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.

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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.

The Usambara Mountains and Their Secrets

Having spent several days on the Tanzanian coast, north of Tanga,

Indian ocean from Fish Eagle Point on coast

Indian ocean from Fish Eagle Point on coast

sweating in the high humidity while enjoying the beauty of the Indian Ocean just south of the Kenyan border, we are now in the Usambara Mountains. It’s hard to believe it’s the same country given the dramatic change in surroundings and climate, from energy sapping heat and scrub desert to dry, cool evenings and lushness in a few hours drive.

The Usambaras are a steep and rocky mountain range featuring rain forests and incredible productivity of crops planted in and among the trees. They are a world biodiversity site, although overpopulation in the Tanga region, the fastest growing in Tanzania, has led to rampant deforestation and little native forest remains. John, with whom I’m traveling and who attended school here, noticed the many denuded hills immediately.

We stayed at a small accommodation on the side of a gorgeous hillside reminiscent of a cross between the Swiss Alps and the jungle.

The hill above Swiss Farm Cottages

Clearly, the fellow who built this small hotel thought so too as he named it Swiss Farm Cottages.

The nearest town, Lushoto, is set in a lovely valley between mountains. Twelve kilometers from Lushoto is Soni, the infamous location of what used to be St. Michael’s, the boys’ boarding school run by the Catholic Rosminian order where John spent a harrowing six years from age 7 to 13 surviving the verbal, physical, and sexual abuse meted out by the sadistic priests under whose “care” the boys existed. The white African boys sent to St. Michael’s by their unknowing families had been raised in the “stiff upper lip” approach of the British of that period so never considered complaining to their parents, a custom the priests were aware of and relied upon to keep their secrets.

The rock above the school and the school below it

The rock above the school and the school below it

And the boys in Africa got the worst of the priests and the worst of the treatment, the Rosminians sending those who had been caught molesting children in England off to Africa to molest there instead, assuming that anything goes in those remote and uncivilized mountains. It was a reasonable place to hide their worst actors as they knew it was unlikely anyone would discover their abusive habits off in the African bush.

The site, which we visited, is now a secondary school for African boys, though we had heard it was a seminary. Given the lawsuit that John and 25 other of the victims have brought against the order through a barrister in England, John was concerned we might be stopped before having the opportunity to look around. After a 40-year absence, he had anticipated this return with both curiosity and apprehension but nobody noticed us as we wandered the campus snapping photos.

The church at what was St. Michael's

The church at what was St. Michael’s

After three years, proceedings in the case will be issued on March 4th. The timing is due to the conclusion of another case brought in England in which the church argued that it could not be prosecuted because the priests did not work for the church but instead were “servants of god,” and therefore not subject to any earthly laws. Shot down by the British courts as the babbling of criminals that it was, this allowed for John and his fellow victims’ case to proceed.

A BBC special, “Abused: Breaking the Silence” (on YouTube), that John and others were featured in last year, has also caused the church to be on its guard to avoid further publicity on yet another instance of the Catholics putting or leaving children in danger instead of removing known pedophiles from their schools and churches.

John in front of the room of  Father Cunningham, the priest who targeted him

John in front of the room of Father Cunningham, the priest who targeted him

Given that Pope Benedict has chosen to continue residing (hiding) in the Vatican, probably to protect himself in case the action brought to the International Criminal Court in the Hague to prosecute him for crimes against humanity gets status, it would be nice to think the forces of good have this institution of evil on the run but I am too much the cynic to believe that is really the case.

So, having bent your ear on that topic, I will end this blog with how we ended our time in the Usambaras. Noting that both of our back tires were looking rather half mast, we stopped at a small filling station in Lushoto to have them checked. Sure enough, one was punctured twice from two separate nails and the other one once.

How many Tanzanians does it take to fix a punctured tire?

How many Tanzanians does it take to fix a punctured tire?

After an hour of much attention by several Tanzanian men with virtually no equipment or tools, we drove off with plugs in the punctures hoping we could make it the 4 to 5 hours to Moshi that afternoon. The good news is, we did.

Hamna shida! (No problem!)

Sauti za Busara (Sounds of Wisdom)

I’m back in Zanzibar, this time for the African music festival Sauti za Busara, an annual three-day event that features musicians from all over Africa. It attracts folks who love African music and who like to be at a fun event where everyone is running into everyone in Stonetown.

Burkina Electric, amazing dance and music from Burkina Faso

Burkina Electric, amazing dance and music from Burkina Faso

The festival is at night so days can be spent going to the beach, wandering the maze of streets, returning to an air conditioned hotel room to rest and cool off, and meeting friends for meals that are much tastier than on the mainland partly due to the plentiful fresh seafood.

Tonight is the last of three nights of music at the old fort and the headliner is the final artist, Cheikh Lo of Senegal (dreads to his knees), a protégé of Youssou N’Ddour, who is scheduled to go on at 12:15am but as the schedule seems to always be at least 30 minutes behind, it will probably be closer to 1am. We plan to show up to the fort around 10pm, hopefully rested, in the hopes that we can make it to 2am for those final, best artists.

Dried sea items including octopus, yumm!

Dried sea items including octopus, yumm!

I’m traveling with my friend John and yesterday, we visited the food and spice market in the morning and then took a tour of the old slave market, shut down in 1864. However, slave trading by the Arabs continued illegally elsewhere on the island into the 20th century. We saw an underground dungeon where slaves were stored and had to try and survive in their own waste – crushingly sad to imagine.

There is a memorial to the slaves there designed by Swedish artist, Clara Sornas, which is very moving.

Memorial to Slaves, Zanzibar

Memorial to Slaves, Zanzibar

Having grown up in Berkeley studying slavery in the US context, it is fascinating to see the history from the African perspective, although I find it difficult to keep the faith in humanity when thinking about what people did, and still do, to one another.

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Bananas and burkas

The heavily Muslim nature of this island is evident everywhere. The call to prayer over loudspeakers from the minarets, the madrasah schools on every corner with white scarved girls and white robed boys chanting and singing (“the sounds of brains being washed” as John noted), and women in full, black burkas with only their made up eyes and painted toenails showing, wandering around juxtaposed with white tourists, often scantily clad.

On Friday morning as we flew from Dar es Salaam, a group of Muslims in Dar stormed the police headquarters to protest their leader being jailed. So even in this country, proud and insistent of its religious and ethnic tolerance where I’m repeatedly told that everyone gets along, there is strife.

When we returned this late afternoon from the Zanzibar Beach Resort’s popular pool, where we had hung out at for the fee of Tsh 6,000 ($4) each plus a $5 taxi ride there and back, we walked by the waterfront on our way back to our hotel. Large numbers of boys and young men were flinging themselves off the boardwalk and into the ocean, competing to see who could do a crazier dive.

The plunge

The plunge

The sheer joy was fun to watch, despite the knowledge that they land in water that is also the recipient of raw sewage pouring into Stonetown harbor. It was fun to take photos but I won’t be joining them anytime soon!

I am publishing this now and then off to the festival to see the last three acts of the weekend. Wish me luck in staying awake until 2am!

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Save the Elephants and Meet Yustina!

Sega girls on skype call

Sega girls on skype call

Yesterday afternoon, Sega’s new Anti Ivory club held a skype video call with China and California.  This was a first for the Sega girls, most of whom have never heard of skype or seen it in action.  The club was just started a few weeks ago and I’m proud to say it was through a contact of mine that it happened!

I’ve never been able to get into the whole social media thing.  However, in this case, it did what it’s supposed to do. A professional acquaintance of mine now working with an elephant welfare organization, JulietteSpeaks, found me on LinkedIn last month and saw that I am working at a school in Tanzania. She contacted me about whether Sega would like to become the pilot school in Africa for their Global Youth Against the Ivory Trade project and now we are just that.

Killed in Tsavo less than 10 days ago

Killed in Tsavo less than 10 days ago, showing how much work there is left to do!

During the call, the technology wasn’t perfect and it was a bit hard to hear everything but it was still very exciting.  The girls spoke to Juliette West, age 17, who founded JulietteSpeaks and to Celia Ho, age 14, in Hong Kong who is also an elephant activist in the country whose citizens are the largest global consumers of ivory.  I look forward to watching Sega’s club, led by history teacher Enock Gray, contribute to this incredibly important effort to keep elephants from being wiped out.  The goal of the folks at JulietteSpeaks is for the girls to produce a video that will be taken to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) conference in Bangkok next month, representing the youth voice.

Yustina John

Yustina John

One of the 46 girls who signed up for the Sega club is Yustina John. Yustina is in Form 1 (8th grade) and what follows is her story, mostly in her own words:

My name is Yustina John. I am 16 years old and I live with my mother, brother, sister and my young sister when I am not at Sega.  My goal is to become a botanist (I know from Yustina that she’d also like to be famous and she asked me if there is a famous botanist, a question that stumped me!).  My favorite school subjects are chemistry, biology, English, geography, history and bookkeeping.  I don’t enjoy math or commerce. In my free time I like drawing and to write stories.  In my life, I want to travel from one place to another like America, India, Australia, New Zealand.  The fruits I like most are apple, orange, mango, and banana and my favorite animals are elephants and lions.

Yustina introducing herself on skype

Yustina introducing herself on skype

I feel happy when I see visitors come to school and the volunteers that live at school and help us. I love them so much.  In my life, I like to say thank you to all the people who are helping the school.  I like to ask some questions about their country and why they come to Tanzania and how they feel when they are here.   I like to stay with my friends and talk.

On holiday when I am back home the first thing that makes me happy is when I see my family and all are fine and the thing that makes me feel so bad is when I hear one of them is sick.  In my life I like to go to church.  Before my father died, he went to church and he was a good person and many people loved my father so much.  Before he died, my father worked building roads. After he was gone, life became very hard.

Mary and Yustina

Mary and Yustina

When I am back home I help my mother sell sambusa and ice cream and every morning we go to sell at a place where there are many people.  Sometimes we sell little so we get little money.  With that money we want to buy uniforms, food, clothes, exercise books, pens, school fees but that money is not enough to buy all this so we buy only the things we can with the money we have.  The place which we live at home, sometimes when it’s raining, the rain enters the house.  So that is why I study hard because I want to reach my goal. I will change the life at home. I will change the place where I live. I will do a lot of things to change my life and I will help my young sister and brother.