Archive | About this blog RSS feed for this section

Koy Thomson – Women’s empowerement

8 Mar

All people living in remote and conflict-affected areas endure levels of anxiety and hardship that we would find hard to imagine. Women bear the additional burden of discrimination, domination and abuse. But with rights and opportunities, women can become powerful leaders of positive change.

Photographs of the women we meet show strength and pride. But spend time with them and the rawness and injustice of gender inequality hits deep and hard. The human capability and drive to improve your own life and those of your children is blocked daily by the humiliation, abuse and disrespect engendered for being born female. Moved by what she was seeing on the high plateau of South Kivu, Thea, Children in Crisis’ Programme Manager in DR Congo wrote:

“Women are disadvantaged by their lack of education, by the paucity of life opportunities that come their way and by the deeply patriarchal society that teaches them from the moment they can talk – to be humble and servile and focus their life ambitions first and foremost on being a wife and a mother, preferably while still a teenager. They are disadvantaged by social norms that condone their subjugation in all sorts of ways including through physical violence. They continue to be affected by the horrific legacy of a decade-long conflict in which sexual violence was used extensively as a weapon to humiliate, control and ruin lives.

Those who are lucky enough to get a good education and find themselves among the small minority of the formally employed, are more often than not crippled by a lack of self-confidence and self-belief and a reflexive submissiveness to male colleagues/men in general”.

Photographs of the women we meet show strength and pride. But spend time with them and the rawness and injustice of gender inequality hits deep and hard

Photographs of the women we meet show strength and pride. But spend time with them and the rawness and injustice of gender inequality hits deep and hard

‘Empowerment’ is something that comes from within. It is not something we can give or do to the women we encounter. But women are telling us what helps and are surprising us with what they value the most. The capacity to save and manage money in the company of other women has been strikingly popular and by global standards very effective, in both Afghanistan and DR Congo.

Village savings and loans associations (VSLAs) in DR Congo  

In the absence of banks, post office or other basic infrastructure, VSLAs have been instrumental in enabling isolated and self-sufficient Plateau communities in South Kivu, to raise family living standards. Thanks to the carefully saved money, health costs are more easily covered; children are in school more regularly, are better clothed and less likely to go hungry. Moreover, women (who make up more than 70% of the 705 VSLA members) have seen impressive gains in their social status, participation in community decision-making and value within the household.

Our Pamoja (Kiswahili for ‘together’) VSLA project in the remote Plateau area of South Kivu, DR Congo, started in April 2014. It consists in helping set up and providing support to groups of 20-30 community members to save regularly together and then access loans from these savings.

“Men used to think of us as children who were incapable of managing money and assets. Now they have seen that we are able to better manage what we have and that we think of the future.”

 Mrs Francine Nyarukundo, Kitembe VSLA member.

 

Women’s education, training & banking in Afghanistan

Under the Taliban, nine in ten women in Afghanistan went without any form of education. Some were married off too young, written off for life. At Children in Crisis, the education of out-of- school girls is our priority, particularly in hard-to- reach areas where poverty and displacement are the harsh reality.

The trust and respect that we build within communities in Afghanistan enables us to advocate for their daughters’ education. On a more practical level, the savings groups that are run from our education centres give women access to credit and the chance to earn and save. This stops families having to send their children out to work or, especially for girls, being married at a very young age. Instead, they can go to school, have a chance to learn and chase life’s opportunities.

The literacy and tailoring classes that we hold for women don’t only enable them to read and write for the first time, or just give them financial independence. They offer a rare chance to leave the home and socialise – an opportunity that shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

Advertisements

Robert Benham – Sierra Leone – ‘Inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase

3 Dec

Having witnessed first-hand the importance of a mother who understands about disability and supports her child, or how a simple aid can enable a child to be a child, I encourage you to look beyond this big title and to consider what ‘Inclusion matters’ really means to children like Nouhou.

Imagine having to move away from your family home, the village you have grown up in, because your community do not accept your child.

For children like Nouhou 'inclusion matters' is more than just a phrase - it is the key to a brighter future

For children like Nouhou ‘inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase – it is the key to a brighter future

When Aminata gave birth to Nouhou, who has cerebral Palsy, she was told he was ‘evil’ and that she must throw him away. Aminata refused. She chose her son instead.

It is the discrimination and lack of understanding that Aminata and Nouhou faced that the International Day of Disabled Persons is trying to overcome. Based around the theme of ‘inclusion matters’, the day is focussing on the gains derived from integrating people with disabilities into society.

Sitting outside Nouhou and Aminata’s home, listening to her story, I can’t imagine how hard her decision must have been but, how she talks about her son, and the warm look in her eyes as she watches over him, I know that she still believes it was the correct one.

Nouhou with his mum Aminata - his protector.

Nouhou with his mum Aminata – his protector.

She has built a life for her son. Nouhou has grown into an inquisitive 6 year old. With the help of his sister, every day he walks to a nearby primary school and is starting to get the education that will enable him to live an active and inclusive life when he grows up.

Sat next to his mum, wearing his bright green uniform, Nouhou eyes us cautiously, slowly leaning in closer to his protector. Nouhou’s natural suspicion is understandable considering the battles he faces to be included in his world.

His father refuses to acknowledge him as one of his own because of his disability and children at his school provoke and agitate him. Even his community, whilst much more understanding than the one he was born into, do not fully accept him – just the Friday before the family was asked to leave the Mosque.

“It is always a challenge, but I have no choice, I will always support my child.”

During my time in Sierra Leone, the barriers facing children with disabilities were striking in their number. I witnessed an absence of understanding around disability, sometimes unsupportive families, schools and homes that are inaccessible to the disabled – all of which contributed to too many children with disabilities being destined to a life of marginalisation and isolation.

Despite the obstacles that children with disability face to be included in their community, every day I was encouraged by the progress I saw being made by Children in Crisis’ partner organisations such as WESOFOD – a local NGO run by a group of inspiring people with disabilities who advocate for the rights of the disabled and directly support children with disabilities – and by the impact small changes were making to the lives of children like Nouhou.

Sahid's mobility aid enables him to travel to school each day and mix with other children. It enables a child to simply be a child.

Sahid’s mobility aid enables him to travel to school each day and mix with other children. It enables a child to simply be a child.

As we were sat talking to Nouhou, we heard a familiar noise coming up the road, Sahid being accompanied home by his friends.

Sahid, who will be moving into the residential rehabilitation centre being constructed by Children in Crisis & WESOFOD, attends the same school as Nouhou and, unable to walk, gets around on a mobility aid.

This simple device is a great example of little things having a huge impact. It enables Sahid to go to school and to achieve an education. It has allowed him to interact with children his own age and to make friends, making sure that the next generation of children treat those with disabilities equally.

It is estimated that worldwide there are one billion people with disabilities, many of whom live on the periphery of their community, marginalised and discriminated against.

This year’s theme, ‘Inclusion matters’, is a strong phrase for an important International Day. It represents a vision of hope, empowerment and equality.

Having witnessed first-hand the importance of a mother who understands about disability and supports her child, or how a simple aid can enable a child to be a child, I encourage you to look beyond this big title and to consider what ‘Inclusion matters’ really means to children like Nouhou.

For these children ‘inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase; it is the key to a brighter future, one where they have the opportunity to live life on their terms.

Written by: Robert Benham, Trust Fundraising Assistant, Children in Crisis

Run Mr Koy!

10 Apr

“…I’m like an Audi when I’m running. Vorsprung Durch Technik”

Chief Executive Koy Thomson is running the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday 13th April for Children in Crisis. Here he gives us a little insight into his sometimes dangerous, often bizarre world of running. Enjoy.

Koy started running twenty years ago, when he began working for a humanitarian charity. Koy used running as a means to get to know the regions, where he was working.  “When you are out and about, you get to see how people really live,” says Koy. “Running is a less hostile way to get around.”

So far, Koy has run in the mountains of South Africa, deep snow in the creeks of Washington DC, the polluted squatter settlements in the Philippines, round colonial reservoirs in India, precipitous valleys of the Silk Route in Afghanistan, tropical forest in Brazil, the Atlantic coast in the Gambia, the rift valley in Ethiopia and the training grounds of the great runners in Kenya. There have been times when Koy’s running sessions have had safety hazards that the average runner has not had to undergo.  Koy once ran into a minefield in Afghanistan; “I saw beautiful mountains, when I went up for my morning run.  I hadn’t noticed the painted warning rocks…until I came to a skull and crossbones arrangement in rocks.  I then had to retrace my steps…that was very foolish.” He also killed a snake while running in the Gambia, “there was a neat heel print on its poor crushed head”.  Koy has also been buzz-dived by buzzards guarding nests on a fort in India.

Koy in CBEC 1 Kabul

“Knowing that I can contribute in such a practical way, to the projects run by Children in Crisis makes it all the more personal.” Koy in a Community Based Education Centre, Kabul, Afghanistan

“You don’t have a problem with robbers because you have nothing on you, but someone has stopped me because they wanted my running shoes. I ran off. If he’d had my shoes he might have caught me”   That still hasn’t put him off.

Koy is not your conventional runner. Koy runs barefoot, “I do it because there’s something contrary in my nature. Also I always like re-learning things by using a new technique; un-learning, then re-learning. Also running barefoot is a better, more natural way of running.”

Koy does not have a playlist of inspiring tracks to get him through his next run, or to push forward to a finish line. “When I run, I listen to a metronome.  For me it’s all about the step you are taking.  It’s all in the moment. On the other hand I have all this superfluous electronic gadgetry. I’m like an Audi when I’m running. Vorsprung Durch Technik.”

 

Koy & Hello Kitty

Koy and his running trainer, Hello Kitty the tortoise.

On average, at 55, Koy runs three times a week, his 16 mile run into the office is sufficent for his fitness regime. “The older I get, my running is more focused. I’m more interested in my technique. These days, I pay more attention to how I run. I listen to my body.”

Koy rarely runs the same route each week. “Running is still a great way of discovering interesting places to go.” Koy has coined a new phrase –‘Jog Tourism’, while on holiday, he uses running to see the main sights of a city and tourist spots.

After much persuasion from his team, Koy will be one of thousands taking part in the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon. We have seen his sterling efforts training; running into work and slipping out for a run, at lunchtime in the rain. We’ve been gobsmacked as we have witnessed his jaw-dropping protein and carb-filled combinations for breakfast and lunch (falafel for breakfast, baked beans, gnocchi, bagels, scrambled eggs, and smoked salmon, all lavishly layered with hot pepper sauce).

Not only has Koy had to undergo a strict training regime, he has also had the dilemma and angst of running attire. There is a rumour running round the Children in Crisis office, that Mr Thomson may be running as the Children in Crisis pencil, Koy has neither confirmed nor denied this allegation.

Pencil costume

Koy has neither confirmed nor denied if he will be running in the pencil costume.

“Running the Marathon will be a lifetime ambition. I will be spurred on by the crowds who come to cheer me on and the support of those who sponsored me. Running the Marathon has been a lifetime ambition and it will be thrilling. Knowing that I can contribute in such a practical way, to the projects run by Children in Crisis makes it all the more personal.”

The staff, Trustees and friends of Children in Crisis would like to wish Koy all the best for Sunday’s race, many of them will be there to cheer him on and support him. If you would like to show your support for Koy, please make a donation at http://www.justgiving.com/koy-thomson

Finding our voice

3 Apr

You’re reading the first of a stream of blogs that we hope will flow from the field to you, a supporter of our projects in Afghanistan, the DR Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone. With these blogs what we want is for you to see, feel and know that the work you support is constantly progressing, developing, and improving lives. We want you to see how we reflect on our learning and experience to improve the way we work. We want you to meet the amazing programmes staff and local partner NGOs who give so much energy and drive to make these projects succeed. What I, a fundraiser for Children in Crisis most want is for you to be inspired by the voices in these blogs as I am, to know that you support a truly important and valuable cause. See education brought to some of the most neglected people and the difference it makes. Know the difference you make.

Some posts will be long, others short. Some more thoughts and feelings, others more facts and detail. We are new to this blogging business, so please, be patient and read on as we find our voice.

And with no further a’do. Meet our first voice from the field…..