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.

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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.