Tag Archives: Koy Thomson

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.

 

A chance to learn, a chance in life

9 Sep

“Our constant has been a long term commitment to shattered communities after the cameras have left and the emergency aid dries up.”

In the first of a series of blogs about our 21st anniversary campaign, our CEO Koy Thomson highlights some of Children in Crisis’s achievements over the last 20 years.  Achievements only made possible because of the generosity and support of our donors and supporters.  We wanted to take the opportunity to thank you.  

John, a disabled shoemaker in Sierra Leone, Oct 2013

Koy Thomson (left of picture) meets John, a disabled shoemaker in Sierra Leone, Oct 2013

 

We are really excited to launch our 21st anniversary campaign ‘A chance to learn, a chance in life’ (#ChanceToLearn).

21 years is a coming of age, as with every birthday, we thought it’s important to take stock and reflect on what you’ve helped us achieve in the last two decades.

It is thanks to your desire to take a stand and do something in a world that is often chaotic and unfair that we have achieved so much.

With your help we have built more than 48 schools, trained more than 10,500 teachers and educated more than half a million children.

In Sierra Leone, we’ve provided vocational training to nearly 1,000 child soldiers, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo we have improved education for some 57,000 children in 50 schools and in Afghanistan nearly 500 women who missed education because of the war, graduated from vocational training and three-quarters of them have been able to set up livelihoods as a result.

It has been a long journey to our present focus on education and child protection. In the early years, we delivered safe water for 200,000 people in former Yugoslavia, provided medical assistance to 8,000 children in Russia and treated 6,700 children in Poland for cancer and chronic illness.  In Afghanistan, 10,000 children have been protected from abuse and mistreatment and over 100,000 street working and out of school children have receiving accelerated teaching.

Our constant has been a long term commitment to shattered communities after the cameras have left and the emergency aid dries up.  Because resources are scarce the support must be long-lasting. Our aim is to improve the lives of children and their communities in some of the most remote, post-conflict territories by delivering sustainable education.

School children welcoming Children in Crisis in Burundi

School children welcoming Children in Crisis in Burundi

 

The South Kivu Plateau in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The South Kivu Plateau in the Democratic Republic of Congo

 

In total over the past 20 years with your help, we have reached and helped nearly 1.4 million children and their families.

Your support to these children’s education and protection has given them the best start for living a happy and healthy life. I have no doubt that because of you, they face a brighter, better future.

A huge thank you from us and all the children we have helped.  Without our supporters we couldn’t have done all this.

But some of our projects are under threat which is why we have launched an urgent appeal.  Ebola in West Africa and political transition in Afghanistan are having a direct impact on our work.

We need to adapt to the circumstances and play an active role in providing a preventative and protection response.  To fulfil our commitment so that children and communities can fulfil their dreams of receiving a quality education and to create and continue their small business enterprises to support their families.

But this needs resource and we really need your support.

It’s so important that the UK government’s UK Aid Match Scheme is supporting us between September and December.  Every pound raised from the British public will be doubled AND if you are a UK tax payer, we can benefit from Gift Aid too.  So your donation will work even harder and go even further.

Please help.  It’s really vital.

Thank you.

Please pledge your support, so that Children in Crisis can reach out to many more vulnerable children, and give them a chance to learn, a chance in life.

Follow #ChanceToLearn on twitter and facebook.

Donate button graphic

 

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

Koy Thomson – Sierra Leone – Trustee’s visit

26 Nov

Dignity more than anything else was what Trustees brought to Isa. Priceless and Isa knew it.

Foreword:

Sometimes it is easy to forget that it is the Trustees who are ultimately responsible for the charity and ensuring that it achieves its mission, and that staff are delegated by Trustees to deliver the work. A critical part of a well governed charity therefore is for the Trustees to actually see the work on the ground. The experience of a recent Trustee visit to Sierra Leone was that Trustees weren’t just being shown, but contributed, provoked and provided critical comment. Immediately upon return they found themselves far better able to represent Children in Crisis at fundraisers, and could make even more effective decisions in Board meetings. It cost the Charity nothing, since they all paid their way.

My blog:

I was most surprised. Isa, a young man I had spent time with in my previous visit to Sierra Leone, wanted the whole Trustee gaggle to visit Pailap, his village in the bush. Of course being blind he wasn’t aware of what a sight we were. Actually my Trustees looked pretty good. I cannot recall recommending white slip-ons, subtly-shaded linen and delicate white blouses in our briefing notes, but as one trustee said “we are visiting people’s homes. They will dress up for us, and it is courteous that we dress up for them”.  She was right, and I felt scolded in my walking boots and functional outdoor trousers.

“we are visiting people’s homes. They will dress up for us, and it is courteous that we dress up for them”

“we are visiting people’s homes. They will dress up for us, and it is courteous that we dress up for them”

Previously I had sat alone with Isa as the sun went down and he had taken me by the hand to guide me round his village. Looking back over my notes I had written the following:

Aged 12, Isa woke up blind and retreated from the world. “I felt ashamed to come out and play with my friends. I stayed out of the sun”. He pulled back his shirt to reveal pale skin “I am a black man” he exclaimed. “I stopped going to school because my parents thought I was worth nothing”. “I used to like football and to walk long distances to watch films. Even when I was married and had three children I was full of fear. Mr Kamara from Wesofod met me in my village and spent a long time trying to persuade me to come and be with other people. I refused many times because I could not see. But now I understand that I am disabled and that we must help one another, and we can use the organisation to help others. Now I am ready to work”.

"now I understand that I am disabled and that we must help one another, and we can use the organisation to help others. Now I am ready to work”.

“now I understand that I am disabled and that we must help one another, and we can use the organisation to help others. Now I am ready to work”.

Now one year later I was back at the Village of Hope with the Children in Crisis Trustees, and for many of them this was their first time in Africa. I must say I was very proud of them. They were warm, attentive, respectful, and moved. They were also quick to grasp that although abject poverty and destitution is visible in people’s bodies, clothes, homes and manner – people who have given up and have accepted that terrible fact, much of what makes up poverty is invisible. People with disability know this better than most. It is the way that your parent looks at your wasted limbs or sightless eyes and calls you useless and stops you going to school. It is the way that you are humiliated by discrimination and excluded from work. It is the way that others disable you, denying you opportunities. It is grinding anxiety and worry about holding things together for yourself and your family, for the next day, the next week.

Much of what we call poverty is invisible because people make it invisible. Learning to endure the bad things that happen is critical to wellbeing. You keep smiling and hoping. And when the children and adults from the Village of Hope rush out to greet you, the warmth overwhelms. Our Trustees learned very quickly that understanding the reality of people’s lives takes sympathetic listening, gentle interrogation, and careful research. Crafting solutions is even harder. This is more akin to the negotiations that many of them experience in their professional London lives: how much will the community put in; how much will the government put in, and; how much will Children in Crisis put in? These are not hand-outs but hand-ups.

Children in Crisis Trustees Dr Anthony Wallersteiner (left) & Alasdair Haynes (right) visit Isa's village

Children in Crisis Trustees Dr Anthony Wallersteiner (left) & Alasdair Haynes (right) visit Isa’s village

But back to Isa: he was undoubtedly more confident – “Koy” he shouted as he heard my voice amongst the many new voices across the room “my friend”.  Before I had only heard him whisper. Already he was plotting for all of us to visit his village. ‘Why?’ I thought. We weren’t going to take anything. We wouldn’t be planning, building, planting, digging anything. We would just be a rabble that temporarily doubled the village population (nearly), wander around scattering chickens and knocking over bowls, and gossip with whoever we encountered. But an invitation is an invitation.

Sure enough, we arrived at Pailap and scattered across the village, even excelling ourselves by scaring the sacred vultures off a sacred tree. A couple of toddlers ran off shrieking at the ‘walking corpse-like’ look of white people, but generally the villagers of Pailap were entertained by our presence.

Isa held my hand tightly. “Koy” he said, “I am so happy. Now all you important people have visited me from faraway, people in this village will know I am really something. Now they will treat me well”.

This was a bit of an ‘aha’ moment for me. Dignity more than anything else was what Trustees brought to Isa. Priceless and Isa knew it.

Further reading:

Children in Crisis Trustee Dr Anthony Wallersteiner has written his own blog on the Trustee’s visit to Sierra Leone. Read it here (on the website of Stowe School, of which Dr Wallersteiner is headmaster).