Sunday, October 8, 2017

Alumni Feature: Meaghan Gruber


Today on the blog, we hear from Meaghan Gruber, an alumna of the Class of 2014. Meaghan discusses how her Future Generations education has aided her work in her field and how it still comes into play in her current role with Cacao&Terra Nicaragua. Meaghan has also been the recipient of two Alumni Collaboration Grants from the Global Network. Read on to find out more!


Meaghan credits her education with Future Generations University for challenging her to think outside the box in her work. When she started her Master’s, she was working with an NGO that worked towards development across several different sectors. Future Generations’ inherently multi-sectoral approach allowed her to apply what she was learning directly to her work, team, and community, thereby enhancing her success in her work and enabling her team to more effectively evaluate their next steps. The most beneficial aspect of the program for her was the diversity of her fellow Master’s students. She says that this led to thinking about new ideas in different ways, creatively collaborating across the world, and understanding similarities in challenges and how those challenges may be addressed.  Most importantly, Meaghan says, “They taught me new ways to see the world—for that, I am forever indebted.”

She again applied this basis to her action research Practicum, which looked at community voice within a proposed health clinic plan in a rural community. Applying her knowledge of the three-way partnership, she provided invaluable research on behalf of her NGO, which was then able to work successfully with the community, other NGOs, Ministry of Health, and government to launch the project. Meaghan says that it’s given her a great sense of pride to know that her practicum work wasn’t just another proposed development project pushed onto a community, but rather a collaborative effort based on community energy.

Most recently, she’s been working on a social enterprise called Cacao&Terra Nicaragua that focuses on reforestation via the planting of cacao, as well as produces value-added fine-quality chocolate. This is completed in partnership with communities, cooperatives, and government. Says Meaghan, “I’m constantly inspired by the organization, determination, and creativity that I witness on a daily basis in my work.”



Of SEED-SCALE, Meaghan makes frequent use in her work, as she feels that many parts of this theory are essential for positive and sustainable community change. In her work, the principles of working with human energy, building from success, and using three-way partnerships are always used. Meaghan had observed that often NGOs or individuals work alone in communities or without fully involving the community or other actors, leading to failed projects. She asserts that working collaboratively with all actors represented ensures a much more sustainable future for the projects and the communities that make use of this approach.

Building from success and learning from the successes of others has enabled Meaghan to take informed next steps that have brought her work to SCALE. From having applied SEED-SCALE in their work with cacao plantations and chocolate making, her team is now working in collaboration with new associations and co-operatives that are working together in chocolate-making and sustainable livelihood alternatives.


One of the most rewarding parts of this process for Meaghan has been seeing how her work has sparked behavior change using SEED-SCALE. By focusing on community change via the planting of cacao and chocolate making in the northern region of Nicaragua and with the award of a Future Generations Alumni Collaboration Grant, Meaghan’s work has not only aided in reforestation efforts, but has also evolved into making value-added products with cacao. The progression towards chocolate-making has given Meaghan the opportunity to work closely with young people from Waslala, Nicaragua, as well as different actors in the area. Meaghan’s position of being from the United States but having been settled in Nicaragua for the last 10 years has also allowed her to aid the company in forging connections, improving communications, and product distribution, thereby further bringing this project to SCALE. 



 To learn more about Cacao&Terra Nicaragua, please visit: https://chocolatenicaragua.com/
Or check them out and follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/catenicsa
_______________________________________
Meaghan was first drawn to community change work when she travelled to the northern mountains of Nicaragua in the early 2000s. It was here that she began to question how lives could improve in areas such as the one she was visiting; areas that are poor in resources, but infinitely rich in the quality of its people and their collective capabilities.  After dedicating her university years to studying the socio-economic and historical contexts that had given rise to the conditions present in rural Nicaragua, she returned and began working with NGOs that were focused on water access, school building, scholarship programs, and alternative income programs. Throughout, she remained the most inspired by the people she encountered in her work and the communities that were working together to improve life for their children. This prompted her to begin her journey with Future Generations. We're proud to have such an exemplary individual among our alumni and continue to be inspired by her scaling up of her work. 


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Happy Dashain from Future Generations!

A greeting from Himalayan Regional Academic Director and Assistant Professor, Mr. Nawang Singh Gurung:


Dear respected Future Generations University network and global family members, alumni, friends, and communities around the world,

HAPPY DASHAIN AND DEEPAWALI (TIHAR) TO ALL!

Future Generations is a globally united family, and it may be of interest to learn about a different culture's religion, beliefs and values! So, I’m sharing a bit about a very special holiday I celebrate in Nepal, Dashain and Deepawali. Dashain has been celebrated since ancient times as the longest-lasting national festival in Nepal. (Similar traditions are also celebrated in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia, Pakistan, and parts of India).

Dashain is the most auspicious festival of the Nepalese people. During Dashain, relatives from abroad countries come home to celebrate. It starts from Ghatastamna in last week of September (which falls on today!) The main day of Dashain is Bijaya Dashami (Sept. 30).

After the unification of Nepal by Prithvi Narayan Shah (c. late 1700s), a modern Nepal and a new tradition was set by bringing Phulpati and Jamara to our capital, Kathmandu, from the Gorakhkali Temple by a Magar priest.

According to Hindu mythology, a demon called “Mahisasur” had caused pain and suffering amongst humans. Then the goddess Durga Bhawani killed the demon to relieve the humans. In other myths, it is celebrated after the victory of our god, Rama, over the Ravan (devils). In all accounts, Dashain is a festival symbolizing the triumph of truth over evil.

The worshipping of the Nawadurga Bhawani (Taleju Temple) during the Nawaratra (nine nights of worship) from Ghatastapana  is an ancient tradition. It is mentioned in the Devi-Puran: "Ram had proposed of launching war against Rawan in Lanka on the occasion of Bijayadashami in Ashwin Shukla Nawaratri." Similarly, it is mentioned in the Padma-Puran: "Rama had killed Rawan on the day of
Chaitra Shukla Chaturdashi."

People of any caste, whether Hindu or Buddhist, take Tika (blessings of abundance) from senior family members in order of precedence after worshipping the god Durga and all their machines -- like vehicles, computers and other gadgets they use daily to earn a living.

---
Happy Dashain and Deepawali to all our students, staff, and friends who will be celebrating this week! 





Sunday, September 10, 2017

Musings of a Naturalist IV: Loango: An Elephant Eden

We were edging along the Rembo Ngowe river in a small outboard, hugging the east bank in hopes of seeing a Giant Kingfisher or the Palm-nut Vulture, when we rounded a bend to suddenly come head to head with a magnificent Forest Elephant feeding on a grassy peninsula, its yellowish and relatively straight tusks nearly touching the ground.   The animal stopped chewing, surveyed the situation, and deciding that we were too close for comfort, slowly backed away, disappearing rear-end first into a curtain of green... 

We encountered the elephant in Loango, a 1550 square kilometer national park that fronts on the Atlantic Ocean in Gabon and we were here to learn about the Congo Rainforest Biome as well as hear about Gabon’s conservation successes. Loango has been called the ‘Eden of Africa’ and this may be the case, but Eden, like Shangri-La, is an overused word, one that connotes varying images to different people.  Eden, to me, brings up a vision of a garden paradise where food supplies are inexhaustible, where plants and animals exist in balance, where animals roam without fearing man, a place of peace and beauty.  Such may exist in one’s mind, but certainly not in western Gabon – at least not as yet. 

However, if we were to say that Loango is an Elephant Eden we would not be far wrong, for Loango is indeed an elephant sanctuary, a place with a fairly uniformly hot climate, copious quantities of food, and with protection from hunters.

We rounded a bend in a small outboard to suddenly surprise a
Forest Elephant, Loxodonta cyclotis, feeding on a grassy peninsula
poking into the slow-moving Rembo Ngowe river. While this animal
did not show alarm, it did stop eating and slowly backed into the forest.
The white bar at the lower left-hand edge of this picture shows the rim
of our boat and indicates how close we were to this magnificent creature.
As it was, I was surprised that this elephant backed into the forest as I couldn’t remember seeing elephants departing in this way - Savanna and Indian elephants usually swing around before fleeing.  In addition, I had never been suddenly this close to a wild elephant without it showing considerable alarm. This morning there was no sign of aggression, no ears tilting forward, no trunk in the air, no trumpeting. This certainly spoke of the splendid protection afforded by the park and that the animal had not had bad encounters with humans.



The elephants that roam in Loango are Forest Elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis), a species that a DNA study published in 2001, showed was different from Savanna Elephants. Subsequent papers have confirmed this separation, and indeed the elephant in front of us did have a distinctive ‘feel’ to it. The tusker, even though fully mature and somewhat aged, did not seem inordinately large even at our close range and it also appeared to be a dark. We had read that the tusks of a Forest Elephant (when compared with a Savanna species), are straighter and yellower and ears are smaller, rounder.  A Forest Elephant also has four, not five, toes, but we were so taken with the encounter that we forgot to count.  In any case, the toes were well hidden in the grass. 

The characteristics of these Gabon elephants are adaptations to a dense forest habitat, where small size would be useful, where relatively straight tusks would help to lift impeding vegetation out of the way, and where ear size, a part of their cooling system, would not be as necessary in forest shade as in open grasslands.  In addition, a darker skin would blend with the darks of forest shade.  But why four and not five toes?  I have no idea.

Furthermore these elephants, as befitting their habitat, do not associate in large herds. During our time in Gabon, we encountered solitary animals, or a mother with a calf, or small groups of four or five animals. The largest gathering we saw was eight individuals clustered around a clump of trees in the middle of a wide, green marsh.  Elephants also seek out clearings in the forest, locally called bais, where they are perhaps attracted by the soil’s mineral composition and where they associate with others, 

Forest elephants move seasonally, frequenting soggy marshlands during the dry season and moving back into the lowland rain forests when the wet returns and the marshes flood.  While in the marshlands, elephants feed on a variety of grasses and rushes, including papyrus, and in the forest they consume a wide variety of leaves, bark, and fruit. Some forest trees benefit from the presence of the elephants as the animals eat the fruit and then distribute seeds over wide areas. Indeed the seeds of some trees, including the 30-meter tall Navel Fruit, Omphalocarpum in the Sapotaceae family, germinate only if they have passed through the animal’s digestive system. In addition, the health of a forest may be assisted by the elephants breaking off branches and trampling the undergrowth to help light reach the ground and foster plant growth.  In some parts of West Africa, the original forest composition has noticeably changed following the disappearance of elephants.

(Navel Fruit trees are part of what has been called the Megafaunal Syndrome which theorizes that in past ages very large fruit may have evolved in order to attract very large animals (the megafauna) and thus assist in wide seed dispersal (for more see Megagardeners of the Forest – the role of elephants in seed dispersal, by Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz and Stephen Blake in Acta Oecologica, posted online 22 Feb 2011).)



Any thought of elephants immediately brings to mind the grim straits that the Forest Elephant and all elephant species face.  Elephants need space but with habitat loss and fragmentation this is a fast diminishing commodity.  Besides space, rampant poaching is a dire on-going threat that will be eliminated only when human needs are adequately met and when there is no market for ivory - or bush meat.   There are many on-going efforts to deal with poaching so we retain the hope that elephants will indeed survive in the wild.

Gabon had received little conservation attention and Loango was almost unknown until zoologist Michael Fey’s well-publicized on-foot transect across the Congo Basin, a journey that ended in Loango in 2000.  With Longo now on the map, the forward thinking prime minister, Omar Bongo, created the National Agency for National Parks in 2002, and this body decided to protect thirteen areas of special biological interest as national parks. These now occupy ten percent of Gabon’s land area.

While elephants, as a charismatic group, attract special conservation interest, their protection and the retention of their habitat also benefits many other species which, in Gabon, includes Lowland Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Red River Hogs, African Gray Parrots, and Slender-snouted Crocodiles, all indicator species of the Congo Rainforest Biome.  And also benefitting from habitat protection are Giant Kingfishers, Palm-nut Vultures, and the African Rock Python, species I had previously encountered in other areas of Africa – but never in these numbers.


The Red River Hog, Potamochoerus porcus, is one of 19 species is the family Suidae. These hogs search the forest floor in tropical rainforests of West Africa and are found from the Congo Basin west to Guinea. Their preferred habitat is good forest as well as open edges of streams and marshes where they search for tubers, fruit fallen from trees, and even carrion.  In addition they look for the balls of forest elephant feces which they break apart to feed on the undigested seeds of trees such as Balanites wilsoniana.   While Wild Red River Hogs usually roam in small groups of up to ten animals, the large assemblages seen in Loango indicates fine habitat and good protection.
In the bird world, African Gray Parrots are perhaps the most accomplished mimics of the human voice but in the wild they don’t sound like humans at all. On the first morning at the Loango Lodge, I stepped outside my cottage to hear a melodic chorus some distance to the left.  Those wonderful, mellow voices at varying pitches, sounded like orioles. But several orioles singing together?  Most unlikely.  This was a puzzle.


But not a puzzle for long as I was soon told that these were African Gray Parrots talking.  Parrots singing like orioles?  Seemed most improbable, as members of the parrot family screech and squawk.  But sing?  No way!  So I walked over to the trees where the birds were moving about and sure enough: Gray Parrots. 


In the bird world, Grays are perhaps the best imitators of the human voice (Talking Mynas are a close second) and Alex a captive Gray, one of the most famous representatives of its species, was taught to ‘say’ over 100 words. But not only that, this remarkable bird seemed to understand what the words meant. Additionally, it was demonstrated that Alex could count up to six and could recognize seven different colors (for a splendid biographical account see: Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg, first published in 2008 by HarperCollins).


Gray parrots are much in demand as caged birds – and this poses a dilemma for this parrot, as it does for all cage bird species. In the past the capturing of wild birds (often chicks or eggs robbed from the nest) has been a income source for some but these days with tightened regulations through CITES treaties, heightened publicity of illegal acts, and well trained customs officials, the illegal bird trade has diminished - not finished but much reduced.


One good way to impede nefarious wildlife activities is to recruit the best village ‘poachers,’ and train them as ecotourism guides. When the economic benefit of guiding outweighs remuneration from poaching, the same hunters often make outstanding wardens. We saw this in action in Piaui State in Brazil where income is generated by showing visitors the stunning Hyacinth Macaw. 


Iguela Lagoon, a large fresh water lake with brackish water towards the Atlantic Ocean, is a special feature of the northwestern part of the park. Much of the territory immediately around the lake is marshland, waterlogged during the rainy season, but transformed into vast grassy swards in the dry season.  Slightly raised terrain inland from the lagoon, often small ridges, support stands of tropical forest in which animals such as White-nosed Monkeys and the Red River Hogs live.  Forest elephants are at home in either terrain and when green grasses sprout during the dry season elephants emerge from the forest into the marshes.



Even during the short dry period, the time when we were in the park, the water channels running into Iguela Lagoon remain filled, but with banks exposed enough to host rows of palms, their long leaves often drooping over the water.  And with the palm canopy punctuated by tall trees, this is a perfect habitat for the Palm-nut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis). 


The Palm-Nut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis), a raptor primarily of wet equatorial forests in western Africa, might best be called a vulturine eagle for its head is totally feathered, save for red facial skin, and the bird features acrobatic aerial courtship displays, rolling and diving. Besides the bird sometimes attacks living prey, occasionally picking disabled fish off the surface of the water or eyeing the occupants of a chicken coop. This vulturine eagle does feed on carrion but its primary food source is nuts of Elaeis and Raphia palms.
Eagles and Old World vultures are closely related and the Palm-Nut Vulture looks and acts like a black-and-white eagle, especially in aerial courtship displays and when attacking live creatures such as chickens.  Their name is appropriate as these birds feed primarily on the nuts of the palms (especially Elaeis and Raphia), but they also consume dead fish - as do American Bald Eagles and the African Fishing Eagles.  During our Gabon visit we did not see this species scavenge and thus the name Palm-nut Vulturine Eagle would be appropriate, or perhaps the alliterative Vegetarian* Vulture would be at least partly applicable. 

Gabon is also a stronghold for the Slender- snouted Crocodile Mecistops cataphractus, one of four African crocodilian species. This rainforest reptile thrives best in shaded, aquatic situations and is known from the Congo Basin and surrounding regions as well as living in rainforest patches that extend west along the African coast to as far as Senegal. The crocodiles living in far western Africa may well represent a separate species.  Whatever, population numbers are uncertain but the crocodile is usually listed as critically endangered and Gabon likely harbors one of the highest concentration of this species with Loango and its Iguela Lagoon and the shaded waterways is one of the best hopes for this species.  

On occasion, most crocodiles like to haul out of the water to spend time on dry land. However, few exposed banks exist along the Mpivie or other rivers in lowland Gabon, so Slender-snouted reptiles often clamber up trunks of dead trees fallen into the river. 

This, small, long-snouted crocodile (adults rarely run to more than three meters in length) is a fish eater, the snout slashing sideways when detecting prey.  It also supplements its diet with aquatic reptiles (turtles are a favorite) and the occasional bird or mammal.  From time to time, crocodiles like to haul out of the water but as very few open banks exist in Loango, the reptiles climb onto protruding logs, often managing to clamber up a dead tree trunk sticking out of the water at a slant of up to 25 degrees.  In Loango the reptiles are not hunted for their meat or skins (as they are in many areas of this biome) so the animals we encountered were remarkably tolerant of our approach.  However, if our boat floated too close for comfort, the crocodiles suddenly launched off the logs and belly flopped into the water. 


This crocodile is a mound nester, and towards the beginning of the rainy season a female will gather vegetation into a pile on the bank and then lay around 20 large eggs in the mound. These eggs take a long time to hatch, one report listed 110 days, during which period the female stays near the nest but does not assist with incubation. However, when the youngsters begin to cheep as the eggs hatch, the female digs into the mound to free her offspring so they can swim out into the flooded marshes.



The slow-moving, shaded Mpivie River is ideal habitat for Slender-snouted Crocodiles as it supports a splendid fish population and there is ample shade from the Eleias palms and other trees lining the channel. This habitat is also much favored by kingfishers as well as the African Finfoot and the large, Pell’s Owl, both rare bird species.  
Gabon’s thirteen national parks are the ‘top down’ variety, reserves imposed by officials on areas of special conservation interest. One does need to start somewhere but in the long run, the top-down system has been effective - over the long haul - mostly where initiation has been followed by strong community outreach and where people living in or near the protected areas are incorporated into the economic benefits of the conservation plan. Without community cooperation, and the members assisting in surveillance to help maintain their economic asset, most plans don’t succeed, or succeed only if governments invest huge amounts of money in order to patrol the area. 


No two conservation areas are alike so programs need to be flexible and adapt to what works within the given context, and in Gabon we can be thankful both for the government initiatives and also for the evolution of conservation thinking has led to a point where locals are included, not excluded, in plans.


Much of the terrain inland from Gabon’s southern Atlantic coast features a mosaic of lagoons and waterways, and the people living here are masterful fishermen.  Hunting in Loango National Park is not permitted but fishing for local consumption is allowed, the operations supervised by park authorities. This mid-afternoon image shows a park ranger recording the ‘take’, which includes catfish and other freshwater species while staff from the Akaka tented camp bargain for dinner.
A multiuse concept covering areas of special significance, initially voiced in the 1970s, works well in many places. This scheme envisions three zones - or adaptations thereof. A core zone is a strictly protected area where entry is granted by special permission. This is surrounded by a buffer zone where limited, sustainable use activities, including low impact tourism and recreation is promoted. And all are flanked by an outlying transition zone in which people live and where sustainable economic activity, such as ecotourism lodges or selected logging, is encouraged and where various stakeholders work together to ensure a long-term, on-going benefit to the people in the area.  


Gabon still has a long road ahead to reach the point where their national parks are protected for the long term, but a fine start has been made so future generations of elephants as well as people can be thankful for the vision and the effort that is evident today  
_______________________________________

Pictured is Dr. Fleming with a staff member of
Loango Lodge; the photo was taken on‘Gorilla Island’ near the
Loango National Park where there is a rehab center for rescued gorillas.
This week's blog piece and photos make up the fourth installment in our Musings of a Naturalist series, courtesy of our own Dr. Robert (Bob) Fleming: Professor Equity and Empowerment/ Natural History. Having grown up in the foothills of the Himalayas in India, Bob has long been interested in the beauty of nature. This progressed into a fascination with natural history and cultural diversity, leading him to obtain his Ph.D. in zoology. He has  explored many of the planet's special biological regions, ranging from the Namib Desert in Africa to the Tropical Rainforest of the Amazon, and the Mountain Tundra biome of the Himalayas. He has worked for the Smithsonian's Office of Ecology and the Royal Nepal Academy and, along with his father and Royal Nepal Academy Director-Lain Singh Bangdel, he wrote and illustrated "Birds of Nepal," the first modern field guide to the birds of the region. In addition to his work with Future Generations, Bob is the director of Nature Himalayas, a sole proprietorship that he began in 1970. Through this company, Bob has led some 250 outings. He currently lives in the temperate rainforest of western Oregon in the USA's Pacific Northwest.

Many thanks to Dr. Fleming for another great contribution!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Using the SEED-SCALE Model to Assess Access to Education in Engikaret, Tanzania


To bridge academic research with field research conducted in Engikaret, Tanzania, Taylor Lee presents her findings in regards to access to education and the role it plays there. Using the SEED-SCALE model and associated core principles outlined in Just and Lasting Change, she used her research to evaluate Engikaret's access to education, operating on her belief in its ability to increase opportunities for individuals living in rural, resource-poor environments. Observation and personal communication led Taylor’s investigation with Maasai community members, government agents, parents and youth of the community, as well as community liaisons operating through or in conjunction with Nyayo Discovery.  She primarily focused on the general community's understanding of access to education and how this pertains to community opportunities and well-being... 

7th Year Students at ECPS.
Core Teachers: Sion and Priska.
Guest Teacher:Taylor


Introduction


            Social change within a community can only be sustained when multi-layered partnerships are organized in the context of community empowerment, wherein the needs and wants of the community are center to the movement. Such is the case with access to education in rural Tanzania. The Maasai of Engikaret have been empowered over the last decade through shifting social values to promote access to education for the community’s youth. I bore witness to partnerships between local leaders, regional government, and outside agencies; all of which empower the Maasai of Engikaret to continuously improve access to education to the benefit of the community’s overall health and well-being. 

Principle One: Rising Aspirations Lead to Action

           The Maasai of Engikaret live in a resource-poor and geographically isolated area, with an estimated population of 4,000. While resistant to overt cultural change, I found the Maasai of Engikaret open and willingly promote formal education as a means to generate opportunities within the community.  The community's openness to supporting formal education (such as enrollment in primary school) reflects Principal One of the SEED-SCALE model, which asserts that when promoting sustainable community programs, such as access to education, assessment leading to action should begin with evaluating the strengths of the community.

          Within these strengths, I could see the hopes and dreams of parents wanting their youth to have the opportunity to attend primary school.  As evidence, Engikaret has two primary schools. New Vision Primary School is a privately funded, faith-based school whereas Engikaret Community Primary School (ECPS) is a government funded, public school.  While there are resource discrepancies between the two schools, the focus of my observations leads me to conclude that within the larger community context, there is a community-driven want to provide access to education for the youth of the area.  Further, within the parameters of Principle One, is the need to assess how communities understand education as it relates to community health and well-being.

            Officially, the community supports education, at least through the primary grades for the majority of the community's children.  I gleaned this informal information through participation in multiple Maasai community discussions.  I had ample opportunities to meet with the mamas of Engikaret, who repeatedly stated that they want their children, regardless of gender, to be in school.  While the position presented by the mamas highlights how the Engikaret Maasai have embraced social change through the verbal promotion of education, it is of interest that there are school-aged youth, primarily girls, who are not enrolled in either of the community's primary schools.  This observation led me to inquire about the rates of girl to boy enrollment within the public school system of Engikaret.  Interviews with the public school teachers confirmed that more males are enrolled and supported in school attendance than girls.  Perhaps this reflects traditions that "might create obstacles to healthy change."

           Evaluating challenges to healthy change does not mean to focus on the negative; rather Principle One acknowledges that when assessing community strengths one should not "ignore problems." I suspect part of the reason for lower girl enrollment stems from the Maasai's traditional gender roles.  Traditional expectations of Maasai women are focused on marriage, child rearing, and home duties rather than on building gender equality through access to education.  It is not to say the community does not embrace healthy change-- from my observations of the Level Seven class at ECPS, I saw more female students enrolled than I had initially expected.  Within the Level Seven class ,I calculated 43% of students were female, compared to 57% male.  This data reflects a 23% increase in girl enrollment rates within the last generation.


            Another obstacle I observed with regards to youth accessing education surrounds the initial rollout of education programs by the Tanzanian government.  The government mandate requiring youth aged 7-13 to attend primary school was not initiated nor initially supported by the Maasai.  Thus it did not stem from a community-driven desire.  Because of this, it appears the Maasai had little involvement with the placement of ECPS.  The repercussions are that many primary aged school children walk long distances to and from school each school day.  According to teachers at ECPS, children may have to walk up to an hour one-way to access the school building.  Parents in the community also have concerns with their children crossing the highway to get to the school building; this is especially concerning for the younger students. As the community has come to support formal education, I was able to observe how the community has taken action to help mitigate some of the obstacles students face on the journey to school.

             One clear way the community has supported the students' journey to school is seen in how the students move as a group.  Many children were observed arriving at school in groups, comprised of family members and neighbors.  Within these groups arriving at school, it was apparent that there were always older children with the younger children.  The grouping of students to ensure the safe passage to school proves the community of Engikaret has found a community-based approach to supporting access to education.  Further, as school enrollment increases, the government, this time with the collaboration of the Engikaret Maasai, is looking to build a second primary school.  The hope is to shorten the journey for students.  As the community's aspirations regarding access to education rise, I believe the Maasai community of Engikaret will show a greater capacity to advocate for the building location of the new public school when the time comes. 

            Rising aspirations is a strong motivator for social change, a motivator that is conceived from the community's perceived positive development.  I believe that as the community observes how access to primary, secondary and university education improves the quality of life for those individuals, they then will promote the equal access to primary school enrollment for more of their community's youth.  For example, in visiting a boma that showed more development than others, such as solar panels to meet the family's energy needs and buildings that required less maintenance by the females of the family, I asked Patrick (Nyayo Discovery liaison between the community and global visitors) if this family was considered wealthy.  His response was not that the family was wealthy but that the family's son had completed primary, secondary and university education and therefore had the capacity to take advantage of opportunities that impact the health and well-being of the household.  I believe Patrick's response reflects elements of Principle One; social growth begins with improved conditions for some community members that in turn spark interest and participation in social change by others.

            Based on my observations, the community of Engikaret is driven to overcome obstacles presented by their geographical isolation and resource-poor living conditions. The value of formal education is held in high regard and desired by the majority of the Engikaret Maasai.  For example, I observed at least one primary school aged child enrolled in school per family. Social change is a slow process.  However, as the community experiences more access to opportunities because of education, I believe the community's interaction and support for the education system will increase.

Mamas of Engikaret


Principle Two: Three-way Partnerships and Malleable Leadership


            For large-scale social change to occur, such as empowering communities through access to education, the construct of community needs to be redefined.  In the context of empowering people through access to education, "the community" is not limited to the geography of participants.  Rather community is defined as a holistic approach involving anyone with a shared vision and capacity to enact change. In this context support for education comes from multi-dimensional partnerships all of which have various degrees of connectedness to the community.  I observed how the broader notion of community leads to educational access in the Engikaret area.  For example, top-down support is evident through funding for school buildings and supplies by both public and private funders.  When evaluating systems as complex as formal, community education, there is a fundamental requirement to have some degree of top-down support.  While exclusive top-down support is not associated with community-driven programs, it is associated with a three-way partnership model outlined in Principle Two.  The Engikaret region is geographically isolated and resource-poor; thus top-down support alleviates some of the financial strain associated with maintaining a school. 

            Additionally, Principle Two outlines the need for outside-in involvement as it can spark innovation. This aspect of Principle Two is seen in the observed partnership between Nyayo Discovery and the Maasai of Engikaret.  Nyayo specializes in increasing the economic platform of the Engikaret community through increased tourism, cultural awareness and utilizing the human energy of global volunteers.  Outside-in support for community development as it pertains to access to education was something I, a participant in Nyayo's global volunteer and tourism program, was able to experience firsthand. 

            Because of my affiliation with Nyayo and my background experience as a US teacher, ECPS invited me in to teach several lessons to the Level Seven students.  Through this experience, I have come to understand the hardships of educating in the face of adverse conditions, most notably the utter lack of resources.  Fortunately, one of the ways outside-in support fosters innovation is through the sharing of ideas, best stated by Taylor and Taylor, "The value of outside-in [support] has little to do with who and everything to do with what." In this regard, sharing teaching methods with ECPS teachers allowed the growth of resources in the form of easily adopted learning games.  In reflection, perhaps this is why the teachers were so eager to learn then employ these games regardless of my presence.

          From my point of view, one of the most important aspects of Principle Two is the malleability of roles, specifically leadership roles.  A key contributor to the success of any community-driven program is shifting from outside-in or top-down leadership to leadership by those who are directly impacted by the efforts of social change. While I was not privy to evidence directly showing how roles have shifted in the Engikaret community, I was able to observe leaders among the Maasai that allowed me to infer that the community's affiliation with Nyayo Discovery has generated leadership roles that may not otherwise exist without the outside-in partnership.  For example, I was able to work directly with two Maasai leaders, Loshiro and Peter, who serve as liaisons between the Maasai and global volunteers.  The work Loshiro and Peter do represent how an outside agency, such as Nyayo, can foster leadership within the community.  Community leaders are better able to embody the needs, wants and realities of the community, which in turn promotes social change from within the community. 

             Lastly, Principle Two highlights the immense importance of social change derived from bottom-up support. Bottom-up support relies on human energy found directly within the community to meet the goals set forth by the community.  Within the context of access to education bottom-up support was seen in the employment of Maasai teachers and support staff at ECPS. From my experience, having systems utilize local employment strategies creates a stronger economic platform for rural communities.  Additionally, teachers with a deep-seated understanding of the traditions, values, and realities of Engikaret can offer higher equitability to students.  As evidence, Maasai community teachers face unique language barriers.  Traditionally the Maasai people speak Maa, however schools across Tanzania teach in Kiswahili and English.  Having a native Maa speaker, like those I observed at ECPS, allows more students and families to access education, and educational resources comfortably.


Maasai children herding after school and before the enrollment age of 7.
NAU students: Aubrey Babcock and Taylor Lee


Principle Three: Assessing Social Change through Community Perspectives


            Assessing the progress of any social change program requires that the assessment use community values and realities, in other words, "locally relevant" evidence. I believe that this may be one of the greatest challenges facing the Engikaret community within the context of access to education.  Education often is viewed by distant third parties, with mandates and successes outlined for review by policymakers, stakeholders, or partners who may have little insight into challenges facing the community.  In reflection, I have come to understand how outside definitions of success or success marked by goals that may or may not be relevant to the community, may have adverse consequences on social change. 

            Specifically, the progress Engikaret has made in creating access to education can be viewed in two ways.  First, it can be viewed from the community's perspective, a viewpoint that celebrates increased enrollment, even if it means only one of each family's children is in school. In turn, this same data can be viewed from a value system not aligned with the realities of living in a geographically isolated and  resource-poor environment; a viewpoint that is removed from the idea that the family's immediate livelihood may be in jeopardy if all school-aged children were enrolled.  From perspective two, it could be argued that the community of Engikaret is not  providing access to education, adversely partners may pull funding due to low success rates.  

            However, in support of the community's celebration of progress, ECPS projects that of the Level Seven class, 60% of those students will be promoted on to the secondary level. ECPS projected data unveils the continued progress at providing access to education as seen over the last decade in the community of Engikaret. I believe that when operating under the guidelines of principal three, evaluators must have a clear and consistent guideline for measuring success, one that relies on the realities facing the community. 


Conclusion


            The Maasai of Engikaret are operating within a framework supportive of social change, inspired and brought to fruition by organizations that recognize community-driven partnerships relevant to improved access to education, result in increased health and well-being of all community members. Evaluating access to education using the SEED-SCALE model allows partners to highlight community successes and build upon them. Secondly, access to education as a community-driven program, will be a sustainable movement if actions are supported through layered partnerships. The most influential of layered partnerships are those that expose the human energy within the community to generate bottom-up support.  Lastly, goals, success, and progress must be defined in terms of community realities. Only then can the markers of success or the addendum of goals be aligned to actual community needs and wants.



____________________________________

This week's blog contributed by Taylor Lee. Taylor has a passion for promoting equitable education in underserved communities, and is currently teaching in rural Arizona with predominantly Navajo youth. While her work is focused on delivering access to high quality science education at the middle grades, embedded within her classroom work is providing youth and families with meaningful experiences that inspire students to seek post-secondary opportunities. She believes that the cycle of poverty, often associated with under-resourced communities, can be broken when youth have equitable post-secondary options readily available. She works in collaboration with community partners to provide such pathways to her students through exposure at the middle grades level. 

In addition to teaching, Taylor is currently completing her last semester for her Master of Secondary Education through John Hopkins University. While this endeavor has take n the majority of her focus, she was able to participate in Norther Arizona University's Study Abroad program during the summer of 2017. She believes that this opportunity to explore the communities of Africa was a life-changing experience which made her a stronger educator.