Every Friday at Toa Nafasi, we do two very important things.  One is for the benefit of our students and the other is for the benefit of our teachers.

For the students, after a long week of literacy and numeracy exercises, we like to call Fridays “fundays” and we use our time with the kids to play games and do extracurricular activities.  We draw and sing and read stories and play ball and jump rope.  Thanks to Milton Bradley, we also play Twister and Connect Four as well as other board games and puzzles imported from the U.S.

For the teachers, after a long week of tutoring underperforming first graders, taking them on doctors’ visits when necessary, collaborating with our peers within the government school system, and liaising with parents who can sometimes be demanding and/or uncooperative, we pile on more work and responsibility.  What can I say?  Life is not fair for grownups!!

Actually, most of our Friday afternoon workshops are not that painful.  When Kaitlin was here, they were actually fun.  When run by a Tanzanian, they are actually understandable.  When run by me, well, again, what can I say?  As the big boss, I’m not supposed to be fun or understandable, am I?  😉

Yesterday’s meeting was a mishmash of the fun, the understandable, and the “sarah.”

We started by going over the contracts recently signed by each member of the tutoring staff which I had translated into Kiswahili.  After all, if the staff have signed something, they should probably have a copy in their native language to refer to!  We will fill in the job descriptions and other details by the end of this month, and in addition, I explained to everyone that the contracts are indicative of the legislature contained within the Employment and Labor Relations Act and that what is written within them is not inclusive of everything expected of them or entitled to them.  That is key as Tanzanians tend to be very literal and so it’s important they know that these contracts are a smaller part of the larger Act.

We also went over niggling issues of Toa paying fare to/from work stations (negatory), early leave to breastfeed (absolutely, especially given that the Toa staff are the most fertile women in the southern hemisphere), and attendance generally and at the Friday workshops in particular (mandatory and wholly non-negotiable).

We then talked a bit about:

–>What is an NGO?

The teachers were a bit shocked to learn exactly what a non-governmental organization actually is and I think it was a really good idea to address this issue.  Kaitlin had brought it up to me, and I had previously had very little notion that the staff did not get it.  Now, having learned the difference between a business and an NGO, I think they are a little more predisposed to forego that aforementioned transport fare that they’ve been harassing me for!

–>Where does Toa get its money?

Another shocker, Toa gets its money from donations!  We don’t buy anything, we don’t sell anything, we don’t make anything.  What we do is offer a service and how we are able to offer it is via charitable donations from well-meaning individuals and grants we’ve applied for.  That the money that comes in is from people who don’t know me, don’t know Toa, and don’t owe us anything was pretty mind-blowing for the staff.  That there is a finite pool of funds from which to draw and a vast number of NGOs competing for it was also a revelation.  The word for “charity” in Swahili is sadaka which always makes me smile as it’s the same in Hebrew and I grew up hearing about the tzedakah box at synagogue.  You hear about sadaka at churches here in Tanzania and I feel like the concept behind the two words is the same: a faith-based obligation to do what is right rather than a voluntary philanthropic act.  If nothing else resonates with my staff, for sure referring back to the church will do the trick!

–>Why does Sarah stay in Tanzania?

A hard one to answer, but I suppose if I bottom line it, it’s because I believe in the efficacy of this project and I believe we are making a difference in people’s lives.  Easy for this rich mzungu (westerner) to say, right?  😉 😉

–>Why should Toa staff members value their work?

Here, I had the staff refer to the question above.  If I came all this way to do this meaningful work, won’t they, the local community, heed this call and join me?  We are helping children who might have otherwise failed.  We are providing professional opportunities where none existed before.  We are engaging the community, particularly on an issue that affects the most marginalized members of said community.  And, we are strengthening systems already put in place by the local government.  All of these are reasons why Toa staff members should value the work that they do.

–>How does Toa invest in its staff?

Here, I rounded back to the concept of the Friday workshops and talked about professional development.  The staff should not look at the work and the trainings as chores but rather opportunities for development and advancement.  Heck, they might even advance right out of Toa Nafasi and into a better paying job!  And I would be happy for them!!  The point is Toa not only values the staff for the service they provide to the greater organization, but it also values the staff as the people that they are, specifically the women that they are.  We aim to give these local women the opportunity to be more than mama (mother) or dada (sister) or mke (wife) should they so want.

This line of talk dovetailed nicely into a discussion about the IASE conference coming up in July.  I introduced the International Association of Special Education and spoke a bit about what they do and how they help with issues of special education all over the world.  Then we talked about who would be able to attend; currently carrying and brand-new mamas will have to wait until the next opportunity sadly, but the others threw their hats into the ring for the five available slots to go to Lushoto and participate.  We ended with the women promising to think about three things they would like to learn from the conference, regardless of whether they will attend or not.  Again, a Kaitlin initiative, so thanks go to lil’ Marrs Bar for that.  Kaitlin has also promised to run a few groups from afar with Ema on the ground here in order to prepare everyone for the conference.

So, a full Friday workshop with lots of info disseminated, but I think it was important and hopefully also understandable and fun.

Check out Augustino asking about challenges met and lessons learned as well as Ema and Hyasinta tag-teaming to glean further feedback!