Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gift of greatness

Giving makes us great.
It makes us whole.
It cheers us and lifts our spirits.
As good for the giver as the receiver.

So those Rotary folks who spent three weeks in Tanzania and worked on teacher desks at the School of St Jude are great people!

RAWCS team working on desks.

A group of 30 Rotarians from different parts of Australia visited the School recently and worked on desks for the new school campus.

The desks look great!, don't they? And the Rotarians look great too. Nothing like some humble t-shirts to create a group. Do you recognise some faces here?

They deserve a drink!

Relaxing at the local hangout – the Waterhole

Check out the sponsorship packages at the school. You can donate towards all kinds of things – from mosquito nets to plumbing to teachers and kids.

Giving will make you great. And you'll transform the lives of bright kids from the poorest families.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Halloween Lucky Dip

In some countries, this time of year is full of the excitement of planning for Halloween. Kids and parents in the US love to dress up, decorate the house, have parties and, best of all, go trick or treating to gather sweet treats from neighbours.

At the School of St Jude this time of year is just as busy and exciting. It is time to find 170 kids who will enter the School in 2008.

School sign changes from 'No Vacancy' to 'Enrolling now'

For the next few weeks there will be literally thousands of kids lined up at the School every Friday, vying for one of the 170 new places. Here’s a photo from a couple of years ago when 1,500 kids came each week to do the entrance exam.

Friday testing for enrolment

This year the school expect over 3000. The School’s good reputation ensures every parent wants their child in the school.

With these numbers there is a less than 1% chance that an applicant will be successful. The child must be in the top 10% of their government school Grade 1 or Kinder and they must be from a very, very poor family. Also, the School takes only one child per family so that as many families as possible can benefit.

The School does the interviews every Friday from September to December – it takes that long as they get around 20 successful applicants per week. Children can come to the interviews as many times as they want because if they eventually pass then they deserve to be in the School through sheer persistence – determination, drive and ambition is just as important as being bright.

Basically, The School of St Jude exists to give those children who have the aptitude and right attitude the chance of high quality education for free. At a 1% chance of being accepted into the school, families who are successful have done better than a Halloween Lucky Dip – they have won the jackpot!

Read more about this year's selection process and see photos of the kids.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

World's biggest prize goes to Africa

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has announced the world's biggest prize. It will go to past leaders of African states who demonstrated excellent leadership. To qualify, leaders must have been fairly elected and served their term. The prize will be judged partly on the measures established by the Ibrahim Governance Index, which has been developed by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Dr Mo Ibrahim, African cell phone entrepreneur, has established this prize

It's bigger than the Melbourne Cup, the world's richest horse race, so what is it worth? Try this:

  • US$ 5 million over 10 years
  • US$ 200,000 annually for life thereafter
  • A further US$ 200,000 per year for good causes espoused by the winner

This initiative seems to be very well thought through, and it has the support of important leaders like Nelson Mandela

Mo Ibrahim has a vision to promote and recognise good governance that will drive Africa's political and economic renaissance. He has established the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to develop criteria for good governance, stimulate public debate and challenge the continent's leaders to set the global benchmark on this issue.

And Kofi Annan

I thank Mo and all those engaged for establishing such a generous prize as an incentive. It reflects the unique insight of Mo the African and Mo the businessman and entrepreneur. May your initiative inspire and celebrate the best of African leadership and equip future leaders with the knowledge and experience they will need.

There's an interview with Mo Ibrahim on AllAfrica where he says –

We exist for Africans. This is an African effort. Our foundation is an African foundation. What we really care about is African civil society and African governance.

Wow! Here is another great philanthropist focusing attention on Africa. I like the idea of providing leaders with a real financial incentive to do good things. It may help counteract the strong temptations to use power for personal gain.

I would encourage you to keep an eye on Africa. Look out for the myriad of initiatives that are springing up to foster better government and stronger economic development in very poor countries. Help comes from all directions.

Some of that help can come from you when you donate to the School of St Jude: Educating future leaders of Tanzania. Who knows? one of these students may win the Ibrahim prize one day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tanzania is East Africa’s best hope

ZhongNing Chen from the University of Illinois, visited Arusha and makes the following observations on the Cosmo Club website.

As in many other developing countries, education is the only hope for children in Tanzania to get out of poverty. Education in Tanzania is divided into primary and secondary systems, which together last for 13 years. Primary education, which lasts for seven years, is free and compulsory. Students must write a national examination at the end of primary schoolings. Many children leave school at this point and go to work.

Secondary education lasts for six years. There are few secondary schools in Tanzania and enrollment is less than 7% of all children who have completed primary school. Students must pay fees to attend secondary school. Secondary school fees range from $100 to $400 a year. Many students who have passed the national examination at the end of primary schooling cannot attend secondary school simply because they cannot afford the fees. For most of the girls among them, the only option left is to get married.

In an interview last year, when asked to prioritize the country’s most basic needs, President Jakaya Kikwete outlined the following: more schools, universities, hospitals; more roads; more access to drinking water. Clearly, education and medication are Mr. Kikwete’s top priorities. That fills the hearts of many people with optimism.

Many development economists believe that Tanzania is East Africa’s best hope; so do I. I left Tanzania with hope for the country, respect for its people who never give up with their lives, admiration for the volunteers, and determination to help.

With projects like the School of St Jude, Tanzania is certainly East Africa's best hope!

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Brittany’s hands on fundraiser

Queensland sixth grader, Brittany, has raised $400 for the School of St Jude by selling hand prints.

Her idea was to create a colourful flag for the School by asking students to donate $2 and make a multi-colour hand print on the large white sheet.

After a month of painting 100s hands and making prints, her flag was finished. Now her flag has been delivered to the School by her mother, Mandy, after she climbed Mt Kilimanjaro as part of the Rotary fundraising climb.

The flag has pride of place in the School library, where it forms a room divider. The kids enjoy matching their hands to the many hand prints on the flag. It gives the St Judes' kids a tangible reminder of another group of children on the other side of the world who care about them and want to help their School.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

All-round education

The School of St Jude provides free education to 850 bright children from the poorest families in Arusha, Northern Tanzania. Starting with 3 students in 2002, the school has grown rapidly, thanks to the talents and energy of its founder, Gemma Sisia.

The School aims to provide a rounded education to these kids who would otherwise have little chance of getting even basic literacy in the over-crowded primary schools of Tanzania.

The School has already established a reputation for academic excellence through high performances in nationwide tests. As part of a rounded education, the school runs special interest clubs for sport, culture and academic interests.

A school concert allowed the special interest clubs to display, perform or describe what they have been doing all year. It was an enlightening, entertaining, funny and, in one instance, quite scary afternoon!

Drumming Club Performance

Mr Beda’s Drumming Club stole the show but managed to have half the audience screaming and running for the exits when this life-size voodoo doll stalked onto the stage!

School days can be challenging, but they can be lots of fun too!

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jatropha – not so straight forward

I blogged earlier about a new project in Tanzania to grow jatropha for biofuel.

Now I read (Pambazuka News) that the biofuel farming in Africa is not necessarily all good.

The benefits of biofuels like Jatropha are that they will help to minimize dependence on traditional fuel sources such as oil and coal by investing in renewable energy source from plants. This will ensure that carbon contained in fossil fuels remains safely stored in the earth, thereby reducing the impact to the earth's climate. Furthermore, fuel crops grown are supposed to provide a 'carbon sink' by capturing and storing carbon dioxide and assisting with balancing concentrations of the gas in the atmosphere. The global South was promised that agrofuel would lead to climate-related benefits and an increase in revenue derived from selling the crops to growing green markets.

New evidence has, however, challenged each of these presumptions. In the face of reckless new targets, large-scale land conversion for energy crops, increasing food prices and damning scientific reports, government's actions are increasingly being labeled by environmentalists as fraudulent.

A recent study published by the Africa Biodiversity Network (ABN) provides compelling evidence from Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Benin that the misguided scramble for projects could lead to an environmental and humanitarian disaster on the continent. For instance, Timothy Byakola reports that a plan is underway to convert a third of Uganda's prime rainforest reserve, Mabira Forest, into agricultural land on which sugarcane will be planted for ethanol production. According to Byakola, President Yoweri Museveni has vociferously supported this controversial project, ignoring community opposition to it. The consequences of the deforestation of 7,100 hectares of one of the key water catchment sources for the Nile River and Lake Victoria, and the implications for the communities around Mabira which depend on the forest as a source of livelihood, are potentially enormous.

All the other countries in the study report similar situations in which large tracts of arable land are being sold off to the highest bidders, with little regard for the repercussions on local populations livelihoods and food security. Furthermore, an environmentalist from Ethiopia reports that there are plans to introduce the new 'wonder' plant, jatropha, which will be grown as an agrofuel in fertile lands. Apart from emerging criticism about use of the plant as an agrofuel, this is controversial because jatropha was promoted precisely because it is a hardy plant that could grow in drier lands and minimize use of the arable land that is needed by local populations.

The ABN report also indicates that there is a lack of engagement within the countries studied on the potential impact on rural communities and on food security. In South Africa, however, the draft strategy on biofuels/agrofuels has been vigorously opposed by a variety of stakeholders who fear that rural communities will be compelled to bequeath their lands over to industrial producers of oilseed rape, maize and soy. The government is currently revising the strategy and it is due for comment again in June next year.

As with carbon trading, the agrofuels issue brings climate justice questions to the fore. In 2004 climate change activist George Monbiot warned that rising demand for biofuels will result in competition for food between cars and people. 'The people would necessarily lose: those who can afford to drive are, by definition, richer than those who are in danger of starvation.' He goes on to argue that the reason Northern governments are enthusiastic is because they don't want to upset car drivers. He argues that biofuels 'appear to reduce the amount of carbon from our cars, without requiring new taxes. It's an illusion sustained by the fact that only the emissions produced at home count towards our national total.'

In the latest UK budget announced in June, the tax rebate on biofuels was extended. From March 2008 all suppliers in the UK will have to ensure that 2.5% of the fuel they sell is derived from plants. Failure to do so will result in the imposition of a penalty of 15p (USD.30) per litre sold. The quota is set to increase to 5% in 2010 and by 2050 the government hopes that 33% of fuel will come from crops. The US is setting similar targets.

In response to such moves, both Monbiot and the organization Friends of the Earth have called on governments to halt support of agrofuels. In a recent press release Friends of the Earth argue that 'more attention should be focused on reducing energy demand and improving vehicle efficiency, as this will cost less than subsidizing inefficient new sources of supply like agrofuels.'

But this will be difficult to achieve with the market growing as it is. According to US research consultancy Clean Edge, the global market for agrofuels is set to grow from $20.5 billion in 2006 to $80.9 billion by 2016. Recent media reports in the South African press suggest that investors in Africa have already pledged billions of dollars for production plants that will derive bioethanol and biodiesel from crops like sugar, maize and soy in Africa. Talk in the North is already focusing on imposing guidelines to mitigate the problems that arise from agrofuels. Ultimately, the challenge for Africa will be to map its own path for sustainable development, and not to be swept away by the current wave of potentially ill-conceived 'green' schemes.

I hope that the new jatropha farm in Tanzania does not turn out to be ill-conceived. I wonder what provisions have been made for the families who will be relocated to make way for the new scheme?

The world is so complex. We seem to find contrary opinions to almost everything. But I don't hear any contrary opinions about the School of St Jude. No one has any doubt that providing excellent education for bright children from the poorest families is a good thing. Good for the children, good for their families and local community, and good for the country as a whole.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

$US698 grant for Tanzanian roads, power and water

Reuters reports that the United States has approved a $698 million five-year grant to boost Tanzania's road networks, power and water supply, through its Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

The world community has long recognised that Tanzania's unstable power supplies and poor roads are major impediments to economic development.

Tanzania's electricity supply was put to the test last year after drought in late 2005 led to a drop in hydropower generation and culminated in extensive power rationing. Most businesses and organisations like the School of St Jude were forced to resort to costly diesel generators.

MCC said in a statement that Tanzania had developed a program to address infrastructure problems. They said,

Chosen by Tanzanians, the investments to improve the transport, energy, and water sectors will provide a catalyst to reduce poverty and spur economic growth.

Tanzania is among Africa's largest recipients of donor aid, with 42 percent of its 2007-08 budget funded by donors. The Millennium Challenge says it gives grants to countries that have shown a commitment to reforms.

If the Tanzanian government stays on track, it will continue to attract funding that will allow it to improve the basic infrastructure which is necessary to support the current 7.0% growth rate that will lift it out of dire poverty.

Rotary climbs Mt Kilimanjaro

On the 28/08/07 a group of Australian Rotarians and Friends climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania in Africa. This was the culmination of months of planning. The climbers raised money for three projects in Africa – including the School of St Jude. The School plans to buy two diesel generators for the Usa River campus that is due to open in a few months.

After the climb, they visited the School, and you can check out details of their visit here.

Everyone who visits the School is impressed. Impressed by the way it is growing, by how well it is run, and most of all by the behaviour and attitude of the students.

Assembly – the best behaved children in the world! What a welcome we received.

If you want to make a difference in the world, the School of St Jude is a great place to do it!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Ban Ki-Moon calls attention

With most of sub-Saharan Africa currently off track for meeting goals for slashing poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy by 2015, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is convening an unprecedented meeting of development leaders to put the continent back on the rails to progress.

The MDG Africa Steering Group was set up by Mr. Ban after a report in June showed that despite faster growth and strengthened institutions, Africa at its present rate would fail to achieve any of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the UN Millennium Summit in 2000.

At the G8 meeting in June, Mr Ban said,

This year marks the mid-point of our work to realize these goals by 2015. We have far to go indeed, especially in Africa. New statistics show we are making progress, but far too slowly to achieve the MDGS in time. This is why I have offered to chair a new MDG Africa Steering Group of all the major players to help refocus our efforts to achieve the MDGs in Africa. This will include the heads of the World Bank, the IMF [International Monetary Fund], the African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, the AU [African Union], as well as the UN. I will chair the Steering Group and I welcome the support offered here in Heiligendamm for this initiative.

Achieving the MDGs will also depend upon a positive outcome of the Doha Development Round of trade negotiations and by serious follow-through on debt cancellation initiatives. I look forward to leadership by the G-8 countries in this regard.

This kind of international leadership is essential if the whole world community, rich and poor alike, are to work together to help the poorest countries lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

History in the making

History was made in Tanzania this month when a syndicate of the country's own local commercial banks and pension funds raised $240 million to fund the recovery of the Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Tanesco) in a deal that illustrates the increasing depth of the country's capital markets.

It is the single largest corporate finance deal ever in East Africa and it signals that Tanzania is more able to rely on its own finance institutions and less dependent on foreign financiers such as the World Bank.

With this deal, Tanzania becomes the first country in East Africa to use resources held by its pension funds to finance infrastructure. The deal is part of a growing trend where companies in East Africa are preferring to finance expansion and recovery through locally sourced, shilling-denominated long-term debt.

Tanesco managing director Dr Idris Rashidi, the immediate former governor of the Bank of Tanzania, described the deal as a landmark transaction that will pave the way for the return of the utility to its past financial strength.

Part of the money will be used to strengthen the company's transmission and distribution network in order to reduce power losses, to connect new customers and to train staff to improve customer service delivery.

Under the recovery plan, Tanesco will embark on an ambitious capital expenditure programme to sustain an average load growth of 15 per cent per annum over the next five years. Also targeted in the plan are new infrastructure, new customers and upgrading of old infrastructure.

Increased electricity capacity is vital for Tanzania’s economic development. Tanzania has an electricity per capita consumption of about 64kWh/y (compared with over 10,000kWh/y for developed and 900kWh/y for emerging countries like India and China). In Tanzania, electricity is expensive and unreliable – these are major obstacles to global competitiveness.

The School of St Jude is educating the kids who will become the next generation of engineers, accountants, lawyers, bankers, entrepreneurs, teachers, and policy makers. Improved infrastructure, and better education will help Tanzania climb out of the poverty trap.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Techniques for better teaching

Amy and Freda, two wonderful teacher trainers, are back at St Jude's again. They have become regulars at the school, as they work with the teachers to introduce new curricula and new teaching methods.

In a recent blog post, Amy describes a demonstration lesson she gave to a Standard 5 class, to model the concept of artifacts as representations of culture.

Amy used a classic lesson, with photos of cups from different cultures and times in history. She said,

The children explored the photos in small groups, drew inferences about the cultures from the photos, and discussed. The higher level thinking was running all over the classroom, and their inferences were stunningly well-informed and insightful.

Then, they created a cup of their own to represent something about themselves and their culture. Typical of children their age, we had many sports cups, hearts and butterflies, names and ages decorating cups around the room.

Each of these processes was completely new to the children, and the joyful enthusiasm for the task, with no concern about "right and wrong" (a real issue in schools in this part of the world) let me know that they are ready and anxious to take on big ideas and big thinking at a moment's notice. Hoping the teachers who observed it uses the lesson as an example of how to raise the bar for learning, engage students actively, and produce big thinkers in the process. Fun day!

The School of St Jude does a whole lot more than give a basic education to poor children. It is building a network of teaching competency that gives these bright kids an excellent education. They will grow up with a wide view of the world, and will have the skills to think deeply about issues and problems.

The School of St Jude will educate hundreds of children, and that will make a massive difference to the whole community of northern Tanzania – and the country as a whole.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tightening the screws on corruption

For the poorest people, every opportunity that sees some extra money coming their way is quickly seized. When the whole country is poor, this becomes the ‘normal’ way everything is done, from the smallest transaction to the largest.

The Tanzanian Government is working on the wide range of measures that will lead to national culture change over time. I have blogged here and here about corruption, and today I see a Reuters report about the Tanzanian Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA), whose job is to regulate government tenders to ensure that the money goes to the project, and not into the pockets of officials.

According the World Bank’s country procurement assessment report for Tanzania issued in 2003, about 20% of government expenditure on procurement is lost through corruption, mainly in the form of kickbacks and bogus investments that eventually have to be written off. The report says,
Considering that public procurement accounts for about 70 per cent of the entire government expenditure budget, this translates to a loss of $300m (approx. 300bn/- at the time) per year, which is enough to finance the combined annual recurrent budgets of the ministries of health and education.

Clearly the PPRA has plenty of work ahead! Established two years ago, the PPRA will issue standard procurement procedures to government departments for running tenders, monitor the performance of tenders and investigate any irregularities. Head of PPRA, Ramadhan Mlinga, says,
Actually one of the serious things is lack of information. Basically all these efforts will be able to give some correct statistics on procurement.

Under Tanzania's new anti-corruption law anyone found guilty of graft through procurement could face fines of between 1.0 million shillings and three million, or three and five years in prison.

For another view on government effectiveness in fighting corruption in Tanzania, see a report (4 Sept 2007) in This Day, which quotes a recent assessment by the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit.

New laws, regulatory agencies with real power, professional development training and an alert media that keeps the spotlight on the problem – all of these things will contribute to a change in culture in coming years. Reducing corrupt practices at all levels of life will help reduce poverty and encourage faster economic growth.

That's good news for the kids at the School of St Jude. Your support will help them grow up well-equipped for a new society that is undergoing important social change.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Joy of knowledge

I had two letters today from kids at St Jude's. One was about Mr Sebastian and the other about Miss Genofeva – two of the teachers we sponsor at the school.

It is always great to get a letter from the kids. The kids letters come as those blue aerograms that I remember using so often when traveling and living overseas when younger. I guess that email has replaced the old aerogram for long distance writing in most parts of the world. So these blue aerograms trigger a host of foreign memories for me.

The kids' letters are mostly of the polite kind – like the thank you letters to aunts for unremarkable Christmas presents.

But the letter about Mr Sebastian really touched me, because the writer commented on the recent earthquakes in Northern Tanzania. She said that Mr Sebastian had previously taught the class about earthquakes and "we have already understood about that".

How knowledge transforms us! What a precious thing it is to understand the world we live in. How valuable this is – yet here in Australia we take it for granted because every child goes to school and learns vast amounts besides basic literacy and numeracy.

Support for the School of St Jude is the means by which hundreds of bright children from poor families can receive these gifts of understanding. The children of Tanzania can't get a basic education because the government does not collect enough tax revenue to cover the cost of even the basics. We have to take this on, and make a contribution. How else will these children learn to read and write, and understand what causes the earth to shake from time to time?

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