Please do introduce yourself.
Assalamu alaikum. My name is Tahera Akther. I am a mother of four children mashallah aged between 2 to 14 yeas of age. Other then being a busy mum, I am involved in a few projects that I am leading. I will go through them briefly. Firstly, I am the founder, head teacher and one of the directors of Olive Tree study – weekend Islamic school based in London. This role is on-going. In the past year I have been working on two developments and they are almost ready for launch in early next year inshallah. First is ‘The Tajweed Nasheed’ for children. And the other is ‘The Amazing Arabic Writing App’. Alhamdulilah, I have had the privilege to play a key role in the song writer and production of these two exciting products. I have recently been working on my latest project, called the ‘Super MusliMUM’. This is an online course aimed primarily at Muslim mothers to give them a daily guide of how to make the most out of being an amazing mum and also how to reach one’s full potential as a human being, packed with lots of tips and technique from my personal experience, practices from our Deen and also a lot of useful, researched based advise.
And now please introduce your organisation.
Olive Tree study is a weekend Islamic school for children aged between 3 to 16 year olds. We have three branches across East London with almost 600 students enrolled and a remarkable team of 60 staff members. Our largest and most popular branch is in the heart of Tower Hamlets in Bethnal Green. Alhamdulillah, we are well known for our small pupil to teacher ratio and the exceptional quality of teaching & learning, particularly for the service we provide for our under 5’s learners. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that Olive Tree Study has become one of the top weekend Islamic school in London primarily due to the fact that our students are privileged as all three of our branches are within large state school facilities with ample amount of indoor and outdoor space, Alhamdulillah.
What is the main aim of your organisation?
Our main aim is to provide a fun, safe and creative atmosphere for our pupils to have fun, to learn and excel in their appreciation of the Quran and learn about our faith in a loving and nurturing environment.
What inspired you to start Olive Tree Study Support?
It’s a long story. I will try to explain it briefly. When my daughter was 4 years old, I started searching for a weekend school where she can learn how to read the Quran and learn about our faith. To my disappointment, I couldn’t find any place suitable. Most of the existing madrasa settings were using the back home-style teaching but she was used to learning though having fun, playing and singing. This stressful phase lead to an awakening inside me. I wanted to become the primary teacher for my children and I wanted to be the one who teaches them Quran as I knew best how my children learnt. In the mean while, a group of mothers (who were also good friend of mine) we holding some Arabic classes for their children in a local community center. Even though, I wasn’t so happy about the teaching quality side of things, I felt comfortable with them as they were so nurturing, so I settled her there for a short while.
Meanwhile, I started to learn the science of tajweed. I enrolled in a few institute and also took on a few private teachers. Alhamdulilah, Allah made it easy for me and I was able to grasp the science quickly. I also had the amazing opportunity to visit Syria to attain my Ijazah (Certification) from one of the top noble sheikh named Mohi uddin Al-Qurdi (rahimullah).
Once I got back to UK, I started to teach my own children and a couple of children from my local neighborhood also joined in. The word spread like wild fire, and before I knew it, I had 10 children wrapped around my dinning room table. I didn’t have the time or space to take on any more children. I realised the demand for female teachers and also my style of teaching. It was at this point, a seed was planted in my heart where I thought, here I am, limited to benefiting only 10 children, what if I could expand this service and benefit 100’s of children? How amazing and rewarding would that be? And subhanallah that was it. I believed in my dream and vision, made lots of dua to Allah to open doors for me and facilitate my journey.
How difficult was it to achieve your vision of starting Olive Tree Study Support? Did you get enough support? Any opposition?
We faced many obstacles when we initially started. First obstacle was finding a suitable venue and also financial investment. It has always been difficult finding suitable venue, a lot of madrasa’s are running their classes in large community halls, or office buildings. For me, the classroom setting was absolutely crucial to facilitate an environment that is conducive for effect teaching and learning. So when we first started out, I wanted to start small, as I wanted to understand the needs of the school and also personally develop in managing a weekend school.
Alhamdulillah we are blessed with an unusually enormous sized garden, so my initial idea was that we start to teach children by purchasing a purpose build porta-cabin in the garden, in that way the children will have ample amount of space and freedom to play and learn.
The second obstacle was the need for a financial investment of around 7,000 pound. I sat down with my husband one day, and proposed a business plan. We discussed the whole plan over dinner. As my husband is a teacher by profession, we both had a lengthily conversation about all the health and safety elements, Ofsted regulations, outweighed all the risks and so on. Alhamdulillah, we both then agreed that we would invest our personal savings to kick-start the school. The food tasted good that night, so I am sure that contributed to him making the decision!
And then it was the ultimate obstacle, how was I going to get this humongous 36-squared meter cabin into my garden? I had to arrange a crane company to arrive at the same time as the delivery of the cabin so that it could be lifted off the back of the delivery lorry and swung it into my garden. So there I was guiding the crane driver (with hand motion) to indicate where to place the cabin. I felt like a construction worker as I doing that.
We then renovated the cabin with a splash of paint, put up white boards and made into a wonderful and cute classroom setting. Alhamdulillah, we now have grown beyond that little humble cabin, expanding to three branches and now have become one of the leading weekend Islamic schools in London mashaallah.
I had lots of support, particularly from my family. Three people have played a significant role in helping me establish the school. First my mother, she played a key role in supporting me particularly with childcare. Second was my husband, his guidance and support from start to end really took Olive Tree to another level. His career background in the profession of teaching really facilitated us in acquiring the venues in school settings. Finally I got my eldest brother to get involved in the past few years to help us with the marketing, administration and finance side of things, as that was his area of expertise. Our remarkable team of 60 staff members has to be recognised as it was their generous effort that is the tribute to the shire success of Olive Tree Study, particularly my branch Managers. They are the most wonderful human beings who go beyond their call of duty, and in my opinion they are the pillars of our school.
Would you say your organisation is unique? If so in what way?
Olive tree has many unique features. I will briefly mention a few.
- We have a very small teacher to pupil ratio, which is what guarantees the quality of our teaching.
- We are amongst the rarest of weekend school that provide our services to under 5’s students.
- We have a unique approach to learning by infusing tradition method and modern pedagogy to teach our children. We make our own fun and creative resources that is only exclusive to our pupils.
- From a management point of few, we are well known for our professionalism and ‘customer service’. We have an amazing team of staff, from our branch managers to our sparkling volunteers. Most of our staffs are female which makes us very approachable especially for the mothers who are generally more involved in the child’s learning.
- We are in the forefront with ensuring that all our policies are up to date according to the government’s regulation in relation to running a school. From child safeguarding to prevent training, Alhamdulillah we are well ahead of the game.
In what way do you see your organisation growing? Any plans for the future?
Yes, inshallah, in the long term, our vision is that Olive Tree will become the pioneer in weekend Islamic school across UK. We will be working on a franchise model so that anyone who has the expertise in teaching children can open a branch in their location and follow our model of teaching and managing a weekend Islamic school inshallah.
Can you give us more details on the projects that you mentioned earlier?
Yes, Alhamdulillah. The two exciting products for children will be ready for launch in the early part of next year inshallah. First is the ‘The tajweed nasheed album’ for children that I have been working on for the past year. Nothing like this exists anywhere. This is basically an innovated idea to teaching children (particularly in the western part of the world) the tajweed rules by singing along with friendly catchy tunes in English language. By them being introduced to the tajweed rules in this creative and fun way at a young age, it will form a solid foundation for them which will then help them to learn to recite the Quran later on. It’s fun and great for adults too.
Second product is ‘The Amazing Arabic Writing App’. This is a fantastic App for children to help them learn the pronouncing and formation of the Arabic alphabets. I have researched into the Arabic Apps that already exists, and frankly speaking, they are just not engaging enough for children. Our App is exceptional as it incorporates all aspects of the child’s learning from the correct pronunciation sounds, finger motion of the formation of the letters to even short fun animation to make the experience fun and enjoyable all at the same time.
If anyone is interested in the products, then please follow us on Facebook and Inshaallah the details will be there when we launch the products in a few weeks time
Any further comments?
I pray that Allah grants everyone tawfiq and success in their work and services that they are providing to the communities. I also want to kindly request for everyone’s dua for Allah to continue to give us the tawfiq to continue with this good work that we are doing inshallah.
JazakAllah Khair to sister Tahera for answering my questions! I loved reading about how the organisation started up and I love the idea masha’Allah! I wish her every success in her future projects in sha Allah.
Please note: All images used are courtesy of http://olivetreestudy.co.uk/
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