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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

Lekrumuni

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.