Nurturing dreams and building futures with STEM

What you need to know:

  • Despite these efforts, many students and parents still question the importance of STEM subjects from an early age.

In response to the national focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), communities are finding creative ways to integrate these subjects into children’s education from the ground up.

The government has launched various initiatives to spark students' interest in STEM, recognising its vital role in education.

Scholarships, like the Samia Scholarship, reward exceptional science students.

Despite these efforts, many students and parents still question the importance of STEM subjects from an early age.

To tackle this issue, the Sakapala Community Centre (SCC) in Mtoni Kijichi, Temeke, Dar es Salaam, is offering free social and educational activities to residents of all ages, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or economic status.

Co-founder Ms Zawadi Sakapalla established SCC after realising the community lacked knowledge in subjects that could help lift them out of poverty.

Each year, SCC hosts boot camps focusing on STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, providing free classes to students of all ages.

“STEM education is vital for the future, by learning these subjects, students can develop skills that will open doors to countless opportunities,” says David Baptister, a dedicated volunteer and computer teacher at the centre.

Mtoni Kijichi Primary School students were part of the many STEM learners who took part in the boot camp that ran on May 24, 2024, at Sakapala Community Centre grounds.

In collaboration with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) students and professors from institutions such as Tennessee State University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Howard University, Hampton University, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and Data Link Institute of Business, the Mtoni Kijichi Primary School students were taught computing skills, as well as being instructed in art topics like drawing, painting and making soap bars.

“Learning to use a computer has opened up so many possibilities for me. I can now search for information online and use it to help with my studies. It’s a skill that I know will be important for my future,” Brian Elias, standard six student at Mtoni Kijichi Primary School shares.

Executive Director of the HBCU Africa Education Coalition (HAEC), Dr Beverly Booker Ammah, elaborates on the initiative stating: "We bring African students and students of African descent from the diaspora together for study programs. This is our second year in Tanzania, and we engage with communities through STEM and educational activities."

She further adds that the visit is also about working with local primary school students, teaching them subjects ranging from math and science to arts and crafts.

“It’s about service learning and college recruitment, creating more access and opportunities,” says Dr Beverly.

According to Dr Beverly, she shares that their first time in Tanzania was around 2022, and since then, they have been doing a lot of activities to engage communities.

On the other hand, HAEC's Program Manager, Jevon Shrope, emphasises the importance of technology.

“Science and technology are our future. Ensuring that everyone has access to Wi-Fi and digital tools is essential for education and progress,” he says.

“Getting a good Wi-Fi connection at home will change the future of how we educate each other, perhaps even having virtual certification sessions that I can incorporate while I’m in the state and teach people here. That wouldn’t be possible without internet, which means investing in technology is very important,” he shares.

However, an assistant for global initiatives, Dr Arlene Philip suggests that teaching English from the age of two is also important.

“Since English is a language of commerce, at this early age, children can pick it up much easier than when they get older, which gives them an advantage. While they learning the songs, the alphabet and their vowels introduce English to them so they’re learning their Swahili and English at the same time,” she explains.

In addition to STEM, Sakapala Community Centre also provides lessons in arts, sewing entrepreneurship training and more.

This holistic approach ensures that students not only excel academically but also gain practical skills to improve their lives.

Apart from STEM, the HBCU also provides university students from the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) with training on applying to Tennessee State University.

"We simplify the process and engage young leaders to inspire and empower them," explains the Tennessee State University Director of Study Abroad.

For University students like, Gloria Robert, a bachelor student of commerce and accountancy at UDSM, the impact of SCC’s programs is equally profound.

“The guidance on applying to universities abroad, especially from HAEC, has been invaluable, it feels like the world is opening up to us,” she shares.

According to the Executive Program Manager of HBCU and graduate student at Morehouse College of medicine having access to HAEC is important.

She shares that students are missing out on cultural exchange programs with other students, faculty and directors of different universities.

“I am a product of a STEM education, I have chemistry backgrounds and it has put me this situation, so I think if teens then invested more in STEM, it would benefit them,” she shares.

Since its inception in 2019, Sakapala Community Centre has made significant strides. They have successfully provided digital skills training to 236 students, entrepreneurial training to 190 adults and have made over 642 uniforms.

The centre’s activities have touched the lives of more than a million people in Temeke and beyond.

It stands as a beacon of hope and a testament to what can be achieved when a community comes together with shared vision.

Not only are they simply teaching subjects, but also they’re building futures, inspiring dreams and creating opportunities among the communities and for students near Mtoni Kijichi and beyond.

The Sakapala Community Centre reminds us that with a dedication, passion and little bit of hope, we can make a difference in the lives of many.