Posts Tagged international aid

“I’ve been workin’ on mosquito nets, all the live long day”

Hello internet, Whatcha knowin’? I’ve come to watch your flowers growin…’

Over the last 5 months I’ve had people ask me about how work’s going and what it is exactly that I am doing over here this year. Well, I will aim to appease fan request(s) and give a little glimpse into how I spend my daily 8-5. Boring! Alas, you asked and I wrote it. Hope it gives you a quick glimpse into my weekday working world.

“I’ve been workin’ on mosquito nets, all the live long day”

Well, that’s not really so true. Despite working on a mosquito bed net program, I really barely ever see any mosquito nets in any of my day-to-day work (but I do actually sleep under one every night. Malaria Haikubaliki!) Also, to the disappointment of some people I meet on the street and tell them where I work – I can’t get you a free one. More accurately – the change to the classic children’s/folk song would be along the lines of  ”I’ve been working on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets/mobile phone applications & databases/4 hour partner meetings, all the live long day…”.

The first piece of my job is essentially program/project management stuff for the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme (TNVS). I spend a lot of time writing reports, memos, and letters to the Ministry of Health, the Donor agencies, and our public and private sector implementing partners. I keep an eye on how the program is doing in the 21 regions across mainland Tanzania through voucher and net sale statistics and try to find ways that we can help things along by working with our net distribution partner and our Regional Managers in the field.

The other piece of this role has been a rather massive data entry, clean-up, and digitization exercise of our program’s paper records into a central database/Management Information System. This database is the basis for enabling and launching some very cool mobile phone reporting tools (which our in-house (literally, he’s my roommate!  haha, lame jokes rock) technical guru Zach  has built) using SMS messages and GPS coordinates from the net distribution company and shop owners to better track and GIS map the program activities as they unfold in real-time. Ambitious and a bit scary to do country-wide but underway.


A second piece of my role is entitled – Business Development and Communications. Thus far, this has been an interesting but much smaller component of my work. I’ve been updating and printing promotional materials, re-designing and writing our new website, and been involved in the search for new projects and partners for the organization in the future. If you are interested in learning a bit more check out our shiny new homemade website at http://medatanzania.org

Soft skills are for ‘team players’

Life is a blast when you know what you’re doin
Best to know what you’re doin ‘fore your life get ruined
Life is a thrill when your skill is developed
If you ain’t got a skill or trade, then shut the hell up

Hieroglyphics -At the helm. Again…a very random insertion of music lyrics into the post. But a great song…and sometimes when I hear this verse I think to myself…I need to get myself some skills! (I mean I know I have mad rap skillz but) …it would have been easier if I would have just given up on enjoying life and become an Accountant (joking! please don’t audit me) and at least had a hard skill/trade/set professional path. I know I am learning and gaining good experience but…Everyone is a team player, good communicator, and thinks outside the box on their resume. How will working on a mosquito bed net program in TZ be viewed on the future resume?…time will tell I suppose.

Breaking News:  Mobile phones will not ‘save Africa’

Rant: Technology can do a lot of great things for development and it should be used where it can help in simple, practical, and achievable ways. But I think it isn’t the answer to everything and can dangerously eat up valuable project resources when forced unnaturally into situations. All this said, as I described above, a part of my work here this year has been working with the integration of technology into the TNVS program so this is an area that I go back and forth on often. There are plenty of success stories and we are working to make this project one of them… but I do get a bit worried when I see everyone and their neighbor in this field rushing headfirst to integrate mobile technology into their projects cause it’s the next hot thing that those controlling the money want to see.

I am far from being on top of the field in this topic but it can seem clear from here. Design solutions in the most usable way for the people that are targeted – don’t design to get a project to be ground-breaking or to get  funded (easier said than done and naively idealistic? just perhaps). Check out a really cool Human-Centered Design Kit here which was passed along to me if you are interested in this kind of stuff!

An office with a view or a view with an office?

One thing I would never ever dare complain about is the view I am looking out across from my desk each day.

Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen.

Are we speaking the same language?

Acronyms are a way of life in a lot of industries, but I feel like they are especially prevalent in the international development field. With all the different Governments, Donors, Organizations, Accords, and Agreements  put together it makes for a steep acronym learning curve.  Heck, I have apparently gotten into the spirit myself given the job title TL, TNVS, BD & C.  Here is a sample which I read this past week from a publicly available United States Agency for International Development document called ‘Feed The Future (that’s USAID FTF for those of you counting at home) – Tanzania 2010 Implementation Plan’ ;

When NEPAD adopted CAADP (2005), the GOT was finalizing ASDP for implementation in 2006. The GOT began the CAADP process, but progress stalled based on a consensus that ASDP articulated the CAADP pillars. Following the G8 L’Aquila meeting and 2009 multi-donor CAADP meeting, the GOT revived CAADP by inviting the NEPAD Secretariat to assess ASDP compliance with CAADP requirements.

Are we speaking the same language? Progressing with Swahili continues to prove challenging enough thank you.

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Been spending most our lives, livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…

Hey, hey, heyyyyy

He keeps a blog – he can obviously do a little writing – but did you know this dusty foot philosopher can also spit mad rhymes and throw lyrical hooks with the best of them? (since when is Coolio considered amongst the best of them?) Well kind of anyways…

I moved into our new place in Dar es Salaam two weeks ago now and so for the first time I am not living in the neighborhood we affectionately named “Mzungu Paradise” last year. Loving the new place and new neighbourhood thus far – but maybe I’ll give some updates on that another time. Upon my immediate return to Dar back in August, I was fortunate enough to be taken in by our awesome neighbours from last year while I looked for new housing and so I found myself living back in our same apartment block once again the first three weeks. Ah, how the memories came a’ floodin’ back and inspired the creative juices.

I very briefly discussed some thoughts about the neighborhood and housing we were set-up with in a past post -  and I also promised in that post to someday publish the world-wide debut of my alternate lyrics paying homage to our previous home. Well my friends, despite what CCR sings, this someday has finally come.

This production is based upon on a great tradition – begun while working at Hidden Acres and Fraser Lake Camps – and then honed while a member of the Bare Naked Frosh cover-group at Grebel – and so it is continued here. Taking the music of a popular song and changing the lyrics around for comedic/poetic(?) purposes. This is an art people. I have debated whether it was a good idea to post – but what is the internet for if not for freedom of speech/freedom to express crappy art? I certainly don’t want to cause controversy here or sound ungrateful for anything – I’m just poking some fun.

Orient your geographic-self with the neighborhoods of Dar es Salaam:

View Mzungu Paradise in a larger map

To give credit where it is due – the lyics below to Mzungu Paradise are roughly based off of Coolio’s – Gangsta’s Paradise and then really just changed into a simple rhyming pattern –  and also maybe a little of Weird Al Yankovitch’s parody – Amish Paradise. It is also probably necessary to pay homage to the original Stevie Wonder’s – Pastime Paradise. If you don’t know the tune – listen to them!

Mzungu Paradise

As I walk through these dusty streets of Dar es Salaam strange/

I take a look at my life and realize there’s been little change/

Cause life ain’t that hard for a mzungu like me/

When you live and work in the heart of Masaki/


If I had to speak more swahili that would be nice/

but it’s tough to learn when you live in Mzungu Paradise/

Only had to eat ugali na maharege once or twice/

Livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…


At six in the mornin’, I can have a hot shower/

With our huge generator you know we never lose power/

You see those Tanesco rolling black-outs are just nothin’ to me/

But you know that this convenience has never come free/


Had to take a taxi home more than once or thrice/

Cause there ain’t no public transport here in Mzungu Paradise/

But  for the peninsula life you must pay the price/

Livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…


I drink my coffee every morning from a french press/

Cause this AfriCafe instant shit just doesn’t impress/

Who’s idea was the pleather couches in this Dar heat?/

Jer, I’ll trade you for the bowl chair in a heart-beat/


Sippin’ Konyagi with zee Germans once or twice/

Sittin’ at the massive table in Mzungu Paradise/

A bigger kitchen than would ever suffice/

Livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…


It’s a long way back to the university this at night/

Gotta stay ’till the bajaji’s come again at first daylight/

And that’s not just a line, you know that its true/

My smooth efforts aren’t that see-through/


Rockin’ mustaches straight outta’ Miami Vice/

As we roll through the paved streeets of Mzungu Paradise/

Just call our no-pants roof party ‘epic’ if you must be concise/

Livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…


Sub-Saharan Africa ain’t so bad in this air-conditioned place/

Sometimes if you want sleep you just gotta embrace/

Living posh here amongst the Embassies and NGO’s/

Now you wish you didn’t know where your tax dollar goes/


It can be embarrassing, but can also be nice/

All these luxuries we have here in Mzungu Paradise/

Mixed feelings, but hey – it’s been a real slice/

Livin’ in this Mzungu Paradise…

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Some ramblings on “doing good” in this crazy world we live in and then what’s next for this guy

Alright, so the topic of this post was originally meant to be the very first or second post on the entire blog back when I had legitimate hopes that this would actually include some kind of deep and philosophical posts -hence the blog name. Well, that didn’t so much happen but I have still wanted to get a chance to bore you with these incoherent thoughts and I heard somewhere that the first shall be (almost the last?) blog post so here we go!

Disclosure: I do not and don’t claim to know what I am talking about when it comes to the hugely complicated fields of international development and foreign aid. What I know and what I will proceed to ramble on about is a little bit of my experience and personal feelings at the time of writing. I hope we are all cool.

Secondary Disclosure. This post is pretty much one fluid stream of consciousness and writing – pretty much raw and possibly not making too much sense. Once again my homies, I hope we are all cool.

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In the beginning…

How did I find myself here working in the international development sector? While, I think that  interest goes back awhile to a childhood growing up in Bolivia and some belief because of this that I wanted to have this international experience of my own – but that’s a whole different story. More recently, I found myself attending an international education conference in Los Angeles in April 2009 where Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Nobel Peace Prize winner for his amazing efforts at eradicating poverty through micro-finance efforts was the main presenter. I would highly encourage you to check out some of his talks or his books if you are interested. Needless to say, it was an inspiring speech – a kick in the arse if you will – to get up and out and do something a little different.  And so I looked at what my options were and decided that I could probably put my “skills” to use by getting into the business end of the international development field. After all, profit or non-profit, the need for business aptitudes and good people is all the same so applied to a posting with MEDA which was looking for someone for an 8 month assignment in Tanzania in the area of business development and communications. Yada, yada, yada and a few weeks later I had myself a serious “should I stay or should I go” decision on my hands.

Some ramblings on apparently “doing good things” over here in Africa

When I accepted the position here with MEDA Tanzania and began to tell friends and family that I would be taking off to work in Africa for the next year and received a wide range of responses but often a common theme involved a “good for you”/”you are doing something good in this world” kind of line of thinking. Every time someone would make a comment like that I felt a twinge of guilt. What if I am just doing this for purely selfish reasons? I want to travel, I want to try some new work, I want to see the world, I want to get the hell as far away as possible from a mortgage and its locked in responsibility in Toronto before its too late to just pick up and take off like this.

The view from the balcony of 35 High Park...A hundred thousand mortgages twinkle in the Toronto night

I mean, I assure you there was much more to the decision – I have always been interested in international development and wanted to gain some experience in the field, I was a member and involved with MEDA for several years prior and always admired their work, and I did also have a legitimate desire to put some of my efforts towards some kind of a greater purpose than the pleasing Board of Directors and shareholders. (Not that there is anything wrong with working for private sector – I know countless people who give much more to greater causes through other efforts than most people working in non-profit sector). But despite these more legitimate reasons – I definitely felt quite uncomfortable with this line of thinking. Maybe it adds a bit more pressure on you or maybe I just don’t like these kind of conversations but the uneasiness certainly existed.

And what have you learned?

As I mentioned earlier, this post was supposed to be at the beginning of my time here and talk a bit about some of my thoughts and concerns around this topic before I started. But now I have been here working away and my contract is coming to an end  - so what have you learned Dan?

Well, for one thing I haven’t exactly had to make a lot of sacrifices in my life living in Africa. It wasn’t what we expected at all, but life in Dar es Salaam is not always so different than back home for us so the level of personal sacrifice is definitely not that high.  I mean, if you’ve seen some of the photos from my many travels around this beautiful country – you know that it hasn’t always been so rough. We also happened to end up living near our work offices in what we would end up naming ‘Mzungu Paradise’ – not exactly an accurate sample of the average Tanzanian standard of living. (p.s. Stay tuned for the exclusive publication here on the Another dusty foot philosopher blog of the lyrics of the soon to be hit single “Mzungu Paradise” based off of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise (which itself was a re-working of a Stevie Wonder song- (i just learned that now. (If you haven’t noticed yet, I love tangents)))). I do very much have mixed feelings about this side of the experience and how we have often really not had to make those sacrifices and experience a bit more of the real life over here but that’s really a whole new topic for discussion and debate so I’ll just leave it at that and move on.

Life is a sometimes literally a beach...weekend trip to Mafia Island, Tanzania

The day-to-day and the bigger picture

Another thing that I suppose has surprised me a bit but working in development isn’t really all that different than my work before in a lot of ways. It’s very much like every other business I have worked in and that’s likely because international development is very much a business. There’s no shortage of work, of late nights in the office, of stress, and of waking up in the morning and not wanting to leave your bed for work. It’s bloody competitive to win new tenders and you have targets being set and projects to execute or your organization will fail – just like in the private sector. I regularly go days without my mind even thinking of the “greater goal” of these projects, of how it will help Tanzania meet the Millennium Development Goals, or of the beneficiaries who will sleep protected under these mosquito nets. Probably a bit too often, it seems to all just be purely numbers.

One day, the “bigger picture” did indeed hit home during a particular taskforce meeting last year. It was a bit of a tense meeting as all of the malaria partner organizations met and dealt with one issue or another which was popping up and effectively laying waste to well made plans. As things became more heated one of the head people just stopped the discussion and reminded all of those in attendance that…yes, we will have our challenges such as this but what we cannot do is lose sight of the bigger picture. What we are all a part of here in the malaria sector in Tanzania is something unique. The world is watching what we are doing here in Tanzania and it is by and large a massive success story that will be used as a blueprint in many other countries to fight this endemic.

It was one of those moments that helps put it all in perspective and yeah, it does feel good to know that whatever tiny, tiny part that I have managed to play while over here has contributed to some small part of that success story in the making.

One friend told me before leaving (jokingly..but true enough) - you are just what Africa needs, another white guy going over to help. This picture is for you Mark.

And where do we go from here?

So what’s next? Well, that is something that I need figure out. I’ve been looking seriously at both options – staying abroad and working in the international development field  and also returning home and likely heading back to some unknown private sector job. Some of us over here have been doing lots of reading and talking about the development sector itself and whats done wrong and what is going right. If it’s part of the problem as some people seem to be arguing -than that is something more to consider, especially joining the ranks of the many expatriates working here in Dar and being paid with the aid money. But that’s a whole different discussion once again so I’ll just leave that be. I do honestly think I would be at peace with either path – sometimes you can’t always try to answer or tackle these bigger questions and need to figure out whats best for yourself too.

Okay, so this has been a decently long ramble now and perhaps I should wrap-up but I hope it’s been interesting to you. I know just writing some of this out has been somehow useful to me as well. So, are we all cool?

Thanks for listening,

Dan

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