A Conversation with Shantel Marekera - 2018 Millennium Fellow, Rhodes Scholar, and Founder of Little Dreamers Foundation
In Zimbabwe, many cannot afford the first building block of education – pre-school. Zimbabwe has a unique law which mandates that all students must attend two years of Early Childhood Development (ECD) pre-primary education before they can be enrolled in primary schools. Due to this law, the cost of pre-schools and ECD programs have gone up, forcing some families to pay fees that they cannot afford or enrol their children in unregistered, residential pre-schools.
Shantel Marekera was once one of these children. Her grandmother struggled to pay steep pre-school fees while her mother attended university.
Drawing from her own personal experience, Shantel started the Little Dreamers Foundation with the intention of providing access to affordable and quality pre-school education for vulnerable children in her community.
In 2018 she became a Millennium Fellow and was able to take her social impact to the next level. Shantel has implemented several lessons that the Fellowship exposed her to in order to launch the Little Dreamers Foundation. One of the most notable lessons that she utilised was the skills mapping exercise which was integral to her fundraising strategy for her Foundation. She also reflected on how the Fellowship helped her to realise that in order to launch a successful venture she had to meet her community and develop trusting partnerships with them.
“Even though I grew up in Zimbabwe and I identify with the problems that the kids are going through, I had been away for 4 years (in college), which created a gap between me and my community. I needed to recognise that I still have things I do not know and ask my community how best to fulfil its needs.”
Shantel used the launch of her Foundation as a point of entry to communicate with her community and understand their needs. Not only did the lessons from the Millennium Fellowship help her to launch her organisation but the sense of community that the Fellowship and her university cohort provided also helped her to brainstorm ideas and feel supported.
“It was a tight community and anyone could ask for help with anything. The strength that comes from having a community that understands where you are at any particular time was really important for me.”
Since leaving the Fellowship, Shantel has passed many important milestones. Not only did she successfully launch her Foundation, but also, she is currently working on creating another branch of the Foundation in a neighbouring community, Budiriro. This new branch is expected to launch in January 2020. She has also bought a mini-bus that will aid in transporting her students to and from the pre-school. She envisions a bright future for the Little Dreamers Foundation and would eventually like to secure land to build a huge school which includes a pre-school, elementary school, and high school.