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Thank you for reading the COCO Chronicles and your interest in our work.

You can find new blog posts on the COCO website; www.coco.org.uk/blog


Going Green: The Colour of Sustainability

This week, we are looking at the last of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The last goals that we are going to look at (12, 13 and 15) are all about the environment. Just less than 30% of the Earth’s surface is land, and the rest is water. Out of this 30%, much of our land is difficult to cultivate and live on, making good soil and natural resources a valuable asset.

In order to protect our environment for ourselves, future generations and for flora and fauna, we need to ensure that sustainability is at the heart of our initiatives.


SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Sustainable consumption and production means that consumption and production of goods and services are socially beneficial and have a minimal impact upon the environment. This could mean a variety of things, from growing and eating local foods to developing tougher strains of fruits and vegetables so that they can grow in particularly challenging areas.

One way COCO has helped to develop sustainable consumption and production patterns is by financing loans for entrepreneurs in rural communities. For example, COCO has helped Alana Kihwili, from Tanzania, to start a small shop selling local produce, such as tomatoes, red onions and dried fish. By being able to start up her own business, Alana can now afford a better life for herself and her family. She is now able to send her children to school.

Alan Kihwili

Alana Kihwili

By helping to support entrepreneurs and farmers in rural communities, COCO facilitates better consumption and production patterns which don’t leave a giant carbon footprint. What’s more, as this process helps people to earn a living, it also makes it easier for children in the family to go to school.


SDG 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Climate change is something that affects us all. From rising sea levels, to hurricanes and droughts, climate change is a global issue that requires a global response.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, “No continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa. Given its geographical position, the continent will be particularly vulnerable due to the considerably limited adaptive capacity, exacerbated by widespread poverty and the existing low levels of development.”

This means that climate change threatens life as we know it in Africa. If we fail to consider the environmental impact of our actions, it could be our undoing in the future. But it’s not all doom and gloom! In fact, a central element of our development initiatives is sustainability.

One way in which COCO is helping to take urgent action against climate change is by helping schools in Africa to embrace solar power. For example, in Songea, Tanzania, electricity is often unreliable with numerous power cuts which can last as long as a week. In addition to power cuts, many people simply do not have access to electricity at all. The majority of people rely on kerosene lamps to provide light at night. Kerosene is expensive, can cause serious health problems, fire hazards and ecological damage.

2013 02 Solar Lamps LP (124)

Solar Lamps in the Sun

However, in November 2012, Gentoo, a business based in Sunderland, made a donation to COCO which has been used to purchase 24 solar lamps and solar power chargers to power laptops at Hoja Secondary School. COCO partnered with the Nuru Fund at Gentoo in order to pilot a solar power project at Hoja Secondary School; students could loan the equipment out and earn money, and then would repay the cost of the equipment by weekly instalments. Once the total amount was paid off, the students would keep the equipment and any future income. By paying back the equipment costs, COCO can reinvest this back into the school, so that more solar equipment can be bought.

2013 02 Solar Lamps LP (1)

Studying Using a Solar Lamp

SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

‘Terrestrial ecosystems’ might seem like a bit of a mouthful, but it actually refers to land-based ecosystems. There are many different types of these, including tundra, taiga, temperate deciduous forest, tropical rain forest, grassland and desert.

Protecting and using these ecosystems sustainably is a difficult task in the face of population and a growing global population relying on agriculture and industry. Managing and cultivating crops in difficult soils can also be problematic, as failing crops threaten food and employment security and using harsh chemicals and fertilizers undermines conservation objectives.

world soil day

Image from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations

To raise awareness of these issues, the UN has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. On the 4th of December 2015, the UN will be celebrating ‘World Soil Day’, aiming to educate people as to how soils provide a solid ground for life.


This blog post series has already focused on how COCO has helped rural communities to implement permaculture and sustainable agriculture techniques in order to enhance food security, agriculture education and employability among locals. However, it is important that we continually revisit our projects to make sure that progress does not plateau.

For this reason, COCO helped farmers in Tanzania to buy 10 cows due to increasingly scarce supplies of manure.  Using manure as a fertiliser is not only environmentally friendly, but it is also economically savvy as it eliminates the cost of other chemical fertilisers. In addition to providing a local source of manure, breeding the cows and selling the milk provides new revenue streams. The wider community will benefit straight away as the increased supply of manure drives down prices and fresh milk becomes available to buy. Ultimately, providing these cows will help to ensure the sustainability of the wider community.

This brings us to the end of the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals! Investigating the SDGs has hopefully showcased some of COCO’s life-changing projects, the people who benefit directly from these, and how COCO fits in with the wider picture of international development.

Without your support, this vital work could not continue.  In 2016, we hope to bring you even more exciting news of our work, and how your fundraising is changing lives.



World Toilet Day

It’s World Toilet Day!

On the 19th of November, the United Nations has organised ‘World Toilet Day’ in response to the startling fact that 2.5 billion people across the world do not have access to proper sanitation, including toilets or latrines. In fact, according to the World Toilet Organization, 1 billion people (15% of the world population) are forced to practice open defecation just because of they lack access to a clean and safe toilet.

A COCO Supported Toilet Block

A COCO Supported Toilet Block

Poor sanitation is extremely dangerous, causing diarrhoeal diseases and death amongst thousands of children every year. Additionally, the lack of clean and safe toilets place girls and women at risk of sexual violence. The Secretary General of the UN, Bank Ki-moon, argues that, “We have a moral imperative to end open defecation and a duty to ensure women and girls are not at risk of assault and rape simply because they lack a sanitation facility.”

When tackling poverty, providing a clean and safe toilet can be more important than what you think. The World Toilet Organization argues that every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates a $4.3 return in the form of reduced health care costs.

A New Toilet Block At Mercy Primary School

World Toilet Day is important for the environment too. Under Sustainable Development Goal 14, the global community has a responsibility to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. This includes an imperative to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds by 2025. Without toilets, many people are force to resort to open defecation. According to the World Health Organization, many common diseases that can give diarrhoea can spread from one person to another when people defecate in the open air. During the rainy seasons, excrement may be washed away by rain-water. It may run into wells and streams, and the germs in the excreta will then contaminate the water which may be used for drinking, cooking or washing. This in turn leads to the spread of diseases like cholera and typhoid.

In order to tackle this problem at our overseas projects, COCO has built new toilet blocks for students and teachers. By providing toilets at school, it is hoped that students won’t feel that they have to miss out on education. This may be particularly important for female students who would otherwise suffer from a lack of privacy, especially during menstruation.

Toilets have been constructed across our overseas projects, including at Mercy Primary School, The Hoja Project, and Uwawayaki Nursery School. COCO has also worked to make these toilets serve the local communities by providing compost and biogas to help fertilize crops and provide fuel for cooking.

Children Washing Their Hands Before Lunch

Children Washing Their Hands Before Lunch

It may seem like such a simple thing, but a toilet really can make all the difference to a child’s life.

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.

Oswin’s Return

As COCO celebrated our 15th birthday last weekend with our annual ball, we were fortunate to welcome Oswin, the director of the Hoja Project and our co-ordinator in Tanzania, back to the UK.

Oswin is from humble beginnings in Tanzania. In his home village of Mpandangindo opportunities were scarce for the majority of people. Mpandangindo village is typical of many in the Songea region no houses have running water or electricity and a water pump has only recently been installed in the village. Many of the people in the village earn their income from small scale farming or charcoal digging. There is a desperate desire from the whole community for their children to be educated and to be able to attend school, however low income is preventing many from fulfilling this wish.

2009 07 Hoja Secondary LP (128)

Ahead of the Christmas of 1979, a prosperous member of the Mpandangindo community announced that anyone helping him to cultivate land would receive pork for their Christmas dinner. As meat was difficult for Oswin’s family to come by, Oswin’s mother, Leokadia, took part in the cultivation of the land despite being 9 months pregnant!

On Christmas Eve morning, Leokadia began cultivation at 8am. Just after lunch her work was interrupted as she went into labour. Unable to afford transport to the nearest clinic, 25KM away, Leokadia attempted to walk. However, 15KM into the journey Oswin was born in a bush.

As a child, Oswin was very small. His parents nicknamed him Aswinili, which meant very thin in the local language of Ngoni. When Oswin hoped to start school, rather than being based on age there was quite a novel test for whether a child was ready to enrol in school. Each child had to put their arm over their head and touch the ear on the opposite side of their body. Unfortunately being quite small, Oswin was unable to do so and missed out on joining the school.

Thankfully in spite of Oswin still being unable to touch his ear the following year, he knew the head of the school and was so given an exception and allowed to enrol. Clearly the head was eager for Oswin to enrol for good reason, as later that year he was entered into a competition to find the best Standard Two student in the ward… Despite Oswin only being in Standard One!

Two representatives from the nine schools in the region were tested in English and Maths. Out of the 18 candidates, Oswin remarkably finished first! Oswin’s exceptional performance in school continued with him being one of only two students from his primary school to achieve sufficient results to continue to secondary school. Oswin had a choice of schools, but chose to attend a religious school as if he achieved grades of over 88% he would not have to pay school fees, which his family could not afford.

1a Shelter

Oswin was confident of achieving sufficient grades to avoid paying school fees, but still had to fund his uniform, mattress and school equipment. In order to pay for these items Oswin entered the dangerous charcoal industry, which was a major source of income and, equally, a major source of death in his local community. Fearful for his health, Oswin soon began selling cigarettes, nuts and eggs instead.

Unfortunately Oswin did not earn enough to purchase all that he wanted for school, but his creativity and resourcefulness helped him to get by. Since Oswin was unable to afford soap, he used to offer to wash the clothes of richer students, so that he could use the soap to wash his own too!

Achieving over 88% proved tricky, and without achieving this Oswin would have been forced to pay school fees or, more likely, leave the school. Oswin began to work in the toilet stalls after curfew. He used a kerosene lamp for light and told any teachers or students who passed by that he was feeling unwell.

Unfortunately the kerosene and smoke in the confined space of the toilet cubicle was harming Oswin. Seven months after graduating from secondary school, Oswin started to lose his sight and suffer bad headaches. The problem was so bad that Oswin had to take some time off his new school at which he was studying his A-Levels.

Despite visiting several different hospitals, no one was able to identify the problem Oswin was suffering with. His family even suggested that Oswin visited a witch doctor, though Oswin refused. On one visit to the hospital, a doctor gave Oswin eye drops which completely blinded him.

Six days passed with Oswin anxious about how he was going to continue in his life. Thankfully there happened to be some eye specialists from Germany working in Oswin’s area at the time. The specialists were able to identify Oswin’s problem and prescribed medicine and foods which Oswin should eat. Four days later, Oswin’s sight began to return and continued to improve.

Eventually, Oswin was well enough to return to his A-Level school, but had missed nine months of education. The school suggested that Oswin repeated the year, but scarce resources made this very difficult for Oswin so the school agreed that if he could pass a mock exam, they would allow him to sit the real exam.

With only a month in which to catch up on nine months’ worth of material, Oswin spent a month sleeping around two hours each night. Thankfully Oswin passed the mock and was able to sit the real exam, which he also passed. Things ran more smoothly for the remainder of Oswin’s A-Level studies, enabling Oswin to qualify for University.

University fees were far too high for Oswin to afford. Whilst he considered how he would cover his costs, Oswin got the opportunity to volunteer at Student Partnerships Worldwide (now Restless Development?). Whilst volunteering, Oswin shared two dreams with his fellow volunteers. Firstly, Oswin shared his dream of attending University and, secondly, his dream of constructing a school at which vulnerable students could study for free.

Oswin’s fellow volunteers helped to ensure that both of his dreams came true. One volunteer, Julia Brownlow, told friends and family about Oswin and King Alfred School of North London agreed to sponsor Oswin through University.

Oswin at COCO's last annual ball

Oswin at COCO’s last annual ball

Oswin and five volunteers established an NGO with the mission of providing education to vulnerable children. The organisation was named The Hoja Project, with Hoja being some of the volunteers’ initials and also meant “the reason for doing something” in Swahili.

A couple of years later, COCO began partnering with The Hoja Project. The partnership has led to the establishment of Hoja Secondary School, which caters for vulnerable children. Oswin’s dream was finally being realised. As many of our supporters will know, The Hoja Project has gone from strength to strength. Graduates from Hoja Secondary have achieved the highest grades of 173 schools in the region for the past three years. The school is also self-sustainable, which ensures that many more children will access education without facing the same difficulties that Oswin did.

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 brad@coco.org.uk or by calling the COCO office on 0191 261 7427.