Friday, April 29, 2011

Grab Bag Friday: Envaya, Part Four

Last week (see previous Envaya posts), Radhina Kipozi told us a few things average people can do to support the work she and Joshua are doing with the Envaya team. She wrote:
As for the average person outside of Africa... well, we would appreciate any support we can get. We are a non-profit, so even the smallest contribution will go a long way. And at the very least, it's even great for people abroad to just see and appreciate the work that community based organizations are doing in Africa. It would be really great if we could get people to visit the web pages CBOs create with Envaya, and see the efforts and accomplishments of these organizations (most of which have very little outside support).
You can explore these CBO webpages at You can sort by sector (Education, Environment, Health, Human Rights, etc.) or location, view each page in multiple languages, and marvel at all the hard work that is being done. There are groups dedicated to helping orphaned children, schools working "to empower grandmothers and children who have been adversely affected by HIV/AIDS," teams working to protect water sources from contamination.

Thanks to organizations like Envaya, each of these small groups now has a larger reach, a stronger voice. I love this testimonial:
"With whole intentions, I would like to congratulate Envaya for accomplishing the plan which has enabled many civil society organizations to know each other, to leave behind the idea of literal distance on the earth. For the civil society organizations that have joined Envaya, Envaya has succeeded in making them closer in the real world. It has spread everywhere; North, South, East, and West. We say, Always forward. We are together." (translated from kiswahili)
-Kamtande from "Wanaharakati wa Elimu Mazingira na Afya" (Activists
for Education, Environment, and Health)
If you'd like to support Envaya, you can Get Involved or Donate to the project. At the very least, I hope this mini blog series has been interesting and inspiring. My brother-in-law is probably person can't change the world. But when one person reaches out to someone else, and that someone reaches out again...then we stand a chance to make a real difference.

Envaya's mission reminds me of my favorite Toni Morrison quote:
"...if we think in huge numbers about how to save the continent, we’re already whipped. But if you think in terms of one…you know, small things. Six people. One person. One room. One backyard...Then it works."

Thanks, Josh & Radhina for sharing your story with us. And thanks for getting out there and making a difference!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Songs of the Civil War Era Rerun: Bonnie Blue Flag Medly

I've embarked on the first week of my 5th grade school visit tour de force! I'm planning to visit each fifth grade classroom in the district...three times each. Our first session, we'll start off with Songs of the Battlefield. Then we'll move on to songs from the home front and the cotton fields and learn how each of these musical forms fused together during the Civil War Era to form a new "American" style of music. Here's installment 3 of my Songs of the Civil War Era blog rerun:

Songs of the Civil War Era: Bonnie Blue Flag Medly (originally posted on November 25, 2009)

When I was putting together my recent Songs of the Civil War Era concert, there were some areas I already had pretty well under my belt. I've been singing the spirituals and popular songs of the time (like Oh Susanna and Gum Tree Canoe) for quite a while now.

But I wasn't as familiar with songs that were sung on the battlefield. It was very interesting to research these tunes and find out how they evolved. One fascinating example was "Bonnie Blue Flag," and you can hear the whole story by clicking on the player below (again, if you're in Facebook, you might have to go directly to my blog).

If you want to follow along at home (like one of my favorite childhood shows?), here are the images: Page 2, Pages 3 & 4, Page 5.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Marianne Moore: Poetry

How in the world have I gotten all the way to the end of Poetry Month without posting one single poem? Well, this must be remedied! Quick, fetch some Marianne Moore!

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
      all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
      discovers in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
      they are
   useful. When they become so derivative as to become
   the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand: the bat
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to 

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
      wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
      that feels a flea, the base-
   ball fan, the statistician--
      nor is it valid
         to discriminate against "business documents and

school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make
      a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
      result is not poetry,
   nor till the poets among us can be
     "literalists of
      the imagination"--above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
      shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness and
      that which is on the other hand
         genuine, you are interested in poetry.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Grab Bag Friday: Envaya, Part Three

Today, I'm excited to post an interview with Radhina Kipozi, Envaya's Tanzania Program Manager. [Missed part of this series? Catch up on the previous Envaya posts and interviews.]

Radhina began her career as a popular singer, currently works as an investigative journalist, and helps run one of Tanzania's most progressive civil society organizations, JEAN Media. As Envaya's Tanzania Program Manager, she provides training and support for the grassroots organizations that use Envaya and tirelessly promotes Envaya across the country. She took some time out of her busy schedule to tell me about her path from pop star to social activist and entrepreneur.

How young were you when you started singing? What was life like as one of Tanzania’s popular musicians?
I was 16 years old when I started singing in an R&B group with my two sisters (called the Unique Dadaz -- or Unique Sisters). We were one of the first all-female pop groups in Tanzania. We were (and somehow still are) very popular. In 2000 we won the Tanzanian Music Award for best video of the year. We headlined at the Zanzibar International Film Festival and were subsequently featured in “Inside Africa” on CNN. We performed across Africa, and in Europe and Japan.

It was fun being a popular singer as a teenager, I made lots of friends and I didn’t have to try hard to fit in. I remember I switched to a different high school because we moved and on my first day at the school it was crazy. All the students were looking out the window to catch a glimpse of me and they followed me around the whole day.

There were, of course, challenges (occasional media harassment, etc.) but overall it was an extremely positive experience for me. During my time as a singer I made a lot of great connections, and the recognition I get even today has helped tremendously in my work with Envaya.

What moved you to become a social and environmental advocate? Were there specific issues that you wanted to address?
Even as a singer in a girl group I did a lot of work with the community around me, by using our fame to bring awareness to different issues that affect our society. We tried to bring about some change through our music, and incorporated positive messages in a lot of our songs. We also did some projects with NGOs on HIV awareness for youth and worked with some anti-malaria campaigns. I was passionate about this kind of work, and was lucky to realize at a relatively young age that it is what I wanted to do with my life long term. I knew I wanted to dedicate my career to bringing about social and environmental change.

How did the idea for Envaya begin?
Envaya came about through the collective experiences of its founders. Joshua and I became friends in 2007 when he was in Tanzania as a Peace Corps volunteer. My family has started and worked with community based development organizations for a long time, giving me a real understanding of the challenges and needs of such organizations. Joshua and I have been talking for years about these issues, and he was always very interested to hear the Tanzanian perspective on development work. On a visit to Tanzania in January of 2010 he told me that he, his Stanford Computer Science friend Jesse Young, and Jeff Schnurr (with whom he had collaborated on a community based reforestation initiative on Pemba) were starting a technology non-profit with the aim of solving problems for grassroots development organizations, and I was very excited to get involved. The specific ideas for Envaya came about as a reaction to issues we'd all seen and dealt with in our work in Tanzania.

Have you come up against challenges that make it difficult to get your idea out there and make your voice heard?
Being a young Tanzanian woman has made it difficult at times for me to be taken seriously. Tanzania is still quite male-dominated, and age is a serious factor in how one is perceived. Sometimes I will walk into an office and the person I'm trying to address will naturally assume that my field assistant, who is a man, is the one in charge. The women in Tanzania who do have senior roles in this sector are often much older than me and they look very different from me -- I look like an average 20 something year old and most women my age in Tanzania are not in this sector. I find myself having to work twice as hard, but I have found that a firm handshake and really knowing what you’re talking about really helps people understand why I'm the program manager of Envaya. I've learned to really appreciate every accomplishment I achieve from the job, big or small.

What can the average person do to help?
The average person in Tanzania is often aware of the work their local organizations do, but does not realize that there are such organizations across the entire country. With Envaya we are working on providing tools so that individuals in Tanzania can directly engage with and contribute to these organizations. There are individual grassroots movements taking place all over Tanzania, and we're working to help these movements join together.

As for the average person outside of Africa... well, we would appreciate any support we can get. We are a non-profit, so even the smallest contribution will go a long way. And at the very least, it's even great for people abroad to just see and appreciate the work that community based organizations are doing in Africa. It would be really great if we could get people to visit the web pages CBOs create with Envaya, and see the efforts and accomplishments of these organizations (most of which have very little outside support). We're also working on ways for people to contribute or collaborate directly to CBOs through Envaya, but that is still a little ways off.

What has been the most exciting thing about working with Envaya?
Envaya gives opportunities to community based organizations (CBOs) who do great work in their communities to get exposure and connect to and learn from other organizations. I really appreciate the fact that we help eliminate the barriers between CBOs. So many of these organizations have worked tirelessly for years, and have little exposure beyond their communities. They are the ultimate stakeholders in the development sector, yet lacked a significant voice. Now with Envaya, these organizations can showcase all their achievements to the world, connect, and work together. In less than a year, we have over 350 community based organizations online, most of which before Envaya had little or no exposure beyond their communities. The rate at which we are growing and expanding is very exciting, and it's always rewarding to see the stories and great work the CBOs are doing being posted online with Envaya.

Are you still making music? Where can we listen to your music?
The Unique Dadaz are no longer making music, but you can find some of our videos online with Google. I do occasionally still collaborate with musicians in Tanzania on individual songs though.

So of course, I had to search Google for a video. How cool is this?


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Songs of the Civil War Era Rerun: Tenting Tonight

Here's the second installment of my Songs of the Civil War Era blog rerun. "Tenting Tonight" is the first song I'm going to teach the 5th graders next week, and I hope it will set the stage for the history they're learning this year.

Songs of the Civil War Era: Tenting Tonight (originally posted November 18, 2009)

I recently received some mp3s of my Songs of the Civil War Era concert/lecture at Bowdoin College, so for those of you who missed it, I'm going to post a song each Wednesday for the next three weeks.

The first is "Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground," and you can listen to it by clicking on the player below (if you're on Facebook or the like, and can't see the player, try accessing it directly from my blog).

The sound guy kindly faded this one out for me, but if you'd truly like to set the scene, picture yourself in a nice crowded auditorium. Everyone's just settled in. You've heard a little intro about what to expect during the program, and this sad, slow song begins. Now as I enter the last chorus (where the fade starts), imagine the piercing bleep bleep of a fire alarm! Just in case you were getting a little *too* comfortable. :)

All turned out fine. We got a little cold outside (in the spirit of things, I suppose) but were able to head back in and finish up. Enjoy...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: Gary Golio

I'm excited to team up with fellow poet and former classmate, Kelley Beeson this month. Kelley works for the Allegheny County Library Association, and she's invited me to post a monthly book review at the ACLA Youth Services blog. So once a month, I'll be posting both at ACLA and at Please Come Flying, switching back and forth between middle grade and picture book reviews. What fun!

What better way to kick off a new partnership than with some good old fashioned rock 'n roll? I teach a series of songwriting workshops for the K-5 set, and I'm always looking for good picture books about music and musicians to use during our "Seal Pup" listening time. But a book about Jimi Hendrix? Isn't that a little intense? Of course the man was a creative genius, but how do you write truthfully about someone who suffered so intensely from drug abuse and addiction and present it in a way that is suitable for kindergartners?

In Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, Golio strikes a good balance. The text focuses on Jimi's life as a child. We see how Jimi pays attention to the sounds all around him, experiments with instruments, and finds ways to play the rainbow of sounds that exist in his head.

In this way, the book reminds me quite a bit of Before John Was a Jazz Giant, a picture book biography of John Coltrane. Both authors do a terrific job of showing how a musician can find inspiration in the world around them. In Before John Was a Jazz Giant, John gathers inspiration from "the steam engines whistling past, Cousin Mary giggling at jitterbuggers, and Bojangles tap-dancing in the picture show."

In Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow:

"With every sound, a color glowed in Jimi's mind.
Blue was the whoosh of cool water, splashing over rocks.
Orange and red, the crackling of a campfire.
Green, the rustle of a thousand leaves."
In both books, the musicians learn to bring the essence of those childhood sounds into the genius of their compositions. Golio writes:
"Like no one before him, Jimmy Hendrix taught his guitar to sing, scream, laugh, and cry. He learned to use it as an artist uses paint, creating new worlds with the colors of sounds."
What a beautiful description of the creative process!

Golio leaves Jimi's adult sadness for the end papers where it can be absorbed or not at will. He briefly and tastefully describes the tragedy of Jimi Hendrix's death and includes some age-appropriate Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services resources for further reading "in the spirit of recognizing that addiction is a treatable disease, and that deaths like Jimi's can be prevented." I appreciate that he does not gloss over the issue, nor does he hit us over the head with it.

I will admit that while Javaka Steptoe's colorful paint-on-plywood collages are interesting and full of texture and detail, I'm not immediately drawn to the illustrations. But I will definitely be using this book in my songwriting workshops. It's a keeper.

And because I can't resist a video link, here's Jimi Hendrix himself playing Voodoo Child live in 1969.

Also posted at ACLA Youth Services Blog.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Grab Bag Friday: Envaya, Part Two

Last week, I posted about Envaya, a project designed to connect grassroots organizations with software and online technology that can empower change in local communities. [Read Envaya: Part One]

Joshua Stern is the intrepid young co-founder of Envaya, and he grew up right here in Maine. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in computer science, Joshua served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania, where he worked to build computer infrastructure and provide fundamental ICT education to the communities in his region. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about his experiences in Tanzania and how he got involved in this new project.

Next week, I'll interview Envaya's Tanzania Program Manager, Radhina Kipozi. She'll tell us what it was like to be one of Tanzania's most popular teenage singers, and how that experience shaped her work with Envaya.

After college, you went into the Peace Corps and worked in Tanzania. What was that like?

Peace Corps was a formative experience for me, and in many ways led to the creation of Envaya. Peace Corps service placed me in a remote village on Pemba Island, Tanzania. I was far from other volunteers and it was numbingly hot, especially for a Mainer. Nutritious food on the island was unreliable (most fruits and vegetables had to be imported by irregular boat, as the soil on the island has been ravaged by centuries of spice farming). I repeatedly suffered malaria. Electricity was frequently unavailable and infrastructure was decayed, which forced me to wire some buildings and labs myself. Despite these challenges, I built lasting relationships, and set up computer labs and connected hundreds of people to the Internet for the first time.

My arrival on Pemba coincided with a number of donations of computer labs from larger aid agencies. These donations would consist of computers, an internet dish, and a generator. These were given to a teachers training college, some secondary schools, some community centers, and teachers centers. A handful of the labs had been partially set up by the time I'd arrived, but most often equipment remained in boxes. I physically set up the computers and internet. In some cases I had to assist in wiring the labs for electricity from the generators. I am proud to have not electrocuted myself, (although I did get zapped once).

Once labs were set up I worked to train local counterparts to maintain and teach from the labs. I also taught basic computer skills to students, teachers, and community leaders. After getting through the basics of computers and the internet, many community organization leaders wanted to set up their own websites. Existing tools were far too challenging, and unsuited to the low-bandwidth connections.

Who was the most interesting person that you met [during Peace Corps]?

During my Peace Corps service, I met Radhina Kipozi, a popular Tanzanian singer and social entrepreneur. Radhina was deeply involved in social causes such as the dance4life program to fight HIV/AIDS and her social work connected her with many community-based organizations around Tanzania. She is an independent journalist, and one of the leaders of JEAN Media, a Tanzanian civil society organization that improves communication among a network of grassroots organizations working to address environmental issues and HIV/AIDS. She became one of Envaya's co-founders, and is our Program Manager in Tanzania. She has been invaluable to our success in getting Envaya off the ground in Tanzania.

Did your experiences there [in the Peace Corps] help you with your current Envaya project? What did you learn?

One of my biggest takeaways overall from my time in the Peace Corps was that most effective and sustainable development efforts and solutions begin at the community level. Grassroots civil society organizations (CSOs) play a vital role in society by advocating for positive change, developing new approaches to poverty reduction, and running projects that range from leading HIV/AIDS education programs to planting trees. Unfortunately, many CSOs lack access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) that would enable their efforts to have a greater impact. Most CSOs have no online presence and therefore have an extremely limited ability to raise funds, communicate with grantmakers, and share resources and ideas with other CSOs and communities.

And now, on, organizations with little computer experience can easily create websites to publish their latest news and share their successes and challenges. By providing usable technology that is tailored to the needs of Tanzanian CSOs, Envaya is increasing the capacity of the civil society sector to create systemic, positive change. The Envaya platform is the foundation of a digital infrastructure that can reach communities and organizations that lack an online voice. Users can connect to an online community in which they can learn from each other, plan transformative projects, and be inspired and encouraged to act.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Songs of the Civil War Era: 5th Grade Tour de Force!

Thanks to a generous grant from Arts Are Elementary, I am gearing up to visit every 5th grade classroom in our school district. Which translates to: thirty classroom visits in two weeks! I've still got a week and a half to tune up my guitar, print handouts, and hydrate!

The fifth graders here in Maine have been learning about the Civil War and I am planning a curriculum for them based on the Songs of the Civil War Era lecture/concert I gave at Bowdoin College a couple years ago. Since my life is going to get exceedingly busy very soon, I thought I'd post a few reruns of highlights from that lecture over the next few weeks. Here's the first installment, starting with a great MPBN radio piece by Tom Porter.

Wish me luck on my school-visit marathon!

My Concert: Songs of the Civil War Era (originally posted on November 11, 2009)

My lecture/concert "Songs of the Civil War Era" ended up in the news a couple times last week!

First, Daisy Alioto wrote a very nice article in The Bowdoin Orient. She starts with:

"Josephine Cameron '98 sat center stage in Kanbar Auditorium strumming her guitar and letting her melodic voice soar sweetly around the room on Tuesday. She sang "Tenting on the Old Campground," the first piece in a program of Civil War-era songs that offer insight into the popular culture of the era. The song, a song of peace sung by war-weary soldiers, Union and Confederate alike, was truncated mid-verse by the piercing shriek of the fire alarm. The audience, slow to react, could hardly conceal their disappointment as Josie's voice still echoed in the rafters."

You can read the rest of the article here (how's that for suspense?)

And then Tom Porter from Maine Public Radio did a great spot on Maine Things Considered. You can listen to the whole thing here:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pop-up Books: They're Not Just for Kids!

This semester, the Bowdoin College library is hosting an exhibit of more than 150 books from their 1800-volume Harold M. Goralnick Pop-up Book Collection. If you're not lucky enough to live right around the corner like me, you can still get a glimpse of the stunning artwork on display. There's everything from The Little Prince to Andy Warhol to a full pop-up replica of Fenway Park.

Pop-ups! They're Not JUST for Kids

Pop-ups! They're Not JUST for Kids from Bowdoin College on Vimeo.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Grab Bag Friday: Envaya, Part One

When I was in high school, I had a brother-in-law who was fond of telling me that one person can't change the world. I like to think that what he was really driving at was that it takes many individual actions, bound together, to create true change. No, one drop isn't going to fill the bucket. But millions of individual drops, joined together? Now we're getting somewhere!

I've been reading a lot about an interesting organization called Envaya that is trying to make a real difference in the third world by simply connecting people who want to create change. There are so many individual organizations doing good work on a local level. Yet if they could connect with others in their regions and in the world, if they could access grant money, share resources and best practice advice, and work together toward common goals, just think about how much the world could change.

Envaya, at it's core is a simple idea. It's an organization that develops online and mobile tools that allow civil service organizations (CSOs) in the third world to connect to the internet and set up simple websites. Through Envaya's digital network, CSOs can communicate, raise funds, and share resources to work on big problems like special needs education, deforestation, or clean water. According to a recent article, "Even people who live hundreds of miles from a cable, a phone line, or a paved road, and who subsist on a few dollars a week, can use Envaya’s ultra-light platform to establish websites."

So here's the cool part. Envaya was co-founded by 27-year-old Joshua Stern. Josh grew up here in Maine and both he and Radhina Kipozi (Envaya's Tanzania Program Manager) have agreed to do a couple blog interviews here on Please Come Flying. Their story is fascinating. Joshua worked in the Peace Corps after college and Radhina was one of Tanzania's most popular singers as a teenager. They'll tell us a bit about how they met, and what inspired them to begin the work they are doing with Envaya.

Throughout April, I'll post pieces of Joshua and Radhina's interviews. Next week, Josh will tell us a bit about his work in the Peace Corps and what he experienced there that gave him his big idea to change the world...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Raphael Saadiq: Good Man

Here's a find from KCRW's In Studio sessions. They've had all kinds of great musicians over there recently (Moby, Badly Drawn Boy, Lykke Li) and I was glad to come across this video of Raphael Saadiq. I've never heard him before, but apparently his new album Stone Rollin is one of KCRW's favorites for 2011 so far. I can see why. What a voice!

Raphael Saadiq: Good Man

Monday, April 4, 2011

Battle of the Kids' Books Big Kahuna Round: And the winner is...

It's a rainy, gray, hectic day here in Maine, so I will keep this post brief. Just one tiny little public service announcement:

The Battle of the Kids' Books victor was crowned today! The final three books to battle it out were

  • The Ring of Solomon
  • A Conspiracy of Kings
  • Keeper

Can you guess who the winner is? Go read the results...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Grab Bag Friday: Angry Birds (The Movie)

This morning, the universe is playing an April Fools joke on my daffodils. The poor little things were just starting to emerge and soak up the sun and now this:

In honor of the fake-things-are-funny day, here's a terrific "movie trailer" based on the iPhone app Angry Birds. Have you played this game? The basic idea is you have to destroy fortresses where pigs live by shooting angry birds with a slingshot. For real. It looks like this:

You get the picture. The brilliant folks over at RoosterTeeth imagined what Hollywood would do with such rich story material. I love it: