Oh. Man. It’s been forever! I really mean it this time and I have absolutely no excuse. I blame my incredible absence on my procrastination. So much happened in the last few months, I put off blogging and I cannot believe it is already the beginning of March. Since I have not updated the Internet world on my activities since approximately December, this is going to be a LONG post.
Touring the village with Suzanne and Jen
After our trip to South Africa, we returned to Moshi just in time to receive our first round of visitors. Our friends Suzanne, Jen, Mirielle and Mike flew all the way to Tanzania to visit us for the holidays and it was wonderful to have them. It made being away from home for Christmas a little easier. We spent three weeks introducing them to life in Moshi, touring EdPowerment’s projects, and even got a chance to visit Zanzibar for the first time. It was so nice to have people from home experience life in Tanzania (and bring goodies for us and the students in their suitcases :) ). In an effort to save time and space, I will just say that Zanzibar, in a word, was incredible. Beautiful beaches, interesting architecture, delicious food, and drinks inside coconut shells.
Students of Kilimahewa
After our visitors left in the beginning of January, the next big event was the start of the Tanzanian school year. The seasons are flipped here, and so is the school year. Instead of having a big break during the months of June, July, and August, Tanzanian schools enjoy a long break during the holiday season and begin their year with the calendar in January. Helping to get Kilimahewa started was a feat this year, since our wonderful head teacher Rebecca was on maternity leave and we added Form 3 this year (similar to Junior year in the United States), but we managed! Kerri and I helped to create a timetable for classes, establish new policies and procedures for behavior and attendance, lead a parent’s meeting, and ensure that classes were fully staffed with teachers. Thanks to a great staff of teachers at Kilimahewa, the school year is off to a great start.
Teacher training with the BCC staff
In addition to our work at Kilimahewa, Kerri and I have been focusing our energies on building our special needs awareness program, Autism Connects Tanzania (www.autismconnectstanzania.org). Throughout the past few months, we have been networking with variety of special needs organizations in Moshi, creating educational materials for distribution, and assisting programs by providing education and training. We have been working especially close with an organization here called Building Caring Communities (BCC). The BCC operates 11 centers in Moshi for students with physical and intellectual disabilities and is supported by a major U.S. non-profit called Mosaic. The centers were originally created as a form of respite for parents and families of students with special needs, but as the organization is becoming more established, they are looking to infuse their centers with more educational activities. The BCC has asked for our help in this venture and over the past few months, Kerri and I have been working with the organization to create schedules and educational activities for their centers. We met with the center workers to introduce our schedule in early February and are holding a second training at the end of March where teachers will come together to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the new program. Teachers will also bring examples of their best activities to share with the group. After the training, Kerri and I will compile their ideas into a book that we will publish and distribute to organizations throughout the Moshi area. It is our hope that this publication will provide educators and caregivers with a much-needed resource for teaching students with special needs in Tanzania.
Alberto speaks to the kids at Kilimahewa
February brought us two more visitors. The first was our friend, Alberto, who I met when I lived in Sydney in 2003. Alberto has been a huge supporter of EdPowerment over the past few years and held a fundraiser for us last spring. He came to visit us in Moshi for two weeks to check out our programs and even got to help with the building of a few toilets a Kilimahewa. He asked to help build them, I swear! Alberto was also a guest speaker at our after school group and talk to the kids about his work as an international lawyer.
Moira opens the new EdPowerment-funded classroom at Samburai Primary
Alberto’s visit coincided exactly with a visit from our third EdPowerment partner in crime from the United States, Moira Madonia. Moira gave up her short spring break from teaching in New Jersey to check in on our programs in Tanzania. The three of us, along with our in-country director Mama Grace, were able to get a ton accomplished during her short visit. We rented an office space in town (yay!), visited most of our sponsored students, sorted through finances, ran in a 5k with the kids at Kilimahewa, met with a lawyer to be sure our business in Tanzania is in line with the law, and met with all of the fabulous people Kerri and I have been networking with here in Moshi. It was great to have the whole EdPowerment team together. We only wish it could happen more often!
No visit of Moira’s could be complete without a hectic ending, and this time was no exception. The Kilimanjaro Marathon was scheduled the morning Moira was set to return to the United States and we all managed to participate. Before Moira’s visit, the three of us had discussed conducting a fundraiser in Tanzania to help diversify our funding and raise awareness of our work in the local community. We thought the marathon was a great opportunity for us to accomplish both of these goals. Kerri and I organized a group of kids from Kilimahewa to participate in the 5k Fun Run and asked local businesses to sponsor their efforts. We managed to raise enough money for the students to participate and spread the word about Kilimahewa. The kids had a great time at the event and so did we. I think the funniest part of the whole thing was when the European woman at the registration desk (that opened the day before the event) told us that we should have the kids register with their parents on the Internet next year. She had clearly not spent much time in Tanzania…
Safari and mountain guide, Adam Nkinde, talks to the kids about his work
Kerri and I have also continued to work on our after school program throughout the last few months and have spent the beginning of this school year talking about goal and career planning. We have invited guest speakers from the community to come and discuss their career paths to give students an idea of what options are out there for the future. We have found that career planning is not something that is stressed in Tanzania and wanted to provide our students with an opportunity to learn about a variety of career options. So far we have had community developers, a doctor, nurse, a farmer, lawyer, an IT specialist, safari guide, and mountain porter, to name a few. Check out the after school page on our website to learn more!
Annnnnndddd I think that brings us up to date! Kerri and I are spending the next few weeks organizing a workshop for families of students with special needs and a training for the BCC staff. Both events are scheduled for the end of March, so there will be updates to come! We are also planning to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro as a fundraiser near the beginning of June. We'll be sending a link to our fundraising page in the next week, so keep your eyes peeled. Thank you for reading!