Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tending Tanzanian Trees at the Tenda Teachers National Training Conference

A child is like a young tree which can have its growth stunted and twisted or which can be fed until it grows beyond its unassisted height or whose branches can be pruned and trained so that maximum fruit is obtained at maturity. And the people who have the opportunity to shape these young people – who have the power – are the teachers in our schools.  -Julius K. Nyerere, President of Tanzania 1964-1985


Albin Mathias
PPI Country Director
Powering Potential Country Director Albin Mathias and Community Relations Manager Tumaini Rweyemamu recently attended the two-day Tenda Teachers National Training Conference in Arusha, Tanzania.

The conference's stated goals were to "bring together government and nongovernmental organizations committed to teacher education, especially in-service teacher training, to share current and future plans, learn from one another, and explore possibilities for working collaboratively to strengthen in-service teacher training in Tanzanian schools."

The Tenda Teachers National Training Conference hosted an impressive list of local aid and development organizations, including Tenda Teachers/Project Zawadi, Zinduka DIF, Mwenge Catholic University, Probono, Mwangaza Partnership, Equip Tanzania, USAID Tusome Pamoja Project, Haki Elimu, Tanzania Teachers Union, AfricAid, University of Dar es Salaam, Dodoma University, Twaweza, TZ Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Tanzania Institute of Education, and the President’s Office of Regional Administration and Local Government.

Albin with other Tenda attendees
The conference provided a great deal of important information, advising NGOs on procedures to undertake to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Tanzania. Dr. Elia Kibga, the Director General of the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) and longtime Powering Potential supporter, called upon implementers to register their projects with the authorities for monitoring to avoid an inefficient duplication of effort. Dr. Kidga stated that TIE is implementing initiatives to improve networking with NGOs.

Albin speaking at the conference
Dr. Kibga also emphasized that large portions of teachers lacked basic computer skills, and therefore could not effectively integrate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the teaching process. In response to this, TIE has put forth a few key technology initiatives, including designing and developing practical teacher guides for Physics, Chemistry and Biology; the development of training videos by teachers with the required practical skills; and the World Bank Retooling Project to assist teachers in handling difficult topics by utilizing ICT resources (implemented in 11 regions of Tanzania so far, and funded by the World Bank).

Albin had this to say about the event:

As with all these initiatives, I think sustaining the efforts of the Tanzania
 Institute of Education and the Tanzanian government is important. The Educating Through Technology Computer Lab and Pi-oneer (mobile projector/computer to aid teaching) programs implemented by Powering Potential Inc. (PPI) and the Potential Enhancement Foundation (PEF), PPI's counterpart in Tanzania, provide a solution. Most schools lack computer labs, electricity, and basic computer skills. PEF and PPI are well organized to provide solutions to these challenges. I also think the Tanzanian Institute of Education should promote the use of open source software, since this technology is sustainable and affordable for all community schools which have limited budgets.

The conference was organized by Tenda Teachers, a program of Project Zawadi, which promotes student engagement through student-centered learning, and provides teacher training programs to facilitate this.


"Watu wanafanya kazi pamoja wanaweza kufanya mambo makubwa."
"People working together can do great things."



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Google Campus Expedition

Google Campus Expedition 

w/ Janice Lathen and Prem Pandian


Here we are on my annual Powering Potential, Inc. (PPI) business trip to the drought-stricken West Coast! Weather absolutely fantastic. Note to self: consider moving PPI HQ to California? Temperature hovering around sixty degrees, but still overheard much complaining about the cold. Trying vainly to hold in my giggles. Californians, am I right? New York would give them something to complain about!

Anyway. Thursday morning Feb. 23. Uber'd over to the Google Campus on the outskirts of San Francisco to visit Powering Potential patron Prem Pandian --- equivalent alliteration unintended, I'm sure.

Prem, a Business Development and Supply Chain Manager at Google, has provided some incredible support for PPI. In 2016, he arranged for our organization to become a Google-approved nonprofit, which means Google will match any of their employee's donations. This year he offered to donate a few Google Chromebooks and Android tablets to our noble cause, and to show us around his workplace. What an opportunity!



Prem and me in front of the Android lobby. Giant metal Android sends his love. 


Here's a pic of me in front of a very important-looking building. Unfortunately, you're going to have to swallow your curiosity about what's going on inside, because the Google security team doesn't allow any indoor photography. This place isn't a petting zoo for programmers, folks — no matter how much fun as that'd be!


The Google Campus. Aptly named. Easy to mistake the inspiring architecture, groomed lawns, pickup volleyball, and casual dress as apex pedagogy, but no --- this is just how Google lures in the best of the best. 




You want perks? These are perks. International cuisine a la front-wheel drive. Ever wondered what drives technological innovation? Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, and more.

Prem and I grabbed lunch and had a great talk about Powering Potential's growth in 2017. (Good things coming — stay tuned!) We also talked about Google, Facebook, and SpaceX's worldwide satellite internet, and how beautifully it works in conjunction with PPI's mission. After all, worldwide internet isn't all that useful unless people have computers to access it with. Imagine a world built on the free dissemination of information, where all people have equal access to the sum total of human knowledge. In a way, it'd be kind of like this row of food trucks — all of the world's best cultural offerings lined up for everyone to appreciate. Yum!



A digestive stroll after a big lunch. Noticed this bucket. Complimentary umbrellas, of all things? It appears California isn't as water-starved as they claim! (Kidding, of course.)



And what's this? Prem explains that Google provides complimentary Google-themed bicycles, too, so their employees can get some fresh air and exercise while traversing the complex.

Do I want to try one?



I jumped at the chance to take this baby for a spin. Here's me prepping for takeoff.



Ah, the salt-tinged coastal air running in your hair! Is there anything so wonderful? So very jealous of Google's bike policy!



Catching my breath in the parking lot afterwards, waiting for my Uber to return me to San Fran. Absolutely thrilled to see this line of charging stations in the Campus parking lot. So very cool!


Reminds me of PPI's work, of course. A different kind of alternative energy, but alternative energy just the same. Maybe someday we'll see solar-powered cars go mainstream?




Finally, here are the Chromebooks and tablets that Prem so generously donated to Powering Potential. Thanks so much, Prem! The work we do rests on the shoulders of generous people like you!

All told, I had a great time at the Google Campus. Hope to be back soon!

Prem Prandian: It was great catching up with Janice and the best part was taking her on the “Google Bike Ride.” Remember “Internship” anyone? 😁 I am extremely happy with the results of the Chromebook pilot study, and looking forward to all the cool things the students could do with the new batch of Chromebooks.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Powering Potential Returns to Nainokanoka Secondary

Phase 2 Installation at Nainokanoka Secondary School

In July 2014, Powering Potential, Inc. (PPI) visited the remote Nainokanoka Secondary School in Tanzania's Ngorongoro district to install our Phase 1 solar-powered Raspberry Pi computer lab. At the time, it was one of the most isolated sites we'd visited. Many of the students had never even seen a computer before, much less had the opportunity to use one.

On Jan 21, 2017, nearly three years later, a Powering Potential team led by ICT Manager Neema Lyimo has returned to install Phase 2 of its solar-powered Raspberry Pi computer lab at Nainokanoka Secondary School. Thanks to generous funding by Collegiate Church, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter  Foundation, Lisa and David Issroff and other individuals, the students, teachers, and administrators are enjoying access to 15 new Raspberry Pi computer systems, as well as an expanded solar infrastructure.



For the first time in its history, Nainokanoka Secondary can offer the national curriculum's four-year courses on Information and Computer Studies, giving the students the ability to fulfill the ICS criteria set forth by the Tanzanian Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and, in turn, pursue rewarding ICT-related careers.

Congratulations, Nainokanoka Secondary! Hongera sana!

A Letter from Nainokanoka Secondary's Headmaster, E. Masare


“With gratitude, thanks from the society of Nainokanoka administration, teachers, and students. We appreciate the reception of 15 more computers for phase 2. We will continue to effectively use the computer lab for our students. For now, the ICT class is open and ready to register for the ICS national curriculum. Next year our Form 2 class will do the National ICT curriculum. We wish you all the best and will continue to cooperate.” E. Masare, Headmaster.

Mwalimu Nickson, Model Teacher and ICS Extraordinare

Mwalimu Nickson is an ICS teacher at Nainokanoka Secondary. He has been an invaluable liaison between Nainokanoka's administration and Powering Potential's staff. His care and attention have ensured the program's successful implementation.

Mwalimu Nickson and ICT Manager Neema Lyimo working on the Phase 2 Installation


He demonstrated outstanding dedication by working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Powering Potential staff during installation, and even offered his own personal room for Powering Potential to use throughout the program's progress. We at Powering Potential thank him for his kindness and evident commitment to providing the best education he can for his students. Safi sana!

"We should be able to register ICS now that we have enough computers. Our student's performance will continue to improve with access to the RACHEL resources. Students will be encouraged by the school computers. They will enjoy learning more about this new technology." Mwalimu Nickson

Powering Potential's Enduring Gratitude

Enormous thanks to Collegiate Church, the Carpenter Foundation and all the other donors who helped make this Phase 2 installation possible. Know that you are making a tangible difference in the lives of many of the world's most underprivileged youth. It is impossible to express how much we appreciate your contributions.

Tarps and Technology in Tanzania: A Guest Post by Luther Lee

Luther Lee, PPI Volunteer
Administrative and Technical Consultant
A little over a year ago, three secondary schools (Sazira, Mekomariro, Kabasa) located in the home district of former Tanzanian Minister of State Stephen Wasira were individually selected to receive a solar-powered Raspberry Pi computer lab provided by Powering Potential, Inc. (PPI).

The team included Albin Mathias, Elitumaini Reweyemamu, Tito Mathias, Neema Lyimo, Denis Christopher,  Karmeli Marko, and Luther Lee. In the U.S., Rich Segal, V. Ena Haines and Manny Ackerman provided technical support.

Following is an account of the Sazira experience by Luther Lee.


We've been en route to Bunda for several hours and I'm still as excited as a bridegroom on his wedding day. The nose of our rugged Land Cruiser that started the day white is now powdered red from the thirsty Earth. We, its passengers, brace through our "African Massage" as it lurches to and fro, absorbing the contours of the road. My tailbone remembers the last pothole and pities my companions' tailbones seated on crates in the rear of the cruiser.

Packing the Land Cruiser was a game of Tetris, only winnable by stacking boxes floor to ceiling in such a way that a couple people would have to keep the towers propped up. Our driver, Matiku, strapped the remaining boxes that couldn't fit inside the cabin to the roof rack.

I breathe a sigh of relief that Matiku used extra straps for the roof cargo, and as I peer forward to thank him for his wisdom, irony strikes me. Matiku, a Bunda district elder, is talking on a high-end smartphone I haven't even seen in America. Its screen size is three times that of an iPhone. He ends his call and begins texting with the kind of dexterity you see in Manhattan tech-savvy youth, the kind you joke about having athletic thumbs.

As we're travelling through Ngorongoro I gaze out the window, mesmerized by the sun-bleached grass scrublands whose crust has grown a pale mustard color during recent parched months. A woman I met earlier informs me that geological evidence indicates that these vast "grazing lawns" are the result of a volcano erupting 7500 generations ago which gifted nutrient-rich, ashen soil. The grass thrives during the rainy season. Right now at the end of the dry season, it's just peppered with short, ruddy shrubs as far as the horizon.

Peering out the side or rear window of our rattling, dusty Land Cruiser you wouldn't notice it, yet the windshield clues us in that the clouds are actually sneezing a mist of rain on our little cargo-carriage. Matiku and Powering Potential Inc's (PPI) director in Tanzania, Albin, start chattering in Kiswahili and then it hits me: in the chaos of departing for the day, I don't remember the straps going over a tarp. I only remember them going directly over our sealed, corrugated boxes. Did we make the mistake of leaving home without our umbrella?

With much trepidation I ask, "Please tell me we brought tarps?"

"Luther, I'm afraid not," Albin responded.

A moment later, Matiku pulls over, gets out, and steps up on the rear bumper to see how soggy our corrugated boxes are growing. So far it's just superficial dampness. As if it wasn't already challenging enough for our colleagues in the rear, I'm pretty sure our Matiku pulls a couple smaller containers off the roof and crams them in the already claustrophobic rear cabin.

Matiku resumes our journey and the clouds decide to further crank open their spigot. I begin to grow anxious and ruminate. I imagine the computer equipment taking a bath, equipment that so many people gifted their hard-earned savings and the PPI team labored so diligently to prep. As if responding to our pleadings, the clouds close their spigot minutes later.

We are far from clear of danger, however, because we've only been on the road five hours. It's another six to Bunda which lies at the western edge of Serengeti and the eastern edge of the largest freshwater lake in all of Africa, Lake Victoria. Other than the boxes being well sealed with tape, are the contents inside wrapped in plastic? I'm thinking I'd rather a soggy box bouncing around in my lap than a drowned box on the roof.

A small encampment of huts appears on the horizon. As we draw nearer, I squint my eyes; am I hallucinating, or are half of the huts actually wearing blue stocking caps? With the huts a little more than 100m off the road, Matiku pulls over as close as we are going to get. To my astonishment, of the twenty huts before us, enchanting blue plastic tarps enshrine eight of them!

I hope we can obtain tarps not vital to the bushmen. As much as I'd like to be helpful in carrying a tarp back, I know that the presence of a Westerner could serve as more of a hindrance than a help. The bushmen might charge us a mzungu tax (Westerner tax), and at the moment I have no extra shilling to give. With a little chatter between Albin and Matiku, it's agreed that Albin, Elitumaini, Karmeli, and Tito will go. I remain in the Land Cruiser, curious as ever to the deal-making of the group.

They start off towards the encampment. The anachronistic spectacle of Elitumaini and Albin running towards the huts in formal attire of suit coat, slacks, and dress loafers might as well have been scripted comedy. After they disappear into the encampment, a couple of bushmen already wandering the scrubland pay a visit to our Land Cruiser.

Matiku, pacing as he waits outside, greets them with a warm smile. They briefly exchange words. Smile. Nod. Smile. Nod. With his driver side window down, he leans in grinning, "I couldn't understand anything they said. I expect they speak Maa language."

As the visiting bushmen walk off, disappearing into the horizon, I contrast the parallels between them and Americans back home. Bushmen tattoos have significant personal meaning just as they do for people back home. Like Americans, bushmen opt for body piercings on their ears and elsewhere.

Technology, on the other hand, isn't always met with enthusiasm. Human psychology is wired to be skeptical of the disadvantages as well as advantages of technological marvels. It's a perpetual balancing act between heritage conservatism and cultural progressivism. In America, there are a couple hundred thousand rural families that live enthusiastically "off the grid." To name three American groups more inclined to live off-grid, there are the Amish, Native American, and wilderness off-gridders.

Much like Tanzania's bushmen, most of these off-grid groups aren't absolutist; they're adopting technology at their desired pace. The wilderness off-gridders use store bought tarps. The Amish leverage phones and PCs to conduct business. And all three leverage automobile transport as it suits them.

Be it Tanzanian bushmen or American or off-grid groups, I see the allure of our cultural heritage, allure of simplicity, and allure of technological tools. The degree of technology use, however, balances differently for each group. It's easy to admire them all and respect how they're adopting changes at their own desired pace when met with enthusiasm.

An Albert Camus quote rises to the forefront of my thoughts:

“Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow
Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead
Walk beside me… just be my friend”

With these things in mind, just how enthusiastic are Tanzanians about adopting technology? If cell phone use is a reasonable proxy indicator, then Tanzanian technology adoption is skyrocketing. Three quarters of Tanzanians currently use cell phones, a seven percent increase from 2014-2015 alone. At that pace, there could be one cell phone per person by 2020. I can even attest to seeing other bushmen herding their livestock with an o-rinka in one hand and cell phone in the other. O-rinka is Kiswahili for a wooden club walking stick.

World Bank Data for Skyrocketing Cell Phone Use


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Between those facts and Matiku’s tech-savvy, it's no wonder why he travelled all day yesterday to chauffeur the PPI team and our precious computer cargo 300 kilometers from Karatu to Bunda. Other elders and teachers eagerly await our arrival as we bring computer systems that will serve the twelve hundred secondary-school youth of their community.

French sociologist Gabriel Tarde wrote in 1888 the following: "We may call it social evolution when an invention quietly spreads through imitation." Likewise, Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek wrote in the 1960s that in social evolution, the decisive factor is "selection by imitation of successful institutions and habits." I don't know about "quiet", but I'd say technological inventions are spreading through Tanzania like wildfire, and Tanzanian's habits are undergoing a technological revolution.

My mind snaps back as Tito and the others reappear from the encampment with the blue treasure in hand. Awkward as they appear fumbling with a dirty tarp across the open field, I imagine them as warrior bannermen gallivanting across the land, proudly waving their ancestral coat of arms. Victorious heroes! They arrive back at the Land Cruiser with a heavily-worn tarp, but it's enough to protect the equipment.

Six hours later, hours past sunset, and our fuel tank signaling empty, our Land Cruiser is received with fanfare by teachers and elders at Sazira Secondary School in Bunda. Using the LEDs on their cell phones to illuminate our efforts, they help us unload the equipment. In the weeks that follow, the PPI team will install the solar energy systems and computer labs with raging success.

Flash forward to a year later: I'm deeply grateful for my Tanzania experience. I'm mindful of the abundance of opportunity that remains to make a positive impact on Tanzanian children. And I'm once again reflecting on some of Tanzania's statistics that nudged me to journey half an Earth from my home.

▀ 3M children aged five & younger have severe growth retardation (stunting due to malnutrition) [1]
▀ 400,000 children aged five & younger have extreme malnutrition and are 5-20 times higher risk of dying from common diseases like diarrhea or pneumonia than normally nourished children.
▀ U.S.: 1 physician per 400 persons. Tanzania: 1 physician per 30,000 persons, among the world's lowest [2]

Prior to this journey, my life had been so insulated from challenges like these. I think about the many times I’d felt lousy as a child with pneumonia, strep throat, influenza, ear infections, and broken bones. How would I have felt recovering without seeing a medical doctor? Would I have always recovered? Fortune has smiled upon me. My health and survival isn't remotely as worrisome as it is for others in this world.

Coupled with the dearth of access to medical care are the literacy challenges Tanzania faces.

▀ Most children don't start attending school until age 7 [3]
▀ The ratio of pupils to qualified teachers in Tanzania primary schools is 43:1 [4]
▀ Net enrollment in primary school Grade 2: 64%, Grade 4: 50%, Grade 7: 37% [5]
▀ 19% Primary students have sole use of a math textbook. 16% a science textbook. [6]
▀ After age 13 years, 23% of children remain in school [7]
▀ Net enrollment in secondary school Grade 12 is 12% of Grade 8 [8]
▀ 60% secondary school children have a math textbook, 50% have a science textbook [9]
▀ 4% of Tanzanians attend college [10]

In order for a community to have doctors, students must matriculate to medical school. With teachers and textbooks in short supply, how can Tanzania's educational opportunities be increased? My conviction remains in the Kiswahili and English Khan Academy platform with its computer-guided lectures and exercises. This platform provides a phenomenal opportunity to expand the availability of education to Tanzania's children, hungry to learn. Check out the English Demos for yourself:

Demo 1
Demo 2

I remember just a couple short years ago reading PPI founder, Janice's, blog about organizing individuals to seize this opportunity. I'm grateful to have been able to help PPI with some odds and ends during that time. Other than the smiling girls and boys at the schools we served, the greatest privilege has been to observe the tireless heavy lifting of some of the organization's backbones.

West of the Atlantic, I've seen the tome that is Rich and Manny's, PPI's programmers, hundreds of lengthy email exchanges. I know these emails are just the end result snippets of the countless hours they dedicate to programming, updating, and problem-solving tasks. I've seen Janice 'ninja networking' with the 300 executives of the Defrag Conference, Tanzanian government officials, and others. I've seen Ena, a PPI manager, hosting meetings, building consensus, and keeping projects organized. I've seen Olivia's glowing personality and brilliant job with the blog and Facebook.

East of the Atlantic, I've seen Albin be a road warrior executing deployments and keeping things on track. He and his family were tremendously kind to welcome me into their home. I miss you guys! It was a special treat to see PPI Tanzania's staff of Neema, Karmeli, Elitumaini, and Denis', surgeon-like skills in prepping the network and Rasberry Pis at Sazira.

It's been an honor to serve this organization, and I'm overjoyed to see it continue to grow. It's because of these folks that 10,000 additional students in Tanzania now have technology access unavailable to them ten years ago. It's because of people like these and others that literacy in East Africa has doubled since 1980.

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While in Tanzania I shared with the girls and boys an interactive map of how the big blue marble we live on looks at night as seen from the International Space Station. They were astonished how brightly the global north shines at night compared to their home.

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Later when the holiday season arrived in Tanzania I saw this article:

http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/12/22/460699220/what-burns-more-kilowatt-hours-americas-xmas-lights-or-tanzania

That's right. American Christmas lights use more than all the energy Tanzania uses in an entire year.

There is a Kiswahili proverb that captures the essence of their intrigue and of Powering Potential boosting youth education. "Elimu ndio mwanga uongozayo kila shani." Translated this means, "Knowledge is the light that leads to everything wonderful. With intelligence one emerges from a difficult case."

As you reflect on holidays past, surrounded by friends and family, and likely how your community was illuminated with Christmas lights, I invite you to join with Powering Potential in brightening the future of the girls and boys in Tanzania. Every bit of light helps.