Posted by on Feb 25, 2016 in Blog Articles | 0 comments



Also, see 60 Minutes on the future Sunday program ( Jan 17th , 2016)

type in words Sean Penn

TERRY THEAIDWORKER 2 hours ago as stated on CBS Blog Jan 15th

Sean Penn is well spoken, thoughtful, and understands poverty alleviation. I know because at one point in my life I had contact with him over Haiti and Katrina. Forget that he is an actor. Although I suspect this work subsidises his activities, he is an advocate. He is an ‘AIDWORKER’. He knows the ground like only those of us who work the field in foreign countries do ( especially hard core journalists and humanitarians). We take calculated risks to make change. To seek out and secure information others are to afraid to attempt to get. But, as Sean Penn stated in this interview , he is not supported by DEA knowledge. He is not smarter than the Government. He is only a single man with his own personal network. And, in this instance his network led him like a good journalist or aidworker to the source. It is however only the bravest ( or some say the stupid as comments before me state… however I disagree!) to step into the world of crime and drugs. It takes the DANNY PEARLS of the world, which I consider Sean Penn, to enter places of risk. Visiting El Chapo a risk. But, he took it for the sake of our CHILDREN… To foster a discussion about DRUGS. He did not take this because he wanted to support El Chapo being apprehended. He took it to get to the source of the problem. To explore why? And, because of this he may be thought to be at risk. I think the risk is the backlash of people who are pointing fingers and avoiding the DISCUSSION ON DRUGS. We need this now as the illegal drug trade crosses every border including entering the world it never did in the past, the world of the middle class white teenager. Before, in years past we thought that this population was smart enough to stay away from street drugs..

But, this illegal trade is killing off more and more teens every day ( of every class) and the discussion on this issue seems all to quiet.

Sean Penn, thank you for taking your personal time to risk this conversation for the benefit of our teens…

Advancing Literacy Outcomes for Children with Disabilities in India

Posted by on Feb 25, 2016 in Blog Articles | 0 comments

Advancing Literacy Outcomes for Children with Disabilities in India

Benetech’s mission is to serve communities in need by creating scalable technology solutions. As the operator of Bookshare, we are working diligently to extend our reach across borders to the international community.

While technological breakthroughs are creating new opportunities and lowering barriers for society as aTerry Jenna with project team members in India whole, the sad truth is that millions of individuals with disabilities around the world are still left behind. This is a particular reality for students in the developing world who cannot read traditional books due to blindness and other print disabilities. They grapple with formidable challenges as they attempt to pursue education in the midst of a widespread book famine. This is especially true in countries with several regional languages, such as India, where classrooms lack accessible reading materials that would allow these students to learn like their peers without disabilities.

Nearly a year ago, Benetech set out to address this challenge with the support of a grant from USAID, World Vision, and the Australian government. The grant, under the three partners’ All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development competition, funds our winning project to provide Indian students who are blind with mother tongue instruction and reading materials through Bookshare. I am delighted to report that we are quickly moving ahead with this project. Let me briefly describe this innovation and provide an update on our progress.

Thanks to the All Children Reading grant, we are developing a pilot project to provide accessible educational content for primary school students who are blind in Pune, India, where we will be able to capitalize on several existing Bookshare partnerships. We are applying a targeted literacy pedagogy that pairs braille reading with human-narrated audio content in Marathi, which is the primary spoken language in the Maharashtra region. Our goal is to pilot this new audio capability with students at three schools for the blind, thus offering them age-appropriate, high-interest books in their mother tongue in both human-narrated audio and hard copy braille.

Young boys with visual impairments sitting at desks in a classroom in India in IndiaI recently traveled to Pune where we held workshops with project members, focusing on team building and creating cost-effective strategies to promote our project including a Bookshare drive to increase local language content and a plan for expanding relationships with publishers in Hindi, Tamil, and other regional languages. One important aspect of the project is that we are complementing the provision of accessible educational content with training on assistive technology and Bookshare services for teachers, administrators, and parents in our target region. Teachers and administrators for first through third grade students recently attended a workshop on these topics led by Mr. Nirmal Verma, a specialist in visual impairment teaching methodology.

In the meantime, Benetech’s engineering and product teams have been adding Marathi human-narrated audio capabilities to Bookshare, and the collection development team has been increasing the offerings of Marathi human-narrated audio books, with the government of Goa providing the latest additions. We are also adding books in Hindi to the Bookshare collection.

Finally, in order to measure the benefits of our project and improvement in the reading scores of target students, we are working with School-to-School International—a prominent global monitoring and evaluation organization—on implementing a rigorous evaluation plan. This month, our partners will conduct baseline testing on 135 students in our three target schools.

We are looking forward to carrying out the subsequent phases of this project with our funders and Adult student in India reading an accessible ebook on a computerpartners. Benetech and the Bookshare team are excited to leverage a multimodal approach to help students develop early reading skills. We believe that the delivery of accessible educational content, when combined with teacher training and parent outreach, is the best approach to address the massive lack of accessible educational materials that so many individuals with disabilities still face. Moreover, this project is poised to demonstrate how the availability of accessible educational content in the students’ mother tongue impacts academic outcomes for students who are blind, and will inform our plans as we seek to replicate this work on a larger scale and in other countries.

I hope you join in our efforts to empower individuals with disabilities around the world to improve their lives. I invite you to learn more about Benetech’s work to extend access to books and information to all people who need our services, regardless of where they live. Because inclusion matters.


Posted by on Dec 21, 2015 in Blog Articles | 0 comments


Expatriate Returns: My First Christmas Party in America!

This blog post is athank you to my new colleagues at Benetech who have welcomed me home after more than three decades of living abroad.

As an aidworker and social ‘intrapreneur,’ my life in far-flung locations has required me to be in countries with a variety of legal, social, economic, cultural, and religiousideologies and customs that vary from place to place. On many occasions, Christmas was not celebrated where I worked and lived. Normally, by the time I returned to my Catholic family in America during my leave, the Christmas parties had passed. I can’t remember if I have ever gone to a typicalAmerican-style party with Christmas music, Christmas karaoke, Christmas cookies, yummy food, families dressed festively, and children running and playing. It’s been that long ago!

Having only recently joined Benetech as the International Program Manager responsible for expanding Bookshare – the world’s largest digital library for people with print disabilities–I am adjusting to another new environment: my childhood home, America. To me it’s a foreign environment. Nothing is expected to be as I remember. Everything is a new experience. Working with Americans is different (SMILE — everyone speaks perfect English!) and most people have a similar skill level which is a refreshing change (as an expat I usually was the expert building the capacity of others). Today, I am on my own learning curve. I am faced with unfamiliar technology, but fortunately I have colleagues who are able and willing to help me.

Joining our Christmas party to celebrate life and enter the holidays together with my team members was a new experience. At the party I was asked by a colleague’s wife what I was enjoying in America. I told her that I found this question hard to answer. I hesitated because I am still trying to process and adjust to life in America. I am not sure yet that I am home. Yes, I am living in my childhood home environment, but the loss of my expatriate life in my field dungarees represents a missing part of the me I have been for so many years. The commuter, the office worker, the American woman with an American voice are all things I have yet not completely absorbed–not because deep down I don’t want to … just because. Just because it takes time. And, that might be something most people here at home don’t understand. I am a woman with an American exterior and a foreign core. Enjoying America and having goods and services available to me is so very new. There is so much that is plentiful in our countryand having it all so easily is overwhelming.

Yet, in contemplation this morning as I write, I want my colleagues at Benetech to know this: I enjoyed last night’s first Christmas office experience with a depth of pleasure that is difficult to express in words. I felt tears in my eyes. I felt a tug at my heart when I saw the happiness on your faces, heard the joy in your children’s voices, and understood by observing your behavior that you are congenial people seemingly happy to be working and celebrating with each other.

We are a wealthy nation in spirit. We are blessed to have good jobs with Benetechin a great company. Thus, to answer my colleague’s wife’s question–I do know something–I am so very happy to be a part of this Benetech family. That is what I know as I transition back into life in the States.

To my colleagues, I wishyou my very best for showing me the way home. May each and everyone of you be content in life, love, and work. May the future be everything you desire it to be. May you and your family be healthy and well.

I raise my glass to you all…. Cheers!



Posted by on Oct 14, 2015 in Blog Articles | 0 comments



I am shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of the professionals serving the AFGHAN people.

I send my condolences to MSF, families who have lost their love ones , and the AFGHAN people.


Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Blog Articles | 0 comments


The term ‘medical tourism’ took on a completely personal meaning in Addis Ababa because of Willie Maire, the surrogate father to Shirley: part of my extended family. Willie and Shirley Papua New Guineans (PNG). Shirley a part of my family but residing in Port Moresby.

My expertise is in corporate social responsibility and engagement, as well as in health. The project I was hired for required me to engage stakeholders, to determine their understanding of medical tourism and how that relates to the strengthening of the health system in Ethiopia. The project required me to discuss and present my reasoning for the medical tourism industry to be established (or not set up). Three weeks into the project WILLIE of PNG became the reality of my work in medical tourism in Ethiopia. And, he became the example of why countries should invest in strengthening their system instead of spending government and private sector money on building a medical tourism industry for others. Willie’s story became a personal example of why medical tourism is not the answer to solve problems of weak health systems.

This is Willie’s story:

Willie was the voice of a country “ GOOD MORNING Port Moresby”. He was the sound of reason; the sound of knowledge, the sound of culture, the sound many tribesmen and women, many communities woke to everyday. But, as he neared his mid century marker of fifty years old, his life dramatically changes without notice of being sick. He finished his radio show ended laughing and returning back into his office and had a stroke. He lay for hours unattended. And, by the time he was discovered collapsed he had irreversible brain damage. His vocal organs changed. His body limp and numbed to paralysis. And, his ability to work stopped dead with disability. For 1.5 years his family raised funds to send him back and forth for physio, occupational, speech therapy and medical treatments, not in his homeland, which is with few if any services, but in the Philippines. The family, their tribe, drained life’s earnings to provide for him the best medical they could afford. This included uplifting their middle daughter, a mature but might I still say 15-year-old child to care for her father in Quezon City, Philippines. She had to leave PNG because her mother had to support financially the family and there was no one else who could go. She had to leave her friends and support system, to go live in a very new, very different, community in a country far from home. And, she had to enter a day school that behaved differently, and maybe even treated her differently. But, she was her father’s daughter, like him, verbal, engaging, smart and brave. And, she cared for him day and night and on weekends between classes. She loved him as he needed but she needed a break. Easter 2015 spring break was her time to visit her mother and sisters hesitantly knowing her father would be alone, but very much needing her own teen time. A lot of responsibility to be put on a child. Her father in agreement. But, this is where life changes for all. Two days later Willie entered a coma and was rushed by his care team to the hospital where he lay alone without family in this foreign country. Whether or not conscious of this, the reality of medical tourism is he was alone with no one there except hospital nurses, no voices of family to whisper their comfort into his ears, no loving wife or daughters to hold his hand. They, devastated with the news, frantic to raise emergency funds from the tribe money needed to get a two thousand dollar flight per person to go to their father, their husband, their brother. But, how does one raise those funds in a few hours. Only a miracle to collect that money for anyone, let alone for people from developing countries on limited income. Yet, it had to be done. And, only enough money for the mother, the wife, was raised in time to put her on the overnight flight from Port Moresby to Manila. She arrived to hold his hand, and tell him she loved him and he died in her arms two hours later. 15 year old daughter at home with her sisters waiting for news on their father, only to be told he had left. A mother then to arrange alone the flight home, to raise more money to for his body to be air freighted for burial a whole country away…

And with his death, my project took another turn. In addition to my long work days on the Medical Hub Private Public Sector Project, I had to spend my wee mornings between 3am and 6am calling medical representatives, family members, and those in government who could help Willie’s wife move the process ahead quicker and easier than if she were alone trying to do this while in shock and grieving her loss. Medical tourism is much more than just stepping on a plane and going for an extended holiday that includes doing executive medical checks, but it can be one of the worst experiences of your life. Death can occur. And, that means family is taken out of their comfort zone where they may have strong emotional support to a place of complete isolation and culture shock. Medical tourism, for all the glamour the idea conjures up in many people’s head, is anything but glamorized when the medical condition turns serious. And, for those left behind wondering, waiting and worrying about their loved one, the stress is something that can bring on hopelessness and the highest frustration of helplessness.

Isn’t it ironic, however, that my contract in Ethiopia to evaluate the idea of medical tourism opportunities for the Government happened at the exact time of Willie’s death in my family. I had to face the issue head on and had to tackle one of the most difficult circumstances in my own life. Feeling totally helpless to do anything. Creating medical tourism hubs is something of a dream for many countries, and in my opinion Ethiopia is not ready to build a hub in 2015. Why? Because its health system is fraught with weakness. Its health system has some secondary level hospitals but no tertiary hospital. Its health system does not include an emergency and disaster system, which in most countries is considered a basic health component. Its health system has not implemented universal health care or a country wide insurance system. And, trust does not exist in the health system by its own
people and even by many of his or her own doctors. When someone who can afford suspects that they are seriously ill, they collect money for a trip and leave to Thailand, or India, or even America. Just as the former Ethiopian President did when he took ill and then died in America.

They don’t stay in the country. Just like WILLIE. They leave. And, until the system is strengthened the people will leave when they can. And, spend their family money seeking services abroad. BUT, the reality is whether it is Papua New Guinea Willie or the Ethiopia Prime Minister; medical tourism does not work when someone dies alone without family and love. It’s a terrible lonely death. And, for me, even my worst enemy I would not wish this story on.

LOG SEVEN: Never leave home without leaving in peace and saying GOOD-BYE In Memory of Nancy, my dearest cousin (19 April 1953- 17 April 2015)

Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Blog Articles | 0 comments

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