Early childhood education services—such as kindergarten and preschool—are not available in the majority of rural communities in Tanzania. This results in missed opportunities for the country’s most vulnerable youth to develop their academic foundations and skills before entering primary school. Moreover, children who do not receive early childhood education often have negative attitudes towards school which can lead to low attendance rates throughout their primary school years.
In an attempt to tackle this problem, Deborah McCracken founded The Olive Branch for Children in 2005 with the objective to help remote communities in Tanzania assess their own primary needs and establish programs that target the most vulnerable.
The organization runs a wide range of programs focusing on issues like HIV/AIDS prevention and care, general medical support, food security, economic autonomy, and women and girls’ empowerment. All of The Olive Branch for Children’s programs share the common goal of establishing community-led programs that empower locals and generate models that can be replicated in other communities throughout Tanzania and elsewhere.
Early Childhood Education
One of this organization’s most impactful projects is their Montessori Outreach Program, which brings quality early childhood education to Tanzania’s most vulnerable areas. Compared to traditional didactic teaching methods, the Montessori methodology is interactive, encourages self-discipline and independence, and fosters respect within the classroom.
The Montessori Outreach Program focuses on training selected villagers as teachers in the basics of Montessori Education to then establish village-operated Montessori kindergartens in their communities. Since 2008, Canadian Montessori teachers have volunteered to travel to this region and conduct 2-3 week training seminars for the local teachers. Site visits to each school are also done during this time. Teachers from the schools meet monthly with the Tanzanian Montessori supervisor and a representative from The Olive Branch to review Montessori materials and work collaboratively on improving their schools.
Some of The Olive Branch for Children’s target communities are 80km from a main road and over 20km from a primary school. For some children, the remote Montessori kindergartens will be their only access to education. Currently, there are 28 kindergartens running in partnership with the organization.
The schools enrolled in the Montessori Outreach Program are 100% owned and operated by their communities. All Montessori kindergartens in the program have school and community advisory committees. After the initial training, the program continues to build the capacity of the strongest teachers within the program to function as mentors for new and struggling teachers. In addition, The Olive Branch for Children’s trainers are volunteers, offering their services free of charge.
You can support The Olive Branch for Children’s Montessori Outreach Program by making a donation or volunteering. Alternatively, if you happen to be getting married, you can create a charitable wedding registry that helps bring early childhood education to rural communities in Tanzania!