Trustee Jim Sellars Builds the Capacity of CST

I joined the AbleChildAfrica (ACA) board in January and since I have joined I have been incredibly impressed by the quality and drive of the staff, Karl’s vision for the future and the impact that ACA is having on the ground. However, I always had an ambition to see this for myself and visit one of the partners. In August this year I headed out to Mbeya in Tanzania to see Child Support Tanzania (CST) – a long-time ACA partner. CST provides inclusive early childhood education for children with disabilities and complex health needs and is the only centre to do so in a 100 mile radius.

It was a short trip to Mbeya – 4 days in total and a lot to pack in. The town sits nestled in the Mbeya highlands at 1,700m in altitude and has been often described as the ‘Scotland of Africa’.  It was a truly beautiful sight as I landed at the airport just as the morning sun was rising over the hills – a great beginning to what would be an incredible visit on every level!

The first morning I spent visiting the current CST school, meeting the staff and the children. I was blown away by the passion of the staff, the impact the organisation was having and the combination of both learning and fun in the classroom environment. Each morning starts off with breakfast for the children and the staff, a morning assembly including lots of singing including the national anthem – a great way to start the day! After that the children head off to class with lessons including a combination of music, English and many other subjects.

Initially, I spent time understanding the history of CST and how Noelah, the founder, had built CST from the ground up starting with a small number of children at her home in Mbeya. Through her perseverance, local support, as well as the continuing support of AbleChildAfrica (ACA has now been involved with CST for over 10 years!) CST is a fully fledged NGO including a school for 75 students and impacting many many more through the ‘take all my friends to school program’. At lunch time I had the chance to sample Ugali, a traditional Tanzanian dish, and spend more time with the staff and teachers.

Whilst it was amazing to hear about the past and present for CST, little could prepare me for the future! The afternoon we went to visit the site of the new school. Whilst I had read about the new school in board papers and spoken about it with the ACA staff, nothing beats seeing something in person and I was blown away by the sheer size, scale and setting of the school. The school is positioned on the outskirts of Mbeya in a truly beautiful setting and will underpin the continued growth and impact of CST. The new school will support 400 pupils, including space for physiotherapy, staff accommodation, a playground, a swimming pool and much much more. I had the chance to spend time with the site manager and watch the rapid development of the building with concrete floor being laid on the day we visited. The progress is impressive and before long the roof will be on with the intention for phase 1 (the new school building) to be completed by the end of the year, with phase 2 and phase 3 completed soon after, subject to funding.

As well as having the opportunity to see first hand the amazing work of CST team, I spent the majority of my time with Noelah and the rest of the team as part of ACA’s capacity building commitment. As a chartered accountant and currently working in financial services we spent time developing the 2019 budget, further developing management information and working on CST’s financial strategy to plan for the exciting future ahead and the next five years. It was amazing to spend time with the team and be a very small part of the team for a few days and help them on their journey. I continue to have monthly calls with the team– which I really enjoy. It enables me to continue to help how I can and, more importantly,  keep me abreast of amazing  the progress at CST!

My only disappointment was that it was all over too soon! It was an amazing few days and as I said to Noelah and her husband Lawrence over a quick  lunch on my final day – I will have to return both to continue to support the team but also see the amazing progress and impact that they continue to make!


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