Moving On

Partying with Sega teachers

Partying with Sega teachers

My volunteer time at Sega and in Tanzania is coming to an end, although I will be in Africa for another two months. I’ve had my going away events with the girls and with the teachers.  The school is now on a two-week spring break so my last days here are very quiet but it’s giving me a chance to leave things in an organized fashion.

Most recently, I’ve been investigating the market for a Sega Learning Center that would offer computer and English courses for a fee.  On Saturday, I presented the hotel research I’ve done, already gone over by the US board, to the Tanzanian board.  I am making suggestions for an entrepreneurship and business planning course for the girls.  I am trying to help Sega figure out the best approach to getting their business needs met once I’m gone and I’m talking to Polly about how I can stay involved from a distance.  In short, there’s still lots to do and it’s a race to the finish.

Girls slashing the grass at Sega

Girls slashing the grass at Sega

Next week, I head to Lusaka, Zambia to do a month of work on a different project. Its purpose is to teach Zambian girls negotiation skills in the hope that this will help reduce their HIV infection rates and keep them in school longer. The thinking is that if they learn to negotiate with men and with their parents, they can practice safer (and later) sex and can get their parents to pay their school fees.

What follows is an excerpt from a description of the project: “When young girls struggle to stay in school, they may not develop the skills necessary to support themselves, and in relying on male partners for resources, they oftentimes have to offer sex in return.

Sega sign

Sega sign

Such relationships are prevalent across sub-Saharan Africa, leaving young girls highly vulnerable to HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy, evidenced by the two-to-one ratio of HIV rates among young women versus their male counterparts. What if there was a way to train Zambian girls to adopt the communication skills needed to negotiate health and education decisions with power figures in their lives?”

Two Sega girls

Sega girls

The project is a randomized control trial (RCT), meaning that 3,000 8th grade girls, ages 12 to 16, will be randomly selected into one of three groups. One group will receive the full training, a second will meet to play games and receive a notebook and pen, and a third group will be pure control and so will do nothing now but will get the training later, after the experiment is complete.

The purpose of such a complex design is to try and determine whether, if there is an impact from the intervention, it is actually the learning of the negotiations skills that made the difference.

Student vs teacher netball game (Score: students 12, teachers 8)

Student vs teacher netball game (Score: students 12, teachers 8)

They will be followed for two years and tracked for both short and longer-term outcomes. The project is headed by two Harvard Professors and has an array of partners including the Zambian Ministry of Education. My role will be to coach the 30 Zambian women, all recent college graduates, who will be teaching the negotiation curriculum to the girls over a two week period in May.

Some of the funds for this project were coming from USAID and have been held up due to the sequestration of the US budget. But, despite this setback, the project is going forward with only one of the two principal investigators who were scheduled to be there in April coming after all. There is an in-country staff with whom I will also be working.

The Sega School campus

The Sega School campus

The work in Zambia will be very different from what I’ve been doing at Sega but, having enjoyed my job here so much, I’m thrilled to have a second terrific opportunity and to be part of such an interesting field study.  It will be fascinating to see what the outcomes are over the next two years. If they are positive, the curriculum could be implemented in other countries, including Tanzania.  It would be great to be part of that and maybe come back to Sega to teach it it to the girls here.


Angels and Demons

One day last week, I heard beautiful singing emanating from one of the classrooms. It may have been the day when religious leaders come to the school to meet with the girls who are interested. The singing was so pretty it reminded me of angels and I started to get emotional about the fact I will be leaving Sega in a couple weeks (but not back home until end of May – more on that another time). Then on Sunday, the girls got to set up the stereo system so they could sing and dance to contemporary African tunes including bonga flava. Again, I love to listen to them and watch them dance.

Pilli dancing

Pilli boogies down

It’s tough to get photos in the big banda where they gather but I took a few and, while there, wiggled my own behind enough to make them laugh. I can’t seem to shake it the way some of them can but at least I’m not afraid to try.

Earlier last week, we had much excitement one night but of a different kind. I suddenly heard a lot of screaming and wondered what was going on. I thought maybe someone had seen a snake. It sounded as though the entire school of 150 girls was going crazy and it went on for quite awhile.

The next morning I found out that the girls had concluded one of them was possessed by demons and were running around screaming hysterically because of this. In this case, the girl in question is epileptic but other times it’s just someone acting crazy and falling on the ground. They did nothing to help the epileptic girl but instead made a huge scene and then left her to be cared for by the matron who is in charge at night. This behavior, strongly discouraged by the school, is apparently not uncommon in Tanzania, especially among girls. Despite trying to stamp it out by sending home any student who claims to be possessed, it continues. I call it the “demon of ignorance” because like many other beliefs people hold here, it is a byproduct of superstition and does nobody any good.

My bathroom at the hotel. No bucket baths here!

My bathroom at the hotel. No bucket baths here!

To shift topics ever so slightly, this past weekend, I decided to splurge and attend a fancy St. Patrick’s Day Ball for expats in Dar es Salaam. I’ve done ok living a nun-like existence with no hot water, showers, or various other comforts but it wears after awhile so now and then it helps to treat oneself.  The hotel Kilimanjaro in Dar, currently a Hyatt, gave us a special rate so I was tempted.

But before the evening got going, we had some excitement.  One of the other women attending from Morogoro, Pippy, a Canadian engineer who has been here with her family for two years, was pulled over by traffic police in Dar.  She ended up losing her temper and shouting at them, landing her in jail. She managed to get sprung after about 4 hours and made it to the event but this provided all of us with something to talk about, though it didn’t help get her into party mode.  Unlike Pippy, I had time to hang out by the pool for a couple hours in the afternoon and even use the air-conditioned gym (first time in Africa).

Me and Pippy

Me and Pippy

The event attracted about 250 people and was a lot of fun. Before the bands started to play, we were treated to Irish dancing by a group of Irish girls and teens and they were fantastic. The music and dancing are both so happy!

I wore a dress that Pippy had bought at the Saba Saba market in Morogoro where clothes, most of them used castoffs from the U.S., are strewn across tables and the ground in huge piles (read giant flea market). Pippy and Polly had gone shopping there to find appropriate attire for this event and Pippy bought five dresses for 1000 shillings (70 cents) each. You can’t try anything on so just have to hope. She found one she liked among the five and brought a couple others to Dar to see if I wanted to wear one. I chose the purple satin, too big for me so I looked like I was in a shiny potato sack but good enough, and away I went like Cinderella.

Julie (with gold gloves) and Polly

Julie (with gold gloves) and Polly

It was an evening drenched with champagne, wine, Guinness, and Irish whiskey. We danced until we dripped and then staggered to bed in the wee hours of the morning. It’s been awhile since I’ve done that so I was glad I went even though I may or may not be able to claim Irish ancestry. I think there was some on my mom’s side but couldn’t prove it.

To Aid or Not to Aid?

Ok, for people with a really short attention span, my quick answer is “Not to Aid,” at least most of the time. That’s what I’ve come to after six months and three books on the subject. Granted this is fairly slim experience compared to the experts in the field but the experts don’t all agree and also you get what you pay for and reading this blog is free!

When thinking about international development aid, I think there are two separate but related questions. The first is whether the aid money actually works to promote development. The second is whether citizens of the recipient country really want us to help them develop or would prefer we all go home.

On the first question, it’s clearly not an unequivocal “yes” and some would argue that aid retards rather than promotes development. This is the argument in Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa by Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian born economist who has worked at Goldman Sachs and consulted to the World Bank. Dead AidHer thesis is that aid is almost always a bad thing and she spends most of the book suggesting alternative and healthier ways that poor countries can finance their own development. Given that she worked for Goldman, it’s difficult for me to see beyond the self serving ways of American financiers but she makes some good points about why aid actually hurts recipient countries and makes it less likely they will build the economic and governance systems that are needed for successful development.

Bottom BillionThe best book I’ve read that includes a discussion of aid is Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Collier’s book describes the four traps that the countries encompassing the billion poorest people in the world, almost all of them in Africa, have gotten caught in. He is not against aid in all cases and believes it has resulted in increased growth of about 1% a year among African aid recipients but he also points out how it can be detrimental when given incorrectly, as it frequently is. He suggests that changing trade policies might be at least as important to help poor countries but notes that it is, unfortunately, politically more difficult than just throwing money at the problem.

Finally, Beyond Good Intentions by Tori Hogan reviews her own experiences and observations of the ineffectiveness, poor management, and arrogance of many aid projects.Beyond Intentions

Both Collier and Moyo point out that aid money acts similar to money earned from natural resources (in Collier’s book “the resource trap”) such as oil, gold, or diamonds, including the promotion of corruption among government officials since it is so easy to steal. Aid or resource revenues also promote Dutch disease, the economic phenomenon of large influxes of money to a country inflating its currency thereby destroying its export market, taking along with it the industries that could have brought foreign currency in and employed domestic workers. Both aid and extraction income can be helpful to countries that already have good governance systems (like Norway which already had the governance before the big resource revenues rolled in) as the money is then used effectively. Unfortunately, good governance is hard to come by in the bottom billion countries and this is why so many resource-rich and heavily aided countries are in such bad shape as the money just gets stolen or wasted and meanwhile hurts both the economy and governance. These arguments convinced me that aid to governments is usually a bad thing. But what about smaller aid projects like the school I’m working with in which the money goes directly to a project instead of to a government?

This brings me to my experience living here in Tanzania. It’s been hard not to notice that most efforts at improving anything are foreign initiated and funded, either by missionaries, large NGO’s, or smaller projects like Sega, the school where I’m working. How does the local culture and the desires of the people play into whether aid makes sense? Tanzanians seem fairly happy, healthy, and relatively satisfied, despite the statistics of this being such a poor country. I haven’t witnessed much hand wringing or overt efforts to improve conditions and the stock answer when something isn’t running well is that it’s due to “corruption,” which may be true. So if there’s no big push here, either to fix the corruption or to make various other things better, why are those of us from outside the country so keen to come in to offer or impose our fixes and our values?

Certainly, some folks find it hard to watch or hear about suffering and not do something about it (this includes Polly, the founder of Sega) and of course there is suffering here: the poorest, the women and girls, the disabled, the orphans, etc. While I applaud this instinct, I wonder about the creation of the aid or handout mentality, a culture of taking. Tanzanians never hesitate to ask for money, to charge white people more, to expect employers and coworkers to take care of their every need, and to mooch off friends and family for all manner of things.

The values here and in the US are truly different with Americans emphasizing individual responsibility and hard work, with resulting negatives in our culture including isolation, workaholism, and greed. Tanzanians focus on family, enjoying the present and, if a need arises, they assume someone else will help them. While this is appealing and one of the reasons they are widely seen as lovely, friendly people, there is little planning for the future,  personal savings, or pride of work, all important ingredients for improving livelihoods.  Looking at the culture, it’s difficult to see things improving that much anytime soon.

Collier argues that we should be promoting development, not mainly through aid, in poor countries for our own good because a billion very poor people in an increasingly rich world (Asia and most other places outside of Africa are rapidly developing), will provide an unhealthy cauldron for extremism and terrorism that will then have negatives for all of us. He may be right. And then there’s the likelihood that rich countries give aid strategically, in order to get resources or keep countries from allying with their enemies, rather than to promote development, so we shouldn’t be surprised that aid money often doesn’t help those countries’ citizens since that’s not its purpose.

But I think that most Americans, at least all the soft hearted folks I know, really do want to do some good for the poor of the world so would not be happy to realize that our strategic interests are being dressed up as doing good but are frequently doing the opposite.  There are projects, however, that I am confident are actually moving things in the right direction and I’m happy and relieved that I’m working with one of them.

Silly Safari Shots

We just finished our safari in the northern parks but the wildlife was not nearly as plentiful as it was during the holidays when I was here with Kelsey. Only Ngorongoro crater lived up to expectations and was teeming with animals, reminding me of the Garden of Eden. Despite the reduced number of critters, I managed to get several photos that are either funny, odd, or simply silly. It’s surprisingly easy to catch animals, and humans, in what appear to be strange behaviors.

In and of itself, this first photo is neither unusual nor funny.  Amazingly, Kelsey and I had also seen this display when we were on safari.  What was amusing was that this mating lasted under 3 seconds.  If you blinked, you missed it and there were several safari vehicles lined up with tourists with their heads out of the pop up tops waiting to see these lions mate. Once it had happened, there was an audible gasp from the women in the crowd who couldn’t believe that anything could be that quick while I could read a smug satisfaction on the faces of the men who were pleased to know that they, at least, could outlast the king of the jungle.  Of course, the lion has to repeat this flash of lust 3 times an hour for several days so the men may not have been taking that into account while silently registering their superiority.

No staying power!

No staying power!

Nursing warthog baby.  No, seriously!

Nursing warthog baby. No, seriously!

Ha ha, that was a good one!

Ha ha, that was a good one!

Oooh, feels good to itch that spot!

Finally got that spot!

Yes, it's true - in Africa, sausages grow on trees!

Yes, it’s true – in Africa, sausages grow on trees!

Cory bustard male, puffed up to impress.

Cory bustard male, all dressed up and nowhere to go.

You looking at me?

Hippo water ballet, a new Olympic sport.

Hippo water ballet, a new Olympic event.

But they say size doesn't matter.

But they say size doesn’t matter.

Elephant right of way.

Elephant right of way.