What a week for EdPowerment!  This week our third partner in crime and our EdPowerment Founder, Moria Madonia, came to visit and help us finalize some plans for Edpowerment, as well as participate in some amazing EdPowerment events.  It was a crazy week with lots of amazing things as well as a chance to laugh at some of the craziness we experience while working in another country.  Check out the big events below and our website to find out more about what we are doing (www.edpowerment.org):

Finalize plans for ACT:  Meet with BCC & Gabriella Center 

One of the things Jillian and I have been working on while in Tanzania is finalizing our plans for our third program, Autism Connects Tanzania.  We have been networking with different organizations and meeting with different people about what services are available for kids with intellectual disabilities such as autism.  Through the last few months we have determined that there are different organizations that exist but that they struggle to communicate with one another about their programs or their activities.  We also noticed that there is a huge stigma here surrounding kids with disabilities, which leads to parents not wanting others to know they have kids with special needs.

So this week we worked on finalizing our plans for ACT.  We decided that through Autism Connects Tanzania we were going to work on fighting that stigma through a yearly educational workshops and a resource fair to help educate on intellectual disabilities and the services available within the Northern Region of Tanzania. 

We also plan to work with different organizations to develop structured schedules that include education activities within their centers and create a publication of different educational activities to help kids with disabilities that we can distribute to anyone who may benefit.  It is our hope that through this publication we can help support those doing great work here with new ideas about how to educate kids with intellectual disabilities using the least resources possible.

We also were able to edit and develop our Autism Connects Tanzania website (
www.autismconnectstanzania.org) and communicate with some larger Tanzanian informational websites about advertising educational services available online.  We were able to take Moira to meet and visit the two centers we are going to work with the most to develop these workshops and materials- Building Caring Communities and The Gabriella Center.  

Stay tuned for more blog posts on these organizations.

Samburai Primary Schools:  Opening of Classroom and Teacher Living Quarters

Last year, two primary schools in the Samburai Ward (our main area of focus) approached EdPowerment about finishing two of their building projects.  The Samburai Primary School was working to build a new classroom for their nursery school program and the Mary Bennett Primary School was working to build a teacher’s living quarters to house highly qualified teachers from areas further away.  Both schools ran out of funding half way through their projects and were looking for support from EdPowerment to finish the projects.  After a written proposal and estimate we agreed to fund the projects and this week we were able to participate in the opening of both of the building projects. 

This ceremony was a big deal attended by village leadership, parents, teachers and students. The school officials prepared a ribbon cutting ceremony and read a thank you letter from the community.  The nursery school children and teacher that will be using the classroom came into the room and sang to us.  It was a very nice affair but the most rewarding part was seeing the building finished and knowing that through our supporters we are helping to provide better educational opportunities for the children and a better teaching environment for the staff.

Doctor Visits Kilimahewa to talk about Career and Healthcare

Over the last few weeks our Kilimahewa afterschool leadership group has been exploring different careers within the Tanzanian community.  Different speakers have come to talk to the students about what is involved in their career and what type of schooling is required to obtain that career path.  Some of the speakers have included: A Safari Guide, A lawyer, A taxi Driver & NGO worker, A Community Developer, A Village Leader, and A Mountain Porter. The goal of this program is to inform the students of Kilimahewa about the different career fields that they would not have exposure to otherwise. 

This past month in Tanzania many of the doctors in the country went on strike asking for more wages and better treatment from the government.  While this was difficult for many people to deal with the doctor shortage, most people were generally supportive of the doctors.  This week we had a doctor come to speak to the after school group.  She was a doctor from Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (one of the only teaching hospitals in Tanzania) and was our first ever female speaker and the most educated person that has come to talk to the students. She talked to the kids about her schooling and her profession and the current situation in Tanzania.  Many of the students were listening to her every word and very interested in what she was talking about, but I was most impressed when one of our students, Joseph, started asking her about the level of corruption in the hospitals and what the hospitals are doing to make sure healthcare is equal to all.  This started a larger discussion where a few of the kids discussed how they have felt they were unfairly treated within the hospital system and our speaker had to explain what leads to corruption and defend that there are people in the healthcare system of Tanzania that do want to help people and that not everyone is corrupt.  It was a very interesting discussion and it was no surprise that when the doctor asked Joseph what he wanted to be he stated he wanted to become a lawyer.  When asked why, his answer was, “When people here have jobs in the government they think they are above the law.  That is wrong and I want to change it.” 

For me this afterschool group session reminded me why it is so important to bring in people from the community and expose kids to others that have different perspectives.  It can lead to very interesting discussions and everyone can teach each other new ways of looking at the world.  It is one of the things I love about teaching and I am so happy that Jillian and I have been able to start such an awesome program here.  We are hoping to type up our leadership curriculum and also publish it for other centers and organizations to use to help develop some leadership skills with the Tanzanian community. 

Visit to Mrike Secondary School to visit 14 sponsored students

Another thing that we did this week while Moira was visiting was visit some of the sponsored students we have within private boarding schools within Northern Tanzania.  We currently are sponsoring 25 students in different high schools in Northern Tanzania through EdPowerment.  Of those sponsorships 2 are in university, 22 are in high schools, and one is in primary school.  The largest number of our students attends a private boarding school called Mrike Secondary School that is on the Tanzanian/Kenyan boarder.  This school is in an area called Rombo and is about 2 hours away from where we live in Tanzania. 

This past Wednesday we took at a trip there to visit the 14 sponsored students we have there.  It was a good chance to sit down with the head teacher and discuss his plans to improve the school as well as see the students we have there.  It was also a good chance to talk to some of the students about their plans and to discuss with some of them their behavior. 

One student Alex, who we have been wondering about his level of commitment to education, had recently informed a staff member that he wanted to be a Bongo Flava singer (similar to a hip hop singer).  While we like to promote the arts and I am always one for supporting a kids dreams we also had to have a realistic conversation with him that someone coming from a really poor family situation who used to live in a shed full of bags of maize because he had no home needs to also take his education seriously.  As I had a very direct serious conversation with him about the importance of his education in a 3rd world country I felt very much like a parent when I told him that signing bongo flava songs will not put food on his table.  While Alex was able to express that he also was interested in possibly teaching or being a doctor one day and we discussed his ability to sing bongo flava songs as a hobby, I could not believe how much I felt like a parent at that moment trying to shake a bit of reality into someone with huge hopes and dreams.  Needless to say he was able to express his desire to stay in school and understood his need for education and promised to work harder in his studies.  All in all it was a good trip and the kids were very happy to see us there. 

Alex, my Bongo Singer, who was reminded how much he loves school.
Finding a home and help for a new orphan 

Another all to common experience in Tanzania happened this week when a grandmother died and left her 5 grandchildren scrambling for a new home.  One of our past Kilimahewa students- Humphrey- attended Kilimahewa last year but then was forced to move away for a year to live in another city with his aunt.  He recently returned for the January school year because his aunt could not take care of him.  This student came back to live with his 85 year old grandmother and his 4 cousins in a small house close to Kilimahewa Educational Center.  When Humphrey returned to Kilimahewa in January Jillian and I met his grandmother and talked to her about her situation and started looking for ways to help support her and Humphrey.  We started by enrolling him at Kilimahewa and purchasing school supplies and a uniform for him.  We scheduled a meeting to see his grandmother at her house and meet his cousins when a week later when his grandmother of 85 years died and left all 5 kids without a caregiver.  This grandmother lost all three of her own children for different reasons and was working to raise her grand kids with a small farm she owned.  Food was scare, money was non-existent, and the kids worked hard to survive.  The loss of this grandmother really left these kids with few places to turn.  We really wanted to help out Humphrey but could not find a school that could take him due to his low tests scores from primary school.  As a result the villagers and the family's tribe came up with a plan for one of the woman to stay in the house with him and take care of the kids.   We are going to support the family with small amounts of money for food and necessities for the kids.  We decided that Humphrey will attend Kilimahewa for one year and then we will see if a school will allow him to sit their entrance exams and accept him for the 2013 school year.  It is not the best plan but in a country with full orphanages, a struggling school system, and very little social welfare it was the best we could come up with.  

The Kilimanjaro Marathon

This week was also the week for the Kilimanjaro Marathon, one of the biggest events that occurs in Moshi every February.  This event is sponsored by Wild Frontiers Safari Company, Kilimanjaro Breweries, and VodaCom Network.  Every year these companies host a Full Marathon, Half Marathon, and a 5K Fun Run.  We decided that this would be a good way for the kids of Kilimahewa to participate in something within their community and help them be apart of something larger than their small village.  We had 37 students that signed up to run in the race and 5 adults.  We spent part of the week organizing t-shirts, finding dala dala (buses) to drive them, and trying to register the kids.  In typical Tanzanian fashion registration for a large event that brings in people from all over the world started only two days before the race in a small hotel lobby.  When we showed up to pick up the registration forms the foreign volunteer that had flown to Tanzania only to help with the race told us that next year we should have all the kids and their parents register online.  The response I wanted to say was….ok next time we will take them to the school computer lab and have the register with the help of the technology teacher (Yes I am being sarcastic here- classes here are 80 kids to one teacher with limited textbooks- very few schools have electricity so computer labs are hard to come by). She than stated that they needed to write the addresses of their homes on the registration forms. Had this woman been in Africa for more than five minutes she would have experienced the lack of electricity and lack of computers and realized that addresses do not exist here.  When you ask where someone lives they say the house at the top of the hill next to the large rock and tall acacia tree.  Needless to say that address did not fit on the form.  (; 

Either way we managed to get them all registered and everything ended up working out very well.  The day of the race came and although there was a huge rain storm the night before 34 of the 37 kids showed up on time and were so excited to participate in the race.  After running in the 5K the kids were able to hang out at the stadium in town with all the participants, have some peanut butter sandwiches and bananas for lunch and watch as the marathon runners entered the stadium.  It was a pretty awesome experience and a great last day to the crazy week we had.  Seeing the kids smiling faces helped us realize why we love it here so much.  

New Office Space 

Last but not least we spent the week searching for some office space for our new EdPowerment Office.  Our current office was located in a room within Mama Grace’s home (Our in-country director) and as we are expanding the things we are doing here we realized the need to have an office in a central location within town.  So in our free time (which was not much) we spent the week viewing different office space and finally found a new place to call home.  So (not that many will know where this is) we are now located in the middle of town in a place called Kibo Tower.  If in Moshi, come visit us.  This week we are out looking for office furnature and setting things up.  Exciting stuff!!

All in all an amazing week for EdPowerment and its programs.  We had a great time, accomplished these and so many other things that I did not have time to comment on, and realized why we love the work we do here so much.  

So stay tuned for further updates on our work and other interesting and exciting things as we continue our adventure in Moshi.  

MIss you all! (:

Coming to Tanzania has been quite an experience this year, but the most touching and rewarding has been the work we are doing with special needs organizations, families, and children. 

3rd World countries often lack basic education on health, nutrition, and mental or physical illnesses.  This often results in many myths and theories about why kids are born with disabilities.  Many families are constantly asking why their kids are disabled.  Due to the lack of education ideas exist here that kids are disabled because their parents were evil people or that their child was possessed by the devil and that is the cause of their disability.  In most cases we have seen here in Tanzania families often feel ashamed, depressed, and embarrassed about their child’s disability due to the lack of general understanding and they are often craving any type of help.  They yearn for any understanding of why their child is disabled, how to help their child, where to go for support, and what to do. 

As a special education teacher I have worked with many families of kids with a wide varieties of disabilities teaching in America, England and Tanzania.  Although each country offered it’s own challenges, I have found that in the 3rd world there are very little supports (if any) and families are left with no where to go.  Schools do not accept all children although there are laws requiring them too.  The very few special needs classroom teachers are given absolutely no resources (not even classrooms) and very little training.  Trained special needs teachers are assigned to schools and expected to build special needs programs in their first year of teaching which leads to many teachers not admitting they have special needs training. Hospitals do not always know how to deal with children of special needs and as a results families wait long hours in hospitals.  This has resulted in deaths simply due to lack of services.  Many kids are often diagnosed with either Downs Syndrome or Mental Retardation just because knowledge of any other disabilities is very limited.  Services like occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy exist but only in very small amounts and for only those that have money to pay for them.  (There are only 30 OT’s in all of Tanzania)  All in all, students with disabilities are not able to access education, healthcare, and services needed to help them function within the society they live and therefore end up begging on the streets, locked away in houses, or dying at very early ages.

The last few weeks we have dedicated our time here to building relationships with organizations that support families with disabilities.  We have been lucky enough to meet some amazing people through an organization called Building a Caring Community (BCC).  This organization realized that families lacked services and worked to create a way to help provide families with some help.  They have 11 centers throughout Moshi area and they employ and train mothers of children to work at the centers.  This program supports about 230 children each year in this area and is one of the first programs of it’s kind that we have seen working to support families and kids. 

We spent the last few weeks visiting different BCC centers, working with center staff to create a common schedule and training program and creating a plan to work together to create a collection of special needs curriculum activities for 3rd world countries.  This project, which will be quite large, will allow us to distribute materials and activities that people with very limited resources in very underdeveloped countries can utilize to help those in need.  It is a partnership that we have been so happy to make and that has helped us finally see some possibilities for the future for these kids. 

Yesterday Jillian and I were invited to meet a family that had a daughter with special needs.  The woman that invited us works at the post office and we see her every time we go get our packages and every time she tells us about this little girl and how she is trying to help this family.  We were a bit nervous about it at first but decided to go and help this woman out anyway.  So we went to her friend’s home to meet her daughter who had special needs.  When we arrived we met with the family and saw their 5 ½ year old girl named Doreen.  Doreen had visible physical disabilities and deformities as well as the intellectual functioning of a typical 6 month old.  She is still in diapers, was non-verbal, could not move her legs and arm, struggled holding up her own head but had a smile that lit up the entire room.  Doreen was one of the kids that you see that makes you instantly fall in love.  As I held her and listen to her mom explain how she doesn’t know what to do, all I kept thinking is how in their one room house this child has very little options, family supports or future choices due to the fact that they live in a 3rd world country where only a handful of services exist and if a family has little funds there are no services they could even access. 

Although her situation was pretty bleak Doreen was following everything we were saying and had a smile that melted my heart.  It was especially hard when the family asked us to take the child because they had no idea what to do.  We told the family that was not an option but informed them about the different programs we knew of and that we would get some more information from those programs to help her out.  We also told her we would look into finding an organization to help her get a wheelchair.  As we left I felt immediately defeated, same feeling I always have when I leave a situation here where the disability is great and money is the biggest issue.  Although I was feeling defeated I also felt a little bit of hope because finally after 5 months of networking and meeting people and trying to find connections we at least had somewhere to turn to for help with this child.  That same evening we ran into another friend of ours from America doing work here.  He offered us a ride home from town and as we were driving we told him about Doreen.  Although he leaves on Monday to return to the United States he immediately started making some phone calls and talking to friends about possibly finding a wheel chair for this girl.  It is another reason I love the work we do here.  Even in the most dire of situations there is hope and when you are not sure where to go someone runs into you on the street with a huge heart and jumps to help you out.

Whether it is the postoffice employee helping this woman and her child, the BCC centers helping the kids and their families, or our friend helping us with a wheelchair, sometimes that feeling of defeat is replaced by a feeling of hope and possibilities.  

It is our hope that through the connections we have worked to make and some of the plans we have for things here we and others will come to help kids like Doreen and help others to work to educate those that are often locked in their homes. 

Hopefully we can help the voiceless in society find a way to collectively have a voice.

For more information on our autism program- Check out our newly improved Autism Connects Tanzania website: