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.

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!


Alex Shand was one of 57,000 people who took part in the Great North Run last Sunday! Here’s how he got on…

‘Having arrived in Newcastle in September 2014, I missed the chance to take part in last years Great North Run. I was not about to let that opportunity pass a second time and started the search for a place. Having spent a short period of time volunteering with COCO in the summer while researching effects of sport on impoverished communities, it was a natural choice to raise funds for them!

Prior to GNR 2015 my experience of competitive running was limited, consisting of a half marathon in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan in 2008, as well as a handful of park-runs with my family this year. I set an ambitious target time of 1 hour 30 minutes and quickly went to seek the advice of a friend who was happy to inform me of the amount of work that lay ahead!

My training started well, and two months of four runs per week saw my time per mile drop rapidly. Expectations that I’d meet my goal were sky high! Unfortunately, with only two weeks to go I suffered a hamstring injury and was unable to train. It looked like this was the end of the “hour thirty” dream…

Race DayALEX

The atmosphere on the day was phenomenal and the phrase “it’s not what you know, but who you know” played a part in me starting the race next to Frank Bruno and Professor Brian Cox (I finished before both). The lost training time showed as the 8 mile point loomed and my pace slowed dramatically. Thankfully, I found a new lease of life after spotting a pantomime horse closing in behind!

The generosity of the people of the North East was evident throughout with the offer of hundreds of jelly babies, ice pops and even a cheeky beer at 10 miles. Team COCO picked the perfect place to cheer the runners on- spotting those white banners as I hit the last mile gave me a final boost and saw me cross the line in 1:43:49.

A huge thank you to the staff at COCO for letting me have the opportunity to take part in this wonderful event, and of course all those who have sponsored me along the way. I look forward to next year and hope that COCO will keep a space for me to beat my time and raise more money for a great cause!’