Guest blog: A Venezuelan lady joins the Coco volunteers

My name is Veronica and I am from Caracas, Venezuela. I left my home to learn a new language and a different culture in Ireland, and after two years I found myself living in Newcastle and volunteering for COCO.


Once I finished my course in Ireland and before going back to South America I decided to spend a few more months in Europe with my boyfriend (I’m really in love with this continent and its people). I arrived in Newcastle 3 months ago as my partner lives here, and it was in this point when I met Roberta, a lovely Lithuanian girl who was about to travel to Nicaragua to volunteer helping a local community. I was really interested in her experience as volunteer and I was thrilled about what she was going to do as the only experience that I’ve had as volunteer was unforgettable. She told me about her time volunteering with COCO and after learning more about this charity I couldn’t wait to get in touch!

I am currently helping them to transmit information about their projects, achievements and fundraising through their Social Media. After I got to know about the amazing work they are doing and how a little help from every volunteer can

Roberta volunteering in Nicaragua

Roberta volunteering in Nicaragua

make a big difference I just can’t wait to get more involved. If every person use their skills to benefits others (no matters what your skills are) we can make this world a better place to live.

I have really enjoyed this experience so far, meeting COCO’s team has been a pleasure and having the feeling of being part of their projects is fantastic! Now I am just looking forward to keeping helping and working with them in the following months.


World Teacher’s Day 2015

Earlier this month, UNESCO celebrated World Teacher’s Day. World Teacher’s Day provides an opportunity to thank and celebrate the life-changing work that education professionals conduct every day around the world. Events were held across the globe to celebrate the occasion.

World Teacher’s Day is a great opportunity to thank our teachers, but we should not forget that accessing quality education is a long-term problem in many developing countries across the world. Education is a global issue, which is why the UN’s fourth Sustainable Development Goal is all about ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Recognising and accessing the power of education is at the heart of what COCO does. In developing countries, teachers face some extremely tough challenges, including few resources, staff shortages and inadequate classrooms and schoolhouses. Indeed, according to UNESCO, “Some 43 million school-aged children are still outside the formal education system in sub-Saharan Africa and quality education still remains a major challenge”.

Learning New Skills

Learning New Skills

Teachers in developing countries also have a difficult task of trying to educate pupils who are often absent due to social, economic or medical problems. That’s why, here at COCO, we are trying to work with local communities to alleviate the poverty which prevents children from accessing education. We lend a hand in building and repairing schools, and try to solve community problems which prevent children from going to school. This could involve anything from building a well to help provide cleaner, safer water for the locals, to supplying mosquito nets to help try and prevent the spread of malaria.

However, there are still challenges ahead. Poor teacher training is a real and significant problem in developing countries. In fact, under Sustainable Development Goal 4, the UN has a specific target to:

“Substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States”

You can help COCO pursue better education for all by volunteering at one of our overseas projects. We have teacher training placements opportunities available if you are a qualified teacher or currently in teacher training.Science Equipment at Hoja School, Tanzania

Sharing your teaching insights and valuable skill set can make an important difference to the lives of a small community in the developing world. By volunteering with local teachers, educational techniques and skills can be developed and incorporated into local schools.

If you fancy a change from the classroom, you can join us on a Kilimanjaro trek! We have organised an additional trek which will go ahead at the end of term.

Could You Take on Kili?

Could You Take on Kili?

For find out more about getting involved, please contact Brad by emailing or by calling the COCO office on 0191 261 7427.

Guest blog: Charlotte joins the Coco volunteers


Hi, I’m Charlotte! I am volunteering with COCO for the next few months and have come all the way from Germany to spend time with the COCO team. Here’s how I found out about COCO and what motivated me to volunteer…

My parents Jutta and Mathias found the thing that makes their lives up – RUNNING! They want to discover the world on its running tracks. After they finished the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon in South Africa they decided to get in touch with the great Comrades Ultra Marathon .

They are used to running many Marathons in a short period of time but this was the longest distance they ever planned to run before. Because they did not know if they would ever do something like this again they wanted to make it really special. As it was the same year that my father turned 50 they decided to connect the two events.

As the two of them just finished their application for Comrades I came back from my two month volunteer work in South Africa and Namibia. The experience I gained as a teacher in a township combined with my father’s interest in charity work led us to find out about COCO. I got in touch with COCO for the first time and we decided to raise money for them to celebrate the two events.

As my father’s birthday came closer he sent a mail to all his family and friends about his birthday plans. He did not want any presents or coupons for his 50th birthday, but he asked them to set a fixed sum on each kilometre he will manage at Comrades Marathon. If he would finish in under 11 hours the set sum would double. Everyone was  enthusiastic about the idea so it was also a great motivation for Mathias to make the best out of the race.

On the 31st of May 2015 my mother and my father crossed the starting line. They ran an amazing race. It looked and felt like they would finish in under 11 hours but about 20km before the finish my father’s legs stared getting heavy cramps. He had to stop and somephysiotherapists looked after him. After about 15 minutes he could stand on his own feet again and step by step he carried on with the race because he had a goal to reach. He finished the Comrades in 11 hours and 23 minutes and we were all very proud of him finishing. My mother kept that pace from the start and passed the finish line in 10 hours and 36 minutes, which is amazing! Even though my father did not make the 11 hours everyone gave the double sum because of my parents great performance!


At this time I was in my first semester at the German Sports High School in Cologne in the field of adventure sports. My long-term objective is to somehow connect adventure sports with development assistance. As I got to know COCO I was so thrilled about what they do, especially the charity races and the Kilimanjaro Trek. Because that is exactly the direction I want to go after my studies, I enquired as to whether I could volunteer with COCO. I applied, arranged with my university to get three months off, booked my flights and arranged accommodation; it all happened very fast!

I have just arrived in Newcastle in the COCO office and I am so excited what awaits me here. It is so great to become a part of this fantastic and friendly team and to learn as much as possible about their amazing work. I am looking forward to three fabulous months at Coco!

Charlotte Schmitz

Hunger and Healthy Living

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have set some ambitious targets for the global community to achieve. You can find an introduction to the SDGs on our previous blog post.

The second and third goals focus on hunger and healthy living. Here at COCO, we know from experience that our aim of removing barriers to education cannot be achieved without solving underlying problems in the local communities of our projects. These issues are often related to a lack of resources, specialist skills, or infrastructure.

Sustainable Development Goal 2: Ending Hunger, Achieve Food Security and Improved Nutrition and Promote Sustainable Agriculture

In 2001, Judith Mutange founded the Great Mercy School in Trans Nzoia, Kenya. This incredibly generous and committed local woman had given all in order to provide a loving home for children with nowhere else to go and education for children who would otherwise have no access to it. Through Judith’s hard work and dedication and our support significant expansion and improvements have been possible. The centre now provides a loving home to 47 children who have no family and over 300 children who would otherwise have no access to education.

Despite its success the Great Mercy School continues to rely on the generosity of donors to keep the school open. They often suffer from shortages of food and high staff turnover when funding runs low.

In order to provide the school with an income stream to contribute towards the long-term sustainability of the school, COCO has helped to establish a sustainable agriculture project. To kick-start this ambitious project, COCO has worked hard to build a reinforced fence surrounding the project site, and to purchase tools and seedlings to enable cultivation to begin. To ensure the sustainability of this project in the future, farm staff were also provided with permaculture training.

Achieving food security can be a challenge in tough farming conditions. However, the permaculture garden at Mercy Primary is helping to secure a long-time solution to food shortages at the school. Growing their own fruit and vegetables will not only reduce costs to the school, but also eliminates the cost of buying in food from elsewhere. It will also provide a revenue stream as the School can sell the excess fruit and vegetables to the local community. In addition, the permaculture garden can be used as a learning tool. As a result of being trained in a variety of farming techniques, the students will be better qualified to seek employment within the agriculture sector or produce food of their own in the future.

Great Mercy School Garden

Great Mercy School Garden

Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Well-Being for All at All Ages

A lot of different things can affect a person’s overall well-being and health, stretching from education and employment to personal relationships and mental health.

Having a safe place to spend the night is a fundamental influence on health and well-being. For children, getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to their development. For many students at Kindimba Secondary School in Southern Tanzania, a dormitory on the school’s premises would make a huge difference to their ability to access education.

Transport in Kindimba is very difficult due to a lack of infrastructure in the area. Dirt roads make travelling particularly problematic during the rainy season, as they become saturated with water and very difficult to travel on without a 4×4 vehicle. This issue makes it very difficult for students and teachers to travel to and from school each day causing late arrivals, injuries and exhaustion due to the long and difficult commutes.

The goal here at COCO is to build dormitories for the students and staff to ensure their safety and the efficiency of the school in the future. Ensuring that a dormitory is fit for purpose is a big task, requiring everything from beds to mosquito nets! However, when we are finished, Kindimba Secondary School will be able to provide more support to their students and staff. This will help to ensure better physical and mental well-being, and get school days off to a better start.

Look out for further installments in our Sustainable Development Goal series coming soon!

Setting Our Sights for the Future: The Sustainable Development Goals and COCO

It’s been an exciting time for international development charities like COCO over the past month! The United Nations has produced a new set of Sustainable Development Goals to be put into practice from the start of 2016. As well as providing firm targets for governments to work towards, NGOs and charities like COCO have welcomed the new goals for being much broader and for considering the root causes of poverty and human rights issues.

From 25-27 September 2015, New York hosted the United Nations summit for the adoption of a post-2015 sustainable development agenda. This agenda includes adopting an ambitious 17 Sustainable Development Goals which the UN aims to achieve by 2030, which are set out in the image below.

The Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals

‘Sustainable Development’ is an incredibly broad concept, and, for this reason, it can be difficult to know where to state in order to encourage economic, social and environmental progress. However, the UN is confident that the 17 Sustainable Development Goals can transform our world by not only building on the former Millennium Development Goals, but by stimulating “action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet”.

COCO is part of this global movement which is working towards achieving these goals and ensuring that poverty is eradicated. So how exactly is COCO helping to meet these Sustainable Development Goals?

Sustainable Development Goal 1: End Poverty in All its Forms Everywhere

Poverty is a complex concept, and it can affect many different areas of a person’s life. Here at COCO, we focus on working with local communities in remote regions of the developing world to alleviate the poverty preventing children accessing education.

COCO has lent a helping hand to many schools in the developing world, particularly in Africa. Since 2013, COCO has been working with Mercy Primary School in Mbita, Western Kenya, to further improve access to quality education for children living in poverty in remote areas.

According to Julius Nyerere, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, “Education is not a way to escape poverty – It is a way of fighting it.” Improving access to education helps to break the cycle of poverty between generations.

Brillaint Akoth, student at Mercy Primary School

Brillaint Akoth, student at Mercy Primary School

Brilliant Akoth, a 12 year old in class 4 at Mercy Primary School, is an excellent example of how accessing education can broaden the horizons of a child’s life. Brilliant says that if she was not able to go to school she would spend her days helping her parents. In the future, Brilliant wants to attend university to train to be a teacher so that she is able to help other children within the community. Accessing quality education is a powerful tool; it helps children to change their lives both in the present and in the future.

Achieving access to education for some of the world’s most vulnerable children is not a simple task, and often reveals underlying problems which desperately need addressing. COCO has been adopting a holistic approach towards eradicating poverty from the very beginning. For instance, since 2006, COCO has worked to improve secondary school provision and enrolment in an impoverished rural area outside Songea in southern Tanzania, first by sponsoring students and then by building Hoja Secondary School.

“Education is not a way to escape poverty - It is a way of fighting it."<br /> Julius Nyerere, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania

“Education is not a way to escape poverty – It is a way of fighting it.”
Julius Nyerere, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania

Although building the school was a huge success for the local children, spending time in the area revealed underlying problems in the community that desperately needed addressing. Absenteeism due to illness was a significant problem, particularly because of the prevalence of malaria in the area. So COCO has embarked on a mission to fundraise for and eventually build a dispensary at the school to be able to proactively prevent and treat the disease, and consequently knock down another barrier to education.

Look out for future blog posts, where we explore how COCO is helping to achieve more of the Sustainable Development Goals!