Guest Post: Zack @ TechDay New York 2017

NY TechDay: April 18th, 2017

That person looking corny up there is me, and that shirt is one of maybe three button up shirts I own. It is one of those fancy synthetic shirts designed to be breathable and non-absorbent. I used to wear them a lot when I was in the Peace Corps in Tanzania. It was very hot over there, and also very dirty, so having a shirt that didn’t absorb sweat was great. They are also easier to clean. (This is a big deal when you have to carry every gallon of laundry-water you want to use.)
I’m wearing it in this picture because I tend to sweat when I get nervous. I flew into New York just two days prior, and now suddenly I’m in a very bright building with a population greater than the town I grew up in. Keep in mind that I spent most of my days like a mushroom or nesting rat, burrowed away in the dim hole of my apartment, typing. Mere eye contact makes me uncomfortable, much less fake smiles and sweaty handshakes.
What I’m trying to make clear is that this is not my element. I was shocked when Janice offered to fly me out to NYC for this event. I thought to myself — doesn’t she know? Can’t she tell from our phone conversations that I’m socially defunct? Of course I believe in the program, and I want to do everything I can to help Powering Potential spread their valuable work — the two years I spent in Tanzania made me a lifelong advocate of development work — but this?
Well, here I am: freshly resolved to make a positive difference in the world.

Probably going to have myself an anxious vomit, thanks for asking. Oh, please no — did I forget my business cards? Wait, they’re right here. Whew. Breathe, Zack. Breathe. You got this.

Oh, lord have mercy…

The place was huge. It reminds me a little of the vendor building at the big annual event of my childhood, the Calaveras County Jumping Frog Jubilee (which is as backwoods-redneck as it sounds). That’s where they sold things like raunchy t-shirts, custom license plate covers, hand-held massagers, and cheap knives and lighters.

The only difference being that here, the vendors print their names on the cheap crap and give it away for free to anyone who happens to wander by.

Really, Clif Bar? They’re like that kid that’s always getting perfect scores and ruining the curve. I’m over here setting up my $20 Kinkos sign, and they’ve got freaking ping-pong. I tried tweeting at them from Powering Potential’s Twitter — hoping, like a meager parasite, to benefit from an association with a well-established brand — but they ignored me. Jerks.

As the event started to wind down, and long after I’d given away all my business cards, I took a quick stroll through some of the other exhibits. After a few minutes they all seemed to smudge together into a blur of self-promotion. Here is something pointless related to the internet of things. Here is a gadget that will flash emojis and hideously invade your privacy. Here is something the CEO describes as the new Uber, except for something that isn’t taxis. Here are one, two three apps that you can’t believe you’ve lived without. Please take a complimentary corporate-logoed keychain, stress ball, or beer koozie.

At what point does our right to pursue our self-interest end, if it ever does? Sometimes I feel like America (among other Western nations) is too isolated from the realities of the world. There was nothing in that warehouse that I hadn’t managed to live without for my entire life, and yet there it all was, loud and exuberant and well-lit by fluorescent floodlights. 

There are people in the world who aren’t having their basic needs met. There are people in the world who are having their basic needs met but aren’t being given the education needed to make that basic-need-fulfillment self-sustainable. Do I really need to be able to order a picnic through my phone? Do I really need another program that links together all of my various social accounts? Do I really need another beer koozie?

My little nonprofit booth may be small and goofy, and we might not have free stuff or flashy banners, but it’s something I’m proud to put my name on.

P.S.: Big thanks to The Yard for sponsoring Powering Potential’s TechDay booth — we wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise. Also a big thank you to PPI Board Member Milt Finger for offering to pay for Zack’s travel expenses. We have the greatest board members, don’t we, folks?

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

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.

Albin Mathias
PPI Country Director

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.”