Hello friends, and many salams from beautiful New York City.  I have just arrived in the Western world, and am fully enjoying the luxury of consistent electricity, hot water, and wifi.  Of course, a part of my heart is always in Tanzania when I am here (just as a part of it remains in NYC when I am there), but my work here is cut out for me, and I must dedicate this Fall season to fundraising in order to keep the Project going yet another year.

There will be much more news on that front in blog entries to come, but for today, I am writing about my recent trip to Lushoto with the planning committee for the International Association of Special Education’s next biennial conference.

Earlier this month, Mary Gale Budzisz, Iris Drower, Sandra Trevethan, and Susan Pursch, the lovely ladies of the IASE, descended upon Tanzania from various points around the world.  Mary Gale, the past president of IASE, is a mid-westerner who currently lives in South Carolina, though she spends precious little time in any one place!  Iris is the current president of IASE and a professor at Arizona State University.  Sandra is an Australian transplanted in Malawi where she runs a project called Mwayi Trust which encourages secondary school students to volunteer and support youngsters with special needs.  And Susan is a member of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod who has a lengthy history with Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University (SEKOMU), where we all gathered for conference planning.

Just before heading out to Lushoto, where the university is located, a good five hours from Moshi town and another hour up into the clouds of the gorgeous Usambara Mountains, I met up with this formidable foursome in Arusha for “power-shopping” with Mary Gale.

Power-shopping, for those of you who don’t know, is an extreme sport.  Especially when you go with Mary Gale.  It is not for the faint of heart, and you must – YOU MUST – bring your A game.

Every year, the IASE kindly bestows a certain sum of money on each of its various Volunteer Service Projects around the globe, of which Toa Nafasi is one.  This is a FANTASTIC benefit for Toa because we do not raise money for things, only services, and these “giving funds” from IASE can only be used for things and not services.  So, it is a really great way to top up the supplies needed by our teaching staff and students alike.  This year, IASE supplied Toa Nafasi with two laptops, one printer, school supplies for the children, and teaching resources for the teachers.  THANK YOU, IASE!  WE ARE SOOOO APPRECIATIVE!!

The following day, bright and early, the ladies (with Gasto in tow!) drove to Moshi to pick me up on the way to Lushoto for our “recon mission” to plan the 2019 biennial conference (you’ll recall that I repped Toa at the 2017 conference this past June in Perth, Australia: http://toanafasi.blogspot.com/2017/07/superstar.html).

After a good rest in the fresh mountain air, we spent the day touring various venues for extracurricular site visits for conference-goers as well as lodging options.  Lushoto and its surrounding areas are really mountainous and tucked away, so the recon entailed a bit of driving, but we were able to identify sites and accommodations now so as to cut down on travel time for guests later.

The sites we are including in our offerings are Irente Rainbow School, a day school for children with special needs and physical disabilities; Irente School for the Blind, a small residential facility, originally dedicated to girl children only, but currently providing services for both sexes; and Irente Children’s Home, an orphanage that teaches young local women to care for the tiny babies abandoned in the area.

 

 

All three sites are located in – you guessed it – Irente!  Because of their convenient locale, these three community-based organizations will make a really nice package for interested attendees to check out and see what kinds of services are available for special needs and other marginalized children in this part of Tanzania.

The next day, we spent the whole day at SEKOMU, the site of the actual conference.  Gasto and I stayed fairly quiet as we toured the buildings, and let the ladies, who are seasoned conference-goers (and planners) make the decisions about the auditorium, lecture rooms, and roundtables.

 

However, one we sat down with the local committee and began the process of delegating responsibilities, we both piped up where appropriate.  I think we did a good job for novices, though we both now realize the tremendous amount of work involved in planning an international conference.  Especially one to take place in the clouds!
 

 
At this time, we solidified the players on the local committee which included Pastor Mbilu, Professor Bagandanshwa, and Mr. K, all of SEKOMU, as well as – dum dum dum DUM! – me and Gasto of Toa Nafasi fame.  I had thought I was on the international committee, but it appears I’m double-dipping, hanging out on both sides of the globe.  Typical.  🙂

On the very last morning, just before departing Lushoto, we had the pleasure of meeting with Mama Munga, the provost of the entire university, and a formidable force in her own right.  We rehashed what we had gone over with the local committee the day before, and after receiving her blessing, headed back to Moshi and Arusha.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip and I’m so looking forward to working with all these amazing folks to help make this conference a great success.  Mark your calendars: July 13 – 17, 2019 at SEKOMU University in Lushoto, Tanzania.  Be there or be square!