The Kubuni Centre - Creating the future

The Kubuni Centre is The Olive Branch for Children’s creative and innovative space. In its first few months, it has grown to incorporate many projects and artisan crafts. 

Centres such as this already exist in many other parts of the country, and with the Mbeya market growing and expanding, The Kubuni Centre hopes to be at the forefront of innovation in the region.

Envisioning a place to foster the development of Tanzanian creativity, Deborah McCracken sees the future of the Centre as one filled with opportunities for empowerment, learning, experimentation, and growth.

“With Kubuni – meaning to design/create in Swahili - we want to provide a setting for young Tanzanians to nurture and develop their ideas. The sky is the limit in that sense and it’s about creating an innovation hub from crafts to tech. We want to encourage training, mentorship, support and experimentation,” says Deborah.

There is a budding carpentry business at the Kubuni site. Behind its red doors lies a workshop that is filled with chairs, trusses, and other wooden creations that will be used to build and furnish Olive Branch projects such as their Montessori Classrooms.

“The carpentry started initially on one of our construction sites [in the Usangu Plains]. We were using the tools to produce specific products like trusses and windows.

“We’ve had mentorship from Ivan Rhodes and Richard Boutin – two Canadian volunteers - and because we have students who are actively studying carpentry, we’ve been able to expand.

“So now we’re not just making the nuts and bolts but starting to make furniture, and toys and more,” explains Deborah.

The carpenters, at the heart of Kubuni, are young men who are supported by the Olive Branch and who call Deborah Mom – Ismail, twins Doto and Kulwa, Bakari, and Richard. 

TOBFC has created an environment of inclusion for those who may have disabilities, are waiting to continue education, or did not have the opportunity to access education at an early age. Anyone can learn a very useful trade and become competitive entrepreneurs in their own field.

“It would be very difficult to just place some of them [Carpentry Mentees at the Centre] in a more theoretical learning setting. They need a more intense but encouraging environment that is more hands on.

As long as the Olive Branch is in operation they’ll be employed through us, and if there’s a shift in that they’ll have the ability to set up their own facilities.”

Another side to the Kubuni Centre is focused on the development and creation of artisan crafts made from beads, bamboo, or in the batik tradition in which our mentees Vero, Feby, and Zaituni, are currently being trained. Batiking is similar to tie-dye and batiked fabrics are made into items such as clothes, cushion covers and curtains.

The hope is to create a hub that will foster the environment for Tanzanians to efficiently design and create fabrics and products to be sold at market. 

“It’s really important for us to look at a Tanzanian market, and try to connect Tanzanians to Tanzanian crafts. We need to put it at a price point that makes sense and make products that people want to buy. Batik is a product that Tanzanians want because they would sew outfits from it.

“The whole point is not to just teach somebody and then that’s enough. We need to help create marketplaces for people to be able to sell their products, and help design products that are sellable.”

The Kubuni Centre hopes to be able to open a café located in Uyole, that will act as a showcase centre, generate more employment and become a space to host workshops. Sale of products aside, the Kubuni Centre will be a source of learning and innovation. Projects are added all the time – welding and batik this month alone - and since every project is under the one roof, ideas bounce around every day.

The main goal when undertaking a project is not only a finished product but also capacity building for everyone involved throughout the process. Kubuni provides the space where mentees can feel comfortable testing ideas, making mistakes and trying again. While the majority of the projects out of the Centre are more on the trades or artisan crafts side of things, the next few months will really be focused on expanding the definition of “create”. 

Through the Kubuni Collaborative, we hope to create networks of skilled people to foster individual growth within our Centre, bridge the gap in academia, and provide Mbeya Residents with opportunities that have only been available in the North. 

Kubuni is already reaching out to local universities and colleges, in hopes of providing students with placements, and positions on research projects.

“A lot of international students come to TOBFC, either to share their skills or to have a learning experience. The Kubuni Centre will now be able to utilize those people coming to Tanzania in a unique way,” says Allison Nephew, Kubuni Centre manager.

"The focus is on developing bilateral knowledge sharing relationships, where both parties are equal counterparts, gain meaningful experiences and leave with new skills, moving beyond the current model of 'voluntourism'". 

There is now a space where experts can share their skills or can be paired with an equivalent Tanzanian counterpart, so they can work together and learn from one another. For instance, an MIT student-led project, The Okoa Project, is working out of the Centre, and Kubuni staff are in the process of creating a team from a local technology university to collaborate with them.

The Kubuni Centre is a loud, thriving, hub of energy, support, and creation. It’s growing fast, with amazing, hard-working people at its core, we hope it will continue to grow and blossom in time to come.

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