The chekechea, the Swahili word for preschool, has 70 5- and 6-year-olds enrolled and it can serve up to 300 students, said Askinosie Chocolate founder Shawn Askinosie.
The small-batch, direct-trade chocolate maker has been sourcing cocoa beans from the village in Tanzania since 2010, Askinosie said, and in 2014, it helped facilitate a visioning dialogue with the 60-member Mababu Central Cocoa Fermentary Farmer Cooperative.
“One of the nine points of the vision was education, and in particular, early childhood education for the children in their village and surrounding areas,” Askinosie said. “That experience of working with them … was transformative for them and us. That’s where a lot of our community development in that village started.”
The startup cost for the preschool was $90,000, which Askinosie said was funded by Askinosie Chocolate and a private donation through the foundation from Amy and Michael Aquilino of Maryland.
He said the farmers and members of the village handled the construction of the chekechea, from concept to infill. Askinosie Foundation Executive Director Melissa Gelner helped manage the project stateside.
“The farmers did it,” Askinosie said. “They made the furniture. They made the mud bricks. They contracted the labor themselves.
“You will not find the Askinosie name anywhere on that school. It’s the farmers’ school. That is a hallmark of the way we practice community development.”
Askinosie said the school will be used as a training center to improve early childhood education in nearby villages.
“We are excited to see that this dream has come to be true,” said Mababu co-op Chairwoman Mizinara Iutolo, in a news release. “We are proud to lead the addition of preschool education for Mababu and believe the chekechea investment will return many times the benefits in each child’s life.”
Askinosie said investing in education is critical for development in the region.
“If we were going to pick a place along the spectrum of education to get the most return on our investment, we know from study after study that it’s the preschool level,” he said.
The next project for the school will be the construction of teacher housing, as such accommodations are required by the government of Tanzania. Askinosie estimates the housing will cost $35,000, covered by additional funding from his foundation.
The company has previously supported Tanzania by drilling a water well, launching a student lunch program that fed 1,000 kids a day and starting Empowered Girls and Enlightened Boys student groups.
The congregation at Crossway Baptist Church is building a children’s wing at the west end of the church, and beginning in 2024, it will be home to a Christian academy.