By Monica Hahn with Yohana Mcha
Yohana Mcha is the founder and School Manager of Orkolili Secondary School and a member of Asante Africa Foundation’s Board of Directors in Tanzania. I had the opportunity to talk with her recently at our global strategic planning meeting.
In her 30+ years with the Tanzanian public education system, Madam Mcha taught school at every level, from primary to university. Retirement didn’t last long. She started Orkolili Secondary School in 2004 with 4 students in 2 rooms of her house, and no desks. They cooked their meals outside, asking some of the parents to pay their children’s school fees in food.
Since then, managing the school has been more than a full time job; it’s her life. I asked what motivated her to initiate such a big project instead of relaxing in retirement. “I started Orkolili in 2004 as a way to give back to society for all I have been given. I was given a free education, and I want to show my appreciation. Maybe I’m selfish, but I want them to be my replica — I also was an orphan who came from a very poor family, but have managed to make a difference.”
You can’t help but be moved by this woman’s wisdom, by her accomplishments and vision. She exudes passion for education. “I have a passion to see the young Tanzanian child leave school, at whatever level, becoming a useful asset to the self, to their family, and to the nation. I don’t believe in education for its own sake — certificates on the wall accomplish nothing. I believe in education as a utility, as a tool. Schools must be able to help a child sharpen that tool, to help the self and change the family and society at large.”
Madam Mcha believes in addressing the root problems that are barriers to student success. Long before her “retirement,” she saw how many students were failing because they hadn’t mastered the English language, so went back to teaching primary school to teach them English before they gave up. At Orkolili, she keeps students engaged and motivated to study difficult subjects with innovative applied learning approaches. Students not on a university track learn vocational skills such as tailoring. If they’re willing to study Physics, they have the opportunity to participate in projects wiring houses and cars.
Orkolili students have gone on to do well for themselves — as teachers, police officers, lawyers and entrepreneurs. Her vision for Orkolili continues to grow. She glows when she talks about the things her former students will do for their families & communities.
“I always ask myself, now that I have a school, am I succeeding in that mission? What more should I do to make sure that when a child leaves here, they leave with the tools to go out & transform their own life, their families’ lives? That’s where I am so aligned with Asante Africa Foundation. It’s not just about the numbers, but each child they touch goes on to touch so many others.”