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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Miss you all! (: