Monday 16 February 2015

Lady Bethelhem Dejene's Story

As one of our ways of transparently wallowing you into our Tofauti experience, we would like to look into a brief snippet of Lady Bethelhem Dejene's, from Africa's Hub Addis Ababa, testimonial. She interned with us from the first week of January 2015 to 15th February right after valentines day. Miss Dejene worked in the Education Sector as part of her internship program at 'Faith With Action' orphanage, situated in the rather harsh environs of Embakassi slums, Nairobi.

She worked as a teacher,  teaching various elementary subjects like mathematics, social studies etc; and also as a mentor to the disadvantaged kids. It was a privilege working with her as she was methodical, organized, time conscious and very adaptive. Her ability to connect people, and inspire the audience were exemplary...

This is her unedited story,


'My Experience at Tofauti'

My experience at Tofauti has been amazing so far. I have contributed small but I have gained a lot. Teaching at faith with action school, and spending some quality time with the kids has made my life completely different. I have learned a lot from the kids. They know how to give love and receive love. These kids know what they want in the future and they are working hard to get there.  And the best part is these kids know that they will definitely get there. They know how to play life game and win. Now I know how to play mine. Now my confidence is high and I am louder than ever. Tofauti , in general have made me come out of my shell and brought out the best in me.

'My Expectations before coming'

I honestly didn’t want to have an expectation because I wanted to be surprised. 
And yes definitely, I was surprised.

'My project'

Tofauti on the move Project at Faith with action school is targeted towards orphanage school working with children in Kenya. I have been working in a school for street kids/orphans or children with one parent that provides them with education, food and shelter. I was teaching English, mathematics, social science and science. I have also prepared a report of the activities that were running in the academy. I also used to support the English teacher in language education focusing on presenting his/her own culture to raise cultural awareness amongst the children. I was also helping the children have a global mindset and make them aware that there is a great big world out there and that they can be part of it through education.

'Way Forward and Improvements to the project'

 Tofauti on the move is a revolutionary project for Africa. It’s a project that has a massive contribution for youth empowerment and better education for Africa.
These projects should expand to all parts of Africa. And since Africa is still struggling to have a better quality education, Tofauti on the move should at least 50% or more focus on quality education for Africa.

Kenya, the Intern house, people and food

Honestly I love the intern house. It’s a smart, beautiful and very well furnished house. I don’t even want to leave the house. The best thing about the intern house is the surrounding. It’s quiet with a pure fresh air, very clean and perfect security. Eagle’s plain estate is a place to be!  And Kenyan food is really awesome I love all. Especially, Ugali, chapatti and a meat and a chicken stew. It’s my favorite Kenyan dish.
The people of Kenya are very outgoing and lovely. People are very friendly and neighbors are not strangers in Kenya. You will arrive as a visitor and leave as a friend. They treat each other with respect and love.
 Being here and experiencing a different culture, a different lifestyle, and a different language has changed my perception of life. I am so much more aware of the world now especially Africa, and when i get back home, i can't wait to pass on all of my new knowledge. Being put outside of your comfort zone is a scary thing, but I've realized now that really it is just an opportunity to try new things.


Wednesday 16 April 2014


The debate about "voluntourism" – that unsightly word – has reared its cynical head again and again. Every so often the spotlight is turned on western students using their free time to help those less fortunate in developing countries and the much head-scratching and soul-searching ensues. Others have argued that Voluntourism creates a “Western-infused cultural oasis” very distinct from the communities that the locals live in, and potentially damaging to their development as the people they come to like, perhaps even love, are continually coming and going.
Pippa Biddle, the author of a recent post entitled "The Problem of Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism" is right when she mocks the idea of untrained students being considered "godsends" or replacements for trained doctors, engineers, or teachers, and she is right to say that "only through an understanding of the problems communities are facing, and the continued development of skills within that community, that long-term solutions will be created." But she is absolutely wrong to conclude that this means international volunteering should be discouraged or that her skills were useless. They weren't -- they were just being massively misapplied.
Recently again, the Guardian published a piece by Somalian blogger Ossob Mohamud, with the headline Beware of the 'voluntourists' doing good. She argues that the west is turning the developing world into "a playground" for the rich to "assuage the guilt of their privilege". Mohamud clearly had a difficult volunteering experience. She says she felt ashamed at the excessive praise and thanks of locals, cringed as she took photos with African children whose names she did not know and was left feeling that she had simply inflated her ego and spruced up her resume. But Mohamud's insistence on drawing a wider social message from her own unsatisfactory trip is unfair and potentially damaging.

It's easy for 'voluntourism' to seem like a dirty word, and there is a very fine line between a genuinely helpful and mutually beneficial experience and one that, at best, has little to no impact. Let me take you, though to the fuundamentals of its coinage. 

What Is Voluntourism? 

As the word implies, voluntourism combines vacation travel with volunteering at the destination visited. One can say, killing two birds with one stone.  It’s also spawned a new vocabulary: voluntourist, ethical holidays, travel philanthropy, and more. Voluntourism is aligned with the more established concept of “sustainable tourism,” defined by Sustainable Travel International as “lessening the toll that travel and tourism takes on the environment and local cultures.”  Their motto is: Leave the world a better place. 
What I fail to understand is the crucifixion of ‘voluntourists’, labeling them as fake, but we don’t have the same sentiments for those who tour while on their business trips! Should they also not be allowed to see the beauties of the foreign land that they were sent to do some work? Whether volunteering is an objective or is subject to one’s travel is clearly none of our business to socially judge or condemn on any grounds. 

I through working with ‘Tofauti on the move’ have personally witnessed the volunteers - students and recent graduates from cross-border universities - forming genuine friendships with the locals, developing emotional attachments to the children and becoming truly invested in their future. Cynics might thus say that when they return to their respective countries they leave it all behind and life moves on. But for many, volunteering can be life changing; and many of our past interns can attest to that.
"Charity” in its essence is just a bridge between the ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-Nots’. Obviously, no approach is without its flaws, but it is vital that people do not group charities doing this well with companies who are putting very little into the developing world. Charities or NGO’s stem up from society’s disregard and marginalization of the few, from a community level to a global level, hence we also have the UNITED NATIONS.
The undergraduates face a stark choice about how to spend their time before entering employment, particularly now that money is tight and jobs are scarce. Charities that invest in the developing world need keen, energetic, ambitious people to help them along. "Voluntourists" they may be – but their work can have a huge impact on their own lives and the lives of those they help. It would be an awful shame if they or more specifically WE were put off. 

One thing to note though before I go ahead, is that ‘Tofauti on the move’ is not a voluntouring NGO, as we offer no tourism packages whatsoever. But that does not stop us from working with touring companies, Corporates for their CSR, and any other NGO’s and even parastatals for that matter. As our mandate is sustainable development irregardless of any Tom-Dick-and-Harry that wants to help foster viable social aggrandizement to the destitute.

It is also important to remember that voluntourism and aid work are two distinct markets, appealing to two completely different groups. Aid programs perform an essential role, but people involved with it are long-term participants, volunteers or otherwise. Voluntourism is for people who are going on vacation who do not have the time to be involved with traditional aid programs.

What Does this Trend Mean to Traditional Volunteering?

At the moment, the vast majority of volunteer vacation projects send people from North America and Europe to developing countries in Africa, South America, and Asia.  This is largely because it requires money, time, and access to travel abroad and those three resources are available mainly in the First World.  But perhaps someday the concept can be practiced in both directions. Case in-point, Hurricane Katrina was a disaster than engaged people from around the world.  For the Americans, it may be sobering but also illuminating to recognize that they too, might be recipients of the help of others.

Development and aid work are fundamentally about relationships. They address the relationship between people and their environments, the relationships imbedded in the power structures of social, cultural, and political systems, and the relationship of the developed and developing world. And they depend upon relationships to be successful: relationships with community leaders and members, governmental decision makers, and NGO's, just to name a few. As with all good relationships, the strongest, most lasting, and most sustainable require time. Lots and lots of time. More time than most people are willing or capable of donating.
Ideally, development and aid work should be done by country nationals, people that already know the culture, the language, and the nuances of their country. Even more ideally, I believe, developing countries should be training and educating people who are actually from specific in-need communities. Not only are these people fully culturally integrated, but they already have established relationships with individuals and leaders within those actual communities.
This slight reformulation implies a change in the role of outsiders (both as individuals and countries) in the developing world, but it does not mean that developed nations have no part to play at all.
Instead, they need to re-prioritize and re-evaluate their approach to relief so that they use their resources to empower countries to develop themselves. This should be according to the countries own standards and not the hindrance of them with the developed countries standards. The role of western countries in international development is to be defined not by their own interests but by the expressed needs of developing nations.

So while I applaud the intentions of the voluntourists of the world, I think it is important for them to remain grounded in reality. They need to be constantly cognizant of their privileged positions to be doing development work in the first place and the limitations of both their time commitments and outsider status. All international experiences are important and contribute to a general worldliness and awareness that is so lacking in our generation. But unless we are willing to accept the inter-relatedness of our privilege with someone else's poverty and allow that understanding to change how we live our lives, we are just exercising our privilege even more.

Here's a quick synopsis on how to be an effective volunteer:
: Work with local staff, don't try to do their jobs! 
Profit -- Who is truly benefiting from your trip? Is it a for-profit volunteer placement organization, a tour company, your Facebook or Instagram photo album? Or, is it the community you are meant to be helping? What percentage of the benefits of your trip, in volunteer work or financially, is legitimately helpful, and not just fun? Go direct; find organizations where you can concretely understand where every dollar of your contribution is going, and where your work is needed most.
:Don't be a superhero, just be you! 
Local Tanzanian fundis (craftspeople) have a huge comparative advantage when it comes to building walls, over little white girls and boys with no training. However, little Western girls and boys might be great at setting up social media for a small local nonprofit, doing computer training with impoverished teens, or doing an art project that they can turn into a fundraiser for their home community -- all of which require skills and access that are much rarer in rural Tanzania than in central 'Connecticut'. It's all a matter of fit- what can you offer to this community that they don't already have? The first step is to shut up, and listen hard to the community you work with. You can't possibly help with community needs if you don't even know what those needs are. It sounds like Pippa learned the first part of this lesson -- that we don't know everything about how to "fix" other societies, and rushing in where one doesn't belong is a recipe for disaster. But she seems to have missed the second half -- that if you listen, you can find places where you actually are needed, and wanted, and can help. You just have to be quiet for a while to hear it.

At Tofauti on the move, we generally don't take new volunteers for less than 4 weeks. It usually takes about 2-3 weeks to settle into a new culture and community, and for stays any shorter than that, the physical and staff costs of training the volunteers usually outweighs the benefits of their assistance. It also takes time for volunteers to truly understand how and where they can be of most use to the local staff, but once they settle into the rhythm, they become a huge asset.
:Volunteering is not a vacation, and orphanages aren't zoos! Good volunteers are the lifeblood of many small nonprofits and it is frankly irresponsible to equate all international volunteering with a 2-week high school package tour. In our case, volunteers grow our small Tofauti family: They raise awareness and expand our network to new communities. They add value to our work every single day.
But of course, I am far from an unbiased observer as I am a full member of Tofauti on the move. Still I believe one should never fear being corrected. So, I am about as far from objective as they come -- this work is my life, literally and metaphorically. But, I promise that if you have a chance to see the type of impact volunteers can have when the fit is right on a small scale, but with so much love -- you would change your mind towards criticizing volunteering.

That being said, the quality of work a volunteer does is very much independent of the Tofauti on the move bureaucracy anyway--it depends largely upon the individual, their skills and capacity, as well as their motivation and resolve. 

~Hongdi Zhao
Chinese Ambassador- Tofauti on the move

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Zǎo Maria!

·   Tofauti on the move as per its tradition has to let you in on the firsthand unedited interns' experience with us here in Kenya. This we believe goes a long way into gauging our credibility and also giving future possible interns a sneak preview of what to expect. This time round we take you to the People's Republic of China, as some of you may have realized their rather big invasion to Africa this past summer! We take you specifically to an amazing beautiful be cheerful lady Yingzhu Tao, commonly referred to as 'Maria'. And as her name suggests, from a Christian background, may very well define her graceful warm character. Here is what she said about her experience with us:

        Kindly give us a brief bio of yourself:
My name is Maria Tao, a college student (study at Zhejiang University) from China.  After studying in various fields of Social Sciences for one year,  I was endowed with professional skills like accounting and microeconomics. However, due to my love of meeting new people and the great passion for diverse culture and life, I decided to come here and have a totally new experience. What’s more, helping people in need makes me glad and proud.

·         What were your expectations of the Tofauti Internship Experience? Have you met them?
Teaching kids or children in a slum, subjects including Mathematics, English, Arts and Chinese; meeting different interns from all over the world, and working, discussing issues and sharing experiences together; subsidizing students by practical things like books and stationary; communicating with local NGOs; culture-sharing with interns like Cultural Village; enjoying and savoring tasty local food and fruits.

Apart from the NGO part, I have already met all of them. They indeed exerted  a great influence on me.

·         What did you get from the Tofauti Internship Experience? What value did we add to your life?
First, I got the rich experiences like teaching adorable kids in slum, meeting new people, adapting exotic lifestyle, attending international conference, visiting amazing places, dealing with all manner of cases and many more. Second, I was really impressed by the kids who were in my work place and learned the spirit of staying optimistic when facing the tough situation. Third, I felt I gradually get to know much more about how to communicate and get along with various people. Last but not least, I gained a group of amazing friends, who are extremely kind and supportive.

·         What other ways could we could have engaged you in the field?
Apart from AIESEC, other NGOs or organizations would be good. Besides, after the intern completing their projects and going back to his/her own country,  they have the power to get more people involved.

·         What can we do to make the Tofauti Internship Experience better?
Before deciding whether one potential intern is accepted to the Tofauti Project or not, you had better balance the number of people from each country and control the diversity; otherwise some problems like accommodation, food or culture shock would arise more or less.

When one intern is accepted, please inform him/her sufficient and necessary info about the projects(My buddy Cyrille did so well that I’m really gratitude for what he has done for me).

When matching, it’s better for the TNM to tell interns the exact school or orphanage they’re about to work in, or at least the students’ basic info (like age) because it would be much better for interns to get sufficient preparation. (Take myself for an example, I planned to bring some books with me but I was not sure about the students’ level thus giving up.) What’s more, if interns are not satisfied with the job, they can communicate with TNM in advance, and it would save time and reduce misunderstandings. Also, it would help avoid the situation that interns has nothing to do when they arrive just because no school fit them well or too many interns work for the same school.

As for the job description, it could be more concrete and specific, not that general.

One more thing is about the period of the project; it required me to stay here for at least 6 weeks, but school closed earlier. Although I really enjoy my stay here but I in the meanwhile maintain that I should be informed when matching or upon arrival.

·   Have your say:  Never too much to experience!


By Maria Yingzhu Tao

Thursday 5 September 2013



Is education knowledge in basic skills, academics, technical, discipline, citizenship, or is it something else? In its focus on good academic performance and putting on notice teachers whose schools are not performing well or whose subjects are not well performed, the Kenyan education system seems to say only academic basics are important and that is based on collecting knowledge without understanding its value. How about the processing of knowledge, using inspiration, visionary ambitions, creativity, risk, ability to bounce back from failure, motivation? Most educational institutions focusing on academic performance do not consider these skills; these skills are associated with understanding the value of knowledge (Mwaka et al, 2010).

Memorization and regurgitation hence become distinctive features of Kenya’s exam-centric education as it demands little creativity of our children and teachers. In a majority of schools, teachers do not focus on teaching and learning, but on jerking up the school mean grade and national ranking.

The schooling process in Kenya therefore seems to be failing in its role of offering education to young people for adequate living in the society. It also fails in its provision of moral and social values leading to a situation of non-education. Bennars (1990) describes the phenomenon of non-education as all forms of association between adults and children which cannot be termed education. It implies the erosion of childhood resulting in the neglect of traditional modes of value inculcation and the actual marginalization of the youth.

Educational Inequity


This can be defined as unequal opportunities; that a person’s life achievements should be determined primarily by his or her talents and efforts, rather than by pre-determined circumstances such as race, gender, social or family background. In Kenya, children’s background and environment are also determinants of their performance.  Children born into poverty are half as likely to graduate from high school as their peers in other communities. Even for those who graduate they graduate with less than par level of skills. This inequity of opportunity limits the future of individual students, communities, and our nation as a whole; and in addition to educational crisis we are also faced with identity crisis to tackle.


The Statistical Crisis


In Kenya, primary education is free but more than one million children are out of school and those in school are not learning. A survey of primary school teachers revealed that some teachers scored 17 per cent in a math test based on the syllabus they teach. For the massive outlay of public resources, 6.7 per cent of GNP, our education accomplishes too little for our children and society.
A survey of primary schools pupils revealed that two out of three pupils in standard three failed a standard two, literacy and numeracy test. Among standard three pupils, only 28 per cent from the poorest households had achieved expected numeracy and literacy, compared to 48 per cent in the richest households
Hence, education is exacerbating rather than ameliorating social inequality in Kenya. Moreover, transition rates are depressing. In 2012, the gross enrollment ratio in secondary school was 48 per cent, woefully low compared to 115 per cent in primary school.


Policy Issues


Summarily, education and training can therefore reduce social and economic disparities. Today, Kenya is characterized by large inequalities with respect to income distribution and this has constrained economic growth. Investment in education and training will be an important strategy to address such differences, which in turn, result in faster economic growth. The involvement in education and training is justified on the basis that human capital investments have large social returns. For the above reasons, the Kenyan Government has, over the years, demonstrated its commitment to the development of education and training through sustained allocation of resources to the sector. However, despite the substantial allocation of resources and notable achievements attained, the sector still faces major challenges related to access, equity, quality,  relevance, efficiency in the management of educational resources, cost and financing of  education, gender and regional disparities, and teacher quality and teacher utilization.

What it Will Take?



Educational leadership enhances learners’ outcomes through creation of an environment where learning permeates the organizational culture. This means that an educational leader is able to promote a shared vision, mobilize people, lead curriculum and pedagogical practice, administrate effectively, and reflect critically on all practice
Our mission is to revolutionize educational reform, by committing dedicated young graduates to a two-year teaching strategy so as to ensure that all children have an opportunity to receive excellent education. Possible??  I believe it is, if we all decide to become our children’s advocates.



Filling high-need classrooms with passionate, high-achieving individuals who will do whatever it takes to help their students succeed is a critical piece of our approach—but it’s not enough to reach educational equity. Success relies on the work the ‘Teach for Kenya’ members do as alumni after their two-year commitment, from within the field of education and other sectors, to continue to expand opportunities for all students.

They say to learn is to teach, and by teaching we become part of something bigger than our own selves.