Debi Spindelman and Connect to Learn

Read a blog post that Debi Spindelman (MPA in Development Practice Candidate 2013, SIPA/Earth Institute) wrote for Connect to Learn. She collaborated with the organization “to lead a brainstorming session and poetry workshop with Connect To Learn scholarship students about identity and the way the opportunities surrounding them have shaped their dreams.”

You can read the rest of Debi’s blog about her summer field work in Tanzania with Millennium Village Project-Mbola at  Debi can be reached at

Tales from Tanzania: Exploring Poetry and Identity in Mbola

Students Writing Poetry

Making the long and bumpy ride out to Ibiri Secondary School for the first time, I was rewarded by the sight of bright happy faces and the smart maroon-and-white uniforms worn by MVP Mbola’s secondary students.

Armed with my camera, a ream of paper, and translated copies of poem samples I set out on my task: to lead a brainstorming session and poetry workshop with Connect To Learn scholarship students about identity and the way the opportunities surrounding them have shaped their dreams.

We began by brainstorming all of the labels associated with who each student is–daughter, brother, pastoralist, Muslim, student, scholarship recipient and more. Students impressed me with the variety of ways they see themselves within their family and beyond. We moved on to what it means to be those things in their village, as well as the ways they interact with technology in their lives.

Students brainstormed the role education played in shaping their dreams for the future, and their reasons for reaching toward educational attainment in secondary school. I was impressed and interested to learn that all the students present that day dreamed of becoming doctors, all for very different reasons. We concluded by discussing where students look to find hope for their future and how they wish to be seen in the world, both now and in the future. The students were both insightful and comfortable opening up about their family backgrounds and the challenges they have faced in their journeys thus far.
Here is Rozalia, in her own words:

Rozalia Pastori

I am Rozalia Pastori
I am from Ibiri village
I am fifteen years of age
The first born in my family
We are only two children still alive in my family

I smell food crops growing
I hear the voices of birds, people, and cars going past
I see birds, cars, trees, and livestock animals
I eat ugali, beans and fruits
I sense things on my body like insects, the heat of the sun, and cold

I have seen phones and computers
I have used a radio
Also solar lanterns, cars, motorcycles and bicycles
I have seen so many different things
Things like trees, people, and birds

Phones make my life better because of the communication they offer
Solar energy is used to produce light
Light which is used for studying and charging our phones
Computers are used in my life for storage
To store materials and notes for future generations and eyes

I am taking three subjects
Because they are the ones I understand
Those subjects are biology, chemistry, and physics
I also learn the laboratory rules
I learn to provide the first aid

I am studying to become a doctor
In order to help people
Also to get higher education
And to get a good job
So I can earn money easily

I get support from our teachers
I also get support from my parents
Also support from different relatives
Like my sister who is a nurse
And support from myself

Students Brainstorming


Spaghetti for Breakfast: Sarah Muffly in Haiti

By Sarah Muffly, M.A. International Educational Development (Expected February 2013) contact:

This summer, I spent five weeks in southwest Haiti, as part of an internship for the Earth Institute’s Millennium Villages Projects. I worked in the Millennium Village site of Port-à-Piment with the Education team led by our partner organizations, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

In the news, stories about Haiti often discuss the devastation of the 2010 earthquake and the cholera epidemic that followed it, and they often include the phrase “poorest country in the Western hemisphere.” While Port-à-Piment and the area surrounding it certainly experience poverty, the region was not as badly affected by the earthquake or by cholera as other parts of the country.


Upon landing in the capital, Port-au-Prince, what struck me first was the intense heat and humidity; after all, I was in the Caribbean in the summer! Port-à-Piment is about a day’s drive from Port-au-Prince, so right away I was treated to Haiti’s beautiful coastal landscape during the drive. There is an old Haitian proverb, “behind these mountains are more mountains” and one look at the landscape explains its origins.


In Port-à-Piment, I worked in a bustling office with employees of UNOPS and CRS, as well as other interns from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. I was lucky enough to live with one of my colleagues during the majority of my stay. My room and board included two meals a day; lunch was usually goat with rice, and breakfast was often bread and fruit. About once a week, however, we had the typical Haitian breakfast dish of sautéed spaghetti with Spam, onions, and ketchup for extra flavor. Yum.

Exploring Haitian cuisine was also a part of one of my professional projects in Port-à-Piment: analyzing the school meals program organized by CRS. In this program, which had only begun a few weeks before I arrived, schools are given a certain amount of money per student. With these funds, school directors and parents’ committees purchase local foodstuffs (often potatoes, yams, carrots, and other root vegetables) to use in the meal served to children. I conducted interviews with the school directors, parents, teachers, and children, to gauge the early performance of the program. While some of those interviewed described problems relating to paperwork and the practical challenges of running the program, all interviewees said that they were happy that the program had started and that they wanted it to continue. At the time of the interviews, school directors had noticed a marked increase in attendance, and teachers said that their students were able to focus much better after having eaten. For many children, the school meal is their first of the day, so the program has nutritional advantages as well as educational ones. It remains to be seen how the program will continue benefit students and communities, but I am confident that there are positive results in the future.



The other major project I worked on involved piloting a literacy assessment method. The unique aspect of the process was the way in which test results were collected and organized using Android mobile technology. My colleagues and I went to several schools in the area and assessed a total of 50 children in the 3rd year of primary school. The tests, which involved reading aloud text in Haitian Creole, were administered to children individually in the presence of a parent or family member and the school director. Students were marked at one of 5 levels: no reading, letter level, word level, paragraph level, and story level. Students’ scores, along with basic information such as name, age, and sex, were recorded on survey software developed by the Earth Institute for Android phones. Once I was in a Wi-Fi zone, I was able to send the scores to a colleague in New York, who created a spreadsheet of all the data. What was especially useful about this process was that the software allowed the test results to be organized and analyzed virtually instantly. For me, it was also exciting because my concentration within International Educational Development is Language, Literacy, and Technology, so this project was an ideal example of the intersection of these three elements.


Rachel Landers at the Institute of International Education, Mexico City


I loved my classes at TC, but as I sat through summer school, I knew I wanted another international experience under my belt before hitting the job search. WIth two credits and an IP left to complete before I could graduate, I spent a few intensive days scouring the internet for whatever possibilities I could find. One caught my interest right away, but I knew that selling the relocation to my family and friends would be hard. The Institute of International Education’s Office for Latin America in Mexico City was hiring for a fall intern in the scholarships division and the EducationUSA division. I applied for the former and was accepted within several days. I was excited to have another opportunity to use my Spanish professionally and spend a few months in a sunny–and much cheaper–place.

Having spent less than 10 days in Mexico before in my life, I thought I would have trouble adjusting. Going to a city that dwarfs NYC in both number of people and square miles wasn’t easy, but my colleagues and the community I developed there made the transition much easier.

IIE-Mexico is a small office with only a small pool of employees divided between two buildings that house various US education entities: University of Arizona, the Fulbright Commission, the Department of Trade and Commerce, the US Embassy, and the like. I split my time in the Scholarships Division betwene several projects, initially. I worked with the NYU Abu Dhabi Outreach Officer on planning several of her trips abroad to promote NYUAD and attended several college fairs around the city with her, I conducted research on educational trends in Latin America for promotional pitches to corporate donors, and I organized a reception for a fellowship alumni group. This was just the first two months.

My main project while in Mexico was to develop, propose, and manage a scholarship program for ExxonMobil that would promote undergraduate research in the sciences and math. This involved creation of a proposal and budget that would be accepted by Exxon and turned into a viable program with various learning opportunities and financial benefits. Once it was presented to the university students we aimed to benefit, I gathered the applications, formed a selection committee, and organized an interview day. Though I had to leave right after informing the students that they had been selected to receive the scholarship, being able to be a part of a process from start to somewhat of a finish was a great reward for me.

I send out internship notices for IIE-Mexico all the time, so be on the lookout on the SIE listserv!

Rachel graduated from the IED Master’s program in Februrary of 2012.  She can be contacted at