Monday, October 30, 2017

The Powering Potential blog has moved!

With the launch of our new website, the Powering Potential blog has been moved!

Please join us at our new site:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Maslow's Web, or Why I Work for Powering Potential

by Zack Sherzad, Powering Potential Writer

When I graduated with my BA English in 2011, I was already a year deep into my application to the Peace Corps — an onerous administrative process that includes all sorts of criminal background checks, medical exams, and financial blah blah blah — and had been accepted on the condition that I didn't do anything get caught doing anything unbecoming of an American representative in the period leading up to my international flight.

In the months leading up to the commencement of my service, I spent a whole bunch of money on stupid overpriced crap, including a kangaroo-leather bush hat, a hand-cranked UV water filter, some super special space-age breathable pants (with handy zip-off legs), a miniature solar panel with special and expensive rechargeable AA batteries, a wearable whole-face mosquito net, and a $300 pair of allegedly bulletproof sandals.

Oh, Africa! Land of famine, disease, dangerous wildlife, and angry-looking men with berets and AK-47s riding in the backs of trucks! Every day would be a fight for my life! I'd seen the commercials with the soft music laid over pictures of children too starved to shoo flies away from their eyeballs, and I'd seen the movies where the tattooed warlords kidnapped Westerners, and I'd read Heart of Darkness and Green Hills of Africa!

Surely my bulletproof sandals would give me the advantage I needed to survive!

In reality, most of the expensive consumer goods listed above sat unused in a corner of my Tanzanian house, which had electricity, running water, and faster internet than I'd had stateside.

My younger self had fallen for the meme of "Cinema Africa" — a highly-dramatized set piece that seems to me, looking back on my twenty-seven months in Tanzania, to be about as real as Tolkien's Middle-earth or Rowling's Hogwarts.

But who can blame Young Me, given the modern media's ad-revenue-driven penchant for gloom and doom, and humankind's evolutionary-viable strategy of paying the most attention to things that are threatening? The world's best-kept secret: by many indicators, the global living standard is steadily improving. (Taken from World Bank Open Data.)



I staffed a booth for Powering Potential at a tech convention a few months back. I got to talk with a lot of people who seemed genuinely enthusiastic about our mission. Many of them shared what I see as my moral imperative to improve the lives of struggling communities living in underdeveloped countries, and have a good understanding of the current situation and of what needs to be done. They understood the need for long-term, sustainable development (versus unsustainable resource infusions), and applauded Powering Potential's efforts to improve educational outcomes by introducing modern technology into rural public schools.

But a certain subsection of folks were visibly confused. They didn't understand why we would bother distributing tech in rural Tanzania.

When I explained that they're for educational purposes, one man responded, "Sure, that's great — but they can't eat computers!" I assured him that nobody had ever tried to eat our computers. He seemed unconvinced, and politely declined to sign up for our mailing list.
I swear I saw "solar-powered Raspberry Pi computers" on here somewhere...
Above is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow believed this pyramid represents everything an individual needs to be healthy, happy, productive, and etcetera. You'll notice that it starts with a foundation of physiological need — oxygen, food, and water, followed by physical safety — before graduating up into the less tangible needs of love, esteem, and self-actualization.

My aforementioned friend clearly had a good understanding of Maslow's Hierarchy. And, loyal to Maslow's original concept, which claimed "the appearance of one need usually rests on the prior satisfaction of another, more pre-potent need," my friend understood the pyramid as a temporal flow chart, with the lower tiers being necessarily fulfilled before one ascended into the less-tangible echelons.

Unfortunately, my friend also perceived Africa as a perpetually water-deprived and famine-stricken wasteland, with much of the population teetering on the brink of mortal disease and desperate starvation. From his perspective, Tanzanians were not yet ready to move up the pyramid.

Which is not accurate, in my two years of firsthand experience. (Not that that makes me an authority — just more of an authority than your average convention-goer.)


But, for the sake of continuing our abstract moral naval-gazing, let's assume a situation where my friend's perception was accurate. Let's assume Africa is as bad as the media's nigh-universal disaster-oriented coverage implies. Now we've got an interesting question on our hands.
Would my feelings about Powering Potential's work be different, assuming a Tanzania in which a significant portion of the population wasn't having their basic needs met?

Yes, food and safety are inarguably important — but do food and safety mark the point where our responsibilities to underdeveloped nations end? Similarly, are they so important that all other concerns are made irrelevant?

My response is this: Sherzad's Blatantly Derivative Web of Needs.

This took me roughly fifteen minutes in Microsoft Paint to make.
Please ignore the fact that I mixed up some of the colors.

A certain venerable philosopher once claimed that the unexamined life was not worth living. I'm not sure if I'd take it to that extreme, but I would argue that when people make reference to living life, they're not speaking in the biological sense. (How is your aspiration, fellow homo sapian? Are you digesting your nutriment well today? — Said nobody ever.) Certainly, if you starve the stomach, one happens to die in an unambiguous way — but starving the mind can lead to a subtler sort of death.

Yes, people need food, water, and air. These are the absolutely basic requirements of life. But they also need things like education, access to knowledge and information, mental stimulation, and a sense of their greater place and purpose.

And what better way to encourage such things than to provide developing young minds with a greater portion of human knowledge? Powering Potential's offline digital libraries may not be as vast as the internet, but they're a whole heck of a lot better than the tattered 50-year-old textbooks I had to use over the course of my two years teaching in Tanzanian public schools.

I believe in Powering Potential's mission. Join me in changing the world by making a tax-deductible contribution today.

o o o 

Swahili is the language of Tanzania. The following African proverbs are another taste of the beautiful language:

Akili ni mali.
Intelligence is an asset.

Hasiri hasara.
Anger brings damage.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Peru Potential: Trip Report

Hello Friends of Powering Potential,

Those of you with a finger on our organization's pulse may already know that we've been looking into a Peru expansion recently. Earlier this year, Fulbright Grant Recipient and Spanish teacher Dana Rensi approached us about partnering up to implement our SPARC program in rural Peruvian schools. She believes that there are many schools in Peru that would benefit from our Solar Powered Access to Raspberry Computing (SPARC) program.

Powering Potential Management Team Member V. Ena Haines recently flew to the Amazon in Peru to meet with Dana and assess the potential for expansion. Her final report was so interesting that we've decided to share it on our blog. Hopefully it will give you a good overview of how the process is going.

Thanks for reading, and we hope you enjoy.

Powering Potential Staff


V. Ena Haines recently retired from her position as Director of Information Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she led an IT department of 45 staff. Her interest is in making technology work for people, particularly enabling activities that are not really feasible otherwise. She holds a BA from Smith College in Biochemistry (summa cum laude) and a Master's in Library Science. A lifelong New Yorker, Ena first visited Africa in 2009 and found the engaging people as unforgettable as the majesty of the Serengeti. Seeing the work that Powering Potential had begun at Banjika School, she and her husband Michael were inspired to support its growth. She has been working with Powering Potential for seven years.


Trip Report on Northeast Amazon Area of Peru July 28 – Aug 4, 2017
by V. Ena Haines

I spent five days with Dana Rensi in the Amazonian Region of Loreto, Peru, meeting people and visiting schools and other sites for K-12 education. Our goal was to explore possible projects which we could develop to partner in providing digital educational content and enrich learning environments. 

Left to right: Ena Haines, Dana Rensi

We were based in Iquitos, the regional capital, which is a city of nearly half a million, the fifth largest in Peru. It is the largest city in the world which cannot be reached via road, and is the gateway to the many communities of varying sizes along the Amazon and its tributaries.

Project Amazonas ( is a non-profit which has been active in the area since the mid-1990’s, with its medical boat bringing healthcare to remote areas, and field stations dedicated to preservation and reforestation in the jungle. They have a successful volunteer program to bring skilled volunteers as well as high school students to work there. Dana invited three local educators and a technology student from Iquitos to travel with us to Santa Cruz, the site of a Project Amazonas (PA) Forest Reserve. At the village by the river of about 100 families we were shown its three schools: the primary school for 95 students, the community center that is used for secondary school for 40 students, and a small kindergarten building.

Exterior of the 95-student primary school

Interior of the 95-student primary school

Community Center / Secondary School

PA has led a volunteer effort over the last two years to construct a dining pavilion that is to be turned over to the community this month (August, 2017). The state provides breakfast food for primary school students, which in Santa Cruz is shared among all of the students, and therefore runs out by the third week of each month. PA plans to find additional food aid to cover the gap. The local population does have food sources, e.g. fish, although clean drinking water and balanced nutrition are challenges.

Don Dean, a science teacher and musician from New Jersey who heads the PA Santa Cruz Forest Reserve, has led the effort with the community, providing educational enrichment for students at the field station and installing solar power for the schools, in addition to building the dining hall. He was very glad to receive Dana’s gift of a Raspberry Pi loaded with the Spanish version of RACHEL configured as a wi-fi hotspot and server. He and his local assistant will use it with the children at the field station, and would like to place additional Pi’s with RACHEL in the primary and secondary schools. After spending the night in the field station camp, we traveled back as we had come via two rivers and an overland transfer between them, to the CONAPAC (Conservacion de la Naturaleza del Peru, A.C., Amazon Library. It serves young people aged 6 to 20 with educational enrichment including reading, English, and music lessons, crafts and games. Children come after school on a regular basis from 8 nearby schools, with some outreach to another 45 river schools as well. CONAPAC was founded by leaders of Explorama Lodges in 1990 and has a long history of projects including building community drinking water filtration facilities as well as supporting local schools with school supplies and teacher professional development and leadership training. The teachers on our trip did a lot of brainstorming on creating local content for the students in the rural areas. They feel strongly that the educational material should be based on the local environment, in which the river and the forest are the major features. The government assigns teachers to the schools, but these are viewed as hardship posts and retention is a problem, as is teaching some subjects, such as science and English. The educators at the sites and in our traveling group have all been impressed with RACHEL, but the idea of adding local content is of great interest to the school and University people traveling with us from Iquitos.

We spent a morning with several dedicated faculty at UNAP, the Universidad Nacional Amazonia Peruana in Iquitos. A few of them had experience working with secondary schools in poor areas near Iquitos. In addition to communities along the rivers, there are about 52 rural schools along the highway (carretera) which have similar challenges. There have been efforts to provide solar power and computers, but we didn’t hear about much success. For example, one faculty member described a school where he works where the government had solar equipment delivered with no support for installation. The school has unsuccessfully sought government as well as NGO support for installing the equipment. We were told that the parents are very interested in computer training, but sometimes the teachers don’t see the value and don’t want to get involved.

Dana Rensi and Ena Haines on the Nauta River with educators from Iquitos

There was a lot of discussion about bringing teachers from the region for training in Iquitos when school is out in January and February. Meals would need to be provided, but most people would be likely to be able to stay at home or with relatives. Some suggested that the teachers would be motivated by earning a certificate recognized by the education authority.

I came away impressed by the dedication and creative energy displayed by these educators. They have been involved with poor schools, and were interested in being involved. We had heard about three specific schools which had eager proponents of RACHEL.

Ena Haines and Dana Rensi brainstorming with UNAP faculty

Dana Rensi introducing UNAP faculty to the RACHEL offline digital library

Dana and I visited Rosa de America, the beautiful private school where she taught English as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in 2005-6. It is bright and colorful, preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary, with new buildings and plans for continued expansion. The students and teachers, all in uniform, greeted us warmly. We met with the Director along with Cledy Grandez Veintemilla, the science teacher who has remained a close friend of Dana’s, who had been on our trip to Santa Cruz. Dana and Cledy demonstrated RACHEL to the Director, who was very impressed with it, even though they do have textbooks and impressive educational resources. They will use it in their computer lab.

Twice each year, Cledy brings students from Rosa de America to visit a public school in Belén, a poor district on the outskirts of Iquitos. The school, like its surrounding community, is built on stilts because of the flooding during the rainy season. Although the school was closed for two weeks of vacation, the principal was glad to meet us there and show us around. She is in the middle of a three-year assignment to the school, and has made enormous progress against challenging problems. For example, the school had been closing for weeks at a time because its roof didn’t keep out torrential rains, but she managed to get the government to replace it.

Dana Rensi with science teacher Cledy Grandez Veintemilla, in Cledy's classroom

She also managed to get the building cleaned, and developed a school tradition in which the students now keep it clean. She has reached out to the community to send their children to school. The enrollment is so large that they use the classrooms for primary grades in the morning and secondary grades in the afternoon. They do have electricity, although we did not find out whether it is any more adequate than the furniture, which does not accommodate all of the students. They have five laptop computers that work and a good technology teacher, although he, too, is there on a three-year assignment. Dana promised the principal that Cledy would return with a RACHEL Pi for them to keep. Between Cledy and a good technology teacher, it seems as though it should be successfully deployed.

From right: Dana Rensi, Ena Haines, and Cledy Grandez Vaintemilla

As I left, Dana was in the process of arranging meetings with the regional education authority (DREL) and the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana (IIAP), a government institute created in 1980 which “offers various services to society, mainly related to research and specialized studies of Amazon natural resources, training and technology transfer.”

Thanks to Dana’s leadership, we accomplished our goal of learning about possible projects. Next steps include learning of the interests and possibilities with DREL, IIAP, and additional schools, which she has under way. Then we can develop a couple of specific proposals from the ideas for technology installations, teacher development, and content development that arose.

o o o 

Spanish is the language of Peru. The following translated Spanish proverbs are another taste of South American culture.

Fortune and olives are alike: sometimes a man has an abundance and other times not any.

From the tree of silence hands the fruit of tranquility.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Albin Mathias @ Tanzania Institute of Education

Earlier this year, thanks to an invitation from our friends at World Possible, Powering Potential Inc. (PPI) Country Director Eng. Albin Mathias presented our work at the Tenda Teachers Conference in Tanzania. Dr. Elia Kibga, the head of the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE), was also at the conference, and was so impressed with Powering Potential's work that he invited Albin to register the project at TIE headquarters in Dar es Salaam.

TIE is a parastatal entity under the authority of the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MEST), and a leader in Tanzania's educational policy development. All education projects operating in Tanzania are required to apply for acceptance by TIE. This is a promising step forward for the Potential Enhancement Foundation (PEF), the TZ organization established to continue the work of PPI, and a great opportunity to increase Tanzanian awareness of our award-winning programs.

Eng. Albin Mathias, PEF Executive Director
On the 21st of July, Albin Mathias presented the coordinated efforts of PPI and PEF to TIE. He had this to say about the presentation.
An important role of the Tanzanian Institute of Education (TIE) is to design curricular and learning material for both primary and secondary schools. The institute has called upon all education-related programs for schools to present to the Institution. 
On 21 July 2017 I presented the PPI-PEF programs to TIE. The presentation covered the program objectives, program content, beneficiaries of the program, and the coverage area. The purpose of the presentation as mentioned by TIE is to facilitate the coordination and registration of educational programs implemented in Tanzanian schools.
The Presentation went very well. I was glad to see many TIE officials attend. After introductions and a briefing on PPI-PEF  programs, I demonstrated the RACHEL offline education resource. I used our Pi-oneer setup (a solar-powered Raspberry Pi computer attached to a portable projector) for the presentation, and everyone was very excited with the technology. Mr. Mlay from the Centre for Curriculum Training (CCT) department was especially excited about the Pi-oneer's set-up portability, and the fact that one can use the projector in a room without electricity and present lessons. He had never seen one before.  
Most of attendees came from the CCT department, and the team was lead by Acting Director Dorothy R. Makunda, Davis Mlay, and Fatma Shaibu, all from CCT. After presentation I opened the floor for comments and questions from TIE members about the program presented. Everyone was excited with the technology and approach we use. Most comments made about the RACHEL offline education resource related to how the content could be well organized according to the Tanzania curriculum. Also how to improve on the language -- if the presentation could be translated with local English pronunciation, it would help students understand more quickly. TIE members also suggested adding more animated videos on complex science subjects. Also one member suggested including more programming and graphics related to the three week PPI-PEF training curriculum.

Collaborating with local Tanzanian digital content developers could be a very important solution to provide schools with curriculum based digital materials. I also conducted other meeting with Elimu Kwanza, Lyra Africa, Project Inspire, and World Possible, represented by Jackline Seni of Lyra Africa. The agenda for this meeting included experiencing the RACHEL-related program based on feedback by user and other educationalists. The most challenging part is the English pronunciation and content organizing. It could look simpler if, for example, content could be organized by country and by classes. In the future, I hope to see World Possible work with TIE to organize this content.

Albin Mathias, PEF Executive Director

o o o 

Swahili is the language of Tanzania. The following African proverbs are a taste of that beautiful language:

Anikio huzaa fanikio.

Success breeds success.

Huwezi kujua ukiwezacho mpaka umejaribu.

You cannot know what you can do until you've tried.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Energy Globe Award

Powering Potential, Inc (PPI) is pleased to announce that our Raspberry Pi Computer Lab program has received the 2017 Energy Globe National Award for Best Project in the United Republic of Tanzania!

The Energy Globe Award is the world's most prestigious environmental prize, with 178 participating countries and over 2000 annual project submissions. Each year, the Energy Globe Foundation recognizes projects at the regional, national, and international level for their resource conservation, sustainability, and social benefit.

Energy Globe's goal is to increase global awareness of sustainable, universally-applicable solutions to pressing environmental and social issues, and to encourage the international population to get involved in this important work in any way they can.

PPI's innovative Raspberry Pi Computer Lab project utilizes sustainable solar energy to improve youth education in Tanzania's low-socioeconomic rural areas by providing educational resources and offline digital libraries.

Additionally, PPI's use of open-source software ensures that future generations will not be burdened with the egregious expense of upgrading proprietary programs.

Energy Globe's official assessment of Powering Potential's Raspberry Pi program was as follows:

"Education is essential for a good life standard. The lack of learning material leads to a high NEET rate. This project helps to increase the opportunities for economic progression, it has improved students' learning outcomes and provided communities with a more optimistic set of expectations for their children's future."

o o o 

Swahili is the language of Tanzania. The following African proverbs are another taste of the beautiful language:

Aliye na hamu ya kupanda juu hukesha.
A person who desires to rise must stay awake.
Baada ya dhiki faraja.
After hardship comes relief.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Powering Our Programs: Spring Fundraiser @ Tufenkian

Earlier this month, on May 19th, Powering Potential Inc. held its annual spring fundraiser. 39 people in total showed up to show their support for Powering Potential's important development work and 18 people contributed even though they could not attend the event.

This year's venue was the Tufenkian Artisan Carpets showroom, an elegant and spacious space populated with high-end carpets. Big thanks to them for their generosity.

Food and entertainment were provided by Curious on Tanzania. After a brief update on Powering Potential's recent accomplishments, guests enjoyed traditional Tanzanian music, food, and dancing. 

We also hosted a silent auction featuring a wine tasting class by Corks on Columbus, as well as traditional Tanzanian bracelets, necklaces, and fabrics.

Other donors included Curcio & CohenXeniapp, Lyric Chamber Music Society, Serena Hotels, and more. We couldn't have done this without their collective support, so send them some positive energy on our behalf. Thanks, donors!

Also a huge thanks to our super-official Certificate of Appreciation recipients Henry Seggerman and Georgia Allen. These two have been an incredible resource for Powering Potential in several different ways, from helping us find grants, editing videos, organizing events, bartending, and introducing us to valuable contacts. Their work makes our work possible.

Left to right: Henry Seggerman, Denis Petrov, Georgia Allen, and Janice Lathen

And HUGE SUPER EXTRA-SPECIAL KUDOS for Denis Petrov, longtime friend of Powering Potential. Denis has been with us since the start, providing insight and expert guidance every step of the way. He served as a member of Powering Potential's board until stepping down in March of this year. We presented him with a commemorative plaque to show our appreciation for his caring and committed service.

Thankfully, he will continue on as an adviser. Thanks, Denis! Nobody could ever replace you!

So I'm sure you're wondering: how did Powering Potential do, income-wise? Well, we're pleased to say that, after expenses, we raised +$19,400! Special thanks to Barry Segal for his continuing generosity.

As always, we are humbled and thankful for the generosity of our supporters. This money is destined to make a positive difference in the lives of Tanzania's most vulnerable populations. Thank you!

o o o 

Swahili is the language of Tanzania. The following African proverbs are another taste of the beautiful language:

Heri yako heri yangu.
Your happiness is my happiness.

Bega kwa bega.
Shoulder to Shoulder.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

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?

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 attended the two-day Tenda Teachers National Training Conference in Arusha, Tanzania on April 4th and 5th.

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.