Wednesday, June 29, 2005

So we are in this interlude between the school terms, with about half my students still here so they can have some extra classes to help prepare for the National Exams in October. The school required that they pay 4000 shillings (about $4) for the privilege, which is why the other half went home.

Last week I really didn’t do anything. I’d come back from the meeting in Dar es Salaam to find that the Chairman of the Chem Dept was sort-of running an open laboratory as his way of teaching qualitative analysis. I basically stuck my head in now and then to show that I was there, and otherwise stayed out of the way.

This week I intended to actually teach. I went to my first class, only to find another teacher in the classroom, reviewing history. After checking the schedule with him, he left. But then he gave out his test papers right outside and all the room followed him to get their papers and see what their scores were. About the time they started filtering back into the room, the school bell rang. This indicated a special parade-ground meeting, and so that was the end of classes for the day.

There was a car from the Bugando Hospital on the parade ground. Seems the Hospital had run into a critical blood shortage, so had come to announce an ad-hoc blood drive. That led to a much milling about and general party atmosphere, and slowly things congealed at the biology laboratory where they were setting up some tables and cots and most students migrated over there.

I was curious to see how a blood drive would be run here, and had no reason not to give blood anyway, so I participated too. So far as I know, only one other teacher gave blood. Interestingly, I will not be accepted as a blood donor again in the US for a long long time, if ever, thanks to my two years plus in Africa. Fears of both malaria and HIV/AIDS.

Anyway, there were none of those confidential discussions of previous sexual activities, drug use, or medications before giving blood. They had announced at the Parade that no-one with malaria should give blood, and probably announced other restrictions too, but as it was in Kiswahili that escaped me. They checked weight (50kg min. for donation), pulse (I had one), blood pressure, and hematocrit. They ladled out about two tablespoons of pure glucose into our hands to be licked up before giving blood. The collection apparatus was simple but modern – alcohol swabs before using needles, vacuum sample collection bottles, the sharps were all single-use, with familiar looking plastic tubing and blood bags, but no IV stands. I loved the BIG nurse with her HARLEY-DAVIDSON T-shirt. One more benefit of the used-clothing market here. Afterwards we got some free pens, exercise books, and a soda. No jellybeans or oreos, unfortunately.

The blood will be tested for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and a bunch of other stuff. The director told me that it is optional for a person to be told whether the tests – esp. HIV/AIDS – are positive or not. There is counseling for those who learn that they have HIV, but if they requested not to be told the results of the test they won’t be, even if the test was positive. There is such a strong stigma to having AIDS here! I asked what percentage request not to be told. He said about 50 percent overall, but a much lower percentage among students because most of them don’t think they have AIDS. I intend to use this to get a discussion going in all my classes. What are the reasons FOR and AGAINST learning the results of an AIDS test? What would you tell your friend to do? Your sex partner, if you had one? Why? What would you think of a person whose test was positive?

**** FLASH ** FLASH ** FLASH ****

I just got a phone call from Thomas Msuka, my PC Asst. Dir. for Education - he is a good guy who oversees the Education Program I am part of. While I was in Dar last, I filled out a form requesting participation as a “PCV of the Week,” to spend some time with new volunteers while they are still in their training program. He told me I had been selected, based largely on my intention to share about starting secondary projects. So this will be interesting and fun, and yet another break from teaching at Nsumba.

Thomas also wanted to know if I could arrange a workshop or program to showcase the entrepreneurship project for a “visitor” from Dar es Salaam. Can I? WITH BELLS AND WHISTLES AND FOUR PART HARMONY!!!!!! Whooeeeeee! His schedule would put this meeting in the middle of my family’s Safari, on August 11th (my birthday) and 12th. But god is with me, bless her, as that is during the time I’d intended for us to be in Mwanza anyway, and the timing fits beautifully.

The whole entrepreneurship program ought to conclude around the end of September, when we should have some sort of graduation ceremony. Give out the precious certificates all the students want and announce the winning business plans – hopefully make an award or two. I asked Thomas what he would think about inviting the new PC Country Director to attend the ceremony – maybe even invite the US Ambassador – and he was POSITIVE about the ideas! Suggested that I work with Nancy and the current Director, Marily, to start the ball rolling. If this works, it would really galvanize things. You couldn’t keep the Headmasters away from an event like that, and the Rotary would be doing cartwheels too. And the TechnoServe brass should absolutely be part of it. Media coverage. Politicians. Solidified cooperation between USAID, Peace Corps, and TechnoServe. Sustainability GUARANTEED! Well hey, it is a long shot, but...

What else? Well, second year volunteers have a reputation as being cynical. I think it is more the realism that comes after the initial euphoria wears off and that, instead, some of us simply have formed some strong ideas about what works and what doesn’t. But these get lost in the complete two-year turnover pattern, and so we all keep re-inventing the wheel. So I suggested to Thomas that as part of our Close of Service (COS) gathering in October, we might have a Symposium – invite any volunteer who wants to prepare an abstract and give a 15-20 minute talk about their work a chance to do that. Then maybe have a panel discussion or two. Thomas was encouraging about that idea, too. Have to see what can be done.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I just completed a (yawn) End of Term Report for the Peace Corps. A bureaucratic self justification if ever there was one. Typical question, on the objective: we are to indicate the # of students assisted (by gender), # of teachers assisted (also by gender), # of Organizations Strengthened, Type of organization, and # of communities assisted, and then give detailed descriptions of activities and outcomes. About a dozen of these inane objectives.

But then, on the last page there was an invitation to “provide a short story of any project that you feel is particularly successful or gratifying.” Well, need I tell you I teed off on that one, big time? So, since I enjoyed the opportunity so much, I’ll share (inflict?) my response on you, too. To wit:

The real tragedy of the pervasive and self-defeating Tanzanian Culture of Dependency is that for even those Tanzanians who do want to take responsibility for their lives and their economic state, there is no way for them to learn the essential skills that are needed.

During PST, I absorbed all the sad numbers: Only about 1% of students entering primary school successfully complete Form VI, and in secondary school a major loss of students occurs after the Form-IV National Examination. So during my first week at site, I asked my Headmaster what help the schools provide to School Leavers, to assist them in establishing careers and in becoming responsible citizens. The answer: We do nothing – they are no longer students and they are no concern of ours.

Soon after that, I went to the library of St. Augustin University to borrow a book on Cash-Flow Forecasting to help a friend who wanted to increase his egg business from 100 to 400 chickens so he could pay school fees for his children. However, I failed. This respected economics university had not even a single book in its library on how to start or operate a small business.

After these experiences I began to think and talk about creating a program to teach School Leavers the skills needed to start a business and make it an economic success. The response was overwhelming. Everyone I talked to insisted on taking part themselves. It was seen not only as something needed for students, but also for all those government employees who barely earn enough to support their families or anyone who cannot find worthwhile employment. I became convinced that I had struck a nerve – this was a project that Tanzanians not only needed, but were truly hungry for. It would not be just one more project bestowed on a passive audience by a well-meaning visiting do-gooder.

Fortunately an NGO, TechnoServe, has developed just such a program to teach entrepreneurship in the schools. In addition, TechnoServe has created a Training of Trainers program to guide instructors in presenting the program, and has adapted an existing US program for Tanzania in both English and Kiswahili versions.

The rest is history. All four Headmasters I contacted were enthusiastic about the program, and agreed to select two instructors from their own staff and to make their facilities available. In turn, the instructors were passionate about the program and were willing to participate for only a meager financial stipend. At this writing, the program is halfway to completion. Student attendance (entirely voluntary) has not declined, and classroom discussions are animated. The instructors meet regularly on their own time to check progress, share experiences, plan for the inclusion of guest speakers, and assure program sustainability. Field trips to visit successful small businesses are planned. By the end of the course, the schools will have completed an intramural competition in creating business plans, which will be judged by local businessmen and bankers.

The Mwanza Rotary Club has followed the progress of the program with interest, and has provided guest speakers for the course from their own membership on numerous occasions.

The instructors have even decided to start a business themselves to share their training beyond the school environment, and have registered with the Tanzanian government as Mwanza Entrepreneur Consultants.

Note: Certainly this is not the only Peace Corps activity in the field of Economic Development. Just next door PC Kenya has active programs, and PC Zambia has a remarkable program to convert sustenance fish farming into viable businesses. Still, I am absolutely convinced that such grass roots Economic Development programs are Tanzania’s greatest need, and that American PCVs are uniquely able to energize programs to Create Wealth (or, to put it in its negative frame, to Overcome Poverty), as the Tanzanian response to the project described here attests.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

It has been a good week. Since I was flying to Dar on Sunday evening, I didn’t go to the Sikh Gurdwara in the morning. But I kicked around town for the afternoon, and dropped in there to see if their library was open. It wasn’t, but there were people playing doubles badminton in the recreation area. They all commented on the fact that I had not been in the morning service – I guess I have become a regular there. That feels kind-of good. Anyway, as they play it, badminton is really a fast, reflex sport! None of this lawn tap-tap stuff.

Dar es Salaam is the most liveable that I have ever found it. The temperature is comfortable for the first time, and the humidity is moderate. What a change! And the meeting is productive, and much more interesting and helpful than I had expected. Our group in the PC has had so many dropouts, they brought a group of us together to talk about setting up a committee(s) on Peer Support and Diversity Training. That tends to sound a little touchy-feely to me, but it really is a good effort, and I think could have helped several of the people in my own group if it had been available. We have had two volunteers from Kenya here to help in the program, since Kenya has had a very active and successful effort for some years now.

The program is over now, and has a good idea of how to proceed, and an excellent board was elected. I was even requested to continue to be a part of the planning, although there is no question of my being on the board, as I am out of here in less than half a year. But it really feels good to have been recognized as contributing to this early planning.

While here at HQ, I tried to see whether there is any chance of extending my Peace Corps service by combining it with working with the TechnoServe NGO in Central America. Of course that is putting an awful lot of qualifiers on what I want, and it appears not to be feasible. The PC does not currently have any joint programs with TechnoServe, and doesn’t seem to have much going in the area of business development in Central Americal. Oh well, it was worth the try. I still have an appointment with TechnoServe tomorrow, where I will try to open a door to work with them directly – and also talk about how my present program with them in Mwanza might be expanded next year when I am no longer here.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Friday, June 10, 2005

Well, the school closed today. Sort of. The O-level (grades 8-11) closed, but the higher grades will continue. But then, parts of grades 9 and 11 will also remain so they can prepare for their National Examinations in October. There was a “short” teacher’s meeting with the Headmaster to talk about the details of all this. It lasted from 10:00 until 2:00. At least it was in English this time, not Kiswahili.

The average score on my final exam was 29, although one bright kid got a 97 and another, an 89. In the past I would have felt very bad about such a low average score, but this time I’m pissed off enough to just let it ride. I told them what would be on the test, and I told them that my last several classes would be very important. So when they chose not to come to class or not to take notes or not to look at the notes they took --- they deserve what they got. The breakout is: A = 4, B = 12, C = 27, D = 34, and FAIL = 27. Not a nice bell-shaped curve.

Meanwhile, Prosper Rwegoshora arrived yesterday morning from the TechnoServe office in Dar es Salaam to see how things are going on the entrepreneurship courses. So yesterday and today I was sheparding him to our classes at the various schools, and tomorrow (Saturday) we will have a seminar to talk about how things are going and to hear his comments about what he has seen here. I think both TechnoServe and we are surprised and pleased at how our relationship has developed. TechnoServe certainly gave us lots more support than I had anticipated, and I think we have become a very significant part of their program, establishing it in the northwestern Lake Region where they had no presence at all, before.

Rwegoshora is a strange guy. Quite friendly, as long as you aren’t looking at him. We had some very interesting discussions as we traveled around. His appearance is totally ascetic, like a cold fish. He is older, very thin, wears a perpetual scowl, and he looks as if he just took a big bite from a fresh lime and now can’t find a glass of water to dilute it. It certainly gives him a strong presence. He spoke at length to the students at all the schools, and they gave him rapt attention. Wish I understood what he was saying, to know how he got such a response.

With Rwegoshora, I tried out the concept that has been developing in my head, that when our Indian guest speakers talk about the importance of HONESTY in business, that they are talking past our students. That there are basic cultural differences, so that “honesty” in a western culture has no parallel in the African culture. In Africa, contracts are negotiable, not immutable. Specifications are not expected to be fulfilled, and constant contract adjustments for cost “overruns” are taken for granted. This is true whether the job is a household plumbing repair or a major government road contract. It is no wonder that the Indian businessmen I talk to say that the cost of corruption in its various forms adds 20% to the cost of doing business here. Surprisingly, Rwegoshora agreed with my thesis, and commented that until this culture changes, somehow, it will be difficult to develop a strong, viable and growing economy.

Maybe that explains some of his perpetual scowl. It certainly explains my feeling that Tony Blair’s call for doubling aid to Africa is almost surely throwing good money after bad. Direct foreign aid already accounts for over 40% of Tanzania’s annual budget, and that isn’t enough? In my mind, what is needed is: Grass roots assistance in teaching basic business techniques, technology sharing, the total elimination of European and especially USA domestic agricultural subsidies, and permission for 3rd world countries to protect selected domestic industries for some period of time. And maybe some form of selected debt relief makes sense (?) I’m not enough of an economist to have an intelligent opinion. That should stop me?

But anyway....


Meanwhile, back here in the bush:

On Sunday I fly to Dar es Salaam for a few days. The Peace Corps asked me to assist in a program for PSDN Training, which I think stands for Peer Support and Diversity Network or something like that. I think it basically means lend a shoulder and be a friend to any volunteer who is having some trouble adapting to life here. Some four or five of us are supposed to present a skit on cultural problems, I think. OK, I can do that. And it will be good to see a bunch of other volunteers again. The Lake Region out here feels a bit isolated from most of the group we started with.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

So, what’s been happening this week?

I heard from the Country Director in response to my request to end my service early, on Nov. 5. She said my reasons sounded valid, but a month is way more than they normally allow for an early Close of Service, and since she is leaving in August she will leave that decision to the next Country Director. I guess at least she didn’t say NO.

The money for the Essay Awards arrived from Yorktown High School, a check made out to the school, in US$. With the exchange rate difference, it gives us a little extra money and I was able to also buy pocket Swahili-English Dictionaries for the award winners. Overshot the amount of available money a little, but will make up the difference myself. No big deal. The bursar went to the bank this afternoon to cash the check, and found out that it will take three MONTHS for the check to clear! He says the school will honor the check without waiting for it to clear. Whew.

Final classes for the term were on Monday and Tuesday – a week of examinations started on Wednesday. I proctored (invigilated) a test on Wednesday. Was scheduled for another again on Thursday, but the test wasn’t ready. Still being typed. Along with a couple of other teachers, I sat around the staff room for two hours after the test was supposed to start, waiting for the test to be ready. It wasn’t, and the test was finally canceled. Glad I had taken a book with me to read – I’ve learned to expect ANYTHING here. No idea if or when this test will be given, or whether I am still an invigilator for it.

I think I have misread these tests. I’ve been preparing my own chemistry test like a standard end of term exam. Figured on covering the material, to include a few gimme questions for the students with less ability, aiming at a two hour test that some will finish early. But the geography test I invigilated was a full 2 ½ hours long, crammed with detailed questions, and for the first time, NOBODY left early. I responded to their pleas and gave them an extra 10 minutes. Talking with their teacher later, he laughed and implied that I had made a mistake – these tests are SUPPOSED to be impossible, duplicating the National Examinations as closely as possible so the students get used to their format and content. God bless the National Exams!

Anyway, the original test schedule indicated two days for my chemistry test, implying that one day would be wet chemistry on actual laboratory procedures, and the other would be a normal paperwork examination. But a week ago the schedule was changed and there was only one day listed for chemistry, today. I was glad for that – in my opinion the class is not yet ready for the lab test, and I needed the last few classes to finish presenting a section of material I wanted to cover in the test.

Yesterday I learned that the schedule I saw was “unofficial,” and the “official” one, locked away in an office somewhere, still indicated two chemistry tests, with the LAB test scheduled for today. I got that turned around by the administration, who also told the classes what I had been saying repeatedly: NO LAB TEST as part of the exam.

But the Head of the Chem. Dept., unknown to me, had been telling my classes that there WOULD be a lab test today, and so most of the students had studied only for it and not for my paperwork test. It initially seemed that the Head and I were at loggerheads, but then he said that the chemicals weren’t ready anyway. However, the students weren’t about to do anything but continue to insist on having the lab test. I tried to talk with them, but they would have none of it. So much for the exam. I had some stuff to handle with the school bursar, so I went to do that, and that took about an hour. Then I checked back on what might be happening, and the lab test was IN PROGRESS! Seems the Head of the Chem Dept DID have the chemicals ready, and also had prepared the lab test for them himself, including a volumetric titration and the analysis of an unknown.

I really felt undercut by all this, as though my authority here as a teacher is nil. But nobody else seemed to be taking it that way, including the students somehow. So the only thing to do was to keep that to myself, pitch in and assist in administering the lab test. Which I did. But this whole crap shoot of a school system is demoralizing and seems to run on its own momentum that nothing is going to change. Maybe if I had learned Kiswahili I would feel more a part of it, but the other Peace Corps volunteers who do know a lot more Kiswahili than I do (although that isn’t saying much) seem to also be going with the flow, for the most part.

I notice I’ve been drinking more, lately. I wonder what it is really like to teach in the US.

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