The Ohio State University Nisonger Center and a team of AUCD Professional Fellows alumni in Tanzania have won an U.S. Department of State Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) award for the Nisonger Center Tanzania ECHO Program, a virtual training partnership that connects Ohio State University faculty and trainees with teachers in Tanzania so they can exchange disability knowledge, best practices, and experiences in the U.S. and East Africa. The $32,000 award from the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania will allow the team to expand the program to four cities across Tanzania so more teachers and other disability professionals in both countries can learn online about inclusive education and employment for people with disabilities.
The Nisonger Center Tanzania ECHO Program is a partnership between the Ohio LEND Program at the Nisonger Center and three Tanzanian alumni of AUCD’s Professional Fellows Program on Inclusive Disability Employment (PFP-IDE), which enables African disability rights leaders (known as Professional Fellows) to exchange knowledge, access international training, and build partnerships with experts at U.S. university-based centers and programs on disabilities. Officially known as University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND), these centers and programs conduct research, deliver health and education services, and train graduate-level students in specialized fields that support people with disabilities. By hosting Professional Fellows, UCEDD and LEND share their expertise internationally and strengthen Fellows’ capacity.
The Nisonger Center Tanzania ECHO Program was created by Bijal Lal, a Fall 2019 Professional Fellow who spent her Fellowship at the university being mentored by senior faculty who also lead the Ohio LEND Program based there. Ms. Lal is a special educator and founder of the education NGO Tujumuishe Tanzania (Let’s Be Inclusive, Tanzania). She developed it in partnership with her principal exchange mentor Dr. Margo Izzo, the Nisonger Center’s then-Associate Director, alongside Dr. Paula Rabidoux, the Ohio LEND Program Director, and Dr. Andrea Witwer, Ohio LEND Training Director.
Ms. Lal, Dr. Izzo, and the Nisonger Center team designed the ECHO Program so that disability professionals and trainees in the U.S. and Tanzania could learn directly from each other and build relationships regardless of travel ability. During her Fellowship in Ohio, Ms. Lal adapted and translated many of the Nisonger Center’s disability toolkits for Tanzanian teachers, but the ECHO Program goes several steps further by letting them learn U.S. best practices directly via interactive monthly Zoom meetings with faculty, staff, and trainees from the Ohio LEND and UCEDD. These ECHO Program meetings are rewarding and informative for Nisonger Center participants too, since they have the opportunity to learn about disability inclusion in an international setting. This has been especially beneficial to LEND trainees, who are U.S. graduate-level students. By participating in the ECHO virtual sessions, they can interact directly with Tanzanian teachers, learn about disability inclusion in a completely new context, and build professional skills by exchanging knowledge and experiences with participants in Africa.
Nisonger Center Tanzania ECHO Program sessions include reciprocal trainings, reviews of case studies brought by both the Nisonger Center and Tanzanian participants, and rich conversations about disability inclusion and best practices in each countries. The ECHO Program also includes regular extensive conversations about inclusion and accessibility, and how to adapt and use disability tools in different contexts of language, culture, education, and technological capacity. Since the first session in early 2020, it has been a massive success and a terrific learning opportunity for all involved. The program’s online model has proven especially valuable during the COVID-19 pandemic, when international trainings that involve travel have been blocked. Their program has received praise from the U.S. Department of State Disability Rights Team and USAID. Dr. Izzo and Ms. Lal presented about the Nisonger Center Tanzania ECHO Program during an AUCD webinar led by the PFP-IDE Program team in May 2021.
Ms. Lal and the Nisonger Center team share the award with two other AUCD Professional Fellows alumni in Tanzania, Gwaliwa Mashaka and Archy Gomba. Ms. Mashaka is an entrepreneur, tech expert, and deaf self-advocate who is the CEO and founder of Employable Africa, the first private sector inclusive employment support platform in Africa. She is also the founder of Rafiki Connect, the first pan-African captioning provider. Mr. Gomba is a disability rights activist, community leader, and inclusive development expert, and is the director of SARDO, an NGO that fights against disability discrimination in rural Tanzania. They work closely with Raphael Mbiiji, a Professional Fellows alum based in the rural central region of Iringa, Tanzania.
Ms. Lal, Ms. Mashaka, Mr. Gomba, and Mr. Mbiiji will collaborate to expand the Nisonger Center Tanzania ECHO Program across Tanzania to reach teachers in schools across Dar es Salaam, Moshi, Arusha, and Iringa. They will engage local educators, NGOs, and members of the disability community to set up local remote training sites and networks for expanded online inclusive education & fortnightly interactive training sessions with U.S. specialists at the Nisonger Center.
Click this link to learn more about the Nisonger Center Tanzania ECHO Program.