Who We Are
Everyone has potential. Not everyone has the opportunity to tap that potential. This is especially true in developing societies such as the villages surrounding Mr. Kilimanjaro. EdPowerment confronts this disparity by harnessing both human and financial resources to help those abandoned by formal systems in this area dominated by poor subsistence farmers.
EdPowerment creates educational paths that enable individuals of all abilities to build purpose-filled and secure lives.
In 2009 Moira Madonia, then a U.S. high school educator, ventured to Tanzania to teach English in a tiny village community center for “leftover” youth who no longer attended school. These young teens were typical in many ways – funny, distracted, awkward, eager. For them, however, the future held no promise. Squeezed together on benches, their only respite from domestic chores was to come to Kilimahewa for few hours. Maybe, one day, they hoped some good could from what they learned there.
When Moira returned home and resumed her teaching career, she couldn’t leave behind these young people. Neither could Jillian Swinford and Kerri Gilbert, educators who had come to Kilimahewa in 2008.
In 2010, the three joined forces. They formed EdPowerment, a 501c-3 non-profit, to address the full spectrum of educational need they confronted at Kilimahewa: In a three-pronged approach, they began
A long-term post-primary sponsorship program to enable more capable and motivated students to re-enter the formal system so they could ultimately achieve professional careers.
Development of the Kilimahewa Center (KIWOCE) so that poorly prepared, struggling learners, or those from financially challenged backgrounds can learn skills that will enable them to find employment or start their own local business.
An advocacy program called Autism Connects Tanzania (ACT) for the autistic and otherwise intellectually disabled so that they too could find a place in the Tanzanian educational system and society.
Tomorrow’s Scholar Leader Sponsorship program has guided and supported 70 teenagers from secondary education to higher learning programs that will enable them to attain economic security. As of the fall 2019, roughly 30 students continue in Advanced Level high school, college diploma and university degree programs. Our alumni have begun careers and trade professions: a doctor and lawyer, teachers, ICT specialists, masons, mechanics... all equipped with the educational background and tools to build productive lives and contribute to their communities. All once without a path forward!
The Kilimahewa Center has transformed from a two-room roadside building to the officially registered KIWOCE Open School that offers a full range of academic, computer and life-skills courses and other services. In 2018 over 200 teens, young adults and motivated professionals came to the Center for equivalency certificates and a variety of coursework to improve their skills and hence their chance at self-sufficiency. Other locals benefitted from the Center through special seminars, the annual enrichment camp, a Boys & Girls Club, and a library stocked with review books, novels and other materials to support their learning in government schools with no resources.
Connects Autism Tanzania (CAT) has developed into a leading voice for those with autism and intellectual disabilities in the Kilimanjaro region. Its seminars, forums and mobile platform educate all stakeholders about effective strategies for this population in schools, the workplace and home. Today CAT is assisting government school units to set up vocational programs and use fundamental tools such as IEPs to better target and teach the cognitively challenged. At the same time, CAT seeks to develop work programs so society can see the potential in these young people so long stigmatized in Tanzania.
Board of Directors - US
EdPowerment’s Board is an active management team whose training and experience uniquely qualify them to address the needs of the full learning spectrum. Moira travels to Tanzania several times each year and when in the U.S. she skypes with students, teachers and staff regularly. Jillian and Kerri both have spent extended periods of time in Tanzania, while fellow Board members, Cocoa McGovern and Stacy Lauren, travel to Tanzania annually to strengthen our programs, support staff and motivate students.
President & Founder
Moira Madonia devotes her energies full time to steering the programs, administrative, and fundraising tasks that propel EdPowerment. As a businesswoman and former high school teacher, she believes that the best means to help others is through education. Her BA in English and history, Certification in Secondary School Education and Masters in Global Management all come into play as she works on all things EdPowerment. The mother of three adult children and grandmother of four boys, she takes great satisfaction from spending time in Tanzania, building the relationships, programs and systems that can advance students, teachers, and community members. The classroom, even by Skype, remains her favorite place.
Kerri Gilbert has been vital to EdPowerment since its start. A special education teacher and learning behavioral specialist with an MA in Curriculum and Instruction, Kerri has led Connects Autism Tanzania’s groundbreaking advocacy, while coaching KIWOCE’s staff in active and differential teaching strategies. In 2014-2015 she oversaw the installation of Internet and agricultural projects funded by a Rotary Global Grant at Kilimahewa. Today she continues to consult with other education-based projects in the area, while offering counsel to our Tanzanian team as needed. Kerri’s laughter, approachability, and ease with all types of learners make her presence prized by everyone.
Jillian Swinford, Secretary
Jillian Swinford, who holds a Master's in Art Education, combines her creative skills with a global approach to learning every day in her classroom at Pulaski International School in Chicago. Each June, she brings her skills and creativity to KIWOCE. Bags, beads and bowls from recycled paper combined artistry with environmental awareness in 2016 and 2017. In 2018 and 2019, Jillian corralled some of her fellow teachers to bring music and drama and even videotaping to these eager students. Having taken a year’s leave of absence in 2011-2012 to work with our programs in Moshi, Jillian is a knowledgeable and steady voice for EdPowerment - and she even speaks Swahili!
An executive skills coach in New York City with a Master’s in Education from Columbia University and an MBA from Harvard, Stacey works on organizational and learning strategies with our sponsored students and KIWOCE staff each summer. Planners are now a tool used to structure their time and energies. The past few years Stacey has visited our growing number of students at universities in Dar es Salaam to better understand their challenges, encourage them and share strategic guidance. When in the States, Stacey stays in contact with teachers and students to offer her support and coaching.
A sales professional from the Boston area, Cocoa brings a “get down to basics” approach to working with diverse tasks at KIWOCE and with our sponsored students. She loves being with our bibis (grandmothers) and her friendly manner allows her to maneuver easily among vendors, funds (contractors and workmen) and locals with whom we deal. Her interest in animals and experience in horticulture come in handy when checking out KIWOCE’s and students’ husbandry projects. She is EdPowerment’s utility player.
John was introduced to EdPowerment through his son, Sam, who spent three months as a volunteer after graduating from Rutgers University. A lawyer who works in the corporate sector, John spends hours on this side, checking all our financials and weighing in on organizational concerns. In 2017 John finally made it to Tanzania to get to know the staff and students whom he has followed from the States. For him, the opportunity to observe and connect in person last December brought to life all those names on our spreadsheets!
Our Tanzanian Leadership
(Mama Grace) is the local force behind EdPowerment’s initiatives in the Moshi and Arusha areas of Tanzania. For years Mama Grace has been an advocate for impoverished youth and those struggling with disabilities in Kilimahewa and the surrounding villages. In 2007 she brought together villagers to form the Kilimahewa Women and Orphans Center for Education (KIWOCE) on her family’s property. Professionally she held administrative positions at Cross Cultural Solutions and the Peace Corps in the region. Mama Grace, who has degrees in nursing, midwifery and public health, now focuses on her role as Director of Connects Autism Tanzania. At the same time, she is a counselor for Tomorrow's Scholar-Leader Sponsorship Program and guides the overall direction of the KIWOCE Open School. She acts as a mother to many youth and young adults - in addition to her own four children.
EdPowerment’s Operations and Finance Manager since 2010 died tragically in May 2018, but no discussion of EdPowerment would be complete without including him. He was our linchpin, handling a multitude of tasks from financial reporting and record-keeping to the supervision and mentoring of our sponsored students. Tom completed vocational degrees in motor vehicle mechanics and driving programs in Moshi. This prepared him to be our amazing van driver, visiting student families whatever the terrain. However, Tom's motivation took him much further. He learned computer skills, which he shared in the classroom at KIWOCE, while getting to know the school system's ins and outs, counseling all our students. His smile, easy personality and kindness made him a combination of big brother and parent to the youth we serve. Even as we move ahead, we miss him dearly.
Frank Fidas became a part of EdPowerment’s work in 2015 as part of the Rotary Global Grant’s Internet & computer funding. Since assuming his role as IT and Computer Program Manager, Frank has become critical to all aspects of EdPowerment’s mission. Today he serves as the Business and ICT Manager of the KIWOCE Open School, overseeing the school’s development, infrastructure, marketing and finances. In addition, Frank assists in guiding EdPowerment’s College and University students. Frank’s thoughtful presence and dedication is invaluable to all that happens on the ground in Tanzania.