Under the Tree
Episode 2

The Holy Lie

What sacrifices would you make to ensure your children had the opportunities you never did? Michael Sekwiha told a lie, risking imprisonment, to lay the foundation for his daughter to eventually establish The Queen Elizabeth Academy in Mlali, Tanzania.

Begin the Journey

Welcome to Mlali

Mlali was formed in the 1970’s under Julius Nyerere’s policy of “Ujamaa” (or Villagization). Along with many other towns like it, dispersed homesteads were concentrated into larger villages to help centralize infrastructure.

The village has access to clean water from its mountain streams. It has collective gardens on its outskirts which appear like one massive plantation for cassava and other food crops. It has two hospitals. It also has four government schools and one private one. However, most of these schools, like many in Tanzania, underperform.1 2 3

Many children live in difficult circumstances and don’t survive their fifth birthday due to illness or starvation. On top of that, parents pull their children out of school at a young age to help farm or shepherd—it’s hard to justify the expense of education over the immediate need for food and income.

  1. “Shock as 60% of Tanzania Students Fail National Exam”
  2. “UNICEF on Education in Tanzania”
  3. “United Nations on Education in Tanzania”

Episode 2 — Part I

Just before sunrise is when Mlali is busiest—a few lucky children walk to school. Others trek towards the fields to tend crops, to the waterfalls to gather water, or up the mountainous backdrop to find fresh vegetation for their livestock.

Time passes over Mlima (“Mountain”) wa Mlali

Isaya & Selemani

Shepherding is one of the more demanding, but common, responsibilities a young person can face in Mlali.

Isaya (14 years old) and Selemani (16 years old) are friends who grew up together in Mlali. They both attended school at a young age, but dropped out to help their families at home. Now they are shepherds—they must bring their livestock to and from the surrounding foothills to get the animals’ daily fill of food and water. From before sunrise to well after sunset they have to ensure that not a single animal goes missing.

It’s a lot of responsibility for young men in Mlali. And it leaves little or no time for basic luxuries like pursuing education. However, it’s necessary because it relieves their family of a duty which must be performed in order to sustain themselves.

Episode 2 — Part II

Like Isaya and Selemani, Babu was a young shepherd. After the war, as he grew older, he became frustrated with his work—despite his efforts, it was easy to lose an entire flock or crop in one fell swoop. He and his wife realized that education was an investment with returns. Though local education was poor at the time, they kept their children in school.

Babu playing usolo and Bibi preparing a meal

Kilines Sekwiha

“Babu” (grandpa), or Michael Sekwiha and his wife, “Bibi” (grandma), or Faith, are the parents of Kilines Sekwiha. They live in Mlali, at their home lovingly nicknamed Mbezi Beach.1

After leaving her parents’ home, Kilines was profoundly impacted by their drive to keep her in school. She loved learning and studied at institutions around the world. In 2007, while earning her Masters from the University of Dar es Salaam, she returned to Mlali to visit home.

Kilines saw her town again through new eyes—she realized that families simply felt they had no choice and forwent their children’s education out of necessity. What began as free food and tutoring from a rented room in the community hall quickly evolved into a full-fledged primary school with over one-hundred children attending each day. The Queen Elizabeth Academy (QEA) was born.

Kilines does not appear in this film because she was administering exams at the University of Dar es Salaam during filming. As the founder of QEA and a native of Mlali, Kilines sought to build a school that the community would take ownership of and govern together. A dedicated group of local staff, parents, and volunteers now oversee the day to day running of the school.

  1. Named after famous beach real estate in Dar es Salaam

Episode 2 — Part III

Kilines founded QEA on the belief that school is not only about providing a child with quality education, it must also take care of their emotional and physical needs. Results agree—graduation rates are high and students’ aptitude in English carry them easily to secondary school (where English is required). Providing this quality of education begins with the teachers of the youngest students…

Nursery students before class

All You Need is Love

Jane Sangara is one of Mlali’s most loving residents—she and her three roommates also happen to teach at QEA. In the mornings you can find her instructing “Baby Class” and in the evenings she’s back at home, tutoring village children of all ages.

Jane grew up in a nearby village called Mkalama, but has lived in Mlali on and off for the last three years. Kilines, Jane’s aunt, supported her studies in Dar es Salaam so that she could become a nursery school teacher at QEA.

Jane believes that the most important thing she can teach is love. Through love, she says, students gain the confidence in themselves to pursue further education.

Episode 2 — Part IV

More than half of the students at QEA are studying on scholarship. The school is currently at capacity for financial aid which means some families are split—only able to afford to send a few of their children at a time. It sounds unfortunate, but even this provides great value to a family—as children learn about things from hygiene and sanitation to math and science, they bring these lessons home to their siblings and parents alike.

William, Lea, and their children at home

The Family Craft

William Ndahani is a husband and father of eight students. He is a builder, artisan, craftsman, and a self-taught painter.

William has fought harder than most to get to where he is now—able to provide food and shelter for his family. Still, he and his wife, Lea, can only afford for two of their children to attend QEA.

Though the other children are able to go to government schools, Lea and William believe the experience available at QEA is decidedly better. They’ve decided that education is the strongest foundation they can provide. A foundation that, later in life, will also benefit them when they are no longer able to work. To that end, they are struggling to find more business so that they can enroll all of their children at QEA.

Gloria and Manindwa walk to the Queen Elizabeth Academy

The Academy + Mama Hope

Many parents in Mlali must choose between two options for their children—education or work. Mama Hope partnered with QEA in 2013 to make the school affordable for more families.

QEA uses fees paid by families who can pay to support the children whose families can’t. For Manindwa and Gloria, William and Lea’s second and third born, education means future access to higher paying jobs to support themselves and their families.

Now, school leadership is developing novel sustainability projects so that QEA can become financially independent:1

  1. Construction of a boarding house for 120 students, to meet the demand of more remote families who can afford to pay full tuition. This increase in the number of students paying full tuition will allow the school to support more local children from Mlali.
  2. Expansion of the school’s farm, and tree nursery, to provide fresh food to students and sell excess to the community. Previously bare land is now full of plants reducing soil erosion, creating a cooler micro-climate, and higher soil nutrients—this improves the land for future generations.
  3. Construction of shop units to rent to local business owners. This will create vital services for villagers in Mlali and earn income for the school in the form of rent.

    Learn more about our projects here →

  1. Your donations directly support these projects and, in turn, benefit children like Manindwa and Gloria

Episode 2 — Part V

“My children are changing the world. Do you ever think my cows could have done that?”
— Babu, a proud father

Invest in Education

Episode 2 — Conclusion
The Queen Elizabeth Academy currently supports 131 students, 70 of them on scholarship. Mama Hope invites you to invest in the Academy’s sustainability efforts so that it can continue to educate its current classes and grow to support more of those who can’t afford it.
Credits for Episode 2



  • Hannah Clyne
  • Dan Schwartzbaum
  • Kilines Sekwiha
  • Jane Francis

Special Thanks

This episode was both particularly difficult and easy. Difficult because of losing many days to malaria, but easy because of the great hospitality and care I was shown. Asanteni sana to my gracious hosts and adopted family… I couldn’t have made it without you.

Mama Hope and all of the donors who made this project possible—Thanks.

© 2016 Ryan LeCluyse & Mama Hope
Press inquiries please contact us

Under the Tree — Episode 3

Women of the World, Take Over

Begin the Journey