Jumping ed­u­ca­tional hur­dles

Friday - - Inside -

lo­cal car­pen­ters to make wooden games and asked ex­pats in Ta­male to col­lect card­board boxes, bot­tle tops and but­tons for them.

It took David and I nearly three months to train teenage vol­un­teers from vil­lages who’d never had a job to run the cen­tres, but this was ex­tremely im­por­tant to me, as I wanted the lo­cals to be run­ning their own com­mu­ni­ties.

At the end of the train­ing we held a grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony and en­rolled 120 chil­dren at the cen­tre, where toys, puzzles and charts were used as tools to help chil­dren learn. The vol­un­teers started us­ing their train­ing to teach the chil­dren each af­ter­noon.

The kids at the first cen­tre were so thrilled to fi­nally learn how to count and iden­tify colours that David and I set up two more in neigh­bour­ing vil­lages. All three cen­tres were set up us­ing the £1,000 I raised. Af­ter five months in Ghana I went to Uganda for a friend’s wed­ding, leav­ing David to su­per­vise the cen­tres. I dis­cov­ered on my first day there that it was fac­ing the same ed­u­ca­tional hur­dles as Ghana, af­ter meet­ing Sarah Kany­onga, a for­mer teacher.

Like a sur­ro­gate mother to the oth­ers in her vil­lage of Bukaya, South Uganda, she’d formed a self-help group for HIV/Aids wi­d­ows.

Sarah asked me to set up some play cen­tres there, and train th­ese women to run them. They were some of the world’s poor­est, all il­lit­er­ate and painfully shy. One woman, Robina, was rais­ing her or­phaned grand­chil­dren alone with no job, no in­come and all while she was go­ing blind due to a de­gen­er­a­tive eye con­di­tion.

By the end of the three-month train­ing, the women were much more con­fi­dent and bet­ter able to teach the 160 chil­dren from the sur­round­ing vil­lages.

By late Novem­ber 2008 we’d cre­ated seven play cen­tres in Uganda, in the schools, churches and com­mu­nity build­ings there, work­ing with lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions us­ing money we’d raised plus some more that came in from do­na­tions from peo­ple in the UK.

I could see there was po­ten­tial for more cen­tres, so I set up a char­ity with both David and Sarah as man­agers. Be­cause I wanted to in­stil in the chil­dren a thirst for learn­ing, I called it Lively Minds.

My sav­ings had now run out but I’d been of­fered a le­gal job in Lon­don, so I ac­cepted and flew home in or­der to get some more money to keep the schools open.

From the UK, I ded­i­cated one day a week to Lively Minds on a vol­un­tary ba­sis, plus my en­tire week­ends and an­nual leave while hold­ing down my full-time role. It was ex­haust­ing but re­ward­ing.

By the end of 2011, Lively Minds had es­tab­lished 18 play cen­tres each in Ghana and Uganda. I also launched a child-sac­ri­fi­cepre­ven­tion pro­gramme in Uganda with Unicef.

I heard about child sac­ri­fice by ac­ci­dent. One day Sarah and I were walk­ing through a Ugan­dan vil­lage and a huge group of chil­dren were fol­low­ing us. They were fas­ci­nated by us and were trail­ing us just for fun. “I’m wor­ried that par­ents will think that we’re ab­duct­ing the chil­dren to sac­ri­fice them,” Sarah said. See­ing my hor­ri­fied face, she sat me down to ex­plain.

Hun­dreds of Ugan­dan chil­dren were ap­par­ently be­ing kid­napped by witch doc­tors. They also promised des­per­ate par­ents power, pros­per­ity and wealth if they would al­low their chil­dren to be sac­ri­ficed. Most chil­dren would later be found dead in bushes. I won­dered what could be done to help save the lives of th­ese in­no­cent chil­dren.

On my first trip to Uganda I met lo­cal author Os­car Ranzo. Now back in the UK, I learnt he’d writ­ten a story called Sav­ing Lit­tle Vi­ola, about a girl who is saved from be­ing sac­ri­ficed. Al­though it was a chil­dren’s book, I re­alised it could be used as a pow­er­ful tool to make peo­ple aware of this deadly rit­ual.

I de­vised a les­son plan for teach­ers at the cen­tres in Uganda, which in­volved read­ing the tale aloud and ask­ing chil­dren ques­tions. Os­car loved the idea and agreed to run the pro­gramme.

To date we’ve run 55 school work­shops for more than 7,000 chil­dren in Uganda. One month af­ter we be­gan them, the per­cent­age of stu­dents believ­ing that child sac­ri­fice made peo­ple rich dropped by half.

The chil­dren have also learnt how to pro­tect them­selves. They avoid be­ing out­side alone late in the evening and they are prompt in voic­ing their fears and sus­pi­cions about peo­ple to their teach­ers and par­ents.

Thanks to our anti-sac­ri­fice cam­paign, we’ve man­aged to break the cy­cle of be­lief and en­sure that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions do not turn to it.

Over the years, Lively Minds vol­un­teers have given more than 13,000 chil­dren the op­por­tu­nity to learn by play­ing us­ing prac­ti­cal, stim­u­lat­ing and in­ter­ac­tive ed­u­ca­tional games.

In May this year, I was ec­static to be awarded a grant by the UK-basedWater­loo Foun­da­tion al­low­ing me to work full-time for Lively Minds.

Our plan is to set up play cen­tres in 50 vil­lages, train­ing more than 1,500 women and teach­ing an ex­tra 6,000 chil­dren.

Most of the money for our projects comes from grants from char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tions, com­pa­nies and gen­er­ous in­di­vid­u­als, but we also hold our own fundraisers.

Five years ago I never imag­ined I’d be run­ning a char­ity and spend­ing half my life in Africa, but it’s cer­tainly the most worth­while way I can think to spend my days. I feel very lucky to have been able to make a dif­fer­ence to so many peo­ple. ● Ali­son Naftalin, 33, splits her time be­tween the UK, Ghana and Uganda on re­duc­ing the num­ber of child sac­ri­fices in Uganda

Ali­son is work­ing

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.