After seeing the lack of quality primary education in Tanzania and absence of any education institutions for children under seven, Neema International had to take action. Our intervention began with a few teachers and volunteers taking children off the street and teaching them with only a few songs and books in the dirt.
As Neema International grew, we were able to hire a team of teachers and open up a school. The Academy officially opened in June 2016 in the first floor of the Tuleeni Children’s Home. Children lined up throughout Uru, begging for a chance to attend. We simply couldn’t meet the demand. In September 2018, Neema International officially opened Uru Academy, Kilimanjaro region’s first full-service early childhood center.
Uru is home to over 7,000 people who live on less than a dollar a day, with no access to running water or electricity nor proper healthcare. Children are not eligible to attend government school until seven, where they are victims of atrocious teacher-student ratios and poor-quality curriculum. Corporal punishment is practiced in the vast majority of these classrooms, further hindering them from success. Government schools set children up for failure by delivering poor English instruction in the early years that translates to high drop-out rates in secondary school.
These problems are exacerbated by the high birth rates of the community, with mother’s averaging more than five children each. These rates leave many children orphaned, without the healthcare, education or positive support they need to escape the cycle.
Uru Academy is a sustainable, full-service early childhood facility that responds to the needs of the community. Neema International designed Uru Academy to stop the cycle of poverty before it begins, by providing for babies as young as six months to children of ten years. Uru Academy consists of six classrooms, currently educating about one-hundred children.
‘Full-service’ describes the many services beyond education we provide to the community, including healthcare, food and water, clothing and social work services.
Components of Nurturing Care
Uru Academy provides a holistic early childhood intervention program by utilizing the components of nurturing care. These include adequate nutrition, good health, opportunities for early learning, responsive caregiving and security and safety.
Uru Academy provides healthy meals prepared with vegetables grown on-site twice a day as well as snack. Children receive ongoing health monitoring through teachers and administrators as well as access to hospitals in emergency situations. We require children to brush their teeth twice a day at school. Teachers ensure children’s early learning through teaching pre-literacy and math lessons through games and songs. Children benefit from responsive caregiving through Uru Academy’s high-quality teachers and parenting trainings. Uru Academy also provides social work services by investigating cases of abandonment or abuse and connecting parents to physical or mental health resources as needed.
Uru Academy serves as a sanctuary for the children of Uru, allowing them a safe place to escape the environment of violence, alcohol and neglect that affects the community. They develop positive relationships with teachers and peers that set their foundation for positive socio-emotional growth.
Knowing that children exist in the context of families, we take care to communicate with caregivers. Children as young as three walking to school alone is normalized in Tanzania. Yet, at our school parents are required to sign their children in and out everyday. This guarantees parental involvement and child safety as well as updates us of any change in children’s living situations.
Parents are required to sign a contract of cooperation before enrolling their children at our school. They must agree to practice birth control, in order to focus their resources on the children they already have. Parents also contribute to our bio-gas stove by collecting cow manure. In return for their commitment and contributions, their children recieve all services of Uru Academy at no cost to them.
While a typical class size in Tanzania exceeds forty or fifty, our classes have an average ratio of 1:13. Our teachers are fluent in English and attended local Montessori schools. We have volunteer educators and local international school teacher’s mentor our teachers to further develop their teaching skills.
Teachers are educated on the importance of serve-and-return relationships, socio-emotional development and early literacy. They practice positive discipline methods with children, refraining from any form of shaming or corporal punishment.
The Neema International team and local teachers came together to create a curriculum that fuses Tanzanian educational standards with a creative-based international curriculum. We practice English immersion, building children’s vocabulary through every day interactions.
Core subjects are taught through creative learning, which focuses on the use of group work, projects, play and art. Teachers are encouraged to integrate art and music into daily routines. Children also enjoy movement learning throughout the day and receive regular gym class.
In 2015, Arrow Electronics donated computers and iPads to Neema International with the DigiTruck. We utilize these resources at Uru Academy, where young children are able to watch educational video content and interact with early learning apps through iPads. Older children participate in computer classes, gaining a foundational proficiency in technology.
Neema International focuses on sustainability. Uru Academy is designed from converted-cargo crates that each are solar-powered. This design fuses environmental conservation with fiscal responsibility by minimizing operational costs. We also cook with a biogas stove and maintain local agriculture, guaranteeing healthy and locally-sourced vegetables for our children.
Co-directors Mandy Stein and Ali Hanson are animal lovers and have five adopted dogs at the school. Dogs in Tanzania are too often neglected and abused. We’ve made the decision to save five dogs lives and teach our children how to care for animals. Just like all our children, our puppies have sponsors too!
Uru Academy children attend school for free because they are funded by outside sponsors. Sponsors pay $1,200 per a child guaranteeing a full year of healthcare, education and other Neema International services. Sponsors receive pictures and updates throughout the year on their chosen children. Our goal is for each child to be sponsored all the way through university.
We also accept classroom sponsorship as we look forward at expanding the school. For $13,000 your company or family can fund a new Uru Academy classroom. We will name the classroom after you and you will receive annual updates from the children benefiting from your donation.
To get more information about sponsorship for an individual or classroom, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.