Investing in Young Children, Investing in New Partnerships

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Firelight provides grants, capacity building, mentorship, and networks to grantee partners. Building effective organizations that make real change for children and families is a challenging, long-term effort. That’s why we look for organizations already doing good work with scarce resources, invest in them, and establish seven-year partnerships through which we can grow together. One of our promising new partnerships is the Tanzania Home Economics Association (TAHEA). TAHEA is based in the Mwanza District in northwest Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Victoria.

The fishing communities on the lake shore face high illiteracy, concentrated poverty, and an increasing HIV rate. TAHEA knew that these fishing communities wanted a better life for their children, so they convened village meetings to identify existing challenges and what actions the community could take. Several villages chose to focus on early childhood education, to give their children a good start in life. They realized that they would have to take action on their own – throughout rural Africa, it’s very often communities rather than governments that step up to create pre-school centers for their children. TAHEA worked with these villages to create an action plan, facilitating the process, and providing key ideas and information.

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As Firelight staff saw when we made our initial visits, these plans are working. Community volunteers have been trained as para-professional teachers to work in the pre-school centers. The communities have also started working with the youngest children. Volunteers trained by TAHEA now facilitate mothers’ groups to support the health, nutrition, and interaction with their children from birth to three years of age.

TAHEA helped the communities think about sustainably financing these efforts, and encouraged each village to start several savings and loan groups. Adults pool their earnings each week to loan to members for improvements to their businesses. Members also contribute weekly to an education fund used to pay the costs of running the centers. Long after external funding ends, these centers will thus be able to continue to provide an education to children. Impressed by this solid work on the ground, Firelight offered TAHEA an initial grant of $90,000 over three years to expand its early childhood work to additional villages.

And just as TAHEA is helping communities invest in their children’s future, Firelight is helping TAHEA grow and develop. In addition to providing funding for TAHEA’s own early childhood efforts, Firelight has selected TAHEA as a “lead partner” for Firelight’s early childhood work in Tanzania. As such, TAHEA provides mentoring and technical assistance to six smaller Tanzanian organizations working with young children. TAHEA has been Firelight’s key partner in piloting the ZamCAT child assessment tool in Tanzania, in order to rigorously measure the outcomes of early childhood work. Firelight has enabled TAHEA Program Coordinator Mary Kabati to present TAHEA’s work at a conference on young children affected by AIDS in Cape Town this year, and next year we intend to fund her to make a presentation at the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Firelight will continue to support TAHEA’s growth by providing the capacity building it needs to strengthen its organization and programs. We will also support TAHEA’s new community grant program aiming to involve youth in improving learning for young children. Firelight looks forward to the next six years of our relationship with TAHEA, which we expect will lead to many good outcomes for children, and to TAHEA’s growing from strength to strength.