Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The web chatting ambassador

It's great to see web technologies like web chat coming into general use. The U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania, Mark Green, featured in a web chat on Monday, October 29. Check out the transcript.

Mark Green

In the exchange, he answered questions that had been sent in earlier, and also fielded live questions from chat participants. The focus was on the Millenium Challenge Corporation Compact whereby the US government will give $698 million dollars over five years to specified infrastructure projects in Tanzania. The projects relate to electricity, roads and water, and the money is paid directly to companies who have tendered for them.

In the web chat, Green sounds like the consummate professional, fielding all questions very carefully, and taking every opportunity to get his messages across. However, he also seems to have a real feeling for Tanzania and to really care about the country. Before he was a politician he spent some years teaching in Kenya. Perhaps that has given him some direct experience that now shows through.

One of the key issues brought up was the question of government corruption. Green pointed to the $11.5 million the US government has contributed toward strengthening the Prevention and Combating Corruption Bureau. He also said that the $698 million will not be disbursed through the Tanzanian government, instead it will go directly to the projects.

It's good to see foreign aid to Tanzania take a variety of forms. Direct budget aid is very useful in helping the Tanzanian government build capacity, while independent aid helps projects more directly.

Check out the web chat transcript to gather more of the specifics of projects under the US government MCC initiative.

Your assistance to the School of St Jude goes directly to them and they are very careful to see that maximum benefit comes from each dollar. It also means that all of the money donated to the school (AU$1 million in 2005, AU$1.7 million in 2006) goes into the local economy providing jobs for hundreds of teachers, builders, drivers, cooks, guards, retailers, etc, etc.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Selection process

St Jude's is a school for poor children. There are lots of poor children in Tanzania. Only 10% of homes have electricity, infant mortality is high, 20% of people said they went hungry in the previous year.

So, how do you choose WHICH poor children are going to get a place at this remarkable school? Which poor kids are going to get an excellent education that compares favourably with the most exclusive private schools in the country?

The School has decided to give this opportunity to bright kids because they can make the most of the educational opportunities offered. They are most likely to complete their education and go on to offer good service to their community. The School takes only one child from each family, so that more families can benefit.

How do they select the bright kids?

The School looks for kids who have done 1-2 years of school and first of all every child is given a small reading test. This eliminates a large percentage of them. Every child who turns up gets to try this test, even when we can see that they are barely out of nappies – you never know, the School may stumble across a mini genius … and they are too cute to resist!

Reading test

Those who pass the reading test move to the hall to do a basic maths and general knowledge paper.

Maths and general knowledge

Those who pass are asked to return the next day with documents proving their age and academic history – understandably, the chance of free, high quality education leads to any amount of forging, cheating and fibbing. But that’s not the end of the ‘testing’ - at least three times the School goes unannounced to their homes to make sure that they really do live in genuine poverty. This is necessary as many families ‘borrow’ village huts to use as ‘their home’ for the duration of the testing period.

Here's an example of the genuine article.

These kids and their families understand the massive benefit of a good education. A place at the School of St Jude is a miracle in their lives.

If you give a bit of your surplus, another child and another family will be lifted out of the dire poverty of subsistence. What a difference you can make.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Crazy Fridays

It's that time of year again! Crazy Fridays at St Jude's.

September heralds a real buzz in Arusha – St Jude’s starts looking for the next group of fortunate children who will don the big hat and blue uniform next year. The signs go up, advertisements go out on radio and word of mouth spreads the news – Friday afternoon testing has started! This year the School is looking for 170 bright children from very poor families who will join the school through the child sponsorship program.

The result is that literally thousands of children turn up at St Jude's every Friday to try to win one of the places.

Here's a photo of a recent Friday line-up.

These families know the value of a good education and they want this for their children. Given the demand for places, 170 looks like a very small number.

Your donations and sponsorships make it possible for these 170 to get an excellent education. What a gift! A gift to the child, the family, the district and the whole country.

If you're not yet a donor, I would encourage you to think about making a donation to this very successful education project – Fighting Poverty Through Education.

Friday, October 26, 2007

TV ad for Tanzania

Here is the TV commercial for Tanzania that is screening in the U.S. right now.

This is a first! Pretty nice, yes? Makes you want to go.

It's all part of building the economy. The Tanzanian tourist industry is just at the beginning.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

School of St Jude on Facebook

Check out the new group for the School of St Jude on Facebook.

The School has thousands of supporters and volunteers, mostly Australian. I figure that some of you must be on Facebook. So, check out this new group and share your pictures, news and comments.

Meet other enthusiastic supporters of the School of St Jude and keep in touch.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tanzania wins another big prize

The Africa-America Institute (AAI) held its 23rd Annual Awards Gala on 19th September in New York. Under the theme Tanzania: Educating for a Sustainable Future, the Gala paid tribute to the People of Tanzania for the East African nation’s significant progress in education, environmental conservation, and in creating a business-friendly environment for entrepreneurs and investment. H.E. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania, accepted the AAI African National Achievement Award on behalf of the People of Tanzania.

Mora McLean, President & CEO of AAI, said,

We commend Tanzania for its extraordinary commitment to build human capacity, particularly by strengthening its educational system at all levels. We celebrate their achievements and progress.

The sold-out black-tie Gala was chaired by American financier and conservationist Paul Tudor Jones II and Reginald Mengi, CEO of Tanzania’s media conglomerate IPP Limited. The AAI Gala raised nearly $900,000, the highest amount raised in the organization’s history, to support AAI’s efforts to help build human capacity in Africa through education and training programs, and to develop programming and forums aimed at educating Americans about Africa. Nearly 500 distinguished U.S. and African leaders and top diplomats attended the Annual Awards Gala to celebrate African achievement, including Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Gala also honoured a number of other people, including the AAI Distinguished Alumnus Award presented to Gidion Kaino Mandesi, Executive Director of the Disabled Organization for Legal Affairs and Social Economic Development (DOLASED) in Tanzania.

During his remarks Mr. Tudor Jones, who is also founder of The Grumeti Community and Wildlife Conservation Fund in Tanzania, announced the creation of The Kikwete Scholarships, a ten-year commitment by the Grumeti Fund to support tertiary level training for Tanzanian students to pursue studies in the field of environmental conservation at U.S. universities. The scholarships, which recognize President Kikwete’s leadership and commitment to conservation and environmental causes, will support the studies of 20 students over the next ten years.

In his remarks, President Kikwete personally thanked Mr. Tudor Jones for the scholarships, saying it would help further study on environmental conservation in Tanzania.

Tanzania has achieved nearly universal primary education, setting it on target to meeting one of the UN Millennium Development Goals. The country’s education system has grown from just one university in 1961 to some 200 tertiary training institutions at the end of 2006. A new four-year institution, Dodoma University, will soon open, enrolling 1000 students.

Since independence in 1961, the country’s has maintained its pledge to safeguard its abundant wildlife and natural environment. Today, more than 25 percent of Tanzania’s total land area is under conservation, higher than the world average and exceeding United Nations goals.

In the area of business and investment, Tanzania was recently cited by The World Bank as one of Africa’s top two reformers. During the Gala Reginald Mengi, Tanzanian businessman and media mogul, recognized Tanzania’s recent business success and challenged the Western media to show the thriving side of Africa to encourage business and foreign investment.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pew Survey in NYT Interactive Graph

Tanzanians are more likely to think that their children will be worse off in the future than think they will be better off. They are twice as likely to hold this view compared with people in West African countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

This is one of the sobering findings from a large scale survey carried out in ten sub-Saharan countries earlier this year by the New York Times and Pew Global Attitudes Project.
There’s a fantastic interactive graph on the New York Times website. To access it, you may need to register on the NYT site, but its worth it. The NYT also has an article about the poll.

Click the questions and watch the graphs on each country change. It’s worth spending some time looking and comparing the views of the different countries. This is one of the ways that we can step out of our familiar world and try to see the world through the eyes of others.

Through Tanzanian eyes, the world looks corrupt (two-thirds say corrupt political leaders are a big problem), hungry (half had times in the past year when they didn’t have money to buy necessary food) and uneducated (three-quarters say poor schools are a problem).

On the other hand, more than 90% say that President Kikwete is a good influence. This is outstandingly better than any of the other countries in the survey. This is great news because Kikwete was democratically elected and the survey is thorough and independent. So, the findings are not the propaganda of a dictator, instead it is clear that Tanzanians have great confidence in their President.

Here’s hoping that Tanzania can maintain its strong economic growth under good leadership, so its children are, in fact, better off than their parents and grandparents.

If you’re not on a learning curve, you’re going nowhere.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Yes, today is Blog Action Day, when all bloggers are encouraged to write about environmental issues.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

You already know that I’m committed to ending poverty by supporting the Millennium Development Goals. And you know that my focus is on giving the poorest kids an education that will break the cycle of poverty in their family, community and country. That’s why I support the fantastic work being done by the School of St Jude in Arusha, Tanzania.

I am also strongly committed to environmental sustainability. So I want to support Blog Action Day by listing the various things I am doing to lower my environmental footprint.

  • I drive a Prius.
  • At home we recycle paper, plastics and metals; and we run a compost heap.
  • We eat vegetables (five serves a day!) and fish and chicken, in preference to beef, lamb and pork.
  • We think twice before buying ANYTHING.
  • We use gas instead of electricity for hot water and heating.
  • My business aims to be carbon neutral in the next twelve months.

What can you do to lower your carbon footprint? Here's a totally funky calculator where you can measure your carbon footprint and see where to start to make the biggest cuts.

I keep thinking about the possibility of introducing solar power to the School of St Jude. It would be a very sustainable alternative to the reliance on diesel generators for electricity at the school. This is one of the things that I want to explore when I visit the School – maybe next year.

Two blogs that I like for information about environmental issues are:

New Scientist Blog

So, how many Environment-related blog posts have you read today? I haven't seen as many as I thought I would. But maybe that because I'm in Australia, and the rest of the world hasn't arrived in Monday as yet.

Read a bit, do a bit. If you're not on a learning curve, you're going nowhere.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Dairy industry is booming

Brookside Dairy, in Arusha, has launched a dairy farmers program that will boost the company’s daily milk sales in the country to 60,000 litres in the next two years.

Brookside plans to invest up to $20 million in new machinery at its recently acquired Arusha milk processing plant while it works to sign up more dairy farmers. The dairy has already forged partnership with over 2,000 dairy farmers in the three years since starting in Arusha.

Dairy farm in Tanzania

From a start of 1,000 litres per day, Brookside now processes 13,000 litres a day and has set the target of 60,000 by 2009. The Dairy plans to add a new UHT processing facility at a cost of $2 million.

The company has urged the Tanzanian government to remove taxes on animal feeds and farm inputs, improve infrastructure in milk growing areas and provide the farmers with micro-financing to enable growth in the sector.

Brookside Dairy is based in Kenya and has drawn on its experience to provide expertise to local Tanzanian dairy farmers to help them maximize milk production through practicing better animal husbandry.

The Tanzanian District Commissioner, Ms Anna Rose Nyamubi, is working with Brookside Dairy to help farmers improve. She said the Government was working to stamp out the practice of keeping children out of school in order to watch over animals.

My government will punish parents who instead of looking after the animals themselves, give the responsibility to the school going children, especially girls. The Tanzanian government is working towards making every child attend at least primary school.

Perhaps some of the St Jude's families are dairy farmers – we know their kids are at school every day and enjoying it!

This news of investment in the dairying industry in Arusha is one of the many signs of economic improvement in the area. This is the kind of investment that will lift Tanzania out of deep poverty and create a better future for the hard-working kids at the School of St Jude.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wildebeest - Seventh Wonder of the World

The mass migration of 5 million wildebeest in the Mara-Serengeti eco-system that spans Kenya and Northern Tanzania begins in July and ends in late October when the wildebeest migrate back to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

The sight of millions of animals in transit attracts more than 300,000 tourists a year and is an important part of the economies of Kenya and Tanzania. Arusha, in northern Tanzania, is the centre of safari tourism in Tanzania.

This year's wildebeest migration has been marked by the shocking death of some 15,000 animals that drowned at the Mara river crossing in Kenya.

The carcasses of wildebeest rotting since last week are being picked over by Maribu storks, vultures, crocodiles and other scavengers.

"It was a strong tide that swept them away," said Mara administrative official, Sarisa Nkadaru, adding that most wildebeest died when they were stepped on by others.

Some officials blame the destruction of the nearby Mau forest for changing weather patterns and affecting tide levels, and they called on the government to curb the deforestation.

"Had the forest not been destroyed, the speed of water in the river would have been checked and the wildebeest would not have been swept away," local conservationist Doris Ombara said.

"We have raised alarm over the dangers of the destruction and what was witnessed last weekend is one of them," she said.

This reminds me that even our most prolific and fertile environments may be showing the effects of climate change. I'm glad that this is becoming more recognised.

Source: Reuters

It is great to see that Tanzanian Tourism is launching its first-ever advertising campaign in the U.S.

After decades of being an add-on trek for safari trips originating in Kenya, Tanzania will be promoted as a standalone destination with its first TV campaign in the states. The ads appeared on CNN during late September with the tagline “Tanzania: Land of Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and the Serengeti.” Visuals showcase the three destinations within the country and native Tanzanians, while mentioning that the first ancestors of humans called Tanzania home.

I hope that this kind of promotion helps to boost tourism to Tanzania. It is a country with plenty to offer!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Thanks Mum!

One of my sayings is “Pleasure delayed is doubled”. When we have to wait for something, our appreciation when it finally arrives is especially sweet. So, if we have waited for years to fulfill a deep need, our gratitude overflows.

Gemma Sisia, founder of St Jude’s, was overflowing with joy and gratitude this year when her mother came to visit Tanzania and see the amazing school. Gemma’s mother raised eight children – seven boys, and Gemma. Like any mother, she hoped her children would be independent in the world, but she also hoped that they would stay within reach, especially her only daughter.

So she was dismayed when Gemma decided to make her life in Tanzania, and she did not support the plan. Now, of course, time has passed and she has adapted to the idea. She is proud to encourage Gemma as she builds the School of St Jude into a network of free schools for poor children.

Earlier this year, Gemma’s mother made her first visit to the School, and was overwhelmed by the love and appreciation that flowed to her. Parents at the School queued for hours to thank her for being the mother of Gemma, who has brought such hope and goodness into their lives, by providing their children with the lifeboat of a good education.

The mothers of children at St Jude’s know what it is like to have hopes and dreams for their children. And they have a true sense of the gift Gemma’s mother has given them by raising an extraordinary person like Gemma, and now in supporting her life’s work.

You can get a taste of the joy shared by all when Gemma's mother (and some brothers) visited the School of St Jude earlier this year, in Gemma's words –

As with every visitor to the school on a Friday, Mum and the rest of my visiting family were invited up on stage at the assembly. Bibi Hans, Head of our School Board, told all the parents of our students who had gathered for this special occasion that my Mum may have had eight children but only one daughter and instead of helping her at home, she was in Africa helping their children!

It was quite extraordinary but over a 1000 parents came to the assembly to say thank you to Mum for parting with her daughter for them. They arrived with gifts of cards, African handicrafts, materials, jewelery, food and even animals! And every single person wanted to shake Mum’s and the rest of the family’s hands. It was just so overwhelming but Mum managed to be gracious to every person despite the very long morning and language barrier. I was really touched that so many people showed their appreciation to her – I guess it was Mum and Dad who made me who I am and therefore St Jude’s what it is.

Bibi Hanns, Gemma's Mum, brothers Nick, Paddy and Danny, Yvonne (Nick’s wife) and their boys – Sam and David – and Yvonne’s sister, Anne

And here is the queue of parents snaking through the assembly hall. Each one is waiting their turn to say 'thank you' to Gemma's mum and family.

This took so long that Gemma's Mum had to sit down. Look at those smiles. Imagine receiving this 1,000 times in one morning! That's a LOT of good karma!

Gemma's Mother and Father-in-law were so excited finally to meet Gemma's Mum that they killed their best goat and organised a special dinner for the whole family. Luckily Gemma's Mum is used to living on a farm and meeting her dinner before she eats it!

When you have waited a long time for something important, the arrival is doubly-sweet. Gemma's Mum took a while to get to Africa and now she has been welcomed with joy.

Thanks Gemma's Mum!

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Things we didn’t expect to learn

When I started this blog, my main aim was to help the School of St Jude to grow so that more Tanzanian children from the poorest homes could benefit from an excellent education.

Just now, Tanzania is experiencing extreme ‘education-stress’ as an extra 2.5 million children have enrolled in primary schools. Average class sizes have risen from 50-something kids, to 70-something, while the government struggles to find more teachers and build more schools.

At the School of St Jude class sizes are under 30 and thee are dedicated teachers who are supported by ongoing training, and good teaching resources. The results are evident in the excellent results achieved by the kids in national exams.

Blogging has opened up new avenues of interest for me, and that has encouraged me to continue. There is lots of advice out there for bloggers – how to produce good content, how to write well, how to work all the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) tricks, linkbait, and so forth.

All of that is OK, but it is underpinned by the motivation that keeps you thinking and writing. I have discovered that a strong motivator for me is the chance to learn new things. I seem to leap at opportunities to try new things, large or small.

After 10 months of blogging, I feel like I have done a semester course in International Development, or a short course in African economics, and a course in social media. These are my unexpected learnings.

So, my advice to other bloggers is to sniff around for new things to learn so that hearty learning curve can energize your blog.

If you're not on a learning curve, you're going nowhere.

It seems to be the same at the School of St Jude, which is growing so fast that everybody is on a steep learning curve. No wonder the kids are doing so well – learning encourages more learning in a virtuous circle.

If you want to learn a bit about the best development project in Africa and share a learning-journey, read my blog and support the School of St Jude.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

No news day

Why is it so hard to find out what's going on in Tanzania? A trawl through international news sites like the New York Times, BBC, Guardian and Reuters rarely turns up any news about Tanzania.

That's because in Tanzania there is no Darfur genocide, no Zimbabwe inflation, no Nigerian murders of Colombian oilmen, no Congolese Ebola. I guess that Tanzania is a quiet corner of the world that is getting on with improving the way things are run.

I did discover that there was a regional trade forum in Tanzania last weekend where Donald Kaberuka, the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) noted that many African economies are booming, with growth rates of 7%.

Donald Kaberuka

He said that 60% of AfDB's current loan portfolio goes to the core of the productive sector – energy, roads, irrigation, water and sanitation projects.

In the next loan period, the AfDB will have twice the internal funds to lend at low interest rates to support African development. International donors will add to this, giving countries even greater access to funds.

Donald Kaberuka is a very upbeat guy –
I'm very bullish about African economies over the next couple of years. What is important is for African countries to build on the current boom.

As usual, the good news doesn't make the headlines.

The School of St Jude is full of good news and solid achievement. So, when you tire of the attention-grabbing bad news headlines, come and check out the energetic, active high achievers at the School of St Jude.