Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cornerstones and VIPs

We were honored (or honoured, as I often write here) to have the Prime Minister visit PHSS on Sunday to lay the cornerstorne for the school. Actually, it's not really a cornerstone--it's more of a "plaque dedication" ceremony. I'm always a bit impressed, since in America it would be almost impossible to get this close to a national leader like this. The Prime Minister attended several of these ceremonies at Lutheran projects in the area as well as a luncheon.

I wish I could say that I'd be giving you this information first-hand, but unfortunately I didn't attend. After trying for a month to schedule the kids' birthday party (between other parties they were invited to, Mark's weekend work commitments this past month, and other stuff) I finally picked yesterday. After all, nothing goes on on Sunday around here and the Prime Minister's visit was set for Monday. Then, on Wednesday afternoon it was changed--to Sunday. I decided not to risk the wrath of the children and went ahead with the party.

Actually, it wasn't the first time it was changed. The church officials were primarily in charge of getting everything ready--and after the number of calls we got changing the date and time, we were more than happy to let them deal with it! I suppose planning anything for a major politcal figure requires alot of shuffling schedules and timing. So Mark and Doug and the teachers headed out at about 9:15 for the 10:30 appearance at the site (it's about 30 minutes from our house to the site). On the way they got caught in traffic because...the PM was coming through. At first they were a little worried that they were going to arrive after the PM--then he drove by..going the other way. It seems as if he was already a little behind schedule and was heading to another site. So everyone arrived on time. Plenty of time. The Prime Minister finally arrived at 2:00. (hint--it's a good idea to bring a bottle of water and some reading material whenever you head out for something around here). The Prime Minister took a short tour and appeared to be favorably impressed with the project and what he heard about our mission.

Whenever we've attended something like this, I'm always amazed at how many people are attending. I don't want to say "tagging along" because I don't know what everyone's function is, or how many people are invited because it's a privilege to accompany him. Not having much experience with this sort of thing (oh, all right--having no experience with this sort of thing) I would imagine that a large entourage probably accompanies Bush or Cheney whenever they head out as well. But the "entourage" of cars filled with people is pretty amazing! In fact, we were stopped this week while the President went by. I counted 22 Landcruisers with at least 4-6 people in each one--that did not include the additional police vehicles!

I am including this one pic, however, because it is a very common site wherever we go. Whenever anything mildly interesting happens (or maybe might happen) you get a crowd watching. I've mentioned the proclivity towards gawking here and being wazungu we are often the ones being watched. This is what we see.

The site looked great. Colorful, lots of flowers, very nice! While they were waiting, Mark and Doug watched the man setting up the decorations. It was after the time the PM was supposed to arrive and he was moving at a very leisurely pace. Doug wondered if perhaps he had an inside scoop on exactly when the PM would arrive and so he knew he didn't have to rush. Mark answered, probably not. The guy is just going about business. He'd know when he's done decorating...when the PM arrives, not when the decorations are actually all up!

I always enjoy, though, the clothing that people wear here. There is such a colorful mix of traditional and Western clothing and it seems as if it's all OK. While I'm personally a big fan of the little black dress as the go-to outfit that works pretty much everywhere, the color and patterns here are something I love to see. There's always a great mix of western clothing, Tanzanian style, and traditional dress. It mirrors the personalities of the people of Tanzania, I think--they are so colorful themselves and life here is definitely a mix of African and western, the traditional and the modern!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Happy Birthday Cameron!

He's almost a teenager...turning 12 last week. Nothing like watching your kids grow up to remind you that you're growing (older), too! At Christmas Cameron got an iPod Shuffle and a cool messenger bag. Very teen-agery. When it was all done, I could see him realizing that, even though his stuff was very cool, there were no toys. I remember being at that stage--loving my things but being aware that things were going to be different. So there were toys at birthday time...as well as gift cards to iTunes. A little bit of both worlds--and that's where he is now.
After the first present, he's apparently trying to discern what it is (a rugby ball) or what the next present might be.

Some other people were very excited that some people got more toys for their birthday.

And some just want to be one of Bob Barker's Beauties.

See--that reference dates me. I just know it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Friends and Money

...are two things that generally don't go well together. We have a lot of sayings

in America about what happens when you lend money to friends or other people. We have a reputation for being very direct--and have a lot of sayings there, as well. We want people to "lay their cards on the table", to "face the facts", to "fish or get off the dock". We don't like it when people "beat around the bush" or "pass the buck". We are a culture of charity but not hospitality, of sharing information and ideas, but not resources, of placing independence and efficiency above personal relationships.

So says the author of a great book African Friends and Money Matters. And I think he's right. There's nothing inherently wrong with our culture and ways of interacting in personal relationships and business dealings. The author, David Maranz, makes the point that our political and economic structures make "our" ways of doing things very suitable. He also makes the point that Africa's political and economic structures have caused African cultures to develop in ways that are contrary to ours and often result in difficult situations, hurt feelings, and ongoing frustration and distrust on both sides. The author (who is an anthropologist) is writing most from his experiences in Senegal and uses those experiences to talk about most Africans, but almost everything he talks about is spot on for Tanzania as well. Some examples:

Being involved materially and financially with others is a very important element of social interaction; however, Westerners distrust frienships that regularly include financial or material requests/exchanges.

African readily share space and things but are possessive of information and knowledge. Westerners readily share information and knowledge but are possessive of things and space.

The person in need has the larger share in determining whether his need is greater than that of the donor and has a major say in how that money or resource will be used. Westerners consider it theft or corruption to take something unilaterally or change the terms under which a resource was given.

Precision in tracking financial or money obligations is generally avoided because it shows a lack of a generous spirit and a focus on the resource, not on the people. Budgeting is not a generally accepted way of handling finances. Westerners feel precision is essential in money matters. Laxity and permissiveness are dangerous for individuals and the larger society.

Africans consider their network of friends to be their network of resources. Westerners consider any friendship that includes material considerations as suspect.

Africans find security in ambiguous arrangements, plans, and speech. A promise to complete something by a certain date is often a means of maintaing a good social relationship in the present and is understood to not be a contract. It is perfectly acceptable to renegotiate the terms of an agreement at any time. Westerners are more future oriented and find security in clearly defined relationships, arrangements, and speech. A failure to complete something by an agreed-upon date is seen as unprofessional or lax. Renegotiating the terms of a contract or the amount of payment after an initial agreement has been reached is seen as dishonest.

Africans typically receive satisfaction from being asked for financial help, whether or not they can actually provide it. Westerners are largely annoyed by requests for help and find it almost impossible to understand how the situation can be enjoyable.

When in need Africans ask for money. The risk of the loan is assumed by the lender. There is the assumption that loans are actually gifts, whether they are things or money. Westerners assume the risk for repayment rests with the borrower and expect the return of the item or funds.

Inaction or delays in carrying out tasks may constitute a well-considered non-verbal message and is not necessarily the result of inaction, inertia, or incompetance. Westerners find it very frustrating to have Africans appear to be disorganized, uninformed, and unplanned.

The list goes on and on. I found I had to watch myself while reading it--I had a tendency at times to think, "Aha! See? That's why there so many thing wrong around here. All you'd have to do is..." Which of course would be MY way of doing things. And the book repeatedly emphasizes the fact that the structures in place in each system are beneficial to the values of each society. Of course there are negatives in each way of doing things. For most people in each culture, however, the positives outweigh the negatives. For Africans, it is very difficult to get ahead if you are obligated to give your family and friends anything extra you might have, but the result is the preservation of a network of family and friends that is paramount in this culture. For Americans, we expect people to plan for the future, to stand on their own, but we also often complain about the breakdown of family structure, how little time we have for socializing, etc. But it is a price we are generally willing to pay.

Honestly, if you want to get a sense of living life or doing business here, read this book. It really does cover virtually all of the areas that have caused us the most frustration, confusion, and culture shock since we've been here! I think we are making better headway with these issues in our personal lives, but trying to conduct business--to manage the construction site where we are ask people to create work schedules and timelines, to order furniture (and expect it to be done well and consistent), to require employees to submit receipts and change (OK, I struggle with that myself a bit) is ongoing hard work. I know there are many times we've come away thinking "Well, we handled that well. Not too "American" pushy, but direct enough to get the point across" and realized later for whatever reason that what we said/did really didn't accomplish our intented goal. Those that have been here for much longer clearly have a good understanding of the Tanzanian perspective and approach and somehow have managed to conduct business in such a way that the important Western needs are fulfilled but in a way that is acceptable to the Tanzanians involved as well. But they all do admit it's a constant balancing act!

Our New Teachers.

We have our new teaching staff on board! They began last week and their first assignment has been working with the student testing. They are spending this week reviewing how testing went, grading exams (learning how to use rubrics) and determining which students will make the cut and be home-visited to determine eligibility. I'm quite sure their heads are spinning a little right now! These teachers (plus on more parttime English teacher we have yet to hire) will be the inaugural staff at PHSS. We are very lucky to have found 3 qualified math/science teachers. Even though teaching jobs can be pretty dismal here, there is a terrible shortage of math and science teachers--and we were able to hire 3 of them! Here they are...

Consolata Shayo is originally from the Kilimanjaro area. She is a recent graduate of Mwenge Teacher's College in Moshi, where she was a recipient of a PHF scholarship for two years. This is her first teaching job; Consolata will be teaching English at PHSS.

Nicholas Mushi (below) is also from the Kilimanjaro area. A recent graduate of Mwenge Teacher's College in Moshi, he was also a recipient of a PHF scholarship. Nicholas will be teaching biology and geography at PHSS.

Raymond Mtazama is originally from Songea but has been living in Dar es Salaam where he has been teaching for 17 years. He has a degree in chemistry and math from Mkwawa Teacher's College in Iringa and will be teaching those subjects at PHSS. He is also working on a degree in special education at Patandi College of Special Needs in Tengeru near Arusha. Raymond's wife is a statistician for the postal corporation and he has 3 children ages 14, 11, and 6.

Charles Urasa has lived in the Moshi and Arusha area all his life. He has a degree in physics and chemistry from the Moduli Teacher's Training College. Charles' wife is currently finishing a program in secretarial school. They are enjoying being new parents to a 4 month old daughter.

I know I've posted a pic of Theo, our headmistress, but I'll do it again, since she completes the team. She has been such a strong addition to our team--she is so intelligent and not afraid to ask questions or challenge an idea. One of the most difficult aspects of her job will be to lead teachers in adopting teaching practices that neither she nor anyone has ever seen, while at the same time learning them herself. She will be an essential bridge between the director (Mark) who is an "outsider" with the new ideas and the teachers who have been schooled and trained in very different ways. So far, she has been absolutely terrific!

Theopista Seuya is originally from the Lushoto area. She has been an English teacher for nine years, most recently at Faraja Seminary where she was also the assistant head of school. This is her first position as headmistress where she will also teach English. Theo began her work with PHF working in the scholarship program in Moshi. She is recently married; her husband works for World Vision. They have three children and are expecting another in the first part of March. Theo's commitment to children, her willingness to learn, and her strong character have already made her an invaluable asset to PHSS.
Here's what Theo had to say about working for PHSS: "Since I have been with PHSS, I have not regretted making the decision to come to work here. I know that one day soon the vision of PHF will be a reality for many students in Tanzania. Being in such a school and working with such children will bring a great contentment to me. We are fortunate to have a good leader. (Mark) understands the teachers. He gives time to share ideas and recognizes other's contributions. He is working very hard, yet he is considerate and caring of others, especially those that work for him."
Karibuni, walimu! (Welcome, teachers!)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ack! Culture Shock!

Nope, not from the Tanzanian side. We spent the afternoon at the annual Super Bowl party--including pre/post game and all the commercials. It was great--football I can always take or leave, but it's always fun to get together for a "fest". And, sadly, I still know about the shows that were advertised, who the celebrities are, and all the pop culture gossip.

Shortly before we left Minnesota, we met a family that had just returned from Arusha after 4 years here. She assured me that after 6 months, I would neither know nor care about all the trivial tackiness of American pop culture. Oh, she so misjudged my shallowness! For whatever it says about me, I do actually know how many times bald Britney checked in and out of rehab last week. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. It's the same way Mark never watched sports and could go weeks without reading the paper (I know because he'd start bothering me to cancel the subscription) but he would know the standings of any team, and which player was hot in any given week.

Anyway, not having seen commericals for over a year, what shocked me was the pace of the images. Things flashed up on the screen and were gone so quickly. Everything was edited to move at the speed of light. Did we really watch television like this only a year ago?! And the talking--the announcers during the game never stopped talking! I know that that's normal commentary, but it was so strange to hear so much noise. A couple long-timers mentioned that as well, that it was "American" to have so much crammed into what you see or hear, and that we are not comfortable with silence. I don't know if that's completely true, but it was sure a jolt to feel bombarded by something we didn't pay any attention to such a short time ago!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Students are Coming!

With all the posts and pictures of the school under construction, it might be easy for readers to forget that there's all the operational development also going on--it's just not as easy to take pictures of it!

These past 3 days saw the beginning of the intake process of the first class of PHSS. It's probably the most important job we'll do this year. After spending the past year talking to many organizations and schools who select students, we realized that what we are aiming to do is very different from everyone else. The best we could hope to do is listen carefully, ask lots of questions, and head out into the unknown! One of the biggest concerns we have is students coming into PHSS that don't fit our criteria of orphans or extreme poverty. This happens because of outright cheating on the part of church or government officials (who often select family or friends that can afford other schools) as well as the result of desperation of parents who will do anything to secure an education, especially one that doesn't cost, for their children.

The first step was to decide how to identify a potential pool of students. Some schools put ads in the papers and then do open calls, where they weed students out on the basis of entrance tests. Since our criteria is very specific we opted not to do that as we'd have to wade through too many kids to find those that met our target population. We finally decided to gather about 650 students as a pool to select the 120 for the opening class. We approached the bishops of the Lutheran, Catholic, Assemblies of God, and Anglican churches in this region and asked for their assistance. Each bishop was given about 150 applications and specific instructions for the type of student we were looking for. We asked them to talk to their pastors and distribute the applications to families that were caring for orphans or were very needy. We also did the same for several non-religious organizations that worked with children. Our target population were students who were orphans (75% of the class), were extremely poor (25% of the class) and had completed primary school but were not attending secondary school.

The second step was to determine how to narrow that pool down before we even looked at or confirmed their socio-economic status. All schools use an entrance exam for that. We wanted to collect data on the students academically, but know that this very vulnerable population has likely not received good primary education and traditional measures wouldn't tell us whether a student would be successful on our terms. We finally settled on a reading and writing exam in both Swahili and English and a short problem-solving (spatial) exam. We are interested in seeing how literate the students are in Swahili, as that will give us an indication of how quickly they can learn English (studies show that the less literate a person is in their first language, the less likely they are to be literate in a 2nd language). We also wanted to gauge their English ability going into PHSS. Finally, a short problem-solving puzzle exam would give us an idea as to whether students were able to apply effort and thinking to a very novel situation. We will use a combination of scores from these exams as well as scores from their final primary exams. We are not necessarily looking for those that scored the highest--in fact, we will probably select from a range. What we hope to do in the next few years is streamline the selection process by identifying markers for success at the secondary level by what we see when we are beginning the selection process.

Thursday we showed up at the first testing site. As you can see from the first picture, part of the process also involved putting together 200 tables and setting out chairs...they'll deliver but not set up! We had no idea how many students would show up--once we left the applications with the bishops, the process was out of our hands until we began the testing. Approximately 120 students showed the first day in Usa River, about 300 the second day in Arusha (which required having 50 students wait until the first group had finished and then did a second shift of testing as we had neither tables/chairs or test copies for all of them at once!), and another 90 in Ngaremtoni, for a total of approximately 510 students out of 650 applications. We had very few late arrivals, unusual for Tanzania, which shows how seriously the families took this opportunity. We consider the turnout to be very good!

Once we had them checked in, we began the exams, which took about 2 hours. Sounds like a lot of work, huh? Sadly, this was probably the easier part! This week we'll grade the exams and narrow the field to about 200 students. Then, each student will need at least 2 home visits to verify their orphan or poverty status. We are asking a couple organizations here to provide assistance so we can know what to look for in a home or how to suspect we are being conned. Because we are new at this, we kept the area from which students could come small, but it will necessitate trips to villages (in the rainy season when the roads are less than stellar), and no way to contact anyone, as few people would have phones and no one has addresses. Most of the visits, by necessity, need to be surprise visits. Mark and I don't speak enough Swahili to operate alone and probably wouldn't get the necessary "read" on people. Our teachers don't drive. So we'll head out in pairs and hopefully be able to certify the status of 120 students by the time school opens!
There were some difficult moments. Many students asked when they would find out if they were accepted to the next level. The only way they will know is if we show up at their home to check on them. There's simply no way to contact all these families. Eventually, we will send the referring organizations feedback and a list of accepted students, but it was hard to look at 500 children knowing that we will only take 120...it's a tremendous incentive for us to refine our selection process. Practical reasons aside, it would be much better if we could begin with a smaller pool and know with more certainty what we are looking for.
I have thought often during this process of my own children and when in their lives they will have to go through something like this and the answer is "never". Their good schooling has been a given in our lives. Their college applications and selection are nothing compared to this. I can't imagine how my hopes would be raised if I had been given an application for my child or for a relative, that I would dress them in their best and send them on a bus (costing money that was hard to come by) and then wait...I have often commented that life here requires you to be simultaneously extremely compassionate and hard-hearted. Most of the time I focus on the good that we are doing, on those that will benefit. I firmly believe that PHSS will be a life-saving gift for the children who attend. I believe that our graduates and our staff will have a ripple effect in their communities and will be able to share their blessings with others. It is important to keep that as the focus, or it is easy to become overwhelmed by the need around us. Which is true for most aspects of life here, not just our work.

One of the best feelings, though, (and it's definitely paradoxical--is that a word?) was knowing that I had met the first students of PHSS in these past 3 days. Somewhere, "our" children are waiting! Theo, our headmistress, is a strong Christian, and she has prayed for weeks that God will deliver the right children to us in this process. We have all prayed, but we have drawn a lot of strength from her conviction in what we are doing. It is an exciting time to be working as a team with our new teachers (who you will be meeting soon here in the blog) and headmistress, as well as our other staff, on the actual purpose of the school--STUDENTS!