Sustainable Societies

After all of the excitement of COCO’s 15th birthday ball, we are very proud to have raised over £15,000 during the evening! To show you how your donations are making a real difference to the lives of so many, here is another instalment of how COCO is working hard to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as set out by the UN in September. Your support makes this amazing work possible.

SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

SDG 11, then, is another particularly ambitious goal because it encompasses so many different targets which may prove challenging to achieve in rural settlements. However, one of the main targets of SDG 11 is to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities, by 2030.

COCO has been working hard to finance and build a sports field for children at the Maasai Academy in Kenya. The Maasai Academy was started in 2008 by 3 parents with 6 children.  The reason for starting this Academy was that they wanted to make sure their children receive a good education.  This Academy has now grown to 120 Children in 6 classes with 7 Teachers and a food security program.

The Olorte Academy is part of COCO’s ‘Schools for Life’ program launched in July 2014. One of the key parts of this program is ‘recreation’. Schools for Life offer children the opportunity to enjoy sport and recreational activities, producing healthy and happy well-rounded children with confidence and skills both inside and outside the classroom. Recreation cultivates great friendship and encourages social interaction. This enables students to develop social skills and engage with others. Team sports and competition promote motivation and enthusiasm whilst also creating a healthy lifestyle.

Building the Sports Field

Building the Sports Field

Due to the Academy being situated on a hill with a steep slope running down to a road, there was an opportunity to build a sports field on this steep slope with the help of heavy machinery.  Up to this point, all the outdoor activities, such as assembly, games and sport, were played on this steep gradient.  It was very hard for the children to play sports on this hill, as they frequently fell and injured themselves. However, with hard work and dedication, COCO have now finished transforming this steep slope into a great sports field for all of the children.  This is the first purpose built Sports Field in this remote area of Maasai Land. The final step in this project will be to buy sports equipment for the children to play with.

SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

This SDG specifically aims to prevent abuse and exploitation, and tries to ensure a fairer community for all. Although there is a strong focus here on the global justice system, including courts and legal matters, we can also take a broader view and consider social inclusion. In many societies, for example, people of a particular gender are excluded, even if only informally, from education. This can cause wider problems, including a lack of employment opportunities, or poor financial and food security. It is clear to see that society needs to be inclusive from the very beginning. That’s why it is so important to help as many children as possible to get into education. The benefits of doing so last a lifetime.

Last week, we looked at how COCO helps young girls into education, and how important this can be for broadening their horizons and expelling cultural myths surrounding discriminatory procedures such as female genital mutilation. Without education and social inclusion, gender can dictate the life chances available to a young person.  However, by working together to provide opportunities for children to get to school, we can help to reduce violence against women.

2011 02 Kili BG (188)

What’s more COCO is fighting social exclusion by operating in rural areas, where improvements in technology may be slow to reach and infrastructure difficult to build. Safety can be a key concern for local communities, especially during storm seasons where the weather can make roads unsafe and journeys by foot particularly difficult. Building classrooms and training teachers is vital to helping children from these communities to receive an education. Without this work, they would be forced to make drastic decisions; a challenging trek to school across miles of difficult terrain, or to simply not go at all. By helping communities to build and manage schools in their locality, more children can access education and broaden their future employment opportunities.

SDG 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

The final SDG we are looking at today is all about finance, capacity-building and sustainability world-wide. This goal is entrenched in politics and state co-operation, hoping to improve relations and global economics.

This is another extremely broad issue, and something that governments, charities, non-governmental organisations and individuals will have to work together to achieve. However, COCO’s overseas projects can help to promote the development of environmentally sound technologies in developing countries. For example, thanks to funding from COCO, rural communities in Tanzania have benefited greatly from sustainable agriculture training. One lady called Happy grew successful crops of tomatoes, bananas and Chinese leaf within 3 months of attending the training course. This has been an amazing opportunity for her to learn more about her garden, and now she can grow enough food to feed her entire family, including her baby Maureen. Happy and her daughter Maureen

For Happy, sustainable agriculture training will be life-changing; ‘‘I want to educate the community and help them to help themselves…I want many women to be involved – women in this area are very poor and living a hard life. I think that sustainable agriculture can help this and we can work together for success, sharing knowledge and space to become successful, in the end sharing the income and reducing the local poverty.’’

By starting from a grassroots level, it is clear that COCO can make a huge difference to the lives of so many people in rural communities. It may only be a drop in the ocean, but to people like Happy, education and entrepreneurship is life changing.


One Way Ticket to Olorte with Red Tribe and MAF

Here is an amazing account from Katie at MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) on the huge impact COCO has had at Maasai Academy in Olorte, Kenya. As part of their commitment to community development, MAF provide missionary pilots to enable NGO’s to visit remote areas.

One Way Ticket to Olorte

The Maasai village of Olorte, tucked deep in the south-west of Kenya near the Tanzanian border, may appear unremarkable at first glance. Yet in this small community, God is at work and great things are happening: a partnership between the local primary school, Maasai Academy, and UK charity Comrades of Children Overseas (COCO), is facilitating tangible, sustainable and life-improving change.

I have been offered the opportunity to see this for myself as I have been invited by Hennie and Becca Marais, missionaries with RedTribe, residents of Olorte since 2009, and parents of two children at the school, to join a team from COCO flying down with MAF to attend the opening ceremony of some newly constructed buildings at Maasai Academy.

To reach Olorte by plane means landing 20km away at the village of Entasekera where an airstrip has been cleared, and then completing the journey by road. This particular strip is classed as ‘marginal’ and is renowned amongst MAF Kenya pilots for its challenging features. Sitting atop a hill, the grass runway lies short and very narrow in places; because of its height and exposure to the elements, crosswinds are significant and any rain quickly makes the surface soft. In fact, it is so marginal that passengers travelling there can only be issued with a one-way ticket: the Cessna 206 that makes the flight cannot take off carrying anything other than the pilot. You have to find your own way back.

1. Maasai plane

We land with no problems and cheerfully wave farewell to pilot and plane. Our luggage safely stowed in the back of Hennie’s trusty Landrover , we all pile in: Steve Cram, former Olympic and Commonwealth athlete and a founder of COCO; Lucy Philipson, passionate advocate of responsible development and CEO of COCO; Kat Hodgkinson, generous supporter of COCO and independent film maker; and me. There is so much to take in. Hennie’s children Caleb and Taliah, quiet and inquisitive, balanced on visitors’ knees; windows open and dust swirling through the air we bump over dirt roads and dry river beds; smiles and stares from passing pedestrians, always hopeful for a lift; and the way the ground seems to glisten and shimmer, a result of the pinkish quartz embedded in it. Conversation flows as Hennie patiently answers wide-ranging questions from me and Kat, the first-timers. And stories, memories, cries of recognition from Steve and Lucy as they recall their fund-raising cycle ride a year previously, which came through this area and along these tracks.

2. Maasai womenEventually we arrive at the school; those summoned to attend the ceremony are already present and the scene is a riot of colour: parents, staff, church leaders and village elders sit resplendent in traditional Maasai dress, the bright patterns of the cloth and the beads of their distinctive jewellery appearing intensified, magnified by the still air and the heat of the sun. Alongside them, the students are proud and quiet in their uniforms, looking us over, curious and fascinated, taking it all in just as we are. We mill around, greeting the elders and the community leaders, shaking hands over and over as the soft murmur of the Maasai greeting ‘Supa’ and the response, ‘Eepa’ repeats between us.

3. maasai ChildrenThe children remain seated as Steve is handed a pair of scissors and led to the new kitchen, classrooms and sports field he is to officially open. Each location has been marked with a beautifully-painted COCO logo, and prepared with a ribbon for him to cut. Once this is done, an elder is appointed to pronounce a blessing over the new facilities that they may be used to the glory of God and for the good of the school community.

Maasai classroom  Sports Pitch

maasai kitchen

These buildings are evidence of not only the practical ways the school is developing but also some more subtle changes. Formal education has not always been embraced by the Maasai as it has seemed at odds with traditional culture; the blossoming of the original group of three children and one teacher at Maasai Academy to the current count of 140 students and 10 staff shows new openness and enthusiasm amongst parents, a willingness to invest in a different future for their children. Steve and Lucy are delighted with the developments to the school since their last visit, and the official ceremony ends with translated speeches in which they warmly congratulate the community on their achievements, while they in turn are thanked for their involvement, and are presented with gifts. All the while Kat moves about with her camera, gathering footage and filming interviews that will be used for marketing and fund-raising in the UK. As evening draws in, we make the short journey to Hennie and Becca’s home where we will spend the night.

4. Steve Cram Maasai Academy

The following day, our time in Olorte is at an end and we must go our separate ways: Steve, Lucy and Kat to the town of Narok and then on to another COCO project; me, home to Nairobi. However Hennie’s vehicle has other plans and only a few miles into our journey, there is a terrible grinding noise, followed by wisps of smoke, and a complete stop. Some rapid reviewing of plans, some quick decisions, some silent prayer. A bike is dispatched to find another vehicle to take the COCO team to Narok, meanwhile they head back on foot to Hennie and Becca’s house in search of a phone signal. Standing beside the stricken Landrover, I am weighing up my options when a car pulls up and four people clamber out to offer assistance. They too are visitors: Tim was a missionary in Entasekera for 10 years and has come back with his daughter Jill to visit old friends; they have been joined by Chase and Audrey, a newly-arrived couple who plan to work in Maasailand, and have been language –learning and looking for a place to live. They are going to spend one more night at Entasekera and then head back to Nairobi tomorrow. I can join them. For the second time in as many days, I throw my baggage in the back of a stranger’s vehicle and take off on an amazing, God-ordained adventure in a place I have never been before but am rapidly growing to love.

The rest of the day is filled with new experiences: clambering over rocks to look across to Tanzania, accompanied by children and goats that seemed to appear from nowhere. Searching for a few bars on my phone to snatch a conversation with my husband and explain why I won’t be home tonight. Sharing sodas with my travelling companions in a tin-roofed shack in a small village, and fending off a local who wants to have me for his wife. Pitching a tent next to a Maasai hut where we will be spending the night; then visiting three different homes for tea, rice, potatoes 5. Maasai rocksand goat stew. And at every turn, everywhere we stop and every time Tim steps out of the car, he is recognised, remembered, greeted and delighted over. He clearly poured himself deeply into the lives of those he ministered to, and their joy at seeing him again is a testimony to his commitment and service to the Maasai. It is a truly humbling experience.

Another night under the uninterrupted stars that can only be seen from deep in the bush, another dawn opening up a cloudless sky, and long journey home finally begins. Punctuated with more handshakes, more tea, and more precious glimpses of the kingdom of God here on earth, it takes all day; I would not have chosen to spend it any other way.

Thank you to Katie for letting us share her wonderful story on the COCO Chronicles. You can find out more about the work MAF do across the globe right here

Brad begins to explore Uganda!

This is my first visit to Uganda. Since my arrival I have witnessed many similarities between Uganda and its neighbours Tanzania and Kenya. That said, I have also noticed subtle differences.

For example, upon arriving at Entebbe Airport, I noticed the friendly, laid-back attitude of the general population even extended to immigration personnel and airport security, which it certainly doesn’t in its neighbouring countries. I retrieved my bag from the luggage belt to realise that my razor was going off inside, so I opened up my bag, rummaged through to find my razor and switched it off. The security guard nearby worked out what had happened and started laughing. From experience at Nairobi airport, had the same thing happened there, they certainly wouldn’t have seen the funny side… They would probably have even tried to charge me import tax on it!

Having arrived in Uganda from Tanzania, customer service also seems to be a step up from what I had grown accustomed to experiencing over the past few weeks. Since my arrival, I have had a waiter “praying for forgiveness” (direct quote!) as they didn’t have my order. When I went to buy a sim card, I was also given the rather odd choice of which phone number I wanted. The sales assistant spread out around 40 different sim cards on the desk, apparently expecting me to wade through and choose my favourite 11-digit number. She seemed a bit put out when I picked a random card up and handed it to her.

As mentioned earlier though, these subtle differences are not quite as abundant as the similarities between Uganda and other East African countries. The day after arriving into Uganda, I was due to travel to Kasese, a small town in the west. I had arranged to meet someone at my hostel at 8am, before we travelled together to Kasese. However, I received a text at around 6.30am to inform me that there were problems with the bus and so he would be late… Which sounded very similar to my experiences in Tanzania and Kenya!

The similarities continued when I arrived in Kasese, a quiet little town enveloped by the Rwenzori Mountains, and met members of the community who continued to be unbelievably self-motivated and proactive despite terrible hardships that have been suffered by the area over the years. Clearly this is a characteristic which crosses over borders in East Africa.

The Rwenzori Mountains are famed for being home to gorillas and chimpanzees, but during conflict in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, they also became the home to hopeless rebels who had been exiled. These rebels, desperately used to charge into areas on the Ugandan side of the border, pillage the local area and kidnap people to fight on their behalf.

I have been shown around Kasese by Buluku, who is just over a year older than me. Buluku had to flee for his life at nine years old as rebels broke through an army barracks and charged into his school. Many of his schoolmates were kidnapped and faced the unenviable choice of fighting on behalf of the rebels or being killed.

Remarkably, this story only came out when I was being shown evidence of a more recent hardship to hit the local area. Towards the end of last year, floods tore through the area and swept away schools, houses and part of a hospital. 20 people lost their lives and from looking at the trail of destruction, it wasn’t difficult to see how… The volume of water must have been utterly immense to carry bolders, trees and entire buildings.

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           IMG_3962    IMG_3961

When we reached the beginning of the trail of destruction, we hit upon Buluku’s former school and I was told the story. One may expect such an ordeal at such a young age to put unbearable pressure on a young boy, but Buluku has achieved regardless of this terrible atrocity. He is currently playing a prominent role in NYAKU, the organisation I was in Kasese to visit.

NYAKU have founded a primary school in a village close to Kasese. Surrounded by coffee trees and a banana plantation, the school currently accommodates three nursery classes and the first year of primary school, having been founded four years ago. The school is supported by several income-generation strategies; Nursery bed, poultry, pigs and most innovatively, charcoal briquettes.


IMG_3851 IMG_3854

I had the process of manufacturing charcoal briquettes demonstrated to me. Paper is mixed with water to create a pulp. This pulp is mixed with either sawdust or charcoal until it binds together and is then put into a mold and pressed, to create a doughnut shape.

 IMG_3909 IMG_3920


The briquettes have many benefits, for example, they are cheaper than using charcoal or firewood and the charcoal briquettes don’t produce any smoke. The most profound benefit comes when you consider the floods that the area faced last year. The briquettes eliminate the need for the community to cut down trees, which on a large scale can lead to floods, landslides and general erosion of the local area… The floods weren’t down to this problem, but the community recognised that deforestation didn’t help and could lead to similar issues in the future and have acted to do something about it.

As with many other communities in East Africa, I have heard stories in Kasese, which made me question how people continued to have the motivation to get out of bed in the morning. However, much the same as with the other communities I have heard such stories in, the communities have shown resolve and have coordinated to tackle the issues that they face. If ever a community deserves a helping hand, it is this community and I hope that COCO is able to give it to them, as they have demonstrated in abundance that they are capable of achieving amazing things.

IMG_3900 IMG_3879

Education – The only way to tackle albino myths in Tanzania

Another month means another blog post from the COCO Chronicles! Everyone has been rather busy and hopefully you’ll have read the great stories from Harriet, our CEO Lucy Philipson and Brad who have been out in East Africa over the last few weeks!

Meanwhile, there has been a lot of media and press surrounding albinism in Tanzania. Those living with the genetic condition lack pigmentation in their skin, hair or eyes. Witchdoctors encourage the belief within East African communities that albino body parts bring good luck and wealth which has resulted in 74 reported cases of people with albinism being murdered since 2000 (1.) Their body parts are then sold for hundreds of dollars. As a result of the persecution, albinos in Tanzania live in constant fear, afraid of going out to work or being out at night. Fear is growing ahead of the elections due to take place in October as politicians look to witchdoctors for good luck.

Recently, the government and Tanzanian Albinism Society have reacted by banning witchdoctors. Whilst this is a positive move, the underlying issue of a lack of knowledge persists and the beliefs of albino body parts bringing good luck and fortune remain embedded in communities.

COCO has been working alongside The Hoja Project in southern Tanzania since 2005. One of the projects involved the start up of a creative performance group who perform various shows to educate communities on issues including HIV and AIDS, malaria, family planning and albinism. A study has just been conducted to measure the effectiveness of the group. The study found that members of the community feel they have learnt more about these issues as a result of the performances including new ways to deal with and reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and malaria. The following charts show the before and after results of two, true or false questions surrounding HIV, albinism and malaria.

“Having sex with an albino can cure HIV”  True or False?

1 Feb Coco Chron

                                                  Before                               After

“Witchdoctors can cure malaria” True or False?

2 Feb Coco Chron

                                                Before                                   After

The results from the performance group at The Hoja Project highlights how fundamental community education is in challenging beliefs and changing attitudes. Whilst the ban on witchdoctors won’t stop the killing of Tanzania’s albinos, education will. For more information check out this amazing documentary from film makers, Gemma Caldwell and Kat Hodgkinson.

Vimeo Link Kat & gemma albinos

Oswin Mahundi, director and co-founder of the Hoja Project, will be climbing Africa’s highest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro, in June 2015 in aid of COCO and The Hoja Project! You can donate and support Oswin here.

4 Feb Coco Chron

It was great to see that our corporate Kili climbers made the summit last week – we knew you could do it!

5 feb Coco chron

(1.) The Guardian – Tanzania bans witchdoctors in attempt to end albino killings

Brad visits Uwawayaki and discovers some great new potential projects

Towards the end of an enjoyable first week in Tanzania, I was joined by a group of trekkers keen to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro and raise funds for COCO in the process. Prior to departing on their trek, the group visited Uwawayaki Nursery to see an example of how their hard-earned funds would be spent.


Uwawayaki are a women’s group working in Majengo, a suburb of Moshi situated in the shadow of Kilimanjaro. Having witnessed the difficulties members of the Majengo community faced, a group of women combined efforts to change things by providing education and healthcare to vulnerable people within the community.


COCO has supported Uwawayaki towards the construction of a nursery school, having renovated a couple of classrooms, a toilet block and a kitchen. There are currently 40 energetic young boys and girls studying at the nursery, each of whom will benefit from a solid foundation ahead of starting primary school.

uwawayaki building   Children waving

Most recently, COCO has helped the women’s group to implement a chicken project. A few hundred chicks go into the chicken project each month, they are nurtured until they become fully-grown chickens and are sold on. The funds from the chicken project are sufficient to cover the cost of running the nursery, meaning that Uwawayaki don’t rely on any further support from COCO to keep the nursery running successfully.

COCO will continue to closely work alongside Uwawayaki to ensure that the nursery maintains self-sustainability. I’m quite glad of this, given how enjoyable my visits to the nursery are. Thankfully the kids don’t seem to quite enjoy them too, it’s quite a struggle to get into the nursery as I’m pounced upon relentlessly to shouts of “Good Morning, Madam.” I’ve been assured that this is because their teacher is female, rather than being a question of my masculinity!

 Child hopscotch     teaching at uwawayaki


Thankfully, with a lot of determination combined with the excellent advice from their guides, each of the trekkers reached the roof of Africa! They returned from the mountain having spent six nights on there and were treated to a pretty impressive celebratory meat feast at a local restaurant… Having gorged on beef, chicken, pork, more chicken, lamb, sausages and an impressive array of salads, the trekkers received their certificates from Safi, the head guide on the mountain.

 kili gate   three climbers at the kili gatwe

Confusingly, the trekkers and everyone else at the meal also received several boiling ‘warm’ flannels to wash with at various points in the meal. In fairness, the flannels were definitely warm enough to kill off any bacteria on our hands before we started eating, I’m just not sure they had to be so warm that they burnt off our finger prints too!

Whilst the trekkers were on the mountain, I was busy finding a School for Life site in northern Tanzania. As well as being fantastic for the communities and projects themselves, our projects in northern Tanzania becoming self-sustainable gives us the opportunity to divert our support elsewhere and work our magic in a different location!

Future Opportunities

IMG_3789Two sites in particular have stood out from the many I have visited this week. Dageno Girls’ Centre in Karatu provides secondary education to girls who have slipped through the net of the government system. Being a girls’ school with only female staff, I did receive quite a lot of attention as I walked into the centre the first time. To break the ice, the girls were encouraged to ask me questions about who I am and where I’m from. The questions started timidly, but it wasn’t long before I was being put on the back-foot with unexpected questions. I was particularly flummoxed when asked “so, what are you going to do to help us?!” and had to give a bit of a politician’s answer to get out of the awkward situation!

Dageno is a fantastic facility, which provides students with formal education skills as well as marketable skills with a particular focus on the development of entrepreneurism. Students at the school have recently begun to manufacture sanitary towels, which will be sold to generate income along with an informative leaflet about female health. I’m informed that female health is really not a topic for discussion, so many girls are under the impression that what they experience is unique to them, which must be really difficult… It’s not as though most girls in the area can have a discreet look on Google to check out embarrassing medical conditions so they just have to suffer in silence.

In spite of the fantastic performance of the school, support is necessary as currently the centre is located on rented property with 48 girls and 2 staff living and learning in a five-bedroom house.  In addition, the water supply is privately owned and controlled.  The centre often goes days and even weeks without access to water. The school board have acquired a plot of land a couple of miles from the rented site and plan to begin construction of a permanent site there, this will eliminate the cost of rent, water and electricity which comes to around $1,000 each month and provide scope for the development of further income-generation strategies.

The other stand out site I visited was Lekrumuni, which as I found out as I bounced along a rocky track is a long, long way from anywhere! For my visit to Lekrumuni, I was joined by Oswin, who travelled from southern Tanzania to help identify a new project site in Kilimanjaro. Secondary students in Lekrumuni are currently forced to walk 13KM to the nearest secondary school and 13KM back at night… Try concentrating on algebra when you’ve had that commute to school! Similarly, primary students have to walk 9KM each way.

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Education in Lekrumuni starts at age three and ends at age five. Once students have had two years in nursery school, that’s their lot and understandably the community are striving to change this. Many members of the community turned up to the meeting to discuss how best to develop the site, and given that many of them can only speak Maasai we ended up in a ridiculous situation where community members spoke in Maasai, the village chairman translated to Swahili and Oswin translated to English!

When you stand on the site that the community has donated for construction of a school, it is unbelievable to think that such an area could be forgotten. The school is in a beautiful location, you look one way and see Mount Meru and look the other way and see Mount Kilimanjaro. Sandwiched between two of Africa’s most famous landmarks, but somehow completely neglected.

The value of making projects self-sustainable is two-fold. Firstly, it ensures that the project is able to continue long into the future without support from elsewhere. Secondly, it enables COCO to focus our support elsewhere. Having visited a couple of fantastic initiatives this week, I am delighted that COCO is in a position to consider support for other projects and hope that we are able to continue our Schools for Life journey in these communities.

Harriet gets to work at Maasai Academy!

Harriet is one of our lovely volunteers currently out in East Africa who has kept us entertained with her two previous blogs on settling in to the ways of Maasai life. We now have the third installment where she evaluates the impact of the new classrooms and kitchen funded by COCO and goes on a very exciting hippo hunt!

Maasai Academy

I am now halfway through my stay in Maasai land and it really does feel like home! My past week has been spent discussing budgets, spending time at the Maasai Academy and going exploring for hippos! After reading case studies and writing funding proposals in COCO’s office in Newcastle it is great to be able to visit the projects I’ve read so much about, and get a real understanding of just how important and beneficial they are to the community.

The Maasai Academy was originally established by parents from the community who wanted their children to receive an education. The school had only 20 students and lessons were held in a small church which was dark and cramped. Six years later, and the school now has 140 students beginning at nursery and going right up to class 6 with 7 teachers, one classroom assistant and a cook. Discussing with Hennie and Becca about how the school originally was made me realise just how far they have come in developing it into a great primary school that they and the community can be very proud of. The next couple of years are looking to be very busy at the Maasai Academy with classrooms 7 and 8 among the many projects Hennie and Becca hope to complete. Discussing future projects which COCO could potentially be part of has been extremely interesting and provided me with an insight into the process of developing a school that can deliver quality education whilst being closely involved with the local community.

I had originally planned to carry out health checks of the students this week but decided to post-pone until next week, instead focusing on monitoring and evaluating the impact of the classrooms and kitchen funded by COCO. The kitchen build was completed in May 2014 and has been hugely beneficial to the school. Before the kitchen the cook, Simel, was preparing the children’s lunches over an open fire with the only protection from the elements being the branches of the tree it was under. Simel told me how, during the rainy season (and when it rains here it rains hard!) preparing the food was almost impossible and the fire would frequently go out due to the rain meaning that the students would have to wait to eat until dry firewood was found, or occasionally not eat at all. Furthermore, food had to be carried across the school grounds from the storage room to the fire on a daily basis which was time consuming and the food would be easily damaged in the rain. Now the academy has a large kitchen with space inside to store, prepare, cook and serve the food meaning that the students are guaranteed a good meal every day.

          previous olf kitchen  new kitchen

The old kitchen v the new kitchen

I made sure I visited the school just before lunch so I could talk to the cook and see the kitchen in action! It really is a great, bright space with a cooking area large enough for two pots and a serving area. When the bell goes for lunch break the children all queue up, the youngest classes first, to wash their hands overseen by an older student before heading to the kitchen to collect their food. It was a very efficient system and I couldn’t believe how orderly all the students were…no pushing or queue jumping but maybe that was just because I was there with my camera! It has also been great seeing the new classrooms in use. They are bright and airy with large open windows covered with thin mesh to let in light and a constant breeze to keep the rooms cool, with additional light provided by skylights. The rooms are finished to a very high standard with smooth white walls and blackboards at both ends of the room.

            washing hands before lunch       Cooking lunch at school

lunch time

Whilst I was visiting the school work had begun on the road below erecting electricity poles. The electricity cables had been delivered to the area a few months ago but there had been no more progress so it was very exciting to see the first poles go up and the community becoming a step closer to having power! Electricity will also be hugely beneficial to the school! The academy would have the opportunity to use projectors which would give the teachers much more flexibility in the way they deliver lessons and also allow the students to watch educational media and see the world outside of their small community. In the future Hennie hopes to build a library and computer room for the students which would also be open to the community, so receiving electricity is a step closer to achieving that goal!

Over the weekend I got the chance to go exploring intohiipos the bush again, this time with the Marais family in search of hippos! We walked across open plains and through the forest before we came to a pool of water often frequented by hippos. On the walk down we saw hippo prints in the mud so I was hopeful we’d get to see one! When we reached the pool it took a while to spot them but we were lucky enough to see two! They were asleep in the water so I could only see their backs but I was still happy with that!

I also bought my first souvenirs of my trip…two wooden Maasai clubs. They are hand-carved by an elderly man named Ole Kirok Olker who is completely blind and walks the 17 mile each way trip to Hennie’s compound led by his young son to deliver them. I was fortunate enough to be in the compound when he visited so was able to watch him at work. He is very skilled and has produced some beautifully carved pieces and I feel very grateful to be able to take some back home with me!

carving the wood

Brad heads straight to Londoto Primary!

So Lucy has just returned and now it’s Brad’s turn to head out to East Africa! Brad is out to discover potential new projects and partnerships and to visit several of COCO’s current projects. We’ve just received his first blog post where he visits Londoto Primary, a really challenging project that has seen perseverance pay off! Hear it from Brad…

Londoto Primary

Since I returned to Tanzania, the topic of discussion has been this year’s election. The election isn’t due to take place until October, but is already being fiercely disputed by everyone.

Significant proportions of the Tanzanian population are asking questions of the current incumbents. Tanzania has an abundance of national resources to call upon and has world-famous tourist destinations such as Mount Kilimanjaro, the beaches of Zanzibar and the Serengeti. However, the country doesn’t quite seem to be reaching potential.

En route to East Africa, I spent the flight from Amsterdam to Dar es Salaam discussing with my seat neighbour about politics. He was Tanzanian and had been visiting his wife and young children in the Netherlands. He was desperate to raise sufficient money to enable him to enroll his children in school and have his family return to Tanzania… Though only after the election, which he was fearful of violence surrounding.

Similarly upon arrival, plenty of the discussion focused upon the political climate of Tanzania. With this in mind, it seemed fitting that the first project I visited was one so heavily involved in political discussion.

Londoto Primary School is located a long, hot daladala ride from Moshi in northern Tanzania. Since I started to work at COCO last year, as a project it has probably been the major challenge I’ve experienced. The project was not working as we had hoped; the community seemed massively disengaged with the school and any support offered was problematic.

School from afarThe reason for the community’s apathy towards the school was that Londoto fell under the jurisdiction of Msitu wa Tembo, a neighbouring settlement. Perception amongst the Londoto community was that they put a great deal more into the government pot than they got in return. It’s difficult to argue when mothers are lost during labour in Londoto, as the nearest clinic is 6KM away and secondary school students have to rise at 3AM to make it to school on time.

Kids under shadeI haven’t come across a community in Tanzania which has failed to relentlessly pursue a better situation for themselves, and Londoto is no different. Thankfully, in the latter stages of last year, the Londoto community dragged themselves through the endless red-tape and managed to split Londoto from Msitu wa Tembo. I shudder to think how much paperwork and bureaucracy they have had to go through… It was enough of a chew on to prove that I didn’t have ebola when I arrived on Saturday!

The newly-appointed committee has not rested on its laurels since gaining power. The head teacher at Londoto explained that since the committee were elected, they have successfully enrolled over fifty students who were previously being prevented from attending school as their parents saw greater value in them helping to generate income.

 Kids at desks   Kids in classroom

The committee has also set aside land for the school to farm, to provide nutritious food to students and have engaged the community to contribute towards the repair of the teachers’ toilets. The toilets had deteriorated into such poor condition that teachers had been advised to move from the site by a local health group, as the amount of waste would make them ‘erupt’ – lovely, right?!

The atmosphere at Londoto seemed completely different to how it teacher maybehad on previous visits. Of course, the kids were always laughing and playing and the teachers were always performing to the best of their ability, but it felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off everyone’s shoulders. One teacher explained how tough it had been to work in the school and even said he wasn’t sure what would have become of the school without COCO’s support.

By sheer coincidence I read a quote in my book on the journey to Londoto which explained that “the best charities know how difficult aid is”.[1] I certainly didn’t have to wait too long for an example! Inevitably different projects present different challenges, but with perseverance and skill these problems can be overcome.

Thanks COCO  Big group Londoto

[1] Giles Bolton – Aid and Other Dirty Business