AMSEN-OSU in Tanzania: PFP-IDE Alum Bijal Lal & Ohio UCEDD Build a New International Partnership

International partnerships that build capacity via online learning have more impact than ever. AUCD Professional Fellows alum Bijal Lal and her former U.S. Fellowship hosts at the Ohio State University Nisonger Center have created such a program together. AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania offers many lessons on how to share knowledge globally and deliver supports locally amid distancing.

AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania is a new virtual training partnership that connects faculty and trainees at the Ohio State University Nisonger Center (Ohio UCEDD and LEND) with teachers at the Al Muntazir Special Education Needs School (AMSEN) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Bijal belongs to the faculty, and the partnership connects AMSEN special education teachers and an occupational therapist in Tanzania with Ohio UCEDD and LEND faculty who coordinate monthly training webinars and virtual exchange of resources with Bijal. The Nisonger Center’s own U.S. trainees in disability-related professions (known as LEND trainees) also attend to learn about disability inclusion in East Africa and observe how best practices are shared, adapted and implemented in different countries.

Special education teachers at Almuntazir Special Education Needs School (AMSEN) in Dar es Salaam listen to Dr. Paula Rabidoux, Associate Director of the Nisonger Center (Ohio UCEDD).

Bijal began planning the partnership in late 2019 and early 2020 with her U.S. Fellowship host Dr. Margo Izzo, who is the Nisonger Center’s Transition Services Director, as well as Dr. Paula Rabidoux, the Associate Director. Dr. Izzo and Dr. Rabidoux brought LEND trainees into the partnership, seeing it as a unique learning opportunity for emerging disability professionals in the U.S. too. Dr. Izzo, who is an U.S Outbound alumna, had observed on an earlier PFP-IDE technical assistance visit to Tanzania that U.S. university centers on disabilities could benefit locally from increasing their global engagement, since it not only elevates their programs’ profiles and expands their impact, but also creates new learning opportunities for disability-focused trainees and staff.

The monthly webinars are co-led by Bijal, Dr. Izzo, Dr. Rabidoux, and their faculty colleagues in Ohio, and involve full exchange with AMSEN teachers in Tanzania. In every session, a multidisciplinary team of university experts on special education, speech language pathology, psychology, transition services, vocational rehabilitation, and inclusive employment issues convene and address targeted focus areas agreed upon in advance with Bijal and the other teachers. Together, they share their expertise, answer questions, and share evidence-based best practices.

Dr. Andrea Witwer, Director of Training at the Ohio State University Nisonger Center (Ohio LEND), presents how to use communication aids in an ECHO virtual session with AMSEN teachers in Tanzania. Other OSU faculty, trainees, and PFP-IDE Senior Program Specialist Siddarth Nagaraj observe.

The specific needs of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities at AMSEN are the direct primary focus of the sessions. In each webinar, the Tanzanian teachers, the occupational therapist, and the Ohio UCEDD and LEND team review student case studies, share resources, and exchange experiences with designing interventions, helping students in the classroom, and advising families. The current curriculum spans many subjects requested by teachers, including speech and communication, literacy supports, transition, and trauma-informed care. The Nisonger Center’s team of experts engaged by Dr. Izzo and Dr. Rabidoux offer multiple perspectives on these issues and complementary strategies for interventions. Afterward, AMSEN teachers adapt and implement the U.S. evidence-based practices they share to support students and families.

AMSEN-OSU ECHO Tanzania is a first for the parties involved, although it uses a virtual training model (ECHO) that is well established globally. The partnership has stayed strong despite COVID-19, to which the U.S. and Tanzania have reacted very differently. Tanzania lifted its COVID-related restrictions in June 2020, but its disability community and support professionals face many complex challenges as they have returned to normal work conditions. The virtual partnership creates an invaluable platform to address these issues remotely, since in-person technical assistance from U.S. experts like Dr. Izzo and international exchange for professionals like Bijal have both been impossible in 2020.