Beyond the Classroom
Established in 1997, Mkombozi is a Tanzanian organization that works to assist children living on the street by reuniting them with their families and reintegrating them into their communities. The organization supports children throughout this transition by providing these families with social services and counseling. Additionally, Mkombozi engages local communities to strengthen child protection systems and raise awareness about children’s rights to help prevent more children from migrating to the streets.
One of the principles guiding Mkombozi’s work is that children need to feel safe and cared for in order to get the most out of school and maximize learning outcomes. Accordingly, this organization collaborates with schools in order to create safe spaces for children. Through this work, teachers are taught alternatives to corporal punishment and children are educated about their rights. These students are also encouraged and supported in the process of forming and maintaining child protection committees.
Mkombozi also places emphasis on ensuring that children have avenues by which to report cases of abuse, and receive the support they need. A recent example was their collaboration with local police, which resulted in the installation a child-friendly room at the police station, inclusive of child-sized furniture. Following the construction of the room, the police approached Mkombozi, expressing the desire to receive training on how to adequately support the children who come seeking help. The organization, along with the Department of Social Welfare, now make regular visits to the police station to assist in cases involving children.
With support from a Firelight grant, Mkombozi sets out to expand their Educate to Empower (E2E) program. E2E takes a holistic approach to helping vulnerable children remain in school by engaging the family, community and school to support the child’s academic success. Incorporated in this holistic academic support is the provision of health insurance, school uniforms and school fees to 60 children. As a complement to these provisions, families of the supported children receive quarterly visits to provide psychosocial support and increase caregiver engagement in the child’s schooling.
One of the special qualities of this organization is that they don’t merely speak for children; rather they speak with children. Mkombozi actively engages children in discussions on how to improve their programming. These conversations help to guide the program design of the organizations. In this way, children’s voices are truly heard, valued and validated. Or, as they would say, “Our job is to listen to the children, be sensitive to their context and synthesize the emerging questions into interventions that best protect children and challenge a system that sees them as second class citizens”
Thank you to Katie Bunten-Wren of Mkombozi, who contributed to this blog.