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Overcoming Local Cultural Bias in Arts Education Advocacy: The Case of The Macooba Center
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Overcoming Local Cultural Bias in Arts Education Advocacy: The Case of The Macooba Center

Authors: Angela Kratchmer (USA)


Based in Arusha, Tanzania, the Macooba Center is an in-home daycare center run by Mary Ng’wananogu that provides innovative educational opportunities to students through programs such as the 2018 Spring Arts Camp, an initiative that brought twenty students together for fifteen days of arts instruction. The students come from varied socioeconomic backgrounds and range in age from three to eight years old. To secure adequate support and funding for this work, entrepreneurial ventures like the Macooba Center must overcome a pervasive local bias that foreign initiatives are superior to local enterprise and culture. This case study suggests ways in which the Macooba Center might mitigate and clarify local misconceptions about the arts, multiply public awareness through local synergetic partnerships, and develop and harness crowdfunding opportunities.

April 9 — 28, 2018 | ARUSHA

In April 2018, I spent a month teaching music and dance alongside local volunteer teachers at the Macooba Center’s Spring Arts Camp.  I transported four violins to be used during the camp from the United States. These instruments were provided by Project Shine International, an El Sistema-inspired program based in New York City that organizes musical instruction for children in Arusha.

While in Arusha, I lived with Ms. Ng’wananogu and her family at the Macooba Center. In addition to teaching at the Spring Arts Camp, I led violin workshops at Arusha Meru International School and at Feza International Academy Primary School. With Ms. Ng’wananogu, I visited numerous local schools where I had the opportunity to engage with educators and meet the Regional Minister of Education. Through these interactions, I learned that my outsider status placed me in a privileged position. According to Ms. Ng’wananogu, foreign initiatives from the West gain entrepreneurial traction faster than ventures launched by citizens and residents of Tanzania.


Saturday morning in Arusha: alarms are set early, the drizzling rain begins to dissipate amid a cacophony of rooster crows, and twenty excited children wearing black trousers and fresh white T-shirts head to Arusha Modern School for the first annual Inter-School Dance Competition.  Their voices reverberate throughout the bus and some are so breathless with anticipation that they speak in barely a whisper: “Today will be my best day!” After two full weeks of dance, traditional drumming, violin and piano instruction at the Macooba Center’s Spring Arts Camp, the children are ready to show Arusha their newly developed talents.

Founded in 2016, the Macooba Center is the result of CEO Mary Ng’wananogu’s conviction that all children should be given equal opportunities to develop their talents.  The Macooba Center is a small organization that operates in Ms. Ng’wananogu’s home.  A committed educator, Ms. Ng’wananogu—known to the children as Miss Mariam—was employed at Feza International Primary School Arusha Campus during the time of my visit, and has held similar positions at Arusha Modern School and St. Constantine’s International School. As a full-time teacher, Ms. Ng’wananogu runs the Macooba Center when school is not in session, programming a wide variety of innovative events, day trips, and camps for students during weekends, breaks, and vacations. Ms. Ng’wananogu balances education with enrichment, planning initiatives like Beauty and Brain Pageants that cultivate reading and math skills while also teaching children about self-confidence. The Center’s day trips include activities such as swimming lessons, safari excursions, and museum tours. All programs are offered at a low cost, thus ensuring that socioeconomic status does not determine a student’s ability to participate. Consequently, the Macooba Center’s programs achieve a unique social integration where low-income students learn beside the children of top government officials as equals.

A representative example of Macooba Center programming, the 2018 Spring Arts Camp brought twenty students together for fifteen days of arts instruction. The students ranged in age from three to eight years old. The daily schedule included instruction in hip-hop dance, traditional drumming, violin, and piano. Students also received a mid-day meal and daily transportation to and from the Macooba Center. The 2018 Spring Arts Camp culminated in the first annual Inter-School Dance Competition, also organized by the Macooba Center. This ticketed event was open to individual and group competitors from all private and public sector schools in Arusha. Spectators enjoyed multiple rounds of dance competition complemented by performances from the Spring Arts Camp participants, a charismatic emcee, and local barbecue. The winning competitors received trophies and cash prizes donated by the Macooba Center.


According to the 2018 Human Rights Watch report “I Had a Dream to Finish School: Barriers to Secondary Education in Tanzania,” Tanzania has grappled with a shortage of affordable quality education ever since gaining political independence in 1961. While Arusha boasts numerous acclaimed international schools, such as Braeburn International School and the International School of Moshi, only the most wealthy and well-connected students have access to this high-quality education, as the tuition alone for these schools is three times the average annual salary in Arusha. Local government schools are the alternative but even with recent legislation that waived public school fees entirely, many families still cannot afford to educate their children because of other school-related expenses: transportation, uniforms, and books. The local government schools often face teacher shortages and up to seventy students may be supervised by a single teacher, who may or may not have adequate training in the subject area. According to Human Rights Watch, only about half of all eligible students enroll in secondary education in Tanzania, due to socioeconomic factors, language barriers, and lack of accessibility in remote areas; even fewer students complete their secondary education.

In light of these barriers to a child’s general education, it is not surprising to learn that arts education is often left out of the public school curriculum entirely and is rarely part of public discourse on education reform in Tanzania. In a recent article entitled “The Role of ‘Political Will’ in Implementing Arts Education in Tanzania,” Vicensia Shule reports that, in addition to social and economic factors, a lack of political will is the most fundamental roadblock to mainstreaming arts education in Tanzania, a challenge exacerbated by a shortage of trained arts teachers and limited enrichment opportunities for children in general.

As previously noted, I observed a pervasive local bias that privileges foreign initiatives over local enterprise and culture, a destructive legacy of colonization that Michael Nkuzi Nnam terms a colonial mentality:  the “unintentional attempt by Africans to continue to live and behave like we did during colonization…It makes us appear to be ashamed of our culture, customs, and who we are” (2007). For Ms. Ng’wananogu, a local entrepreneur, this translates into a significant battle to secure funding and support from government officials, school administrators, parents, and potential corporate sponsors in her community. Ms. Ng’wananogu mentioned to me that if the Spring Arts Camp only focused on traditional cultural practices of Tanzania, it would be much more difficult to create interest. By adding the novelty of piano and violin lessons, parents felt more compelled to enroll their children.

In addition, some public school administrators perceive the arts as a distraction from curricular goals. For instance, in the weeks leading up to the Inter-School Dance Competition, Ms. Ng’wananogu visited numerous schools throughout the city to invite students to participate as competitors. While her intention was to include both government and private schools in the competition, she faced significant resistance from headmasters of the local public schools because dance was not a curricular subject. These headmasters insisted that their students could only participate with explicit permission from the Regional Minister of Education. When Ms. Ng’wananogu visited the Minister and discovered that no such permission was required, the Minister shook his head and remarked, “Some are still caught in the mind of slaves!” Afterwards, Ms. Ng’wananogu described herself as frustrated by what she considered to be a tendency among Tanzanians to follow the status quo rather than try new ideas. A similar disinterest is evident in the commercial sector: When Ms. Ng’wananogu approached banks to sponsor this year’s Inter-School Dance Competition, many executives merely asked, “What famous person is going to be there?” Ms. Ng’wananogu left these institutions empty-handed and paid many event expenses from her own pocket.

This case study asks how entrepreneurial ventures such as the Macooba Center might overcome local bias in favor of foreign initiatives and garner support from educators, politicians, and potential sponsors in order to secure adequate support and funding for arts education.

“You never know where talent will be found.”
-Mary Ng’wananogu


There is—slowly but surely—growing interest in arts education throughout Arusha. Over the past few years, several international schools have added general music classes with the intention to expand. Additionally, as a result of Ms. Ng’wananogu’s work at the Macooba Center, students are provided artistic opportunities they do not have in the schools. Parents in the community are starting to notice, as evidenced by the sheer quantity of phone calls and text messages Ms. Ng’wananogu received throughout the duration of the Spring Arts Camp. Each night she would hear from new and current parents alike, wondering if this program could be extended year-round, when the next camp would happen, or if it was too late to enroll their children.  However, in order to continue this work, more funding is absolutely essential.

The following SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis references observations regarding the Macooba Center’s 2018 Spring Arts Camp, some of which may also pertain to the broader topic of arts advocacy in Tanzania.


  • Robust leadership, vision, and organization throughout the duration of programming.
  • Experienced, effective, and engaging teaching staff.
  • Provided secure learning environment in a safe location, a nutritious midday meal, and dependable daily transportation service.
  • Extensive parental network bolstered by consistent and thorough communication.
  • Facilitated meaningful short-term arts education experiences for participants.
  • Cultivated broader community involvement through the concluding Inter-School Dance Competition.
  • Offered at low-cost to promote access and inclusivity.


  • Scarcity of local, trained music teachers.
  • Students lack regular access to arts instruction.
  • Difficulty fundraising to offset expenses of programming.
  • Deficient structural support to sustain continuous musical study.


  • Cultivate a culture of arts advocacy in Arusha and Tanzania at large.
  • Launch collaborative initiatives for public and private schools.
  • Develop partnerships with other arts organizations throughout Tanzania.
  • Significant parental interest can be harnessed to gain momentum.
  • Establish the Macooba Center brand as a beacon of innovative education.
  • Create framework to support long-term arts experiences for students.


  • Financial limitations and constraints.
  • Competing priorities of tourism and adult recreation in the community.


Ms. Ng’wananogu hopes to someday transform the Macooba Center into a full-time school that provides youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds with an education that rivals that provided by international schools, with the added bonus of arts education. This would be unprecedented in Arusha. To achieve this goal, she will need support from private, commercial, and governmental sectors to secure adequate funding and resources. The following recommendations are intended to assist the Macooba Center in forming an effective advocacy strategy for each of these distinct audiences.

“This case study asks how entrepreneurial ventures such as the Macooba Center might overcome local bias in favor of foreign initiatives and garner support from educators, politicians, and potential sponsors in order to secure adequate support and funding for arts education.”

1: Mitigate and clarify local misconceptions about the arts

In order to persuade the local community, potential sponsors, and government officials that arts education is beneficial to student development, it is recommended that the Macooba Center launch a social media campaign advocating for the value and benefit of arts education. A wealth of relevant findings were recently compiled by the National Endowment for the Arts in a study entitled The Arts in Early Childhood (2015), a literature review and gap-analysis of recent research regarding social-emotional benefits of arts education in early childhood (birth to eight years old). Examples of research catalogued in this study include:

Toddlers participating in a four- to eight-month music education program were more likely to increase their level of social cooperation, interaction, and independence over the school year, in comparison to a control group who did not receive a music education program (Ritblatt, Longstreth, Hokoda, Cannon & Weston, 2013).

Compared with a matched-control group, toddlers in an arts integration program comprised of daily music, creative movement (dance), and visual arts displayed improvements in positive and negative emotion regulation over the course of the school year (Brown & Sax, 2013).

Other areas of childhood development are also likely to be a impacted by arts participation, such as literacy (Anvari, Trainor, Woodside & Levy, 2002), math and science skills (Brown, Benedett, & Armistead, 2010), general communication strategies (Mualem & Klein, 2013), and physical health (NEA, 2004).

2: Multiply public awareness through local synergetic partnerships

It is recommended that the Macooba Center explore possible partnerships with organizations that share similar interests or goals, thus harnessing the power of numbers to gain traction in the eyes of corporations and government officials. This method, known as a Collective Impact Initiative, is described by Kania and Kramer in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (2011) as a “long-term commitment by a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.” In addition to Ms. Ng’wananogu’s extensive network of educators and administrators, the Macooba Center could partner with arts organizations from across the country, including the National Arts Council (Basata), Art in Tanzania, Warm Heart Art, Bagamoyo College of Arts, and the Makumira University’s School of Performing Arts. A collective impact initiative would help build momentum around the Macooba Center’s projects and might encourage potential donors to support arts education in Tanzania.

3: Develop and harness crowdfunding opportunities

It is also recommended that the Macooba Center explore crowdfunding possibilities. Given the current strength of the U.S. dollar, Euro, and British pound relative to the Tanzanian shilling, identifying international donors could be advantageous during this development period. The author has offered to assist Ms. Ng’wananogu in the creation and design of a Patreon account that would target potential donors in the United States. Unlike GoFundMe or KickStarter, Patreon is a crowdfunding service based on recurring monthly donations, resulting in a more stable and predictable source of funding than a one-time campaign. It is anticipated that Patreon funding will help the Macooba Center launch several new arts education projects, thereby maintaining visibility while Ms. Ng’wananogu works to build the Center’s brand and to establish additional partnerships in the region.   


While Mary Ng’wananogu has established the Macooba Center as a voice of innovation in her community, this case study identifies local cultural biases that interfere with her mission of education reform, particularly with respect to arts education advocacy. Recommendations to overcome this challenge include mitigating local misconceptions about the arts, multiplying public awareness through local synergetic partnerships, and harnessing crowdfunding opportunities.

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