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“The education of our children is the only asset that cannot be stolen from them”

Posted on Dec 8, 2016 in News | 0 comments

“The education of our children is the only asset that cannot be stolen from them”

The fifth school to be funded by The Millione Foundation opened in September. It is in a poor community in the centre of the country in the district of Sierra Leone’s second city, Bo. What follows is an extract from the report sent to us by ActionAid Sierra Leone. It includes several quotes from the local people involved and clearly shows the benefits, the obstacles and the appreciation. It is a far better statement of why we do what we do than anything I can write. Thank you so much for your commitment to improving the lives of children and their families in Gollu community, in Bo District, Sierra Leone. With your support, at least 354 children will have improved access to a quality education. We have built a school so that children have a safe, well-equipped learning environment where they can gain the knowledge they need to thrive later in life. We know that the school building alone isn’t enough to ensure children receive a good education, which is why we are addressing other barriers to education including poverty, violence against girls and traditional attitudes that prevent girls from attending school. Key project successes to date: • Enrolment has increased by more than 10% with 405 children now enrolled in the school – the enrolment of girls has also increased by 10% which is a positive step in the recognition of girls’ education • The community is working together to identify issues with the quality of and barriers to education. They have put in place action plans to tackle these issues. This leadership and ownership of the community is testament to the sustainability of the activities. • 30 women have been trained and provided with resources so they can begin setting up their small businesses • The women involved in the project have stated that their involvement in community decisions, and the respect they receive from men, has increased as a result of this project Hawanatu Kafulla, 11 years old, said “On behalf of the pupils and staff of the school, we say a big thank you to the Millione Foundation for providing this beautiful school for us. We have been given an opportunity that will help to transform our lives and that of our families. We now have access to water and good toilet facilities that will help us to stay in school and learn well. We thank the donors for their care and support to the Gollu Community.” Barriers to education Despite the Government of Sierra Leone’s 2003 commitment to provide free primary education, progress towards improving education is slow. A lack of investment means that classes across the country currently take place in dilapidated buildings and teachers are often untrained and unqualified. Dropout rates are high, particularly among girls. The school environment is very important for encouraging children, especially girls, to attend school. If girls do not have access to private, safe toilets, they are likely to skip school when they are menstruating and often drop out altogether. This is not helped by local gender norms which see many people in the communities taking the view that girls should stay at home and help with domestic chores. The education sector in Bo district is not exempt from these problems with poor infrastructure, a limited number of qualified teachers and high dropout rates. However, with your support, we are addressing these issues and ensuring children in Gollu community and the surrounding villages can receive a quality education. If ever there was a time that children needed access to quality education, it is now. The Ebola outbreak...

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New Wine Book Raises Funds For Schools in Sierra Leone

Posted on Sep 29, 2016 in News | 0 comments

New Wine Book Raises Funds For Schools in Sierra Leone

Exciting news! My book “YOUR WINE QUESTIONS ANSWERED: The 25 things wine drinkers most want to know” has been published by Citizen Press. And even more exciting- 100% of the revenue I receive will be donated to Millione to fund primary schools in Sierra Leone. Working in partnership with ActionAid we have funded 5 schools educating 1500 kids. Those funds came largely from sales of the Millione wine brand. Book sales will go towards building the 6th school.     WHY I WROTE THE BOOK I started my first wine business 30 years ago. Since then I have had hundreds of conversations with wine drinkers. When someone asks what I do for a living and I reply that I work in the wine business, they often say “oh I love wine….but of course I don’t know anything about it”. Later, as confidence grows, they sometimes ask a question, almost invariably starting with “I don’t want to sound stupid but….” followed by a very sensible question. Questions like: • WHAT IS CABERNET SAUVIGNON? • WHY DO THEY SAY SOME WINES HAVE ‘A HINT OF GOOSEBERRIES’? • WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHAMPAGNE AND CAVA? • HOW LONG WILL WINE KEEP IN AN OPEN BOTTLE? • WHY DOES WINE COST SO MUCH? • ARE HEAVILY DISCOUNTED WINES WORTH THE FULL PRICE? • WHAT IS THE BEST WINE? • IS IT TRUE THAT ORGANIC WINE DOESN’T GIVE YOU A HEADACHE? • WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO CHOOSE WINE IN A RESTAURANT? These are practical “usage” questions that drinkers are often too embarrassed to ask. So I wrote the book for them. These are the 99% of people who enjoy wine and want to feel confident about the decisions they make but don’t want to be bamboozled with wine language. Although I have been in the business for decades I am still one of them. And as virtually everyone is, I suspect you are too. WHAT DOES THE BOOK CONTAIN? There are 25 short chapters of 2-8 pages each, accompanied by some great colour illustrations. The title of each chapter is one of the questions, and the content is a conversational discussion around it. The chapter ends with “In One Gulp”, a take away summary of the answer that can be read in less time than it takes to swallow a mouthful. WIN – WIN Every time someone buys and reads YOUR WINE QUESTIONS ANSWERED they will learn something of relevance to them. And because all my revenue is being given to Millione they will also be increasing the chances of kids in Sierra Leone being able to learn at school. During the launch at Daunt Books in London we sold out 100 copies in an hour! (Plenty more available now.) Many people bought multiple copies to give as gifts. The search for that perfect Christmas or birthday gift is over! You can buy the book at Amazon £8.99 in print and £5.99 in Kindle eBook (UK and USA) or in print at Waterstone’s on line and Daunt Books in London. See www.yourwinequestions.com for more...

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One Day We Got a Call

Posted on Apr 2, 2016 in News | 0 comments

One Day We Got a Call

“One day we got a call from someone who was going to work, she was screaming down the phone saying ‘there is something that is happening you need to see’ … (so we went)….. there was a woman giving birth on the side of the road, people were around her looking. We discovered that she had gone to the hospital but been turned away because of fear about contact with body fluids, so she had her baby on side of the road. The baby died but she survived. So we can’t just focus on the Ebola infections and people going to the Ebola Treatment Unit because a lot of issues will fall through the cracks, especially issues of marginalised groups, including women.” These are the words of Korto Williams, ActionAid Liberia’s Country Director during an update to staff and supporters in the London office. Ebola killed nearly 5,000 people in Liberia. Korto was instrumental in leading ActionAid’s response to the crisis. She explained that the woman’s baby didn’t die because of Ebola, but because there is no health system for the poor. ActionAid’s approach to improving lives is both intensely political and practical at the same time. They are also in it for the long-term. Here is an edited selection from Korto’s talk: ACTIONAID’S APPROACH “Who are we, what is our identity? We are an International NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) but prefer to call ourselves a unique partnership of people, organisations and social movements committed to ending poverty. The reason we distinguish ourselves from other international and national NGO’s in Liberia is because ActionAid has a unique approach of listening to those affected by issues, whether at community or national level. This is the information on which we base our programmes. We don’t come in with ready-made packages and say this is what you are supposed to do to change your situation, we don’t have the legitimacy to do that, so we form a partnership and make really strong relationships with communities. We work with 180 communities in 9 regions and with 25 partner organisations. ActionAid started in Liberia in 1997 during the civil war, initially with humanitarian assistance. There were a lot of refugees and internally displaced people. We supplied an emergency response. 10 years on, by 2007, we had adopted a rights based programme. Many of those who had been displaced received training from us. When they returned to their communities we continued to work with them, so it is like we have known each other forever- they started when ActionAid started and we have seen the benefits of that. In 2013 we started our first strategy paper. It looks at women’s and girls’ rights, youth and urban poverty, and governance, with women’s rights almost 70% of our activity. But the 3 areas overlap as they are interlinked. We focus on bringing communities to the front line, the most at-risk groups, especially women, so they are able to identify their problems and analyse them from different perspectives- especially power and gender analysis – so they can decide which direction they would like to go. ActionAid supports them to solve those issues. We do child sponsorship and work with young people in slum communities, including the urban poor of Monrovia where 50% of the 4.4 million population live. We help these young people to get involved in activities that bring economic independence to their communities. The reason we do this is because Liberia had a civil war for 15 years and young people were used to destroy the country. But now we look at them not just as a...

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Mohamed Sillah: Man on a Mission

Posted on Jan 26, 2016 in News | 0 comments

Mohamed Sillah: Man on a Mission

Mohamed Sillah is a busy man. The Executive Director of Action Aid Sierra Leone is responsible for the organisation’s many country programmes. I first met him during my visit there in 2010 when the talk was about plans for education, women’s rights and development. But that was then. To-day Mohamed is pre-occupied with helping communities recover from the effects of the Ebola crisis. That means additional work for Action Aid, and more work requires more money. I caught up with Mohamed at Action Aid’s London office en route back home from a fundraising trip to the USA. These were some of the things he shared with me: HEALTH The major issue behind the spread of Ebola was denial. When many people felt unwell they wondered off into the bush rather than present themselves to the health authorities because they believed the injections would kill them. The poorest of the poor suffered most because they did not understand Ebola or how it spread. The middle class who understood the issue and practised hygiene were at much less risk. However things improved thanks to the intensive educational and support effort. Around half the 8705 cases confirmed by laboratory analysis survived (the WHO suspect the total number who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone is over 14,000). Action Aid has been working in Sierra Leone for 25 years and reach 182 communities through child sponsorship programmes. This has established trust and credibility with local people. This was crucial to the effectiveness of the Ebola response mobilisation work. By participating in the Government led campaign Acton Aid took on additional responsibility, reaching 238 communities involving over 100,000 people, mostly women and children, in some of the most at risk areas. The result was a great success with just 4 cases of Ebola. SUPPORT During and since the crisis Action Aid has provided support to affected communities and individuals. This includes distributing food and clothes to 7,000 sponsored children and 700 quarantined households; taking soap into schools and teaching the importance of hand washing and hygiene; and educating teachers in how to deal with a child showing signs of Ebola. Since the schools re-opened no children have been infected. Action Aid supported the Government in assessing children most in need, resulting in 2100 orphans and vulnerable children being given exercise and reading books, writing materials and school bags. Post Ebola the strengthening of people’s livelihoods is key to recovery. Special focus is given to providing agricultural seeds and tools, livestock, husbandry training, and grants for women to start small businesses. EDUCATION During the crisis all schools were closed – along with markets, night clubs, mines and other areas of social and economic life where people gathered together. The Government broadcast school lessons over the radio and Action Aid paid a small fee to teachers to visit communities and houses to ensure students participated. 35,000 workers were involved in the Ebola response effort. These included many teachers who changed jobs when the schools were closed. They received 500,000 leones a week (about £80), the same as they received in a month as teachers. As a result many were slow to return to school. Now that the Ebola response force has been reduced to a couple of thousand employees, and teachers have been given a 15% pay rise, more have returned. ADVOCACY Holding the Government to account and pushing for increased health care expenditure is a priority for Action Aid. The devastating effects of Ebola reflect both the ignorance of the poor and the inability of the rudimentary health care system to deal with it. The Government...

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Bye Bye Ebola

Posted on Nov 20, 2015 in News | 0 comments

Bye Bye Ebola

So at last it’s officially over. After forty-two days with no new cases – the incubation period – Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free on November 8th at a ceremony attended by the President. Nearly 4000 people and 220 health workers died during the epidemic. Many more were infected but survived. Including Liberia and Guinea over 11,000 people have died since the outbreak in March 2014. Despite the terrible losses people celebrated the end in style. Many were inspired by Sierra Leonean rapper Block Jones’s song “Bye Bye Ebola”. Treat yourself to this hugely uplifting video of the song. It’s really something. People from all walks of life are dancing to the music, from soldiers twerking to the amazing Ebola treatment centre staff fully dressed in their protective uniforms. This enthusiasm and joy will be needed in the months to come. The people of Sierra Leone have to rebuild the economy, catch up on education and care for Ebola survivors and orphans- while remaining vigilant against any hint of the virus returning. We wish them total...

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