Deborah McCracken started The Olive Branch for Children in 2005. Since then, this 30-year-old inspiring woman has helped change the lives of many of Tanzania’s most vulnerable children, many of whom have lost their families due to, or are living with HIV/AIDS. Find out more about this giving and courageous YE in today’s feature.
Elevator Pitch: Describe your foundation in a nutshell.
The Olive Branch for Children develops and implements programs that empower the most vulnerable. The Olive Branch for Children has four cornerstone programs. Our flagship program is our Home Based Care Program for People Living with HIV/AIDS. This program provides medical care, counselling, health education and income generation opportunities for over 600 people living with HIV. Included in this program is our HIV Prevention program, which focuses on testing individuals in remote communities. Our Montessori Outreach Program has helped establish 22 Montessori Kindergartens in remote locations. This program focuses on training teachers, as well as helping communities build permanent structures. Our Orphans and Vulnerable Children program focuses on helping children living with HIV or orphaned by AIDS strive toward a better tomorrow. Lastly, our food security programming helps the most vulnerable communities attain food security through farming and irrigation projects.
Why did you start the Olive Branch for children, what was the inspiration?
The people of Tanzania are my inspiration and continue to be my inspiration on a daily basis, especially the children who are courageous in the face of extreme adversity.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part is coming home to 21 hugs; my husband and I live with 21 children, some of whom are living with HIV and all of whom have lost their family to AIDS. The most challenging is seeing people die of a disease that is manageable. Some of the clients who enrol in our Home Based Care Program come to realize they have HIV too late or they hide their status until it is too late. We are working hard to combat stigma in the communities where we work, but it continues to exist.
Where do you see your organization going in 5 years?
We are focusing on capacity building, so we can hand over the current projects and begin projects in more communities. We are currently working in over 20 villages.
What does success look like to you?
Longevity of programming is success. Success to me is to see our programs continue and flourish in the hands of the people.
What is the most memorable milestone since starting the Olive Branch?
Every day in this line of work and every success is a milestone. Our HIV/AIDS programming has allowed many people who lived on the fringes of society and in constant fear become empowered. Our Montessori Program has helped children with no opportunity to attend school build for themselves a better future. But, on a personal note, our Orphan and Vulnerable Children programming and the love that I receive from the children we live with at the Zion Home shows me that what we are doing is right. The children I live with are becoming the leaders of tomorrow and I am very proud of them.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Never say “impossible.” Everything is possible if you invest yourself wholeheartedly into what you are passionate about. Love what you do and you will succeed.
What to you is notable?
To be notable is to do something that matters. That has an impact and for me that means doing something that is outside of your comfort zone.