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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! (: