How It All Began

How One Family’s Sacrifice Turned into Opportunity for an Entire Village

It has been just over a month since I started my journey as a Global Advocate with Mama Hope. In this time, I have started learning about the complexities of international development, virtually met the founder of Queen Elizabeth Academy (QEA), Dr. Elizabeth Sekwiha Gwajima (Kilines), and have been amazed at the generosity and support people from all walks of life have shown through the start of my fundraising campaign. Together, we have already raised $7,405 and with your continued support we are well on our way of hitting the halfway mark of our $20,000 goal. I thought it appropriate to focus the start of my blog on the beginnings of Queen Elizabeth Academy and the incredible people we’ll meet along the way.

The story of Queen Elizabeth Academy starts with the bravery and sacrifice of a mother and father, laying the foundation for their daughter to start the school that is changing the way Mlali thinks about education. And the way I think about education.

Children playing in the rural village of Mlali, Tanzania

Kilines’ father, Michael Sekwiha, or Babu (grandpa in Swahili) always placed a high value on education. Like many living in Mlali, he grew up in a family of pastoralists, which typically meant young men had to forgo the basic luxury of education to tend to the herd in order to sustain the family. Like his father, Babu became a shepard, but became weary of the instability and lack of opportunity that came with the vocation; he wanted his children to have a better future. He wanted to see them attend school and have the freedom and opportunity to choose the path they dreamt of. So, while it may have been a risk, he decided to sell his cows to provide for his children to go to school and satisfy their intense desire to learn. Short-term sacrifices made for long-term gains that are now impacting countless lives in Mlali, and beyond. This is where the incredible story of Kilines begins.

Kilines and her mother (Bibi) and father (Babu)

Kilines was inspired by her parents selfless and courageous sacrifice and she too developed a passion for education, earning a Masters degree at the University of Dar es Salaam and a Doctorate at Edinburgh University in Scotland with a focus on English Literature. Kilines is now a professor at the University of Dar es Salaam.
On break from her studies at University, Kilines returned home to Mlali to find crowds of children asking her for money to buy food. When I first spoke to Kilines, she recited the African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” Affected by the poverty in her hometown, Kilines felt she needed to give back to the community that raised her. So she worked with her family to develop a feeding program to provide the children at least one good meal a day. The children were told to arrive at noon; they showed up at 8 AM. To pass the time Kilines’s brother, Athanas, began teaching the children simple reading and math. The impact of the program was immediately recognized and the community members asked Kilines to turn the idea into a formal school. The beginnings of QEA were organic; the community, faculty, teachers and students believe in the school and its mission. Beginnings like this yield the greatest results and the confident, bright young voices arising from QEA are direct evidence of this.

“My children are changing the world. Do you ever think my cows could have done that?” — Babu
Kilines with students at Queen Elizabeth Academy in Mlali

I had the pleasure of virtually meeting Kilines on a Skype call during boot camp last month in Michigan. Right off the bat, I felt like I had a life-long friend. She welcomed me and my future husband to Tanzania (well actually, she told me we should just get married there), wore a genuine smile the entire call and immediately made me feel like I was accepted into her family. I feel beyond blessed to have the opportunity to live and learn from the village that raised Kilines and look forward to sharing the journey with you every step of the way.
I am forced to reflect on my childhood; on the education and opportunities I took for granted. There really wasn’t a question as to whether I would be able to get on the bus to start 1st grade with my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunchbox in hand. It was a given. Supporting Queen Elizabeth Academy and the completion of the boarding school will make the opportunity for quality education a given for the children in and around Mlali. Will you be a part of this vision for change?

If you are inspired to donate, please click the “Donate” button below. Your contribution will have an impact on lives now and future generations to come! Thank you for your support — you are truly incredible.


Like what you read? Give Jess Smith a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.