Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fruitful Visit

JRO - Kilimanjaro airport in Arusha, Tanzania.

Am waiting to check in at the airport and then off I go....home on Dec. 20.

I feel like I've been here for 10 months not 10 days :)

I had several meetings with Tanzanian government officials and they are paving the way forward for us. Also Hamisi, the head of Ensol which is the solar company we use, came to Banjika to see the solar system. We worked out a design that will serve the school's needs and be very efficient.

Also met with these people to discuss our future projects:
  • Mason - our consultant
  • Mtituh - a tech guy from Dar who has been very helpful
  • Mercy, Noel, Tina, Wantay, and Dr. Taylor - representatives from NGOs (non-government organizations) working in Tanzania. I'm learning from their experiences.
  • Sirili, Emanuel and Happy - former Banjika students who I am considering as future Technology Tent trainers.
Justine, the headmaster, and I worked out a design for the computer lab....where to place all the new computers that are coming. And Rogers, our tech guy here, was at Banjika yesterday and today to fix a few problems.

I had a chance to observe Meshack teaching The Technology Tent. I'm amazed at how much the students have learned. I took some videos of the class and will get them up online to share.

The counter clerk just arrived....I better go and check in.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

U.S. Embassy in Tanzania

This is the certificate which the U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania presented to me and Justin Joseph, the headmaster at Banjika, at the Embassy's Check Presentation Ceremony yesterday.

It says:

"U.S. Embassy Dar es Salaam 
U.S. Ambassador's
Self Help Grant Award
The United States Embassy has awarded
Tsh 8,600,000 to Powering Potential
to upgrade the solar power system at Banjika Secondary
School. Congratulations and thank you for helping to bring electronic information technology to rural schools."

It is also signed by Ambassador Alfonso E. Lenhardt.

Justine and I had an official photo taken with the Ambassador and there was a group photo of the grantees. We will get those photos in March.

l to r: Albin, Janice, Justin

The Embassy forbids guests from bringing cameras on the grounds so we had this photos taken after we got back to the hotel. A very exciting day and an historic one for Powering Potential!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Back in Dar

The excitement is starting early.

I've been invited to a party tonight. A friend's mother is a Tanzanian politician who was recently appointed Deputy Minister for one of the Ministries. The family is celebrating her new status with the government and also her birthday. This party will be a taste of Tanzanian high society. I need to get home early though because:

Tomorrow at 9am the Check Presentation Ceremony with the Ambassador begins at the U.S. Embassy. I got a call on Friday from a Tanzanian journalist who wants to interview me :) He told me, "This ceremony is a BIG deal."

The Karatu District Education Officer called. We are meeting next Friday to work out details for future projects. He is very eager to continue supporting our work. He assured me that the computer teacher for Banjika will begin work in January at the start of the new school year. He is honored that the U.S. Embassy is giving money for a project at a school in his district and he is covering the costs for the headmaster to attend the ceremony.

I also spoke with Mr. Kalinga from the Ministry of Education and had a long meeting with Albin, Powering Potential's representative in Tanzania.

Stay tuned....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

New York State of Mind

I'm back


in Manhattan....

paved roads
flush toilets
reliable electricity
hot showers with heavy water pressure
English as a native language
people who "go with time" rushing around....

I miss Tanzania  :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back from the Bush

In Swahili there is: mji (town), kijiji (village), and porini (bush).

The Monduli school was definitely in the porini. I'm now in Dar es Salaam - mji mkubwa (big town). I arrived yesterday - back from the bush - and am leaving for the airport in 1/2 hour to return to New York.

I had two meetings in Dar today, one with our new-found solar expert and one at the US Embassy again.

It's been a most fruitful time here in Tanzania and I'm returning home eager to raise money and add 15 computers at Banjika. In my meeting with the Karatu District Education Officer he agreed to assign a computer teacher to the school, which is a huge step forward, and if they get more computers they can apply to the Ministry of Education to offer Computer Studies as part of their curriculum. We would like to give the headmaster his own computer, put one computer in the teachers' staff room, and have 20 computers for the students.

I spoke to Sirili today, a Banjika Form Four student, and he was SO excited because he had been using the Internet at school yesterday. We also found some fantastic educational material which includes the Khan Academy learning videos - Bill Gates uses them to teach his children - the material is stored locally on the server at the school so it will be easy for them to access.

Time to leave for the airport.....I'll be home the afternoon of Oct. 6. Thank you all for your interest in the story of Powering Potential  :)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Maasai Magic in Monduli

Working at the Noonkodin School 
Two and a half hours!

That's all the time it took to install four computers at the Noonkodin School for Maasai students in the Monduli district on Saturday, Oct. 2.

I had a great team of Tanzanian professionals working with me and as per my request they all arrived at the E'Manyatta Lodge in Monduli town at 9am sharp.

Do you know how rare that is in Tanzania?...where people don't "go with time." I was so happily surprised. So at 9am we started the trek up the mountain,across the plains, into the valley, along winding roads, well not roads really, more like trails and 45 minutes later arrived at a school in the middle of nowhere. Hilary, our hardware expert, remarked "You like to work in rural areas!"

Troubleshooting the computers
After we arrived, the headmaster asked me to address the boarding students who were assembled to greet us and then we went to work. The solar fundi (skilled person) wired up the computers.

Albin and the computer fundis unpacked the equipment, assembled the computers, installed the software, connected the wireless router and printer, made a few changes to the settings and we were done. We also tested a solution to give them affordable Internet access and it worked. So when they are ready they can get up online.

The headmaster, teachers and students are SO excited to have computers, especially shiny new modern ones!Tomorrow, Monday, Albin begins a one-week training course for the teachers. This has been made possible by the contributions of the generous Patrons of Powering Potential!

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Satellite Fundi

Fundi is a Swahili word for "skilled person." I've worked with the bike fundi, the solar fundi, and Surya likes to joke that he is the computer fundi.

This is Ramadhandi in action,
the satellite fundi.

I wish you all could see the excitement that the Intaneti is generating at the school and in the community!

Satellite, Solar, National Flag

A rare sight at a secondary school in Tanzania.

Justine Joseph
Headmaster (right)

Meshack Myinga
Assistant Headmaster (left)

Making their first Skype call.

They are talking to Anand Sethupathy in New York city, the Powering Potential advisor and donor whose idea it was to bring Internet access to the students at Banjika and whose money paid for the equipment and monthly service.

Surya (right) and Mr. Minja,
our Go To Guy in Karatu for all hardware needs.

Mr. Minja met Surya and his wife in Oct. 2008 while they were spending their honeymoon teaching at Banjika.

They had a very happy reunion in front of Mr. Minja's store.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Moving Right Along

Thursday Sept. 16

Drive to airport

Flight from Dar to Arusha

Meeting with volunteer coordinator of Noonkodin school

Meeting with two Tanzanian network engineers who are available to help with the computer installation at the Noonkodin Secondary School in Monduli. One of them teaches Linux administration at a college here and the other was his student. Powering Potential's computers are Linux-based.

Lunch with Susan Rickert, the woman who was the driving force behind the building of the Banjika school

Hot, dusty, bumpy drive to Karatu with Susan (and her guide)

Shower and dress for dinner

Dinner with Susan at Ngorongoro Farmhouse

Asked to speak about Powering Potential to a table of 20 people

Phone calls and text messages regarding customs clearance of the computers and to arrange the installation for Oct. 2

Collapse into bed

Friday, Sept. 17

Banjika Graduation Ceremony - all day

The Administrative Officer from the District Commissioner's office and the District Education Officer were there – important local government people and both invited me to their offices to discuss the work of Powering Potential and how they might support us.

I have videos of the event (including my speech) ... am eager to share them with you online..might have to wait until I get home though...the Internet is slower here.

The solar technicians were working at the school all day expanding the solar energy system to accommodate the satellite Internet dish which takes an additional 80 watts.

Surya Ganguly arrives into Arusha tonight, he is one of Powering Potential's technical gurus. He's coming to help with the installation of the satellite Internet dish which is happening tomorrow and Sunday, and to set up the computers for safe, efficient access to the Internet.

If you've been wondering about the computers intended for the Noonkodin school in Monduli... they were finally cleared from customs on Thursday Sept. 16 (we were expecting them to be cleared on Aug. 27). Albin, our person here in Tanzania (I need to find a title for him :) any suggestions? will bring the computers by bus from Dar to Arusha on Oct. 1 and we will begin the installation the next day. Albin is in college in Dar until Sept. 30 and I had to leave Dar on Thursday to be at Banjika by Friday and the computers weren't cleared yet... thus the wait.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Local Tranportation

Without a car of one's own, there are three vehicular options for getting around Dar es Salaam - Taxi, Bajaj, and Dalla Dalla.

I want to give you a flavor of each.


Bajaj (my favorite)

Dalla Dalla

Dalla Dalla Posta station in the city center

The ride by taxi from my hotel into the city center takes about 15 minutes with no traffic. The cost? Taxi: $6.60, Bajaj: $3.30, Dalla Dalla: 16 cents

Frugality is a hallmark of Powering Potential so now that I've learned the system, I take the Dalla Dalla unless I'm dressed up for a business meeting, under time constraints, or running out of patience :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Merry Modems

I am feeling SO happy about modems at the moment! Particularly the one in this photo.

Many Tanzanians have spent long hours helping me find a modem that would work with the Linux-based Powering Potential computers.

Today we crossed the finish line :) and I am a happy camper!

Mtituh, Chief Manager Hardware & Data Communications at Tanzania Postal Bank, has been generously offering his advice. I met him months ago on, an online forum for Tanzanian technology professionals (I was invited to join). Last week he asked me to come to his office so he could demonstrate a solution. I have a laptop similar to the Powering Potential computers so we could test the solution. He plugged a Zain modem (Internet router actually) into my laptop and bingo it WORKED! no configuration, no frustration, it just worked....truly plug and play....I was off and running around the Internet.

As soon as I left his office I went to the Zain shop to buy one; I tested it again in their shop and bingo it WORKED again. My spirits are starting to soar...two tests, two successes. However I didn't have enough money to pay for it - having my ATM cards stolen has put a crimp in my financial flexibility so I couldn't go to an ATM to get the money. My sister sent me money through Western Union and today I bought the modem. I had tested it twice so I didn't bring my computer with me (always a risk of it being stolen) to test the modem a third time; I just bought it, came home, plugged it in and bingo, it DIDN'T work!

OK...I thought...I KNOW this thing works. So I went to the Zain headquarters to visit my new best friend Jean Paul, Zain's technical guru, and he figured it out (he's been helping me with many of my Tanzanian communication problems :) The problem was that the SIM card wasn't configured to accept Internet data....just voice and SMS. He reconfigured the card and I'm experiencing the Joys of Technology again!

This modem/router works with Ethernet and USB cables and wirelessly. My original reason for wanting a modem was to get online with my own computer and not be dependent on undependable hotel and Internet cafe services. With my own modem I can compute to my heart's content while in Tanzania. And now that I have a working modem we can try it at the schools to determine it's viability for use there.

Happy Days are here again!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Q Bar and Guest House

When I was searching for a place to stay in Dar es Salaam I depended on the Lonely Planet guidebook. The Q Bar and Guest House: "Huge, spotless mid-range rooms. Food is served downstairs and there's also a popular bar with live music on Friday evening." It's going to be noisy I said to myself...I checked out their website and emailed back and forth...was reassured that they had quiet rooms on the top floors in the back...$55/night. OK....I knew it was in a safe, pleasant neighborhood so I booked it.

When I got there at midnight on Tuesday looked nothing like their website...oh well....the room was big and spotless. The next night...the bar was full of people....and the women were dressed like no other women I've ever seen before in first thought: "I guess this is the way Tanzanian women dress in the big city" then I quickly realized.... noooo....they were dressed that way to improve their economic prospects :)

I was focused on meetings at the Embassy, the Ministry of Education, with Accenture, NGOs, company CEOs, technicians, etc. too busy to even think about trying to find another place to stay. Ohhh and by the way...the music was not just Fridays, also Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. And to top it off...the rooms in the back which were supposed to be quiet were facing the newly opened Maisha Club....a nightclub with blaring music until 5am except Mondays and Tuesdays.

I met some interesting people American who owns mines in the Congo, China and other places around the Australian who explores for oil in Mogadishu, has a home in Tanzania and lives in Thailand...two medical students from Holland. There were upsides to the situation I found myself in and the laundry was free :) Some of these people had stayed at the Q Bar many times over the years. I asked around, "Have you ever had anything stolen?" No was the answer....the noise was getting to me though and the Ladies of the Night were making friends with me.

I started asking around for other places in the area to stay. Then on Sunday, Hilda, another Q Bar guest had money stolen from her room. I stepped up my efforts to find another place. And yesterday evening as Lance (the Australian) and I were walking to the Italian restaurant three blocks away, a car drove up beside us and suddenly the shoulder strap on my purse was cut and it was being pulled away...a tug of war ensued and I lost. cellphone, three credit cards, two ATM cards, my favorite purse, but only $35. My passport and the rest of my cash were safely hidden away.

So....I've moved. I'm paying more than twice what I was at the Q Bar and I feel infinitely more safe and comfortable.

Ministry of Education and Vocational Training

The other day I met with an economist from the Department of Policy and Planning at the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training. I was referred to him by the First Secretary of the Tanzanian Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. After a short talk with this economist he introduced me to the head of Monitoring and Evaluation...had a long, very interesting conversation with him. He gave me a booklet of Tanzania's Technology Education Policy and asked me to return to meet with the Director of Policy and Planning and possibly the Permanent Secretary of the Education Ministry. He recommended that Powering Potential concentrate our work for now in one District, which would be Karatu. He also recommended meeting the local education government officials and suggested I look into working at a particular school of interest to him. Albin, Powering Potential's person in Tanzania, explained the local education government structure to me and his father works in education in the Karatu district so he is going to get me the names of these local officials.

Tanzania is very eager to get technology into their schools and they seem very grateful for all that we are doing. I want Powering Potential to work in harmony with the Ministry of Education. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Joys of Technology

Sept. 1, 11pm
Last evening Albin and I met with Mtituh. He is an experienced network technician here in Dar es Salaam and was telling me about various Internet possibilities in Tanzania (CDMA, GSM, EDGE, HSDPA, GPRS, EVDO) "Albin are you understanding this?" "No." Am I? Somewhat. It's not the first time I've heard these acronyms but this is where the Carry On part of my "Be Calm and Carry On" strategy is put it play :) Zain, Zantel, TTCL, Sastel, Vodacom...OK....Carry On....
After two hours of discussing options, he called a colleague, a former employee of TTCL, who confirmed that TTCL (Tanzanian Telephone Company Limited) had a high speed modem (EVDO) which would give us speeds of 512kbps in Karatu which is much faster than what we will be getting with the satellite dish (128kbps). "This is worth checking out," I said to myself. "This would be a MUCH better solution....faster and less expensive than the satellite connection."

So as he suggested, I went to the TTCL office in the Sayansi area. Spoke to an account executive who talked to two different TTCL engineers and she confirmed for me that Yes the EVDO modem did work with the Linux operating system, which is what we have at Banjika, but that No we wouldn't get speeds of 512kbps. Hmmm.....conflicting information...who to trust??? The great dilemma of life.

Technology is an exciting field to be in (at least that is one way of thinking about it) because things are always changing. What was true last week may not be true next week. What was applicable yesterday may not be viable tomorrow.

The only way to know for sure is to test it yourself. "I'm going to buy the modem and test it out." I had a Linux netbook so I asked if I could test the modem before buying it. "No." then "Just wait here for a moment."

At this point, I've been in the TTCL office for 2 hours exercise in patience. The final word was No I couldn't test it before I bought it and if I bought it and it didn't work, MAYBE I could return it. OK...I bought it.. $66.

"It's is plug and play." Well I plugged it in and it didn't play...surprise surprise. After another hour with Mr. Elaise trying to get it to work and three phone calls with Abdul, another TTCL engineer...I was requested to bring my netbook and the modem to the TTCL CITY office where Abdul was so he could fix it hands-on. OK. If you like traffic jams you'll LOVE Dar es Salaam. It's now 4pm and I knew the traffic going into the city wouldn't be bad so I take a Bajaj (mini-taxi) down to the city centre. I find the TTCL office and then Abdul. Guess what...he couldn't get it to work either. I've now spent four hours on this project. "OK...I'll just take my money back." "Hamnashida (no problem) but you have to go back to the Sayansi office to get your money back...our office here is already closed." Then it dawned on me that I now needed to head OUT of the city during the height of rush hour.

How have I lasted 23 years in the technology business??? This story is about the frustrations of technology...not necessarily about the frustrations of technology in Tanzania although here there is an added spice :) but everyone has been more than willing to help me find practical solutions.

I am still going to follow every lead in the hope of finding a faster, less expensive alternative to satellite for Internet access in the rural areas. Am I tilting at windmills?

Meetings Meetings Meetings

We didn't have electricity for a few days so I was unable to get online.

Took a long, hot, dusty, crowded ride in a dalla dalla (local bus) out to Ubungo to meet with the head of Ensol, a solar company with a branch in Karatu near Banjika. We worked out the specs for expanding the solar energy system. Albin, Powering Potential's point person in Tanzania came with me.

I met with SimbaNet, our satellite Internet provider. We worked out the details of the installation which is happening Sept. 18.

Also met with two Tanzanian Linux computer technicians. They are available to help with the computer installation at the Noonkodin school. I'm working out the best option for local technical help.

Two blocks from where I am staying is an NGO specializing in solar energy. I had a very useful meeting with the head of that NGO ( He gave me some good solar training materials and I have a much better understanding now of how to ensure the long life of the solar energy system at Banjika. I got a lot of very useful information from him.

Also met with another Tanzanian computer network engineer who is very knowledgeable about the various technology options here in Tanzania. I had met him online months ago ( when I was researching Internet options for Banjika.

I met with the head of Tanzania Beyond Tomorrow, which is Accenture's ADP project to increase education in Tanzania. He took me to lunch at the Sea Cliff hotel and it is aptly named. A luxury hotel on the tip of the Msasani Peninsula with high cliffs and crashing waves; I felt like a character in Wuthering Heights. It was so windy, as I poured milk into my tea it splattered across the table.

Because of the electrical outage, we didn't have any water in the morning for a few days. Fortunately I had bottled water (for drinking) so I was able to brush my teeth and wash my face. The water and electricity are both back on. These are some of the fun things one gets to deal with in Tanzania :) I love it!

Since I've been in Tanzania, we have received two more contributions, $750 and $5,000. And shortly before I left New York we received a $5,000 grant from the Oswald Family Foundation. I'm deeply touched by all of the support which is being given to Powering Potential.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

First Day in Dar

The US Embassy is about a 10 minute car ride from my lodgings. I went by there today just to make sure I knew where I was going tomorrow. I spoke to a contact at the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and we are going to try and meet on Friday. Also will be meeting on Friday with our sales rep from SimbaNet, the company we bought the satellite dish from. Spoke to the guy from Accenture...we have plans to meet Thursday evening. Albin Mathias, Powering Potential's point person in Tanzania is coming over today at 5pm to meet with me. He's going to college in Dar...getting a Bachelor of Engineering in Network Design and System Integration.

More later....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Arrived Safe and Sound

Just arrived at my lodgings in Dar es Salaam, the Q Bar and Guest House (it's not what I imagined from their website :) room is nice though, clean and's midnight here....after 17 hours of flying and 4 hours of layovers...I'm going to bed.

"Be Calm" put to the test

Well the "Be Calm" part of my strategy has already been put to the test :)

There was an accident on the way to the airport....traffic was held up for an hour...I got to the terminal one hour before the flight instead of two....I had to ask people to let me go to the front of the security line in order to make my plane....ahhhh...nothing like rushing through an airport to catch an international flight...I just kept calm...

I'm at the airport in's 9am here...the plane to Dar es Salaam leaves in 2 hours.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Be Calm and Carry On

That's my motto for this trip :) bags are packed and I'm ready to go... as the song sings...My flight leaves today (Monday 8/23) at 6:30pm EDT and arrives in Dar es Salaam at 10:30pm Tuesday evening.

Thursday is my meeting with the Community Grants Manager at the US Embassy.

I'll be in touch....stay tuned.