The person who first said “Time flies when you are having fun” must have been having a lot of fun because I cannot believe how fast time can fly.   In about one week I will be returning to the United States after 13 months of hoping around the world like a ping pong ball and I cannot believe it.

There are only 9 days left before I return to the land of SUV’s, drive through restaurants, and prime time television and leave behind dirt roads, beans and rice, and nights without electricity.  That's 216 hours until I see my family in the US, say goodbye to my new family in Tanzania.  And 12,960 minutes until I go through the crazy reverse culture shock that everyone experiences when they have been somewhere really different for a while.  And 777,600 seconds until the part of my heart that loves Africa breaks and the family at home that loves me immensely tries to put it back together again. 

People both in the US and in TZ keep asking me how I am doing as the day gets closer and closer.  And honestly every time they ask I get a bit more unsure of how I am doing.  This week I was presenting about Edpowerment to the Moshi Town Rotary Club and after my presentation someone asked when I was leaving.  I told them the date and they told me I only had one full week left.  That was the day it for the first time set in my head that I only have one full week left.  I had a bit of a panic attack and thought- wow!  How did this happen so fast?  How am I going to say goodbye to all the amazing people I have met this year?  How am I going to leave the Kilimahewa kids and say goodbye to the Gabriella children?  How am I going to leave the amazing groundbreaking work we do here?  All of these questions came flooding at me and as excited as I am to see everyone in the US and have some of the things I missed while I was here, I was freaking out a bit.  When talking to one of the Kilimahewa students about leaving he said we need to spend a day in one room and just cry together and that pretty much summed up how I was feeling. 

To be honest, and everyone that knows me well would tell you, I don’t freak out a bit- I freak out a lot.  So there was some stupid arguing that happened with people for no reason, I came down with malaria which lead to me feeling sorry for myself, I  slept for 3 days, I tried to pack then got upset and unpacked, I lied to my parents telling them I was so excited to come home skype after skype conversation, and pretty much started to panic. 

Then last night I thought to myself- why would I spend my last week of this amazing adventure panicking.  Why would I fight with the people I love to push them away?  Why would I not be super excited about going home?  And I started to look at my return to the US as a next step in a much larger adventure I am having.  

I will have been gone for exactly 13 months when I finally arrive on US soil.  I have spent 390 days in 13 different countries.  I tried for 9,360 hours to communicate in different languages.  I enjoyed 561,600 minutes meeting different amazing people.  And was educated for 33,696,000 seconds in different perspectives on life and learned more about myself than I ever have. 

Now I am coming home to an amazingly fun family, some great wonderful friends, some already scheduled trips to visit people around the US, and a job I love.  Yes- I am totally going to miss every single person I know in TZ and I am going to miss everything I do here, but I miss that about America too.  So instead of panicking and stressing I am making a conscience decision to tell myself what I tell my parents over and over.  

I am excited about coming home. 

 I am excited about coming home. 

 I am excited about coming home.  

And not only am I telling myself that but I actually believe it also.  I am excited to see everyone, to laugh with my amazing family, to drive my car, to drink a starbucks coffee, to watch the Dirty Birds play hockey, to eat Mexican food, to go to a movie and to just live in America for a while.  

I have no idea what life might bring me in the next months so instead of stressing over the change I am choosing to embrace it.  I promised my mom a shopping trip.  I promised my dad to spend a weekend with him at our family summer home.  I promised my best friend Krista a movie night and Jonte a visit to New York.  All of these things I am so excited about. 

So I decided to take this opportunity to make a plan for my next adventure. My goals in the upcoming year…..

1) Get to know my family and friends again.  Participate in as many BBQ’s, movie nights, happy hours, and fun events as I possibly can.  I have missed a lot and am anxious to get to know my godchildren, close friends, and meet my new family members that were born while I was away.

2)  Become financially secure  again so I can take as many trips around the world in life as I can afford.  Sorry mom but once you travel like I have you don’t really want to stop.

3)  Fundraise as much as possible to fund Kilimahewa and the Gabriella Center and search for grants for Edpowerment programs.  Anyone looking to help with this please email me.  I NEED a small army of people to help me.

4)  Meet as many new people as possible and have fun and laugh a lot.  People are funny and when I don’t have to fight with a cultural barrier that makes sarcasm look like you are just being mean this should be easy to do.

5)  Every week do one thing that is different, fun, and exciting and completely out of my normal schedule.  Any ideas?

6)  Practice Swahili- possibly teach it - Anyone interested?

7)  Remember the things I love about America and try really not to be cynical, angry, or depressed about the differences between America and 3rd world countries.   This is always the hardest part for me- especially in an election year.  But US family and friends- I promise to try. (:

8) Try to Love every minute of the time I will be there because it is just another part of a larger adventure. 

So am I panicked- of course I am, but am I ready- most definitely.  America here I come!  

And everyone I have spent time with in the last 13 months, 390 days, 9,360 hours, 561,600 minutes, and 33,696,000, I could not have asked for a better experience, closer friends, more wonderful students, or another minute of happiness.  It was amazing and although it flew "in a blink of a hat" (as my friend Katie would say) I have loved every single month, day, hour, minute, and second I was blessed to be able to do it.

And Mom-  how about tacos for dinner and a starbucks ice coffee with a little bit of cream when you pick me up at the airport. Love you!

See everyone soon!

(: K

Sorry for the long delay in posts but this month was easily the most intense month we have had here in Tanzania.  It was the most amazing, stressful, wonderful, inspiring, tiring and fabulous month we have had to date since being here.  Here is a recap of what has been going on:

Autism Connects Tanzania hosts ground breaking activities
This year in Tanzania, Jillian and I had the goal to develop our Autism Connects Tanzania project and lay the ground work for what hopes to be an amazing program supporting and fighting for the rights of children with intellectual disabilities.  This month this program really was able to make it’s mark on the area we serve.  Check out our short summaries of each event that occurred in the last month:

Special Needs Roundtable Discussion:

On June 26th, ACT hosted one of the first ever Special Needs Roundtable Discussions.  At this meeting 50 people came to discuss the problems associated with special education in Tanzania and started to work together to brainstorm solutions.  Government officials, special needs teachers, NGO workers, and some parents attended and were able to for the first time hear multiple points of view on the issue of educating special needs students.  Government officials talked about how costly Special Education is compared to regular education and the need to meet the needs of all children but their uncertainty on how to do that.  Teachers talked about the lack of proper training and resources to help these children.  NGO workers talked about their difficulty supporting each other and their need to start to build more relationships with schools.  Parents addressed the little information they have on how to help their children within their homes.  In the end the group discussed solutions and shared ideas for how to start to help this population of people.  They asked for more workshops where they could share these ideas and were very grateful to be invited to the seminar and start to fight the stigma as a larger group instead of small individual entities.  

Gabriella Center gets a New Playground for Special Needs Students

Earlier this year we were approached by the Gabriella Center about their need for a play area for kids to work on their motor skills.  We discussed with one of our donors, the District 117 Interact Club in Antioch, IL, and talked about the idea of them helping to develop the playground and to build it when their volunteers came in June.  The club agreed and raise $616 to build the project and this month the vision that was created by the American teenagers came to fruition with the construction of Gabriella’s First playground structures.  What was great about this was that not only did American students come from America to help build their design but the teenagers from the Kilimahewa Education Center were able to spend the days at Gabriella helping to build the playground as well.  It was the first time donors and two of our supported schools were able to come together and help each other and now the students of Gabriella have an amazing place to play.  

Special Education Resource Fair

On July 14th Autism Connects Tanzania hosted the first Special Education Resource Fair.  We invited different organizations that work to help kids with special needs to come and present about their organizations to parents, other organizations, and government officials.  85 people attended the conference and 16 different organizations presented on their programs, their challenges and the support they can offer children with intellectual disabilities.  This was an amazing networking event where schools needing teachers were able to speak to professors from the local teacher college, where organizations that provide wheelchairs were able to meet with organization looking for wheelchairs, and where parents were able to learn about services they never knew existed.  It was a great day and everyone left feeling empowered to work together to help these children and fight the stigma of special needs here in Tanzania.

Autism Screening Clinic

This week we are grateful to host Dr. Ashley Johnson from Brown University Medical School.  Ashley is a psychologist and has come to Tanzania to help run one of the first ever Autism screening clinics at the Gabriella Center sponsored by Autism Connects Tanzania.  The screening clinic will meet with 20 families to determine if their children have a high, medium, or low prevalence of autism.  The clinic will then offer some strategies for families to work with their children in their homes and talk to families about special needs services in the area.  Families are coming from all over Tanzania and will also be receiving occupational therapy training from the Gabriella Center Occupational Therapists.  It is a great step is many needed to helping support families with kids with autism.

Special Programming for the Kilimahewa Education Center 
This month Edpowerment was also able to organize a few special projects at Kilimaehwa Education Center to enhance the learning being done within this education center.  Below are some of our programs this month:

Cultural Exchange Presentations

For the last month we have been working with the Kilimahewa afterschool group to plan presentations on Tanzania that the group presented this month to the various visitors that have come to volunteer with EdPowerment.  The kids of the group made a long list of things that foreigners should know about Tanzania and then narrowed down their list to create 6 different presentations on important topics foreigners should know.  The groups presented on Tanzanian culture, language, environment, national parks, development, and entertainment.  The students of Kilimaehwa worked hard to plan their presentations and then to write out what they were going to say in English and present to the visitors in their best English.  It was great to watch and fun for everyone to participate in.  

Sports Day

This month the students of Kilimahewa were able to participate in our biannual sport day event to celebrate the end of their first semester of classes.  The boys were able to play soccer and the girls played netball and basketball.  Lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were prepared by American volunteers to give the kids a taste of what food is like in America.  It was a fun day enjoyed by all.

The Kilimahewa Mural Project

Over the last few weeks the kids of the Kilimahewa afterschool group have also been working to design and paint a mural that represents their school and values on the gates of Kilimahewa.  This Saturday they will work on painting the design but they have spent this last week working to prime the gates and prepare for the mural.  The kids have selected their school moto as “Education is the Key to Life” and have selected the symbols they want on the gate (Mt. Kilimanjaro, books, sunflowers, teachers, students).  They have drawn a variety of sketches of their ideas and Jillian is working to create one clear drawing with their work.  This Saturday all the kids will come to school to help paint the gate and have lunch to celebrate their hard work in designing this project.  

8 visitors came from the US, Canada, and Portugal to volunteer

Due to the summer holidays in the Northern Hemisphere many people have time during this time of year to travel.  We were lucky enough to be visited by various people wanting to come and volunteer.  

Our first volunteer was Maria Garcia Lopes a professor of veterinary science from Portugal.  Maria came and volunteered teaching Biology classes, learning about Tanzania and visiting EdPowerment programs.  She had such a positive experience at the Kilimahewa Education Center that she plans to return to Portugal and work on collecting donations to ship laboratory equipment that will help create the first ever science lab at Kilimahewa.

Our next volunteer was from California named Katie Moorhead.  Katie works on her own sponsorship program in Tanzania through EdPowerment called the Waka Waka Project.  She currently sponsored 15 students in various schools around the Karanga area and came for 3 months to oversee her student sponsorship students.    Check out her work at:   www.thewakawakaproject.org

We were then visited by Andrew Harvey from Canada who volunteered at Kilimahewa 3 years ago and has been studying Linguistics at the University of Dar.  He came for a week to help us with translating Swahili and working with the kids of Kilimahewa.  After Andrew’s visit he wrote a short testimonial about the changes he saw while here….

During my time at Kilimahewa (roughly 3 months in 2009), the ability of the education centre to deliver a quality standard of education to its students was limited.  Government approved textbooks, teaching manuals, as well as other important school supplies were sorely lacking, and I remember many days where three to four students would sit around one tiny, lopsided table sharing one outdated textbook.

                  During a short return visit to Kilimahewa (one intensive week in 2012), I can see that the impact EdPowerment has had on the education centre is concrete and systemic.  School infrastructure has been ameliorated (better desks, a new chalkboard, waste-disposal facilities, etc.), as well as the school library.  Every student now has access to their own government-approved textbook – bringing Kilimahewa near to or at par with its government counterparts.  In addition to this, the overall quality of English at the school has increased – girls and boys showing a marked improvement in English pronunciation and sentence formation.  The changes are not limited to this: EdPowerment has both actively sought, as well as fostered a young, enthusiastic teaching staff – seeking out progressive-minded educators from the region, and offering them sponsorships to further their studies in pedagogy.  The overall time teachers spend in class has increased dramatically, as well as the range of topics covered and the depth to which they are addressed.  Daily assemblies of the student body have been implemented, where students share learnings, deliver important messages, and generally build and strengthen the school identity.  In the three short years which separate my first arrival at the school and my return, the change has been astounding.

On the 23rd of June we were grateful to receive 2 teenage students from my school district and my co-worker and friend Nancy Clutter from the District 117 Interact Club in Antioch, IL.  The group came to visit the Kilimahewa Education Center, work with the afterschool group, help build a playground for the Gabriella Center, and help with a our Kilimahewa sports day.  Their visit had a huge impact on American teenagers but also on the Kilimahewa students since it was the first time that they had met foreign teenagers their own age.  

A psychology under-graduate from Rutgers University named Sam arrived on July 5th to work for three months within EdPowerment programs.  Sam is spending his time two days a week at the Gabriella Center working with students with intellectual disabilities and than two days a week at Kilimahewa Education Center teaching English and taking over our afterschool group when we leave.

Our last volunteer, Ashley Johson, arrived on July 11th.  Ashley is a PH.D. Fellow who works for Brown University and is here for two weeks running an autism screening clinic.  This is the first ever screening clinic and diagnostic testing that has been done in this area and is some amazing ground breaking work.  

As you can see this month has been amazing, stressful, wonderful, inspiring, tiring and fabulous.  In the next three weeks Jillian and I are starting to prepare for our departure from Tanzania and our reentry into American life.  This is going to be a difficult for both of us and even though we miss our American friends and family leaving after a year like this it will be a huge challenge.   I will post a few more times before I leave but please if you like what we are doing check out our website and donate a few dollars to help our cause.  Every little bit helps.


Miss you all! (: