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.


Environment and Energy

This week, we are looking at some more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are concerned with the environment and sustainable energy. In our 15 years, COCO has raised over £2.8 million. We know that barriers to education often involve environmental factors or problems concerning sustainable, reliable energy. However, working together, we can make a real difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest communities. Last year alone, COCO’s projects positively impacted on the lives of over 15,000 people.

SDG Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

Most of us probably don’t even think about how much clean water we use every day. We rarely think about how easy it is to do everyday tasks, such as washing our clothes, cooking, showering or bathing, or even just having a cup of tea.

The scary fact is that access to water and sanitation is not the norm for everyone.

Some Facts and Figures

  • Today, at least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is contaminated by sewage.
  • 2.4 billion People lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines
  • Each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases

Water and Sanitation Initiatives

Here at COCO, we think everyone deserves access to safe water and sanitation. Water is not a luxury – it’s a necessity. That’s why, in 2014, we teamed up with Development Direct to implement water and sanitation initiatives at Mercy Primary School in Kenya.

This project included harvesting rainwater, building compost toilets and providing hand wash and drinking water facilities for students and teachers. Since implanting these initiatives, there have tangible benefits for both the school and the local community.Optimized-photo 2

Mercy Primary School and the surrounding community are situation on the edge of Lake Victoria. Everyone is reliant on water from the lake, which means that the water is unsanitary and waterborne illnesses are a serious concern. However, the headmaster of Mercy School, Hermon Okongo, is convinced that the numbers of waterborne diseases are falling due to the new initiatives. Although it is too soon to gather quantitative evidence of this, the larger than usual number of students enrolling at Mercy School is a positive sign.

SDG Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Energy is a major challenge across the globe. It seems that everyone is either using too much or too little. In fact, despite the huge problems of climate change, 1 in 5 people still lacks access to modern electricity.

Energy also plays a huge role in poverty. Without access to affordable, reliable, sustainable energy, seemingly mundane tasks such as staying warm and cooking meals are so much more difficult.

Renewable energy projects, often with international donor assistance, have demonstrated that renewable energy can contribute to poverty alleviation. Renewable energy directly supplies businesses and jobs, and turns locally available resources into productive economic assets. This directly links to SDG Goal 8: Promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all. By providing the energy to increase employment opportunities, and developing technologies and business in local communities, renewable energy encourages economic growth across developing countries.

Renewable energy technologies can also make indirect contributions to alleviating poverty by providing energy for cooking and space heating. By making light more affordable and reliable, renewable energy technologies also permit schools and businesses to operate after dark; access to energy amplifies human capacity.

In 2014, COOC and Cititec worked together to install a solar power system at Hoja Secondary School in Songea, Tanzania. The solar panel system was used to provide energy for a classroom and for lights across the school premises, including the dormitories.

Renewable energy provides an extra edge to teaching

Renewable energy provides an extra edge to teaching

The solar classroom is benefitting students, teachers and project coordinators. The solar classroom provides much needed teaching aids, adding an extra dimension to teaching and making it easier for teachers to keep students stimulated and engaged. For instance, science classes are much more accessible now, because students are able to watch films of scientific experiments rather than just merely reading about them. Having sustainable, reliant energy also means that the school can save 100,000Tsh (£36) per month by accessing educational films rather than buying expensive chemicals for experiments.

The final SDG we are looking at today is Goal 9. This is concerned with building resilient infrastructure, promoting sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation. This may seem extremely ambitious, because it essentially means that an entire community needs a modern make-over to improve irrigation, sanitation, roads, transport… the list goes on. However, COCO has always taken a holistic approach to removing barriers to education. We cannot alleviate poverty without helping local communities, as well as the schools that serve them.

To show how we’ve been working to achieve this, we’re going back to Mercy Primary School in Kenya. As a result of the water and sanitation initiatives, Mercy Primary School has been able to cultivate a ‘Food Forest’. This provides an abundant source of nutritious food to students and teachers at the school. COCO’s coordinator at Mercy Primary, George Odhiambo, explained that, despite there being harsh and dry weather conditions in the local area, the Food Forest has been able to produce crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, paw-paw, cow peas, African spider flower and muringa. In an effort to maintain momentum and keep the ‘Food Forest’ full, he is also carrying out research into the hardiest varieties of plants to ensure the best one is grown during subsequent planting. By ensuring that the infrastructure is in place, we can help to alleviate the roots of poverty.

The Food Farm at Mercy Primary School

The Food Farm at Mercy Primary School

You can find out more about how COCO is meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals next week. All facts and figures, and many more, can be found on the UN’s website here: Sustainable Development Goals

Here Come the Girls!

As you probably know, we have been tracing how COCO is helping to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This week, we are investigating inequality. Many of the SDGs target inequality in some form, but two goals in particular focus on this issue. 1a Shelter

SDG 5 is all about achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. Feminism and the concept of empowering women has played an influential role in international relations and public policy over recent years; you will probably remember the popular #heforshe twitter campaign kick-started by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, and the passing of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 which modernised and expanded the ban on the practice in the UK.

Discrimination against women and girls both in the public sphere and in their own homes is still ongoing. COCO works in a variety of developing countries, and in some communities, there are serious challenges for women and girls.

Across Africa, the legal minimum age for marriage varies from puberty upwards, and in many countries the legal minimum age for marriage is higher for boys. It comes as no surprise then that some girls are unable to continue going to school as they are forced into marriage.

Another huge challenge is the widespread practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). In one of our previous blog posts, ‘Education Removes Ignorance: Listening to Lekrumuni’ , our research team explored how students in Tanzania regarded education as an effective way of tackling issues concerning FGM and women’s rights. By promoting education, it is clear that we can make a real difference to the lives of women and girls across the world.

SDG 10 is also concerned with equality. Here, the UN aims to reduce inequality within and among countries. Although this may sound extremely ambitious, and probably something that needs to be worked on from a governmental level, international development charities like COCO can also help to promote this goal. Group smiling kids

Some of the main targets of SDG 10 include empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status, and ensuring equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action. Many of COCO’s overseas projects are in extremely remote areas, where long-held myths surround discriminatory practices, such as FGM. As a matter of practicality, remote communities are less likely to come into contact with new ideas or scientific advances which disprove stereotypes surrounding gender, sex and social roles.

Education gives girls and women a valuable resource. As noted in the previous blog post, one student summed this up neatly; “education tackles ignorance.” The work that COCO does in our overseas projects aims to create safe, inclusive learning environments to help provide a sustainable future.

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.

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!

Family Portraits

From time to time, data that COCO requires can be difficult to obtain and, therefore, the way in which it is collected has to be considered carefully and strategically.

One subject that often proves problematic is finding out about children’s families. For some children, the structure of the family is a sensitive topic and so direct questioning can be inappropriate. What’s more, holding the attention of nursery pupils can be challenging in itself.

As a result, COCO has had to come up with a child-friendly method to collect information in this field and it has been largely successful. Working in Tanzania recently, COCO asked younger children simply to draw pictures of their families for the team. In doing so, the task was transformed into a fun activity for the children and the chance of upsetting them over what could be a delicate issue was minimised.

Family drawing 3

Unfortunately, this method does have some drawbacks. Given that many do not understand the purpose of the task, it can be inaccurate as certain children just replicate the example family they are shown. On top of this, it can often be hard to distinguish family members in the drawings as stickmen do not always clearly distinguish gender or age.

Having said that, the majority of the pictures did provide an insight into the children’s families, with some children making gender particularly easy to determine!

Family drawing 1