By Terry McDermott
Reducing the divide between have and have not regions is a reality the world must change. The Olive Branch for Children and Photographers Without Borders are combining efforts to help meet this challenge.
The Olive Branch for Children, since 2005, has been an important part of the solution in Tanzania. It brings Canadian compassion and expertise to community-led programs that help children and families respond to issues such as educational and food needs, and AIDS/HIV.
Deborah McCracken is the founder and force behind the Olive Branch. The organization aims to create equality and opportunity by giving people tools and guidance to improve their lives.
“We’re so inequitably distributed,” says McCracken. “We (in Canada) have three, four, five of everything and the greater majority of the world’s population can’t be sure of securing three meals for their families. The world is not equitable, but it can be. The hope for an equitable world should drive us.”
“For me, this is fundamental, and something I need to be involved in.”
McCracken visited South Africa as a 16-year-old exchange student in 1996, only a year and a half after Apartheid fell. Her time in South Africa changed how she saw the world and herself.
“I spent three months in South Africa; it was a pivotal point in my life. I realized I was braver than I thought and capable of more than I thought. It was my first connection to Africa.”
When she began to consider where her efforts would make the most difference, she felt South Africa wasn’t the right choice. She let chance, rather than logic, take her to Tanzania.
“I’m very analytical but I love it when you do something because it feels right. I opened the atlas, circled my finger and it landed on Tanzania.”
In Tanzania, the Olive Branch found a safe country with peace and unity among its tribes. In stable communities, they were able to focus on development programming rather than conflict resolution.
Partnerships, in and out of Tanzania, have been critical to the Olive Branch for Children’s success. For example, the Olive Branch has partnered with Photographers Without Borders on two books to raise awareness of the needs, accomplishments and hopes of Tanzanians.
One book will highlight Tanzanian women who are transforming their communities and country. The other will focus on children’s dreams. The children were particularly excited about being involved and learning about photography.
“It’s a great partnership and I’m very pleased in any way, shape or form to be part of it. I’m really proud of everything Photographers Without Borders do.”
Building community partnerships are essential to the Olive Branch for Children. Its programs are designed after understanding what people identify as needs and goals. This is why the organization’s programs are diverse, focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention and care, early childhood education, food security and vulnerable children and women
McCracken explains, “We look at a community holistically. There’s no point in building a medical clinic if you’re not educating people about health issues. If not, everything becomes a silo with no interconnectivity. Approaching people holistically creates success.”
Committees of teachers, care providers, local government ofﬁcials and community leaders, among others, come together every few months to discuss Olive Branch programming. With the larger picture in view, they help resolve issues quickly and cooperatively, improving programs based on community feedback.
The Olive Branch for Children operates on limited funding and donated talent and time. Uniquely, the organization has no administration costs.
“I can tell you with certainty that your $100 will go to directly to work in Tanzania,” says McCracken. “None of it will be trapped in administration in Toronto.”
With its vision, achievements and dedication to partnering with communities and groups like Photographers Without Borders, the Olive Branch for Children is already successful. More important, Deborah McCracken sees a bright future for Tanzania and its people.
“My husband and I live with 30 children. I’m most proud of seeing these children stand up in the face of HIV or stigma or rejection. I’ve seen them stand up and be heard. I have no doubt that those children will change the country.”
“They will be leaders of tomorrow by being the best they can in whatever capacity.”