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


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.

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!

Guest Blog: Our Communications and Events Officer Rebecca Churchill

After we were visited by Heart North East radio.

My name’s Rebecca and I’m currently interning as a Communications and Events Officer at COCO! I had always really liked the idea of working in the charity sector because it seemed to combine creativity and social justice, and when the opportunity came up at COCO I was excited to find out if this was true.

So far the experience has been brilliant- everyone’s so friendly, and because it’s a small team, work is varied and stays interesting. Chiefly my role is to use the donor database and assist our lovely Fundraising Manager Kievah, though in the past seven weeks this has expanded to involve community fundraising, finances, and event planning.

The gorgeous Slaley Hall at our Steve Cram Celebrity Golf Day.

As it can take a while to learn the ropes at a new job, Kievah made sure that we were gradually introduced to tasks so we didn’t feel overwhelmed, and that has meant I am really comfortable with what I’m doing now. In the first few weeks I learnt how to operate the database on Iris, and send group emails with MailChimp, as well as other administrative tasks like distributing fundraising packs. I attended my first event- the annual Golf Day with Steve Cram, which made me appreciate how much energy and planning goes into ensuring guests have a brilliant time. There was a brief painful moment where I had to go on stage to model some merchandise without warning and felt a bit like I was dying, but overall it was a great night and Slaley Hall was a beautiful venue.

What has surprised me most at COCO is that after being talked through some financial procedures by our Finance Manager Diane, I got the hang of it and now operate the donations we receive through Just Giving. Other highlights include working with several volunteers to develop a social media strategy in response to a report produced by the Newcastle University Business School, and most hilariously, receiving a call from Tom Campbell at Heart Radio North East, and realising we were on air!

My sunny work space at COCO HQ.

At the moment I’m focusing on some independent projects; developing a COCO Alumni scheme, as well as planning an event to honour our volunteers, and organising Christmas card sales. I also gave some suggestions to Brad on ways to keep improving the way we work with universities, and it’s been great to contribute what I’ve learnt from my experience in societies.

Having just graduated, it’s amazing to already be working in a role I enjoy this much, and I am definitely set on staying in this sector after my placement finishes.

Another installment from Brad in Tanzania, on a new Cycle Challenge route!


After the huge success of the Maasai Cycle Challenge in Kenya, COCO has begun searching for another cycle ride below the Tanzanian border. Plenty of routes had been scouted out before it was decided that a route from Lake Manyara to Lake Natron had the potential to be a winner.

To ensure that the route was tip top before the challenge was agreed upon, I had a recce along the route. The one concern going into the recce was that the route may not quite be challenging enough for experienced cyclists. However, given that the route managed to obliterate our truck, these concerns have been largely alleviated!

Unfortunately due to an early mechanical issue with the truck, and the Tanzanian police’s insistence on checking insurance and tax documents every fifty yards, we were held up on our route to the start point at Mto wa Mbu. Undeterred, we had a quick pit stop for some mbuzi choma na ugali (barbequed goat with ugali) and set upon the route.

We started with a route through banana and rice farms, before the land opened out into a vast savanna meeting Lake Manyara. Much of Lake Manyara is a national park, however, this part was open to the community although with hunting and other disruptive activities not allowed. The local Maasai community were using the lake as a drinking hole for their cattle, who were sharing the water with thousands of pink flamingos.

From Lake Manyara, we looped around and entered an opening of land enclosed by the Ngorongoro crater on one side, and a similar landscape on the other. The guide explained that this area acts as a corridor for animals to hop between Tanganyika and Manyara national parks.

The crater provided a spectacular backdrop as we drove past zebra, giraffes and ostriches. Upon reaching what would be the campsite for the first night, the guide also explained that for those cyclists who wished to stretch their muscles after a day’s cycling could go for a walk into a wooded area to meet elephants that tend to graze within.

As we were doing an express tour of the route, we didn’t spend a night in the campsite and continued onto what would be day two of the challenge. Having bumped around in the truck for a few hours, by the time we landed at what would be the second campsite, I was very tempted with a drink from the bar… Though I dare say the cyclists staying here will have earned their tipple a little more than I had!

As the route had got a little more hilly on day two, it wasn’t altogether surprising to see a mountain on day three, locally known as the Mountain of God. We also came across a huge crater in the ground, locally known as the Valley of God… Clearly plenty of imagination went into naming these landmarks!

One thing that no one would argue was made by God, was our 4×4’s radiator which blew shortly before we reached the Valley of God. Thankfully, we were able to nurse the truck to a campsite on Lake Natron, where we set up camp for the evening.

As a pleasant surprise, the campsite had running water so I was able to have a shower to wash the layers of dust off. I was also treated to a delightful meal by some of the Maasai hosts, though the starter was suspiciously like a Cornish pasty which was rather unexpected.

The truck was taken off to be fixed, but the mechanic had closed shop for the night so we settled down and waited for the morning before it could be fixed and we could continue our journey. Unfortunately the problems with the radiator were a little more complex than we’d hoped. I’m no expert in mechanics, so I don’t know exactly what was up with it, but I do know that it took six hours to fix… Six hours is quite a long time when you have no phone signal, or idea of where you are!

I was told that there were some waterfalls nearby, so I set off to visit them. Predictably I got lost and decided to turn back as the midday sun beat down on me, however, on the cycle challenge (with a guide to direct) I’m sure it would be a lovely excursion!

Unfortunately, by the time our truck was fixed, it was well after 1pm and we’d have no chance of reaching the main road before nightfall if we completed the cycle route. We were also a little skeptical about just how healthy the truck was and wanted to get it as far as possible whilst it still worked. Thankfully the radiator held out until we reached the main road, although the steering alignment did break on the way back.

The cycle challenge route goes from Lake Manyara to Lake Natron, the journey which flamingos take between breeding and eating. What flamingos manage with ease, three men and a 4×4 couldn’t. Over to you cyclists…

An update on the fantastic research our volunteers have been conducting in Tanzania, and a conversation about FGM education in Lekrumuni


Having defeated Mount Kilimanjaro, six of our student trekkers decided to stick around in Tanzania to complete some voluntary placements. As COCO is committed to sustainable volunteering placements, the volunteers put the analytical skills the students had gained from late nights in the library to good use by performing some research on new and existing projects.

Not only will the data received help COCO to measure impact, but having volunteers in the country using such skills will build capacity of local communities so that in the longer run, this research can be performed directly.


The first week of the volunteering placement was spent in Lekrumuni, a Maasai community sandwiched between Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. With such an impressive view, you would expect land in the village to be prime real estate, but in contrast the community has gone largely neglected with students having to walk approximately 13km to the nearest secondary school.

In response, COCO is planning to partner with the community to construct a secondary school within the village. The school will also be the only boarding school in the area, which will ensure that even those students living a long walk away will be able to attend school full of energy!


The research consisted of health assessments of primary school students, interviews with members of the community and a group feedback session with ‘local’ secondary school students. The secondary school students were asked to shout out reasons why education was important, before discussing which of these reasons was the most key.Interestingly, it was decided that ‘education removes ignorance’ was the most important reason for education.


FGM Education

This sentiment was echoed in our interviews with the community, in which the issues of polygamy and female genital mutilation (FGM) were frequent topics. Encouragingly, I spoke to one member of the community who had previously been a FGM surgeon, but had discontinued her work having received education, which had disproved the myths she believed about the practice.

The education was provided by an organisation called NAFGEM, who informed me that in spite of their success there had still been 12 reported instances of FGM in the village in the last year. The members of the community whom still supported the practice, tended to be in support because they were ill informed; citing reasons such as health benefits and a fear of their daughter struggling to find a husband. If a parent genuinely believes that it is of medical benefit for their daughter to go through the procedure, it’s easy to see why they would push ahead with it.

Whilst in the long term, the solution to the problem seems so simple, there are still girls here and now having their lives ruined due to misinformation. With this in mind, our partner organisation in Lekrumuni, Hope, has taken on a dedicated project coordinator for the secondary school to ensure that the school and the resultant benefits can be experienced as soon as possible.

By facilitating the younger generations to receive education, we can help to disprove the myths that fuel FGM, and the practice will die out.