Innovator Interview: Tumaini Letu

Duncan McCullough

The innovator interview blog series is a platform for program managers to share successes, challenges and key lessons learned from operating their programs with other members of the Center for Education Innovations (CEI) community.

In this latest volume, we spoke with Kachocho Respicius Timanywa, Executive Director of the Tumaini Letu Development Organization, striving to improve the lives of orphans, vulnerable children, and their mothers, particularly those affected by HIV/AIDS. We asked Mr. Timanywa about his program’s integrated approach combining education, health, nutrition, and household-economic interventions, the unique needs of HIV affected children and families, and more.

Tumaini Letu has offered early childhood education programs to children in Tanzania since the 1990s, but in 2010 you expanded to include a more varied approach.  How did the program change, and why did you make the decision to include new sectors in your programing?

Tumaini Letu:  In 2010, Tumaini Letu expanded our ECD program activities to provide more holistic services to our beneficiaries. Before 2010 we did provide nutrition support to young children through nutritious and supplemental food to children in our day care centers during the class hours, but we found that important aspects for a young children’s growth were left out.

early childhood development ecd integrated health international education tanzania daycareSo, in 2010 we began including additional nutrition and health components to our ECD program. For example, we now conduct nutrition assessments for all children to determine their nutrition status. Children who are identified to have nutrition problems are then linked with health facilities for support, as well as supplemental food provided by Tumaini Letu to improve their nutrition status. We also train parents and caregivers on nutrition, parenting skills and facilitate them to prepare nutritious food. At the household level we also help families to establish gardens with different food varieties that contributes towards food security and a more diverse diet.

In Health aspects, Tumaini Letu works with pregnant mothers and mothers with children under 5 by increasing their access to health services. We link them with health facilities for health services like vaccination, antenatal and prenatal services. We also support Most Vulnerable Household with Community Health Fund (CHF) cards for them to access free health and medical services at the public health facilities.

Tumaini Letu decided to include these aspects as they are very important aspects for physical and intellectual development for children, especially in the first 5 years of human development.

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned expanding to provide health and nutrition services in addition to childcare and early education?

Tumaini Letu:  After integrating Nutrition and Health components into our ECD services delivery we have learnt that;

  • Our holistic approach is having an effect, contributing to decreases in malnutrition and stunting among young children in the areas where we work.
  • Families that are especially vulnerable may require additionally targeted outreach. That’s why we’ve developed Community Health Funds (CHF) to enable vulnerable families to access free health services, resulting in reducing death due to vulnerability of the family.
  • We have seen behavior change on nutrition aspects as parents and care givers improve their knowledge and skills related to nutrition, leading to more balanced diets for their children.
  • Community engagement is critical in promoting the importance of attending health facilities to pregnant women and those of child bearing age.

How has the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in your community affected your work in ECD? 

early childhood development ecd integrated health international education tanzania daycareTumaini Letu:  In Kagera region HIV is still a challenge and has brought many negative impacts to the community, including on ECD activities. Kagera was one of the earliest areas to identify AIDS cases in the early 1980’s, and it has continued to be one of the regions seriously affected by HIV/AIDS. Despite a decrease in HIV prevalence in recent years, the community has suffered with different social and economic problems in addition to health. The problems that we are still encountering include;

  • Large number of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC).
  • Poverty among families has been a big challenge as majority of families are unable to support their children and cannot contribute in supporting our ECD programs.
  • In families where one or both parents have died, siblings or grandparents must spend so much time taking care of the young children that they are unable to engage fully in economic activities.
  • Resources that might have otherwise been available for ECD investments are reallocated for HIV/AIDS services.

75% of the learners that attend Tumaini Letu’s 20 ECD centers are orphans or other vulnerable children.  How are the needs of these children unique, and what are some of the specific challenges in supporting them?

Tumaini Letu:  Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) services are unique due to the fact that these group need different support like protection, psychosocial support, nutrition support, stimulation and empowerment. As mentioned above the challenges we encounter in supporting them includes inadequate resources for supporting the large numbers of orphans and vulnerable children in areas where we work. Poverty, stigma, inadequate institutional support and a lack of accessible care spaces like child-care centers are also especially challenging for these children. We are facing also a challenge of means of transport for follow-ups and monitoring OVCs services as we don’t have the reliable means of transport. We are covering almost 43 wards but we depend on old motorcycles as we have no motor vehicles.

Your team has provided vital ECD services to almost 20,000 learners in total!  How have you worked to increase your total impact, while also maintaining high-quality services?

Tumaini Letu:  Since 1992 when Tumaini Letu was established we have managed to support almost 20,000 young children with ECD services including education support, Nutrition, Health, Psychosocial support and early stimulation with standard high quality of services. This is due to the fact that Tumaini Letu has a qualified and experienced team who are dedicated and motivated for this work. Our team also benefits greatly from a set of standard operating procedures for the services we provide to our beneficiaries. These procedures go hand in hand with government guidelines, procedures and standards, allowing for efficient alignment between our efforts. We also have periodic reviews of our standard operating procedures that guides our organization to maintain high quality services. These reviews allow our guidelines to consistently adapt based on on the number of beneficiaries we expect to serve yearly, culture, geographical coverage and political pressure.

What would be your most valuable recommendation to another organization in Tanzania, or elsewhere, who wanted to provide ECD services in rural areas?

Tumaini Letu:  From our experiences gained in implementing ECD activities for more than 20 years we recommend;

  • Any partner who wants to implement ECD services to consider a holistic approach of services that will enable children to access all necessary services for them to grow to their full potential.
  • System improvement should be part and parcel for quality ECD services delivery.
  • Community should be engaged from the beginning of program implementation, and a sense of community ownership of ECD programs is crucial for sustainability.
  • Government and other stakeholders should be fully engaged in implementing ECD programs, even when early childhood development is not a government priority.

Tumaini Letu currently operates 20 day care centers in Muleba District, near Lake Victoria, Tanzania. The program has exciting plans to improve its positive impact through these centers, and further collaboration with local and national governments. CEI thanks Kachocho Timanywa and the entire Tumaini Letu team for their exciting work, and for sharing their unique persperctive with the CEI community. To learn more about this innovative group, visit their new and growing website www.TumainiLetu.org.

Duncan McCullough is a Senior Communications Associate at the Center for Education Innovations, proud Masters graduate of George Mason University, and former White House Staffer.

Photo Credits: Tumaini Letu Development Organization

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