26 December 2012

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays everyone! Below is CHW's Christmas message.

I have been at the projects in Romania this month, and so haven't been able to blog much - but I have a lot of things to write about from my time there, so there will be more updates soon!

In the meantime, I want to wish you all a happy Christmas (what is left of it!) and a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year!

20 November 2012

A Short Message from CHW on Universal Children's Day

"Today is Universal Children's Day! Our hope is that all the children in the world will have food, water, shelter, healthcare, an education and everything else they need. We wish all the very best to people, around the world, who are working to achieve this. Keep up with your good work! Thank you to those of you who support projects through CHW to help the children."

Picture from a creche we help in South Africa

To get more updates, you can "like" CHW's facebook page: facebook.com/ChildrensHelpersWorldwide or follow CHW on twitter: @CHWchildren

16 November 2012

Back with a New Report on Children in Custody!

Things have been a bit hectic these past few weeks, but I am now back again and have a new report to share!

I have been involved with a new project on children in custody, which is being coordinated by the Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE). The project is called Ending Violence Against Children in Custody. It aims to: 

Image courtesy of worradmu/www.freedigitalphotos.net

"...empower children and young people with experience of custody to investigate the views of other children and young people in custody, to work together to determine their own recommendations for reducing violence in custody and to develop their own campaigning activities."

The project looks at the situation of children in custody in five European countries: Austria, Cyprus, England, The Netherlands and Romania. I helped with researching the domestic rules governing custody for children and young people in each country. You can see a summary, as well as the total population of young prisoners in each of the countries, here.

I have also been helping with other reports to do with this project. This week, CRAE released a report which focuses on children's experience of violence in custody in England, and gives their recommendations for achieving violence-free custodial settings. A group of young people, with experience of custody, are now campaigning on two of the recommendations. You can see the report here and the accompanying press release here.

Children in custody, like all children, have the right to be protected from all forms of violence, under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Further, experiencing violence in custody cannot help, and rather, would hinder, any reform or rehabilitation of children in custodial settings. Article 40 of the Convention says that children who are accused of being, or who are, in conflict with the law, must be treated in a way which:

  • promotes their sense of dignity and worth;
  • reinforces their respect for human rights and the fundamental freedoms of others;
  • and promotes their reintegration, with the children assuming a constructive role in society.

This cannot happen if those in charge of custodial settings themselves use violence against children and young people, or if they do not create a setting which prevents the children and young people from being violent towards each other. I like CRAE's project because it addresses these issues, and empowers children and young people to take action.

To learn more, and to follow the progress of the Ending Violence Against Children in Custody project, you can visit this website: www.violencefreecustody.org.uk. I will also post further updates from the project on this blog.

22 October 2012

Lots of new things going on at Children's Helpers Worldwide!

I recently mentioned in another post that things were very busy at my organisation, CHW, with some volunteers doing amazing work! I am really pleased to be able launch the new website, and a new video for CHW! CHW is also now on facebook and twitter, if you want to connect with the charity there. Here is the latest news, in a bit more detail:

New Website!

Firstly, we have a new website! It is at the same address, but it has been redesigned. You can see it here: www.chworldwide.org

A big thank you to Sheldon Fernandes, a web developer, who volunteered his time and made this happen!
(You can see more about Sheldon's work on his own site: www.sheldonfernandes.com)

New Video!

As well as launching the website, we are also launching a video! A volunteer from Swansea (who didn't want to be named) wrote lyrics for a song, which tells you about our projects and ways to get involved. He arranged for a group of children to record the song.

You can see our video on youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs0aqUf_2NU, or watch it below: 

If you want to know more about the children from Wales who sang, and the children from Ghana who are drumming and singing in between the verses, you can go to this page on our new site: http://chworldwide.org/what-we-do/our-video/

Join Us on Facebook and Twitter

We also have a new facebook page, so please do click "like" to connect with us on facebook too: facebook.com/ChildrensHelpersWorldwide

We have a new twitter account too, and you can follow us at @CHWchildren

Spreading the Word

If you know anyone who would like to get involved with our work, please pass this on. One of our volunteers, Magdalena, told Sheldon, the web developer, about CHW and one of our trustees, Emma, told the volunteer in Swansea about us too, which shows what great results spreading the word can have! We are aiming to create a network for people around the world who want to give children a better start to life. We have partnered with local organisations in five countries, so far (Argentina, China, Ghana, Romania and South Africa) and look forward to more supporters and volunteers joining us to help the children. 

16 October 2012

A Call to Speak Out Against Bullying - for Vloggers

October is anti-bullying month! Sadly, bullying affects many children and teenagers around the world.

Image courtesy of Ambro/www.freedigitalphotos.net

The following facts were given on the website of DoSomething.org:
  •  Bullying is the most common form of violence in schools(verbally and physically)/ 
  • One incident of bullying [happens] every seven minutes. 
  • It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school everyday due to the fear of attack or intimidation by other students. 
  • 2 out of 3 teens are verbally or physically harassed every year. 
  • 58% of teens have had hurtful things said to them online and over 40% say it’s happened more than once.
The page goes on to give a plan of action and also has a video made by young people. You can see it here.

I am a member of the 20sb network, for bloggers in their twenties. If you are also in your twenties and like to blog or vlog, you may be interested in what they have planned to mark anti-bullying month. They are asking people to:

 "post a vlog (or blog post if you’re not up for the face time) about a time you were bullied, tips for dealing with a bully, or maybe lessons you’ve learned from being a bully

The deadline is 24 October and entries can be left in the comments section of their blog post on anti-bullying month. They will compile highlights from the videos, to be shared at the end of October. All the details are here.

Even if you are not in your twenties (and so can't enter your vlog for the 20sb call to action), you may want to think about this theme for this month. How can bullying be prevented? How can we help young people who are being bullied? Let's hope that our actions this month can go towards answering these questions and stamping out bullying!

13 October 2012

Great Volunteer Websites

Image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net

Things have been quite busy recently, with two volunteers doing excellent projects for CHW! One has been making a video for the charity and the other is redesigning our website. We are hoping to launch the new site, along with the video, very soon. I will post updates here! Every spare moment I have been updating content and photos for the new site, which has kept me away from this blog for a couple of weeks. A lot of people do ask me about volunteering, so I thought I would pass on some links here, in keeping with the fact that two amazing volunteers have been working on projects for us recently!

Some of the links are for people already involved in voluntary work. I wrote another post here, for those interested in searching for volunteer opportunities.

My focus is always on children and youth, but the links below are relevant for people who want to volunteer in other fields too.

Global Service Leaders
Network: meridianserviceleaders.ning.com
Facebook page: facebook.com/GlobalServiceLeaders

Who is this for?
People involved in service work, and with organisations that have volunteers, and who would like to connect with other people engaged in service work around the world.

I am a member of the network and it has been great to connect with (and even meet) others running organisations and doing service work in different countries.

The Blogunteer
Website: blogunteer.com

Who is this for?
People interested in volunteering and charities. Organisations (mostly from the US), which are not too well known, but are doing excellent work, are profiled here.

I found this blog through Pinterest and thought it was a great idea.

KnowHow NonProfit
Website: knowhownonprofit.org

Who is this for?
People who are volunteers, trustees or staff of nonprofit organisations. The site is aimed at people in the UK, but others may also find useful tips here.

I have signed up to this site and received useful newsletters from them.

The Bridge - Youth Empowerment
Website (Volunteer Page): thebridgeye.org/category/internships-volunteering/volunteering
Facebook page: facebook.com/thebridgeye

Who is this for?
Young people who want to volunteer. Opportunities are listed on the volunteer page. Other pages also contain information on jobs, internships, fellowships, events and scholarships around the world for youth.

I found this organisation on facebook, and they listed an event of mine when I was volunteering on sustainable development projects, leading up to the Rio+20 conference.

Do you know any more good sites for volunteers, or finding volunteer opportunities? If you do, please add them in a comment below.

22 September 2012

The Gift of Music for Children

Today is a good day for spreading the benefits of music to children! My organisation, CHW, is having a "coffee and cash-in" event this afternoon, to raise money for a children's music therapy project we are supporting in Argentina. When planning this, I didn't know that it was also Playing for Change Day, an initiative started by the Playing for Change Foundation (PFCF). It is a day of action, using music to create positive social change. Musicians will play at events all over the world, and bring music into the lives of young people. You can see a list of the events, or watch some shows online, here.

A while ago, I wrote about the benefits of music for children and it was great to learn about PFCF's work. The PFCF states that it is "dedicated to the fundamental idea that peace and change are possible through the language of music." It funds music programmes in different countries and aims to ensure that anyone with the desire to receive a music education has the opportunity to do so. The children from one of the programmes it set up, Ntonga Music School. in the township Gugulethu, near Cape Town, will be performing this afternoon. Some of my friends in Cape Town are going to support them, and I wish I could be there to hear them play too!

Closer to home, I attended the event, "A Moment's Peace" in London, over the summer. Children and young people from different choirs all sang together. The World Heart Beat Music Academy, in London, provided them with an environment to get together and rehearse for the event. On its website, it is stated that the Academy "envisions a world where music as a universal form of communication, bridges cultural, political, economic and linguistic barriers." This is another great project, showing how music can create positive social change.

I have seen how music can have such a good impact on children's live through my work in Romania too. One organisation CHW supports there, FAST, runs a music project for Roma children. It allows Roma children and youth to fight against discrimination by showcasing their musical ability to the community. I have been to some of the performances by the children who are a part of FAST's music project and they were amazing! The children gained confidence from being part of the project and were able to develop their musical talent. It was something for them to work towards and be proud of.

The project CHW is currently fundraising for in Argentina has a different aim. We are working with Talleres Apadro, an organisation which runs a rehabilitation centre. The children that attend have various disabilities and other special needs. The staff there know how much music therapy will benefit these children and help give them space to express themselves. I really hope we are able to reach our aim of £2220 to help with their project. If you have any ideas for fundraising, or want to help out, please do get in touch.

Room for the Project!
During my last trip to Argentina, the staff at Talleres Apadro showed me
this room, where they want to hold their music therapy programme. I hope we can
fill it with instruments and all the resources they need!

You can follow our progress with fundraising for the music therapy project here:

I must go and attend our fundraiser for the music therapy project now! I am wishing all the best to those taking part in performances around the world for Playing for Change Day!

05 September 2012

Challenges of Running a Children's Charity

Today has been a hard day. There are a lot of challenges involved with running a children's charity. Some are much more difficult to deal with than others. The organisation I started, CHW, is based in London, and we currently support locally run children's initiatives in five countries. Below are three of the most challenging things I have found in running CHW, in order of the least to the most difficult.


Firstly, raising funds is itself difficult, but you accept that this is a challenge that comes with the nature of this work. Since the recession hit, we have had less donations - an issue faced by most other organisations in the charity sector. As we are a small organisation, this has been difficult. It is frustrating not to be able to help the local organisations CHW supports as quickly as I would like. We have tried to hold more fundraising events, since individual donations decreased. These are difficult economic times, but this is a challenge we must rise to.

Volunteer and student at a "Clothes Swap" fundraising event 

The Children's Struggles

The second thing, which is much more difficult, is trying to understand the backgrounds of the children we help. I have personally been to, and vetted, every organisation that we decided to support and have met the children they help. The children have had to face circumstances in their short lives that I couldn't have imagined when I was growing up - from walking to collect water from a well everyday (Ghana), to facing constant discrimination (Roma in Europe) and the constant threat of violence (South Africa) and a lot of other issues. This has opened my eyes to many harsh realities and I feel compelled to act, as I was given many opportunities in life, just by chance - for example, I have always had food and water; I was able to complete my education, etc. I would like to use all the opportunities I have had to help give opportunities to others who have not been so lucky.

To think of the challenges many children face is awful. However, in my field of work, there is also hope. I met these children through the local organisations that support them. These organisations are doing very good work, that we hope to contribute to, and will give these children a better childhood and more opportunities for their future. We support a range of projects from one which helps orphaned babies in China that need life-saving surgeries, to an organisation in Argentina which runs eighteen houses for children and teenagers who have been orphaned or abandoned, with three of the houses caring for those with disabilities.  I just wish that local organisations, like the ones we support, could somehow reach all the children out there that need help, in every country.

The Most Difficult Times

The third thing, which is the most difficult, is experiencing the illness, or death, either of one of the children you have been working with, or of someone who is close to the children. I started CHW in 2007 and until 2010, nothing like this had ever happened. Even though we were a small organisation, we had been doing well, fulfilling the appeals from the local organisations, and building our networks within the five countries where we work. Everything was very positive.

Early success: one of our first projects in 2007 was to fund the purchase and installation of a water tank, which New Life International Children's Home in Ghana had asked us for.

In 2010, something happened which I will never forget. It was my last day in Cape Town and a little girl we were hoping to help through a local organisation, called The Future Factory, passed away in a road accident. The accident was avoidable - the driver of a minibus full of children overtook a line of waiting cars at a railway crossing, dodged the security barrier and went straight into the path of an oncoming train. Most of the children were killed. The little girl I knew, Lisle, was eleven. She had been through so much. When she was seven she was sexually abused, stabbed, hit over the head with a rock and set alight, by a family friend. She survived, and showed great determination to get past this. She became an inspiration to her community. The director of the Future Factory, Anne, supported Lisle and her family greatly. Anne and I were with Lisle's family when they had to identify her after the crash. I wrote about Lisle recently on the second anniversary of the accident. You can read more about her here. I raised money for her funeral, which was the saddest appeal I have ever had to run.

Then, this summer, another terrible thing happened. Last year, one of our biggest projects was to fundraise for a local Romanian organisation, FAST, to build a carpentry workshop for one of the families it worked with. The family had eleven children, and they were living in abject poverty. The father Sorin had carpentry skills, but nobody wanted to employ him because he is Roma, and there is much discrimination against the Roma people. The director of FAST, Daniel, believed that, with his organisation's help, Sorin could start a furniture business and support all his children. As the children grew up, they could join the family business and end the cycle of poverty they would otherwise be stuck in. Sorin and his eldest son, Lucian, who is seventeen, helped the builders construct the workshop. I visited last year, when it was nearly complete, and Sorin seemed so hopeful.

Sorin with Lucian and one of the younger children, 
during the construction of the workshop.

I was devastated to receive an email from Daniel at the beginning of the summer to say that Sorin had been having stomach pains and Daniel had taken him to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Everything happened so fast after this, and Sorin's condition rapidly deteriorated. I am waiting for further news on Sorin. Lucian will now be in charge of providing for the family, as his father is in hospital and is very weak. Lucian is so young, and has so many people to support. Sorin was going to pass on his skills to Lucian and the other children. Now, if we are able to raise the funds (two hundred pounds per month for about a year) Daniel says that Lucian can have an apprenticeship with FAST (which has builders and carpenters within its team) and will be able to run the family business well. I hope that we will be able to support this.

Today, I received some sad news from one of the physiotherapists, Gabriela, at a project we support in Argentina. The organisation, Bethel, is the one I mentioned previously, which runs eighteen homes for children. Gabriela works at one of the houses for those with disabilities, and this is the house where I usually volunteer, if I am in Argentina, so I know all the people there very well. The residents have a range of disabilities. All have some form of mental disability and each have differing physical issues too. They are looked after very well and will be able to reach adulthood, if their condition does not have complications. One little girl, Luz, was able to do very little for herself. She could not talk. She had been given a wheelchair as she was too weak to walk and she was fed through a tube in her stomach each day. She was very much loved by the staff, and I could see how well she was taken care of - not just each day while I was there, but also by how much she had grown every time I went back to Argentina and visited. Today Gabriela told me that Luz had passed away in hospital. I think Luz must be twelve years old by now. I am so sad, but I do realise that Bethel gave her the best life she could have had for those twelve years.

Keep on Going...

People tell me how rewarding it must be to run CHW. They are right - a lot of the time it is. However, sometimes, it is really tough, especially when there is nothing more that you can do for someone. Then, maybe, what you must do is carry on being inspired by those people, and keep their memory alive through what you do. I won't ever forget Lisle or Luz and I must carry on working on CHW's projects to keep on reaching children who can benefit from our work.

Photos of some happy children at the projects we support in Ghana (above) and China (below). It is important to keep going, and help to meet their needs.

02 September 2012

A Good Education is Essential for a Bright Future

"I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way..."

Attention had been drawn to the failures of the UK education system following the row over the marking of GCSE English grades this summer. Exam boards may face a legal challenge after changing grade boundaries between January and June. This meant that pupils who sat the exam in January were marked more generously than those who took the exam in June. This is awful for all the young people personally affected by what has happened this year, but there has been concern about inadequacies in the British education system for a while now, and perhaps the public outrage over this will finally bring about change. The Head of one school said that GSCEs are "insufficiently rigorous" while Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Head of Ofsted stated that this is an opportunity to look at the UK's education system and ask "whether it stands up with the best in the world." International tests have shown that it does not.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

UK Standards have Slipped

Back in 2010, it was reported that UK schools had slipped down in world rankings, following the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests in 2009. These tests, held every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), are taken by fifteen year olds in participating countries and economies. British school children were ranked 23rd in the world, down from 12th in 2000. In an increasingly globalised world, this is worrying for the future prospects for the children and young people educated in Britain. As Sir Michael Wilshaw observed:

"Our youngsters, when they leave school, will be going into a global marketplace, they have to compete not just against competitors here but against the rest of the world."

So who are the children who are receiving the best education today, that will allow them to compete the most successfully when they enter the workforce tomorrow? 

Leading the Way 

Image courtesy of photostock/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The late Whitney Houston sang the lyrics which are at the top of this post as part of her song, "The Children Are Our Future." The children who are taught well will be able to lead the way. According to a BBC News article, those children are likely to be from China. The article, entitled 'China: The World's Cleverest Country?' states that Shanghai came top in the 2009 Pisa tests. The results from this round should be published late next year. 

The article showed the leaders in previous years. Other than Finland, all of the top performing pupils are from Eastern Asia. The following are the results in three areas tested: reading, maths and science, respectively.
  • 2000: Finland, Japan, South Korea
  • 2003: Finland, Hong Kong, Finland
  • 2006: South Korea, Taipei, Finland
  • 2009: Shanghai, Shanghai, Shanghai
It was questioned whether Shanghai's results would be representative of other, less prosperous areas of China. However,  Andreas Schleicher, the head of Pisa, said that unpublished test results from nine provinces in China show that pupils in other parts of the country are performing strongly, including those from rural and disadvantaged backgrounds. This is an important point, which I will come back to.

Investing in our Children; Investing in Our Future

Investing in an education system will have long-term benefits for a state's economy, as it will lead to producing skilled workers, who are able to compete in a global economy. President Obama has said that: 

"...countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. Businesses will hire wherever the highly-skilled, highly-trained workers are located."

Some countries give greater priority to investing in their education systems than others. On a recent trip to a poor province in China, Schleicher saw that schools were often the most impressive buildings, whereas in the West, these were more likely to be shopping centres. He said of China: 

"You get an image of a society that is investing in its future, rather than in current consumption."

Subsidising consumption, whilst cutting funding to areas such as education, is a pattern journalist and author, Fareed Zakaria, has noticed in the US. He said that decisions and policies made in the 1950s and '60s, which led to the development of a great public education system and to massive funding for science and technology, were some of the important factors which allowed America's economic growth. Now, Zakaria said, countries including Germany, South Korea and China are making large investments in education, science, technology and infrastructure. If the US continues to cut investments in these areas, it will fall behind.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So how is the UK doing in terms of expenditure on education? National budget cuts in response to the recession have affected the education system. Last year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies released a report, "Trends in Education and Schools Spending" which looked at proposed cuts and their impact. Last month, a Guardian article expressed worries over cuts to the Department for Education's capital budget. It is not just investment itself in the education system that is a concern, but the ability to invest wisely. After the Pisa assessment in 2009, Toby Young, a Telegraph blogger, pointed out that the UK was ranked 8th when it comes to spending per pupil, but its position in the league table was 23rd. The UK spent an average of $60,000 per pupil, between the ages of six and fifteen, compared to $40,000 in Poland and Estonia, but Poland and Estonia were both ranked higher than the UK in the league table. Only seven other OECD countries spent more per pupil than the UK, showing there are more factors to take into consideration than funding alone.

Improving the Education System

Keeping Standards High

Long before the issue of the grading of GSCEs this summer, people have argued that there has been a "dumbing down" of exams in the UK. A report by Ofqual, released in May, which investigated certain subjects at GCSE and A Level showed that they had become less demanding over the last decade. Professor Jonathan Jansen, the Dean of the University of the Free State, South Africa, said in a CNN interview, that in South Africa, the standards are low, with pupils being able to pass some subjects with thirty or forty per cent, all the way up to grade twelve. He commented:

"... it's like we don't get it that in a modern interconnected economy you better be up there playing with the best"

Lowering standards and "dumbing down" exams degrades a country's education system and affects the future of everyone who goes through it. 

Another issue is where educational standards are lowered for part of the population. As I mentioned above, results in China showed pupils were performing strongly, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A problem in the UK, the US and some other Western countries is that expectations have been lowered for pupils from underprivileged backgrounds.  Demanding high standards from pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds allows these pupils to do well, despite their difficult circumstances. In various countries, including China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Finland, OECD researchers found that more that 40% of disadvantaged pupils excelled at school, exceeding expectations, given their background. The UK, however, was found to have a greater variation in reading standards, due to class differences, than almost any other country in the OECD. In this area, just 24% of pupils in the UK performed better than would be expected given their backgrounds. Schleicher has said that accepting lower expectations for poorer children was - 

"the big trap in the 1970s. It was giving the disadvantaged child an excuse - you come from a poor background, so we'll lower the horizon for you, we'll make it easier. But that child has still got to compete in a national labour market."

Lowering standards has long-term detriments for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, ultimately making it more difficult for them to succeed in the future.

Image courtesy of Phaitoon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Good Examples

Other factors also come into play, with regards to increasing the standard of an educational system overall. South Korea, for example, has done well in the league tables. South Korean pupils attend school 220 days per year, compared to the US's 180. South Korean pupils also study at least three hours more than those in the US, per school day. South Korea may be well ahead of the UK and the US in Pisa's rankings for its test scores, but it comes 24th out of thirty developed countries for "study effectiveness". Finland is ranked at the top for study effectiveness, but has the least number of school hours in the developed world. 

Some distinctive elements of the Finnish system include: 

  • the fact that children of all abilities are taught in the same class; 
  • there are no school league tables and only one set of public exams; 
  • children usually have the same teacher from year to year; 
  • the state prescribes the curriculum but teachers are free to decide how to teach a subject; and 
  • the high standard of teaching, with teachers being drawn from the top 10% of graduates and also being required to have a master's degree.
You can see more facts about the Finnish education system hereThe UK Government has been reported as being inspired by the Finnish system. The OECD has said that the quality of teachers is key to raising education standards. Schleicher stated that teachers need to be given "status, pay and professional autonomy." Finland and Singapore recruit high-achieving students to the teaching profession and have two of the most successful education systems in the world.

Another of Schleicher's recommendations is to partner top-performing schools with less successful schools in the area. In the UK, some schools are "coasting" along and "doing so-so." There is room for improvement and partnering with schools that are performing well has proved to be a very successful strategy in Shanghai.

A Good Education

Image courtesy of PaulGooddy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A good education will equip children and young people with the skills to compete in the global market, but we must not forget the other aims of education too. Martha Nussbaum reminds us in her book "Not for Profit" that:

"Anxiously focused on national economic growth, we increasingly treat education as though its primary goal were to teach students to be economically productive rather than to think critically and become knowledgeable and empathetic citizens. This shortsighted focus on profitable skills has eroded our ability to criticise authority, reduced our sympathy with the marginalised and different, and damaged our competence to deal with complex global problems. And the loss of these basic capacities jeopardises the health of democracies and the hope of a decent world."

This will now be a big challenge to achieve, but it is so important to be able to give young people the skills they need for the future and the tools they need to be good citizens and productive members of the global society. As well as improving the quality of education so that it teaches these qualities, all pupils must benefit from the education system. Commenting on the success of the Chinese system,  Schleicher said:

"Anyone can create an education system where a few at the top succeed, but the real challenge is to push through the entire cohort."

I, along with others, are hoping that this row over the GCSEs marking can act as a springboard for Government to take action to improve the quality of British education and to ensure that all children in the UK will benefit from this. We are talking about our future.

25 August 2012

Remembering "Little Rock" - Two Years On

I remember this day two years ago so clearly. Lisle Augis, a little girl my organisation, CHW, wanted to help in South Africa, lost her life in a road accident.

I first met Lisle in 2009, when she was ten years old, through one of the organisations we work with in Cape Town, The Future Factory. Its director, Anne, had been supporting Lisle. When she was seven, Lisle was sexually abused by one of her father's friends, and he then hit her over the head with a rock, stabbed her and set her alight. Unbelievably, she survived! She suffered burns and scars and had reconstructive surgery on her face. She was known in the media as "Little Rock." Anne worked with Lisle in the following years to help her put her ordeal behind her. When I met her, I wouldn't have thought she had been through something so terrible. Anne said to her. "See, now people from abroad are coming to visit you!" and her quick reply to this was "Now all that's left is for me to go abroad!" She told me she wanted to go to Disney Land, and that she would also like to study abroad one day.

Whilst I was in Cape Town, The Future Factory had some funding to buy paint for the outside of the shack where Lisle lived, along with her parents and younger brother. I spent the day with some volunteers and the family, painting. Anne mentioned that as Lisle was growing, the scarred skin on her body was stretching and hurting her, and we thought that maybe my organisation could fundraise to cover the costs of skin grafts, but it was never to be.

Lisle, painting, along with her little brother.

During my last day in Cape Town in 2010, Anne came to the house and said that Lisle's schoolbus had been in an accident. I went to the hospital with Anne, but Lisle was not there. Anne said that we had to go to the mortuary. The family arrived, as did the families of the other children who were killed in the crash. The wait at the mortuary seemed to last for ages, and I kept thinking that it couldn't be Lisle, and there had to be some mistake, but it was her. It was devastating.

I raised the money for the funeral through my organisation and sent it to The Future Factory. My colleagues at the University of the Western Cape also did a collection once I told them the news.

The accident could have so easily been avoided. The minibus (called "taxis" in South Africa) was approaching a train line, and the barriers were coming down. The driver skipped the waiting cars and went ahead over the line, and the taxi was hit by the train. Earlier this year, the driver was given a twenty-year sentence for charges of murder and attempted murder.

Yesterday, the parents of the children who died in this crash, joined with parents whose children died in another accident last year for a joint commemoration service. My sincerest condolences go to all the families who lost children. I just cannot even begin to imagine what they are going through.

Lisle was the only child involved in the accident that I knew personally. Lisle touched many people during her short life of eleven years. She showed real bravery and was an inspiration to many. This article includes an interview with her from a few years ago, and points out how she was a symbol of hope within her community. I saw her smile and laugh despite everything she had been through and I will remember her always. I will end with the words that Anne wrote nearly two years ago, after attending a school memorial service for Lisle:

"Born on 4th of June 1999. Lisles favourite bible verse Psalm 121 verse 1- 8 and her favourite song GOD WILL MAKE A WAY... 
She taught her teacher that if life give lemons, you make lemonade."

09 August 2012

London+20: Part 2

In my last post, I promised to share the link, once the final report for our London+20 event came out. I am really happy to say that the report has been released! You can view it by clicking here.

The focus of London+20 was sustainable development, in the lead up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (aka Rio+20).  Our London event was aimed at youth, and all the issues are important for children and youth, and future generations too. More details are in my previous post, and, of course, in the Report itself!

Some of the others on the organising committee mentioned arranging a second event, following the progress since Rio+20. If this goes ahead, I will post the details on this blog, so you can have the opportunity to participate.

20 July 2012

London+20: Part 1

June was a very busy month! I was involved with quite a few children and youth projects and events. I will write some posts on these, giving links, in case any of them interest you.

They are: helping to organise London+20 - a youth conference which took place in the run up to Rio+20; attending the Taking the Rights Steps Conference, on children's rights, at Swansea University, where a new children's rights Observatory was launched, and organising two fundraisers coming up in July for Children's Helpers Worldwide.


London+20, 5 June 2012

The UN conference on sustainable development took place in Rio de Janeiro from June 20 - 22. The movement, MyCity+20, encouraged young people to organise simulations and have their own conferences on sustainable development, in the run up to Rio+20. I was on the organising committee for London+20

The morning started with some talks from representatives of various organisations and then the participants were split into working groups with the themes: Informal Education for Sustainable Development; Green Jobs for Youth; Global Governance for Sustainable Development; and Sustainable Cities. Everyone then came together at the end of the afternoon and presented the outcomes of each working group. I have made some brief notes on the sessions here, which you can download, if you are interested. (It really is all in note form, so if someone else produces a report from the day, I will provide a link to it!)

Many have been disappointed with the outcome from Rio+20, as it was too weak. If we really care for the welfare of today's children, and future generations too, we must take action to make sustainable development a reality, or we will be handing over a world in a very poor state. The links below can be starting points for finding out more information and taking action:

Here are links to the organisations represented during the morning sessions at London+20:
1. Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future
This is a great site for keeping updated with global sustainable development issues.
2. Ecocide is a Crime
Join the campaign to make ecocide a crime.
3. Commonwealth Youth Climate Network
Network for young climate activists across the Commonwealth.

Another interesting campaign I heard about at London+20, was Future Justice and their campaign for a Ombudspersons for Future Generations. You can see their website here.

If you have any questions about London+20 or have any useful links of your own to share, please leave a comment!

14 June 2012

5 Tweets Marking World Day Against Child Labour Globally

World Day Against Child Labour is every 12 June. It was launched by the International Labour Organisation in 2002. There is more information about their campaign for 2012 here. Events were arranged around the world. Here are five tweets, with links describing either what events took place on the Day, or highlighting child labour issues in different parts of the world.

1. Ghana:
Ameyaw Debrah - @ameyaw112GHANA MARKS WORLD DAY AGAINST CHILD LABOUR tinyurl.com/86hkx9z

2. India:
Trivandrum News - @trivandrumnewsWorld Anti-Child Labour Day Observed - Yentha bit.ly/M64ESe

3. United States:
Child Labor Coalition - @ChildLaborCLCTerrific blog by former child farmworker Norma Flores Lopez on World Day Against #ChildLabor  @CIFcampaign

4. Sierra Leone
Sierra Express Media - @SierraExpressAs We Celebrate Child Labor Day … - 

5. Jamaica:
Jamaica News - @jamiacanewsblogMessage by PM Simpson Miller to Mark World Day Against Child Labour: Jamaica is proud to once again join the glo...http://bit.ly/M3FF29

Finally, a lot of people retweeted The Atlantic's In Focus Photo Essay for World Day Against Child Labour. There are photos from around the world. You can see it here and follow In Focus (@in_focus) on twitter here.

09 June 2012

Vital Needs and a Good Idea - in Ghana

I have just spoken to the director of an initiative my organisation, CHW, supports in Ghana, David. He is the founder of Sankofa Mbofra Fie, which runs a school and an orphanage. I wrote about this here.

One of CHW's volunteers said she would like to arrange a collection for Sankofa at her work. This was great news! I phoned David to clarify what the latest needs are. Firstly, he would use money to pay for food for the children. Secondly, he needs to pay money to rent the orphanage building. The contract he had has just run out. He either needs to rent that building again, or move to another one. What a responsibility to have! He is doing such great work looking after these children, and I hope people will contribute to support this.

David also told me, last time I phoned, that he needed funds to photocopy exam papers for the children that attend his school. This time he told me that it would be great if he could have a photocopying machine. That way, he could use it for the school pupils, but there would also be another benefit. Sankofa is based in a small village called Eguafo. If anyone needs to have anything copied they go to the nearby towns of Cape Coast or Elmina. David could then have a small business in Eguafo, as people there could come to him and pay to use the photocopier.

David has to put the other needs - food and rent - first, but I hope it will be possible for him to get the photocopier too. It is a great idea as it will help with the school's needs, and can also help raise funds for Sankofa.

David also mentioned that it would be good if people could donate secondhand football jerseys. It would be possible to post them to Sankofa.

I am so impressed with what David does for the children in Eguafo, and I really hope to be able to offer some more support through my organisation. I was really happy to hear that one of the volunteers wanted to do a collection! My organisation is still small, and we really appreciate everybody's help! If you also want to get involved with David's amazing work, feel free to leave a comment here or email me at catherine "at" chworldwide.org. Together, we can make a difference!

David with some of the boys at Sankofa's school. I was able to bring a bit of sports equipment, like the ball in the photo, during my last trip to Ghana. Now, it would be great to have some more sports equipment and football jerseys, as well as funds for all the things I wrote about.

23 May 2012

Help CHW Host a Service Project in Time for the Olympics!

Children's Helpers Worldwide (CHW) has been invited to take part in a campaign with an Olympic theme, and you can be involved! The theme of the service project is youth, health and sports. 

We need ideas, volunteers, partners and participants, so there are really are lots of ways you could get involved! The event would be in London, as this is where we are based, but if you have ideas, or have done a similar project that we could now organise as well, it would be great to hear from you, wherever in the world you might be!

Details of the Campaign

The Campaign is being run by Global Service Leaders (GSL). They have just launched a new campaign, called "Relay Volunteerism."  The idea is that organisations in different countries will form "teams" and host a service project (a volunteering event). Each week leading up to the Olympics, a different country will host their event (like the Olympic torch is relayed across countries). GSL would like the grande finale to be in London, as this is where the Olympics will be, and hopes we could host our service project in the week starting July 20. I have pasted GSL's full details of the Campaign at the bottom of this post.

The Campaign focusses on youth, sports and health, so any service project should involve youth and focus either on sports or health (or both, if possible!). I asked what sort of projects GSL had in mind and this was their reply:

"For the Campaign we want organizations to host a service project involving youth and highlighting sports and health. Some ideas are park and playground clean-ups, sports day, etc. This campaign can help fundraise for the organization involved, as long as the association with the Relay Volunteerism Campaign is there."

As it can be a fundraising event, I would love it if it could raise money for CHW! One of our current projects is related to health - we are trying to raise funds to start a children's music therapy project for a rehabilitation centre in Argentina. We are also trying to fundraise for a playground project in Ghana, and support for this would be great too.

Making it Happen!

I realise that July is not too far away! If you would like to be involved and can help, we would need the following to make it possible:

1. Ideas!
If you have an idea for an event that relates to this theme, please let me know. 
It would hopefully be a relatively simple idea... and one where we could easily sort out a venue.

2. Volunteers
If you are happy to help out with this event, whatever idea we eventually come up with, please let me know. It will be great to have help on the day, as well as with the planning leading up to it. 
Please also forward this on to anyone else who you think would want to volunteer.

3. Partners
If you are a member of an organisation, if or your work or community may want to get involved with hosting the service project, please let me know, or get any interested people to contact me. GSL will be featuring all organisations involved on their website, so it is a good chance to get some publicity. We would all work together on hosting the service project.

4. Participants
Depending on the type of event, either children/youth will be volunteers on the day (like with the park clean up idea), or the event will be for them (like with the sports day idea). Schools will be closed for the summer holidays by 20 July, which is a shame, as it might have been easier to link with a school and run a project with them. If anyone has links with summer schools/youth projects and think the young people there may like to be involved, let me know.
(NB - I am just using the examples for events that GSL gave - I am looking for other ideas for events!)

I know we are starting from scratch here, but I really think we have the potential to host a service project, and it will be great to involve young people here in London! 

Get in Touch!

If you want to be involved with the service project and can help with any of the above, you can contact me either by email: catherine "at" chworldwide.org, or you can leave a comment under this post.


GLS's Information on the Campaign

Below are the full details GSL has posted. 

In light of the upcoming Olympic Games, Global Service Leaders (GSL) is proud to announce a campaign highlighting the values of teh Olympic Spirit. GSL brings together members from across the globe to facilitate the sharing of ideas adn resources; with our new campaign "Relay Volunteerism" we aim to blend the visible and invisible aspects of the Games emulating one of the most unique aspects of the Olympics: The Torch Relay. With "Relay Volunteerism" we are looking forward to a new approach that draws in our collective resources as Global Service Leaders.

We have taken inspiration from the Olympic mottos of "Inspire a generation" and "Faster, Higher, Stronger" and encourage emphasizing Sports, Health, and Youth aspects of volunteering in this summer campaign.

Campaign Features:
  • Each country that signs up will become a "national team" (e.g. Team GB, Team Cameroon, etc.)
    • Each team has to have different organizations working together to create a national campaign (highlighting Sports, Health, or Youth).
    • We are looking to get organizations that may not usually interact with each other to come together as a team and host a national campaign.
    • We encourage organizations to bring in partners to set up the campaign and to join GSL as new members.
  • Each team will have one week "bearing the torch". During that one week:
    • The country will be highlighted on GSL.
    • The organizations involved will be spotlighted on GSL.
    • Members from organizations will be featured and interviewed.
    • Members and organizations involved will be asked to submit photos, blog posts and testimonials to feature.
  • We have a tentative start date of June 8th or 15th depending on how many countries sign up.