her top clients as a holiday gift, she chose to make a contribution in their name to Toa, and designed a holiday card around the donation.

The card, below, went out around the holidays and I just love the way Dawn "winterized" our Toa colors for the holiday theme.  I also love the word-of-mouth publicity that she has engendered for Toa and hope I can do the same for Peridot!

Of course, while we were there, we also had to check out the goods, so Carla, Kaitlin, and I shopped for several hours before finally settling on our purchases and going for lunch.  The great thing about Peridot is that while of course there are some amaaaazing pieces (with likewise amaaaazing pricetags), there is also some really cool funky stuff like the "ear hugger" earrings that Carla gifted me with and the raw quartz pendant that she bought for herself.  Kaitlin, unusually frugal, didn't buy anything, but she did put her mom's name on the mailing list.  ;)  I guarantee Sally will be coming by for some retail therapy shortly.... 

Check out Dawn's catalog and my new earrings (the bottom set), and for more information, visit the Peridot website here:

Also, be sure to see the "Brave" collection which all the Team Foxers now wear.  The silver lettering on these cord bracelets spell "brave" in Khmer, and I'm pretty sure wearing one guarantees a successful Kili climb! 

And, do check out the Michael J. Fox Foundation dedicated to furthering Parkinson's research at and Deus Haraja's tour company, Beyond Adventures, which is organizing further treks for Parkinson's but can also create safari, beach, or mountain packages tailored to your individual needs,

Remember, BE OPEN-MINDED!  Climb mountains!  Shop for jewelry!  You never know when you'll meet your next new friend!!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Run Amok

As a coda to my last post regarding President Magufuli's stance on pregnant schoolgirls, please have a look at this article from the Capital News in Kenya, dated January 5th, and written by Jeremiah Wakaya.  (Photo credit CFM News).


Tanzania opposition lawmaker, Tundu Lissu, has left the Nairobi hospital where he was admitted after being shot in September last year in Dodoma, TZ 

Lissu, who represents Singida constituency, told a news conference at the hospital on Friday that those who attacked him used sophisticated military weapons, an indication according to him that President John Magufuli's government was involved.

He revealed that eight bullets have so far been removed from his body but one remained lodged since removing it would be life-threatening.

Lissu is set to fly abroad on Saturday for specialized care to help him regain his ability to walk.

The official opposition Chief Whip said the shooting was an assassination attempt by what he described as the cruel regime of Magufuli.

"I was shot 16 times for denouncing President Magufuli who, since coming into office, has turned the country, literally, into a police state," Lissu stated.

"Newspapers are closed for criticizing the government, radio stations are shut down, journalists are arrested and beaten.  Even posting critical messages on social media has become a criminal offense," said the Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) party MP.

Lissu who is confined to a wheelchair was shot in the stomach and the leg.

According to CHADEMA, Lissu had previously complained of being 'tailed' by a car and repeatedly said he feared for his life.

Lissu has had a series of run-ins with Magufuli's government and has been arrested at least six times last year, accused of insulting the president and disturbing public order, among other charges.

"Since the attempted assassination, President Magufuli has not made a single public statement denouncing an attempt on my life a leading figure of the opposition," Lissu noted.

The President of Tanzania's bar association, the Tanganyika Law Society, as well as being CHADEMA's Attorney General, Lissu has on several occasions asked government officials pressing questions in parliament, something that rattled the state.

His most recent arrest was in August, after revealing that a plane bought for the national carrier had been impounded in Canada over unpaid government debts.

Lissu accused President Magufuli of leading a campaign against the publicization of his attack even as the parliament remained non-committal on the payment of his medical bill which is an entitlement as per the Tanzanian law.

"We've been taking care of sick parliamentarians over the years.  Since I was admitted here, not a single penny has been paid on my bill or upkeep," he said accompanied by his party chairperson, Freeman Mbowe, and his two sons – Agostino and Edward.

CHADEMA has, since Lissu's shooting, tirelessly demanded a probe to unmask the perpetrators of the crime which the party described as shocking.

"CHADEMA has received with great shock the report on the shooting of the party chief legal counsel who is also opposition Chief Whip in parliament and Singida East MP, Tundu Antipus Lissu," a statement released by the party following his attack on September 7th read.

Magufuli's excesses have been a concern since he ascended to power in 2015.

On March 23rd for instance, Magufuli fired his information minister – Mtama MP Nape Nnauye – after he ordered a probe into an incident where Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda stormed into the offices of the Clouds FM Media Group with six armed men.

Makonda had demanded the airing of a controversial video aimed at undermining a popular local preacher with whom he had a dispute.

"We are used to seeing such incidents during coups d'etat, when armed men enter studios to proclaim they are overthrowing the state," Nnauye said condemning the occurrence.

"I will advise my bosses to take punitive measures against the regional commissioner," he lamented.

While dismissing Nnauye, Magufuli said he will not let anyone teach him how to do his job.

Nicknamed "tinga tinga" (bulldozer) like his Kenyan ally, National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga, Magufuli even confiscated passports of Indian construction workers last year for allegedly sleeping on the job.

The Amnesty International Report 2016/2017 highlighted cases where over a dozen women were assaulted by the authorities with at least 200 people injured after the government placed a ban on all political meetings in June last year until 2020.

In August last year, over 20 suspected gays and lesbians were arrested with community-based HIV/AIDS prevention programs for gay men being stopped in November according to Amnesty.

Magufuli also announced that all girls who get impregnated while in school will be forced out amid public outcry.

Asked whether he would support such a policy, Lissu said denying girls education on account of being impregnated was an abuse the right to education.

Monday, January 8, 2018

"The Bulldozer" Goes Off-Road

Be prepared to get mad.  Like, really, really, really, REALLY mad.

The article reprinted below is from The Guardian, written by Karen McVeigh, and originally published on December 13th, 2017.  The photo credit belongs to STR/AFP/Getty Images.


Tanzania pardons two child rapists and calls for arrest of pregnant schoolgirls

Activists accuse government of encouraging human rights violations, as President Magufuli releases convicted abusers of 10 primary school children

Activists accused Tanzania's leaders of "promoting a culture of human rights violations," as the release of two high-profile child rapists this week coincided with calls for pregnant schoolgirls to be arrested.

John Magufuli, the Tanzanian president, pardoned the two men, who were convicted of the rape of 10 primary school children aged between six and eight, along with thousands of other prisoners, in his independence day speech on Saturday.

News of their release emerged as a government official in the east African country called for pregnant pupils to be taken into custody.  On Monday, John Mongella, the regional commissioner of Mwanza, said the move would force girls to testify against those who impregnated them.  This followed calls from the president earlier this year to ban pregnant girls from school.

The released rapists are singer Nguzu Viking, known as Babu Seya, and his son, Johnson Ngazu, known as Papii Kocha, who were pardoned by the president after serving 13 years of their sentence.  They had been convicted in 2003 of raping the children, pupils at Mashujaa primary school in the Kinondoni district of Dar es Salaam.

Fazia Mohamed, the director of Equality Now's Africa office, said: "While President Magufuli is pardoning convicted child rapists, regional commissioner John Mongella is calling on pregnant school girls to be arrested and taken to court.  Tanzania's leaders are promoting a culture of human rights violations in which young victims of sexual violence are being punished while perpetrators are going free."

She said the policy of banning pregnant schoolgirls, often victims of rape or sexual coercion, failed to address the issue of who impregnated them.

"It is unacceptable that convicted child molesters walk free by order of a president who simultaneously denies victims of assault access to education if they become pregnant.

"After seeing their attackers sentenced to life for rape, now these survivors and their families are dealing with the pain of witnessing the president freeing the men who violated them.  Where is the justice in that?" she said.

Petrider Paul, of Youth for Change, in Tanzania, said the pardons sent a "terrible" message to perpetrators of sexual violence and devalued their victims.

"It is unfair to the victims of these crimes and it sends a bad message to perpetrators that they can get away with it," said Paul.

The release of the men caused outrage on social media, with many posting the statements of the young girls who were violated, she said.

Children's rights groups say this is just the latest example of the president's lack of understanding of violence against children.

Kate McAlpine, the director of Community for Children's Rights in Tanzania, told the BBC she was "horrified but unsurprised" by Magufuli's decision or the call to arrest pregnant schoolgirls.

"This story is indicative of a failure at the top level of political will to end violence against children," she said.  "Pregnant schoolgirls are pregnant because they are victims of violence.  He has a blind spot when it comes to recognizing children as victims.  There seems to be a punitive attitude towards young children."

She said the fact the two men were jailed in the first place was unusual in a country where most rape cases are resolved within families.

A petition calling for schoolgirls who are pregnant in Tanzania to be allowed to complete their education has attracted 66,000 signatures.

Magufuli, who came to power in November 2015, is a popular figure, nicknamed the "the bulldozer" for his energetic road-building program as former works minister and for his solutions-based approach.  His war on corruption and wasteful spending has earned him admiration from many quarters.  However, he has come under fire recently for using repressive legislation to silence the media, civil society and opposition groups.

In October, the Mwanahalisi newspaper became the second to be banned in Tanzania in a year, after publishing articles criticizing the president.

Friday, January 5, 2018

"Meow" and Forever: A "Tail" of a Girl and Her Cat

Guys.  Guys.  Guys.  Guys. 

PLEASE take the time to check out the feel-good story that I've posted below written by Ashley Maisano for the blog on

And, PLEASE, have a peep at the video found on this link: 

I, for one, am filled with warm fuzzies (furries?) and have already watched it about as many times as I did the Derek Jeter retirement commercial for Gatorade.  (Note to self: watch that again, too).

Jordan and her black cats are absolutely precious, and this just goes to show what a "pawsitively" amazing effect our feline friends can have.  I mean, as a cat mama since childhood, I've always known it, but this should silence the "crazy cat lady" haters out there - at least temporarily.

A round of "appaws" to Mychal's Learning Place and Adopt & Shop for this remarkable partnership and, Jordan, keep "feline" the love, girl!

Sadly, I don't think Mwalimu Hyasinta is gonna go for this idea for our Toa kids, but perhaps we can replicate something similar with non-living sensory stims in Tanzania.  For instance, the Teddy Bear could probably be safely introduced....

Anyway, consider this "amewsing" photo of one of my own "purr-fect" pusses a bonus to this post.  :)


This Young Woman with Autism Was Almost Non-Verbal - Then Her Life Changed When She Met These Cats 

This young woman named Jordan was diagnosed with autism, and has gone through life without barely saying a word.

She started attending Mychal's Learning Place, which is a non-profit program that provides services for students with developmental disabilities.  They teach them how to cook, clean, do laundry, take the bus, and use the computer.

Although this program was very helpful for Jordan, there was something that was still missing in her life, as she was still extremely quiet.

Mychal's then partnered with Adopt & Shop in Culver City, CA, and this was the answer they've been waiting for.

Jordan has a love for black cats, so she began working with them and it has helped her open up and even talk!  Her eyes light up, she smiles and laughs, and says, "kitty kitty kitty."

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Christmas Bonus

Happy new year, one and all.  I hope everyone's holiday (whichever you celebrate) was merry and full of friends, family, and fun.

Things thisaways are okay enough except that we on the East Coast of the United States are currently undergoing some weather phenomenon called a "bomb cyclone."  As if one or the other of those two scenarios wasn't bad enough, 2018 has been ushered in by this ferocious wintry combo, the likes of which only Trump's "bigger, better button" could heat up.  Sigh.  Some say fire, some say ice.  Only time will tell....
On to (slightly) happier news - as I find it's hard to be jolly when you're freezing your tuchus off - I found this article in the Tanzania Daily News in mid-December and thought I'd take the time to post it now.  It's about teachers' allowances in Tanzania, and the 60 million shillings that President Magufuli devoted to such, to which I say: Well done, sir, for compensating this fairly unappreciated, generally disdained, mostly female, and HUGELY under-compensated segment of the workforce.
If we do the math, this large sum of Tanzanian shillings divided by 2250 (the paltry rate of the shilling to the dollar) comes out to LESS THAN $30,000usd.  FOR TEACHERS ACROSS THE ENTIRE COUNTRY.

Now, I'm not mad at it, but it shows just how far there is to go in getting some pay equity for these women (as well as incentivizing them to actually show up, do their work, and give a hoot every day).  Thirty grand is a heck of a lot of money in TZ (or anywhere else, frankly), but it ain't much when you take into account how vast Tanzania is geographically (365 square miles) and the magnitude of its population (56 million).  Granted, fundraising of any kind done within a developing country is a step in the right direction, and I truly hope the government continues to invest in education, including teachers' remuneration and training/development.
Just my two cents as I sit here dreaming of balmy Moshi, cuddly Drogo, and the kachumbari at Ten to Ten....  T minus 18 days!

President John Magufuli yesterday handed over 60m/- to the Tanzania Teachers Union (TTU) that was obtained from a fundraising function he held during the opening of the union's general meeting held in the country's capital, Dodoma.  President Magufuli presided over the impromptu fundraising immediately after he opened the meeting on Thursday, calling on several top leaders to make a pledge that they were to fulfill before the end of the meeting.

The money was handed over to the TTU's acting president, Ms. Leah Ulaya by the president's secretary, Mr. Ngusa Samike, on behalf of President Magufuli.  Speaking after handing over the money to the TTU boss, Mr. Samike said the money was meant to cater for the allowances of the members who were invited at the meeting, and he was categorical that the money should be spent for that purpose.

During the fundraising event, President Magufuli and Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa contributed 10m/- each, with other top government officials, including other ministers, contributing another amount totaling 40m/-.  "The president has sent me to hand over this money to you on the condition that the teachers receive 50m/- and trainee teachers 10m/-," said Mr. Simike.
On the same occasion, the Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology, and Vocational Training, Dr. Leonard Akwilapo and Ms. Ulaya commended the president for supervising the collection of the money before the end of the meeting as per his promise.
The PS asked the teachers to work closely with the government because it is on the forefront of tackling their challenges, including paying their dues.