2016 – the highlights!

As we look ahead to the new year packed with exciting plans, we reflect on the highlights of 2016 and the impact our work had last year.

 

Futures’ Freedom – a successful first year!

This year we’ve educated over 7,000 community members on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, trained 30 Public Health Nurses and 250 head teachers so they can better support adolescents and prepared 231 peer educators so they’re confident to share their knowledge back at school.

 

A year after it’s launch the Futures’ Freedom programme is going strong, achieving more than we expected in its first year supporting girls and young women and tackling the issue of teenage pregnancy and child marriage head on.

 

A need for the programme was identified through our work in education which revealed that the pressure for girls to marry and have children was acting as a major barrier to education. This is not only holding girls back, and putting their health at risk, it’s holding back entire communities. The programme is transforming the futures of young women by promoting gender equality and empowering them with knowledge on their sexual health and rights.

 

 

Tackling Early Years Education

In partnership with the Ghana Education Service and Sabre Trust we started a new programme in 2016 to improve the quality of Early Years Education in northern Ghana. This work is particularly focussed on raising literacy standards for 4 to 8 year olds and the programme will provide vital training to Kindergarten teachers in order to enhance their teaching skills.

 

We’re working with 117 schools to improve their governing systems and staff monitoring, to ensure teachers are performing at a good standard and are equipped with the training to do so. We’re encouraging the formation of reading clubs in schools as well as establishing Community Education Champions; who are individuals who promote early years education in remote and rural communities and ensure that their local schools are held accountable for providing their children with a good education.

 

We’re very excited to see the impact of this programme as it develops this year!

 

Addressing disability in northern Ghana

In the Upper East Region there are particularly high numbers of children living with disabilities including Cerebral Palsy (CP). These conditions most often result from a lack of medical care during childbirth causing complications that result in lasting damage to the baby. Many of these disabilities are then untreated and undiagnosed for years due to a lack of health information and medical facilities.

 

AfriKids is working with families supporting children with CP and other disabilities to ensure they have access to the help and resources they need; this includes the provision of nutritious food, medical care and access to schooling, as well as providing training for families to ensure they can provide the necessary physiotherapy to help their children’s condition to improve.

 

Due to the success of the work in the village of Sirigu, last year we expanded to the Bongo district, supporting a health centre to provide specialist rehabiltation for CP children and their families.

 

Supporting family businesses

Our micro-finance initiative empowered over 1,450 women last year to set-up or grow their own small businesses so they can generate an income to support their family and fund their children’s education.

 

Thank you to all those who contributed to our ‘Back a Family Business’ campaign in September which raised an incredible £100,000 to support 1,000 families! They’ll be provided with a loan and vital business skills training alongside personal guidance and advice from the team on subjects such as family planning and health. It is this accompanying support package that really sets AfriKids’ micro-finance programme apart and the team managing the project believe that the additional support and advice is what makes the initiative so successful.

 

Due to continually positive repayment results we have decided to extend the three loan cycle model and increase the loan sizes for successful groups of women whose businesses are thriving.

 

From life on the streets to a graduate medic

A true success story, Samuel is an inspiration to us all. He first came to know the AfriKids team when he was living and working on the busy streets of Bolgatanga. Whilst he dreamed of going to school, his everyday reality involved finding whatever work he could to give him any chance of survival or feeding himself.

 

Samuel was then told about the Operation Mango Tree foster home, supported by AfriKids, and he started to seek support there before permanently moving into the home in 2005 so he could start school again. With determination, he progressed through the years and finished Senior High School with impressive grades that secured him a sponsored place at a university in Ghana’s capital, Accra, to study for four years as a Physician Assistant.

 

In December, AfriKids Ghana’s Director, Nich Kumah, attended Samuel’s graduation with him to celebrate his amazing success. He’s now keen to return to Bolgatanga to secure a job at the AfriKids’ Medical Centre and we’d be proud to have him there!

 

Ending the Spirit Child Phenomenon for good

AfriKids recorded the end of the Spirit Child Phenomenon (SCP) in the village of Sirigu four years ago and since then we have expanded the work tackling this damaging cultural belief which puts children at risk. In short, the Spirit Child Phenomenon is a belief that a child born with health problems, disabilities or whose birth coincides with tragic events, is a spirit sent from the bush to cause misfortune for their family. As a result the child may be subjected to abuse, neglect or even infanticide.

 

We have been working to put an end to this harmful traditional practice for a number of years, working closely with local communities and their chiefs to ensure a lasting change is made. Following the success of this work, last year we expanded into the Bongo district and are currently working with 11 out of the 33 communities there. Looking ahead to this year we hope to start work in the remaining Bongo Communities and see an end to SCP in many more.

 

An unclimbed peak in Nepal. 6,010 metres to the summit.17 days to do it.

 

Longstanding supporter, Simon, tells us about summiting the previously unclimbed peak of Karbu Ri in the Nepalese Himalya for AfriKids.

 

“Having previously ascended Kilimanjaro and undertaken a trek  in Ethiopia with Expedition Wise, a first ever ascent of a mountain in Nepal advertised on their website proved irresistible. After the devastating earthquakes of 2015 the travel press was also emphasising the importance of tourism to the recovery of the region.

 

As on previous treks I chose to use the challenge as an opportunity to raise funds for AfriKids, a brilliant charity which supports a variety of locally run initiatives in northern Ghana which I have personally been able to experience after a visit to the region with the charity. Others who signed up were raising money for Shelter Box Nepal and Junior Diabetes Research Fund. Everyone taking part funded their own cost of the expedition so everything raised will go directly to the charities.

 

The Group, initially 13 people, departed from Heathrow on 5th November for Kathmandu. Our trek commenced close to the Tibet border at Chot Chot (1,377 m), reached after a gruelling 9 hour bus ride from Kathmandu, nearly half of which was on unmade roads. The ascent followed the Rowaling valley steadily upwards through the Sherpa villages of Beding and Na both of which were close to the epicentre of the second Nepal earthquake and suffered serious damage from rock falls. Other than by helicopter, access is only via the footpath we were following. It was therefore remarkable to see how much reconstruction had taken place with, according to local people, little assistance from the authorities. They were delighted to see us and the handful of other trekkers we encountered in the valley.

 

Our accommodation was in tents which along with our kit bags were carried by a team of 27 local porters and three yaks. A team of four cooks under the guidance of a young Nepali chef ensured we received all the nutrition required for the ascent. Their ability to produce incredible meals under such challenging circumstances never ceased to amaze us!

 

 

The challenge became very real as we climbed steeply out of the main valley into one of Nepal’s hidden valleys, ringed by 6,000m to 7,000m peaks and comprising entirely of glacial moraine over glacial ice. A day of stumbling over loose rocks brought us to Base Camp at 5,115 m followed by an entirely necessary rest day for acclimatisation. Sadly by this point two members of the team had had to be rescued by helicopter after suffering from severe altitude sickness. The conditions under foot were too difficult and the location too remote to allow for the normal cure of a rapid descent. The rest day also allowed us to take part in the Puja ceremony led by one of our senior Sherpas. This sought permission from the mountain gods to ‘spike’ the mountain with our crampons, ice axes etc and to ensure the safety of the expedition. Food and drink offerings were made and a paste smeared on our faces. Prayer flags were also erected which provide a colourful embodiment of the elements; blue symbolizing the sky and space; white for air and wind; red for fire; green for water; and yellow symbolizing earth.

 

A trek to High Camp at 5,345 m followed, again over unpleasant glacial moraine, with the reward of a further rest day and spectacular views of the surrounding snow covered peaks. We were to spend four nights in this camp with temperatures dropping to close to – 20*C at night. There was also the regular eerie sound of avalanches and rock falls on the surrounding peaks. The immediate route up from the camp involved an ascent up glacier ramps and steep moraine until the snow covered upper reaches of the glacier provided still steep but easier terrain. The Sherpas had installed considerable lengths of fixed line for our security and through the use of a Jumar, a form of hand held ratchet which slides up the rope and acts as a hand hold, facilitated our progress over the steepest sections. The whole team also wore full crampons and double boots, the latter being essential to avoid frost bite. Sadly at this point a third member of the team had to withdraw with altitude sickness and a further helicopter rescue was required.

 

The final summit ridge

 

Our 2.00 am departure for the summit climb was in darkness but with some illumination from a full moon. The approaching dawn from about 5.30 am brought a gradual lightening enabling us to start appreciating the stunning surroundings being revealed and try to take in the fact that we were the first people ever to be climbing in this location. It also became clear that what we had thought was the summit from High Camp was the start of an approximately 1 km long ridge which continued to rise upwards, possibly reaching across the poorly defined border into Tibet. The summit was reached around 9.30 am. After days of looking up at seemingly inaccessible snowy peaks we were suddenly at a similar elevation and looking down into the desolate mountainous border region of Tibet. To our surprise we were also rewarded with a clear view of the west face of Everest.

 

The full team at the summit!

 

We were reminded throughout by our expedition leader, Brian Jackson, that most deaths occur during the descent of mountains, so we didn’t linger on the summit beyond setting up prayer flags and taking team photos. In full daylight it suddenly became apparent how steep sections of the ascent had been. Again the fixed lines provided security during the descent and the team returned safely but exhausted to High Camp around 3.30 pm just as the sun was dropping behind the ridge with the accompanying plummeting in temperature. As a second day had been allowed for an ascent in case of poor weather we were able to rest the following day and reflect on the previous day’s achievements. The trek out was effectively a retracing of our steps on the way up but with steadily increasing amounts of oxygen and heading downhill we were able to double up the days’ walks. We also chose to stay in three tea houses providing additional income to the local community. Accommodation is extremely basic but in all cases was clean.

 

Descending across the hanging glacier

 

A celebratory dinner at the famous mountaineers’ restaurant, Rum Doodle, enabled us to mark our achievement on a ‘yeti foot’ alongside those of far more eminent mountaineers. The ascent will now be more formally recorded in the American Alpine Journal. Expedition Wise have also referred the ascent to the Guinness Book of Records as it is believed that at 10 people we were the largest team ever to complete a first ascent in Nepal!

 

My thanks go out to the incredibly resilient people of Nepal we encountered on this trek who all made us feel very welcome despite still having to deal with so much damage and loss caused by last year’s earthquakes.”

 

If you’d like to support Simon please visit his fundraising page here.

We’re talking about Girl Power this International Day of the Girl

A phrase synonymous with the Spice Girls in the 90s, but what does it mean in 2016 for girls around the world?

 

 

Back in July Victoria Beckham shared a video on her social media which asked: what is it that we want, that we really really want? No more child marriage? No more gender violence? An education for girls? The video has been shared over 700,000 times and has been watched over 56 million times, with a reach far greater than anticipated will we see a united effort to combat these problems this International Day of the Girl? Compared to the 90s we are seeing progression – two and a half times more girls are now enrolled in education, and two thirds of the world’s countries now see the same number of girls and boys enrolled in primary school. However, 62 million girls aged 6-15 are still not in school and 16 million of these girls will never get the opportunity to receive an education – a staggering amount, and double that of boys in the same position.

 

Beyoncé sang about how girls run the world and whether we listen to her or not, she has a point. Educating women has the potential to change the world astronomically; it can decrease poverty, maternal mortality, infant mortality and child marriage. Poverty remains the biggest factor in keeping girls out of school and there are many barriers which prevent girls being in education, namely having to work at home, being married at an early age, the distance and even a lack of simple amenities such as private female toilets.

 

In a world where people are standing up to take notice of the abuses that disproportionately affect women and girls, such as child marriage, even the most isolated parts of the world are making a change. When girls are forced to marry, their lives are no longer their own to live. They are forced to drop out of school, often becoming mothers before their bodies are ready – girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their twenties, they must leave their families to live with their new husband and typically also his parents. They become tied to a life of domestic labour, childbearing and poverty.

 

If all girls finished primary school, maternal deaths would be cut by 70%

and further still, if all girls finished secondary school, child deaths would be halved.

Educated women are a force to be reckoned with, empowered to have their own voice in their household, they are more likely to have healthier and fewer children, to have them later in life and send them to school. Educated women earn higher incomes, participate more in the formal labour market and marry at a later age, all of which help to lift households out of poverty whilst contributing to the economy.

 

 

Northern Ghana is refusing to be left behind in the global movement to improve the lives for girls and women and AfriKids is specifically working to reduce child marriage with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery and the Department for International Development. We recently launched a new project to tackle the issue of child marriage, whilst promoting education and safe places for girls to seek advice surrounding this issue. Where we work, up to half of the female population are at risk of being married before they reach 18, generally forced to marry older men by parents who have not been educated on the reasons why this should not and cannot happen. Child marriage diminishes the educated female population, especially in rural areas where it is already difficult to access formal employment, but near impossible without an education. It takes the lives of mothers leaving many babies without food, as formula milk is a luxury few can afford, and it takes the lives of babies and children.

 

We’re working to unleash girl power for the female population across northern Ghana, to allow them to stand up for what they believe in, to make the choice when to marry, to remain in school and to lead a life dictated by themselves with the opportunity to make a good living. This may sound like a task too big for the small charity that we are, but the tricky task of changing traditional local attitudes and practices which are harmful to children is something we are becoming best known for. A decade of work tackling the “Spirit Child Phenomenon” has seen unprecedented results where others have failed and attracted international attention. The traditional belief in “spirit children” sees misfortunate children (usually those with misunderstood disabilities or mothers who die in childbirth) identified as evil spirits who must be absolved in order to protect the greater good, resulting in abuse, neglect and even the killing of babies and children. Our sensitive approach, led entirely by our local team in Ghana, has now abolished this harmful practice from seven communities and is on a mission to eradicate it from northern Ghana completely.

 

It is this proven method that we are using to tackle the issue of child marriage. Whilst it isn’t difficult to find support for this work, actually tackling the issue head on is a complex business which takes time, trust and respect – a combination that we are committed to investing in until the job is done.

AfriKids’ partner, Alpha FMC, smash the 3 Peaks Challenge!

A huge thank you to all those at Alpha FMC who took part in the 3 Peaks Challenge a few weekends ago. The team have raised an impressive £2,114 so far to support our work in Ghana, as part of our current partnership with the Global Financial Markets Consultancy. Here Alex Bowie, a consultant who took part in the challenge, gives you a taste of what it was all about:

 

 

The Three Peaks Challenge is one of the UK’s toughest endurance challenges which involves climbing the three highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales back-to-back, including a night ascent of Scafell Pike in the Lake District:

 

  • Ben Nevis, in Scotland (1344m)
  • Scafell Pike, in England (978m)
  • Snowdon, in Wales (1085m)

 

For our team of 14 challengers departing from London and Edinburgh, the challenge included travelling over 1000 miles in our two 7 seater Ford Galaxy vehicles (rated family car of the year 2010) over the course of the weekend, hiking the distance equivalent to a marathon (42km) and covering over 3000m of ascent, all within c. 24 hours, give or take some transport delays.

 

Team Alpha

 

The challenge was really tough – as the team neared the summit of Ben Nevis the wind and damp mist pushed the ‘real feel’ temperature including wind chill below freezing with any bare skin feeling ice cold in seconds. The weather cleared further down the mountain and it was pleasantly warm by the time we reached the cars at the end of the first climb. After a quick turnaround (ok, maybe 20 minutes of ‘Alpha faff’ too) we jumped into the vehicles and hit the road for Carlisle where we would collect Alex G and Charlotte for the final two peaks; them having completed an equivalently tough peak in Penrith that morning…

 

In darkness we began the ascent of Scafell Pike around 10pm, and took pleasure in overtaking a number of other groups as we completed the ascent in under two hours while watching trains of torch lights following us up the mountain from other groups. We descended as the mist blew in and pushed on to arrive back at the vehicles by 2am – time for a quick nap while the drivers pushed through the night to take us to Mount Snowdon as the sun was rising through North Wales.

 

After our 4th (or 5th ?!) McDonald’s of the weekend we arrived at Snowdon with tired legs and a number of niggling strains and injuries but in good spirits – the sun was shining and it was our final peak! The group pushed on, opting for the flatter Miners Track to begin with before ascending steeply to the summit – again, covered in mist and cold we descended slowly with tired legs but were rewarded with a fantastic and clear view of Snowdon further down the mountain before returning to the vehicles for the long journey home.

 

 

Thank you to everyone who has sponsored us, we are very grateful for your support. For anyone who would still like to donate and support such a great cause, our fundraising page is still live at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Alpha-FMC1

 

The AfriKids 3 Peaks Challenge Team consisted of Alex Bowie, Alex Davies, Alex Glaister, Anthony Boakye-Mensah, Andrew Mason, Andreas Nystrom, Ben Elvidge, Charles Rabier, Charlotte Close-Smith, David Cox, Dom Locket, Khati Norakidze, Tim Quaye and Ed Gutierrez (our mountain guide).

 

We would like to say a special thank you to our drivers Ben Elvidge and Andrew Mason who did an incredible job driving unfamiliar vehicles on unfamiliar roads for over 1000 miles. Rumour has it that Andrew has already pre-ordered a Ford Galaxy for his next adventure …

 

Community Health Campaigners – the champions helping AfriKids to end child marriage

AfriKids works every day to tackle a number of pressing issues in northern Ghana with a team of 117 dedicated local staff. But with over 26 projects running across sixteen districts we rely on local heroes in the community to champion our work, volunteering their time to help us achieve lasting change.

 

Queue the Community Health Campaigners – supporting AfriKids to end child marriage in northern Ghana for good.

 

 

Last year we launched an initiative to get more girls into school, bring down teenage pregnancy and see an end to child marriage in the areas we work. With up to 50% of young women recording that they married under the age of 18, AfriKids recognised the urgent need for something to change. With funding from the UK government’s Department for International Development and support from the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, work began.

 

But none of this would be possible without support from campaigners within the local communities. Crucial support from people who truly believe that there is a need for change and who are willing to question damaging traditional attitudes in their communities to promote a better understanding of issues arising from teenage pregnancy and child marriage, such as girls being held back from accessing an education. This work is therefore not only protecting girls and their health but enabling them to become active, productive members of their society, which in turn helps to lift their communities as a whole out of poverty.

 

Whilst it is rewarding work, to see the positive development of your own local community, it is not without its challenges; however AfriKids have been overwhelmed by the dedication and commitment of these local heroes. Outside of their everyday jobs, whether a farmer, teacher or hairdresser, they are advocates of girls’ rights fighting against forced marriage and underage pregnancy to promote an environment where girls will have more choice over if, and when, to marry and have children.

 

This is an incredibly important step towards ensuring that girls stay in school, giving them a better chance of building their own independent future. The Community Health Campaigners spend time in schools and communities providing educational workshops for both girls and importantly boys, on contraception, sexual health and sex education.

 

Giving children and young adults access to a better understanding of this subject, which is often considered too much of a taboo to discuss amongst families, may seem simple but we’re already seeing effective results! This is how locally led development is changing the face of aid.

 

A huge thank you to players of People’s Postcode Lottery for making this possible.