My home in Lushoto and the Irente Blind School Celebration

Today is the last day of June. I can hardly believe how quickly this month has gone. In just 11 days I board the plane to go home. While I miss my husband and my kitty, fast internet, the subway, and Crumbs cupcakes, I am truly going to miss my friends and experiences I have had in Tanzania. There have been some days and experiences that have tested me in personal and professional ways, but I still love Tanzania and I think of it as a second home. I do not believe that I will live here for a long period of time, but Tanzania will always be a part of my life.

In Lushoto this week, I felt especially at home and felt more like a mwenyeji (resident) than an mzungu (white person, sometimes synonymous with an outsider).  I saw several parents of children at the Rainbow School and they welcomed me into their home, were sad I was only there a few days and wanted to know when I was coming back. I didn’t feel like the other when I was there, but like I belonged, which I know was also related to my ability to speak Swahili.

I saw many wonderful friends and made a few new friends, like Kirsi and Petros, the new outreach coordinator at Rainbow and her husband who will be teaching music at the Rainbow School and the Irente Children’s Home.

A student showing his ability to weave sisal mats for various products.

Blind School student demonstrating their efficiency at grinding corn.

On my last day there, the Irente Blind School celebrated 50 years of existence. They have been educating blind and low vision students since right after independence. Mama Ruben is their fearless leader and a very wise woman. I hope she gets an opportunity to enjoy retirement soon as she has earned it. Here are some musical selections from the celebration. First is a video with two different clips. In Tanzania, celebrations are large, elaborate, and long.

Irente Blind School Video

The event was set to start at 10am, but officially started at about 11:15am. I left at 2:30pm to go to town for a meeting I had arranged the day before. After a report on the state of the school, a reciting of the history, several musical interludes, and a wonderful speech from a professor who was also blind and a speech about giving children with disabilities opportunities in the community by the Bishop of the diocese (the keynote speaker), they were auctioning off various products made at the school by the students to raise money to build a new hostel that would generate income for the Blind School. After that, they planned to have a few more speeches and some music and then lunch was provided for everyone in attendance. Lunch on the schedule was at 2pm. I went to town and then walked back up and got the Blind School at 4:45pm and people were just finishing lunch and the important guests were starting to leave. I finally left with one of the Rainbow teachers to visit her home at 5:30pm.

Verse Rap

Above is an audio recording of a song sung by a group of children at the blind school. It is a creative improvisational rap. It reminds me very much of the song by K’naan “Until the Lion Learns to Speak” where they are teaching us a message using a cultural form of musical expression. Enjoy.

Disability, cows, and a Lushoto teaser

Well, I have so much to say and I don’t know where to start. I was planning to write a blog entry about our trip to visit a family where we are concerned about the child and then talk about my run. But, that all happened on Monday before I went to Lushoto, and it is already the end of this week. So, I will write about it briefly.

On Monday, we went first to visit the family. They were very gracious, but their living conditions were not nice and none of the adults in the household (3) had any work. The child seems to be cared for, but the family also did not necessarily see the seriousness of the situation. It was a very difficult situation, because we were trying to explain to the family the concerns we had because their child did not do well on our assessment as well as on the school tests at the end of the first semester.

The parents wanted us to take the child the doctor for treatment, but we needed to explain that the child did not have an “ugonjwa” (illness), but that the child had a disability. At the same time, we did not want to use the word “ulemavu” (disability) because of some of the connotations of the word for people in this culture. These family members wanted us to take the child to the hospital for treatment and thought if she was treated she would improve or be cured. When I was in Lushoto for my dissertation research, I frequently heard the outreach staff trying to explain the difference between a disease that can be cured or treated and symptoms relieved, versus a disability where support, adaptations, and education can improve the situation, but that disability is a lifelong challenge for the individual and the family. The disability will not be cured or eliminated through medicine, surgery, prayer, or the laying of hands. I address the existence of such beliefs in my article (Stone-MacDonald & Butera, 2012).

The big question in my head is, “Who’s place is it to say that there is a disability? Why and for what purpose?” In the US, we use labels to secure certain funding and placements in programs, schools, and classes that address the needs and improve the lives of children and adults with specific disabilities. But what is the purpose of the label in Tanzania and other countries like it? We want the family to be concerned and be willing to participate with us and support the interventions that we believe might help, but where do we draw the line?  We could take the child to the doctor to confirm the existence of the disability and let them tell the family using the ulemavu word or “ulemavu wa akili” (intellectual disabilities) but then they expect the doctor to cure the child or give the child medicine and will expect a simple fix. At the same time, what will happen to a child who needs more than some extra help in school in the large classrooms, even we teachers that care as much as the teachers we are working with? These are difficult questions.

On a lighter note, during my Monday run I had to dodge cows, big cows, not once but twice. I was on the side roads in the neighborhood and despite the lovely houses, there are still farms nearby with animals and raising traditional crops. I really was at a lost for a moment because I didn’t want to get kicked.

In the next few days, I will write a few entries about my time in Lushoto and put up some pictures, video, and some audio from a celebration.

Below is your picture teaser from Lushoto. I took lots of pictures.


A view from the Irente Farm Car Park

A view from the Irente Farm camping area in the Usambara Mountains.




“Mzungu wetu!” and other adventures

Yesterday, we spent the last day working on new teaching techniques and planning for strategies to address the needs of the individual children. In the morning, Sarah had some other work to do, but dropped me off early at the café to start working. I took advantage of their breakfast and had French toast and bacon. Note the tomato as part of the breakfast. This is reflective of the British influence on Tanzania and breakfast choice.  Of course, there is Kilimanjaro coffee.

Union breakfast of french toast and bacon

Today we went to the school to see the classroom teacher doing tuition, or extra instruction, for children during the vacation. The teachers can choose to teach students from their class and other classes during the vacation or after school during the school year. The parents do have to pay for the service. Also, it is extra help and the teachers encourage the parents of children the teachers are concerned about are to send their children, but if they don’t want to or can’t afford it the children simply don’t come.  In addition, some of the children at the school for tuition are doing very well in school, but their parents want to pay to send them for extra help to make sure they have every possibility to learn. Therefore, the students are mixed in age usually grade 1-3 together and in their abilities ranging for children still learning to read, write, and do math to children who are excelling in their classes.

Tuition lasts from 8-11am. There is some instruction throughout the day, but in general they do a lot of exercises copied off the board. Then, the teacher collects all the notebooks and corrects them.

Checking the notebooks

After tuition, a mother of one of students that we are concerned about came to school and we had a conversation with her. We discovered that the child lives with other relatives and not the mother, so we went into the neighboring village to find the house. After a rough ride on some dirt roads, we found the house and were welcomed by the family. Unfortunately, the primary caregiver for the child was not there and we had to plan to come back next week to meet with that person. The family was so happy to see us and the young girl was there. While they had a very modest home, they welcomed us and set out stools for use to sit on to talk in the little dirt courtyard between the three structures. The girl was so happy when we entered the gate that she started shouting “Mzungu yetu! Mzungu yetu!” and gave Sarah and I each big hugs. It means “our white person! Our white person!” She was very cute.

Dialogic reading comes to Union Cafe Moshi

Today was much like yesterday. We worked on dialogic reading techniques and talked about different ways to support the literacy development of various students, particularly those students we suspect have some level of intellectual disability. Veronica developed a lesson and taught it to Sarah and I and we pretended to be some of the students that they are working with at the school.

Veronica teaching Sarah about Mama Mambo and Lina’s party

We also met with one of Sarah’s friends who has his own Kilimanjaro trek and tour company and we talked about climbing the mountain, costs, best route, safety, and other fun things. We planned a day hike to the first base camp and back for the beginning of July. This will be fun to see some of the mountain and get some exercise. I am really excited.

Here is his website and I will be happy to talk to him about climbing for you if anyone is interested.

Teaching and learning together…Newsflash: I am short.

This week has been very fun so far sitting in the café and working with Sarah and Veronica on teaching them more about disability, behavior management, and intervention strategies for teaching children with disabilities in the classroom. When school starts again in July, Veronica is going to start working with various children from who we believe need extra help in a resource room model using various techniques and materials/manipulatives we have discussed. Today, we talked about functional behavior assessment and various intervention techniques such as chaining, task analysis, prompting, use of authentic activities, shaping and using models. We are focusing on strategies to support reading, writing, and math instruction first. We did also discuss the importance of adaptive skills and vocational skills, but most of the children we are working with have learning disabilities, so their adaptive skills are good, but need support with academics.  After some instruction yesterday, Veronica used a picture book as the basis to create a lesson and I was very impressed. She did a great job. We brainstormed some other days to add to her ideas and general ideas for improving the classroom for all children. We will talk to the classroom teacher about this sometime soon, maybe Friday.

As several of you know, I don’t drive in the Boston area because it scares me. I won’t drive in Tanzania also because it scares me more and they drive on the other side of the road, I can’t get used to that. It takes me weeks each time I come to remember to get in the passenger side on the left. But, I still need to do something to be useful since Sarah is doing all the driving. So my job is to lock and unlock the house. We have a very secure door with a key lock and two padlocks, one at the top and one at the bottom. But, because I am so short, I had to buy a stool so I could reach the top padlock. So today’s picture for your enjoyment is me unlocking the door. Yes, we can all laugh at me, I think it is cute. Sarah pointed out that I am on my tippy toes as well.

This is me stretching to unlock the door.

Questions in my mind and another relaxing weekend (lots of pics)

The blog is number 1. My colleague at UMass Boston informed me that my blog is currently the number 1 UMB Blog for June. Please keep reading and learning about the project and my trip.

This week we went to several meetings with pediatricians and a clinical psychologist. One of the interesting things that was discussed at the meetings was the question, “Why do we need to know the cause or exact severity of the disability?” In the US, we want to know the cause of the disability and we want to test and use CAT Scans and MRIs to look at neurological damage and we want to know what caused it and why. I think wanting to know is important in many cultures, but then after we know that a child will have an intellectual disability, what do we gain from knowing why they have it? Using medical and psychological tests coupled with adaptive behavior scales and ruling out other causes, we can somewhat definitely determine that a child has an intellectual disability. But then that information is used to label the child and develop the IEP.  In Tanzania, it is expensive and not realistic to do CAT scans or MRIs for these reasons and we have already determined that the children we are talking about are significantly behind their peers in the classroom and that the educational system they are experiencing is not working for them. Does knowing or communicating a specific cause and term help these kids? It doesn’t provide them access to a special classroom when that classroom doesn’t exist in their school. It doesn’t change their situation. Instead, it seems just trying to find ways to support them with extra tutoring, books to look at if applicable during the lesson, or making sure that they develop their adaptive and vocational skills as well seems to be a better solution. This is a question that I grapple with and will continue to think about. How do we help and labeling does not seem to be the answer.

This weekend we enjoyed a little break and went to Melinda’s Echtwel Tea Garden and some really yummy food. Plus, it is on the road to Machame and Kilimanjaro National Park, one of the park gates and starting points for a hike up the mountain.


Mt. Kilimanjaro from Machame

I had some super yummy food with Sarah and Shay (an American I have met here) and such great fresh fruits and veggies. Check out my desert and the cucumber water.


Chocolate brownie with raspberry sauce..YUMMY!

I had a beet and goat cheese quiche and salad for lunch.


Cucumber Water and Coconut Almond Loose Leaf Tea







Here is the mountain on the way home. Click on the video to see it as we drive down the road. The sunflower field in the background is just lovely.

A short movie of Kili from the car

Working in Mzungu Heaven

For non-Swahili speakers, Mzungu is the term for white person. Sarah and I have been working at this cafe that this week we have nicknamed Mzungu heaven because during the day the clientele is almost exclusively white. Yesterday there were two busloads of volunteers enjoying coffees and milkshakes. Supposedly they make a wonderful espresso milkshake. I love the chicken shwarma plate salad and the cafe americano. The wood fired pizzas are great too. Keith and my father would say I am not suffering enough.

There is not much new to report today. But, we have had a very successful few days of work this week. Today we had a difficult meeting and Sarah was fabulous!! She was kind and sweet and encouraged the participation of all present. We have been camped out at the Kilimanjaro Union Café.

It is a café owned and run by the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union and they serve coffee, espresso, lattes etc. and yummy food. They brought in a master barista to design this and it is a great café. They have wifi, but we use our USB modems because it is cheaper overall and faster internet. Here we are working. No, we cannot see the mountain from the cafe. But, I can bring back wonderful coffee beans for you if you email me.

Sarah and I working at Kilimanjaro Union Cafe

A visit to the Jaffrey Academy

June 11, 2013

On Thursday last week, we went to the Jaffrey Academy in Arusha to see a private school that is preK through form 4 (on the British system, form 1-4 is the four years of high school). Originally, it was a Shia Muslim school, but now this school serves any child that wants to come and the family can pay the tuition, but many at the school are either Tanzanians of Indian descent or Tanzanians who are descended from Middle Eastern immigrants (often Omanis) a long time ago. When we were sitting in one of the second grade classes at the beginning of the day I was trying to figure out what was different and then I realized that all the children, including the girls had hair, long hair frequently. In the village schools for hygiene reasons, all children (including girls) keep their head shaved until they are old enough to properly care for their hair and keep it braided and clean.

At this school, there is a dynamic teacher and head of the special needs unit who has been working tirelessly for years to build the unit and to fight for the inclusion of her students in the general education classroom. She has been very successful in included several students, but also working in her unit with evidence based practices such as picture communication symbols and pivotal response training.

She has been working with her students on various vocational and life skills such as gardening and bead making. Here are some of the fabulous bead works and a need bag that her students made. She gave some of this to me as a gift and some I purchased because I liked it so much.

Sally will be selling similar jewelry at the IASE conference in July in Vancouver.  Sally is also the International Teacher of the Year for CEC. She is really AWESOME!

I spy the mountain…

June 9, 2013
It has been a few days since I posted on the blog. We had a very successful completion of our work before vacation, which 2/3 of the parents we requested coming to talk to us their children and we learned a lot of valuable things about the children and their home life and health histories to fill in some questions we had from our assessment work. We have now shared our information with the parents and are helping them to get appointments at various local clinics to take their children for further evaluation.

We had two days of parent meetings it was very interesting who showed up. On day 1, we had all babas (or fathers) except for one grandmother who was the guardian for that child.  On day 2, we had almost exclusively mamas, with just one father and one mama and baba who came together. We are very pleased with the progress. After the last meeting, we sat for a while with the teacher in the standard one class and reviewed our findings and our plan for children. She is doing extra tutoring for children who need it during break, so we recommended some of the children go to her. Because it will cost the families money for the tutoring, we don’t know how many will do it, but we gave her the list of students who we think need it and she had a list of students she developed based on how they did on their end of term tests.

Next week, we are working on data analysis and Sarah has some other business to take care of for the organization.  Since, there is not much to share on that over the next few days, I will share the pictures and adventures of last week over the next few days.

Today’s pictures of are Mount Kilimanjaro. Since I see the mountain every day at some point (because it is there and I look for it because I am in awe of the it), I have become increasingly interested in climbing it. I can’t do it on this trip because of time, expense, and lack of proper equipment, but I am really planning on it sometime. Maybe it will be my gift to myself when/if I get tenure. I hope Keith will climb with me.

Look for the snow

Last weekend, I discovered that I could see the mountain from our backyard. It is not the best view, but I love walking out in the morning with me tea and looking. Frequently in the morning it is in the clouds, but sometimes I can see it. These aren’t great pics, I call them my mountain specs. When I was on safari my animal pics were so small barely discernible as animals, we called them specs. Enjoy and I will try to get better pics from a different location.

Look to the left of the triangle roof

So many questions being answered

Yesterday we continued to make progress as we are nearing the end of the school term. We sat with the teachers as they completed the questionnaires regarding students for whom we have some concerns and want to gather additional information. This week we are also doing parent meetings.  Today, we finished the questionnaires with the teachers and we did several interviews with parents of the same students.

We are all ready to start the interviews

We are using a second assessment questionnaire modeled after the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, but it has been adapted to be culturally relevant. We are using this questionnaire with the teachers and parents and comparing answers.  So far, one very interesting idea that has come out to me is when we ask the parents questions about school concepts, they say they really don’t know and when we ask questions about things a child does at home, they really don’t know. There is definitely a separation between home life and school. It seems cultural but it also seems that parents trust the work of the teachers or are just doing so much to take care of daily life that they let the teachers handle school. On the other hand, the teachers have almost 160 students each day in classes 1 and 2 and just do not have the time to connect with all parents.

A teacher completing the questionnaire

Today was very successful and we were thrilled with the number of parents who came. Wednesday and Thursday school is closed so that class 7 (the last grade in primary school) can do their exams. We will visit two organizations those days where Sarah has connections and are trying to look at the options for referral and support for students with various needs.