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  • Chantal Dunbar

    Helping the most maligned of children
    All too frequently, we hear about African nations and their struggles to shake off the shackles of poverty. There are a million and one "causes", all tugging at out heart strings, but only by improving the quality of education can we bring about sustainable change.

    The issue
    It's estimated that 70 per cent of Mozambique's adults are illiterate. Historically, only a privileged few were afforded education by the Portuguese colonisers. Then came a two decade long war for independence, followed by the emergence of a newly formed nation.
    Today, more than a million Mozambican kids don't attend school for one reason or another. Many have been left orphaned by HIV, others must toil up to three hours a day fetching water, still others are simply too hungry or poor to attend. Those who do attend school often spend the hours under a tree of a makeshift twig shelter, with goats as company in their lessons.
    Teachers are often unqualified and teaching aids such as books are simply not in existence. There are too few schools, a dwindling supply of teachers (thanks to HIV), and the quality of education is low.
    In the picturesque coastal village of Guludo in the north of the country, 320 children are taught by three teachers in either morning or afternoon sessions. They are among the lucky ones as a new school has been built for them - complete with desks - but still, there are no teaching aids.
    In developing nations such as Mozambique, what hope does the next generation have it their schooling ends in Year Five and if they still have no ability to read or write? How can a country so rich in beauty and resources develop and prosper when the majority of its citizens are socially and economically disadvantaged by a lack of education?
    What's needed is a conscientious effort on the part of government, resource companies and individuals to bring about change. Real, sustainable, measurable change that can become part of the educational fabric.
    Here's what you can do to help:
    Thin Cats early Reader Books is an initiative, set up by award-winning social entrepreneur Amy Carter-James and Australian Author Chantal Dunbar. The project’s objective is to develop Mozambique's first series of bi-lingual Early Reader books; embedded with social, health and humanitarian messaging.
    The girls are hoping to fund raise production costs through Group Networking site KickStarter. But it’s an uphill battle that relies on social networks and pledges made at a micro-level.
    Corporate Social Responsibility: Corporate entities can get in on the game by purchasing Donor Books for $15 each. These books are then printed with a dedication from the company and distribute to schools in the corporate entity’s geographical region of operations. It's a low cost/ high benefit way of getting books in the hands of children at an average cost of just $900/ school. As the books are distrusted through small local charities, this strategy also enables ongoing, benchmarked reporting of results to shareholders on an annual basis.
    Schools: Another tactic being used by the Thin Cats project is to approach local schools and engage the children locally. Hosting Village Markets at school is a fun activity that every child and parent can partake in. Donating good quality toys, books and other items, the children go shopping using their pocket money and the school library mops up any suitable books left over. Recently, Gold Coast Christian College in Australia did this and the proceeds from one hour amounted to a staggering Au$ 914.25!
    Mothers: As that majority of donors to projects such as the Thin Cats Early Readers Book tend to mothers aged between 30 and 50, it makes sense to target places where they frequent; cafes, coffee shops and boutiques. A simple poster at the point of sale can inform customers that the business is supporting early education in a developing country. In the case of Zarraffa's Coffee in Queensland; the store is donating all customer tips for the month of December to the Thin Books Early Reader project.
    Colleagues: Workmates, friends and families can also help out in simple ways that won't break the bank. Band together to go without a coffee each day; then place the money into a dedicated jar. Or implement a bad language fine if tempers tend to be a little frayed. It's amazing how fast loose coinage adds up and what a difference a few dollars can make far away!
    Kids: For children, a pool party on the final day of school could have an entrance fee of a dollar donation. Hold a sausage sizzle or a picnic in the park and ask friends to buy (and donate) a book or pop a dollar in the jar.
    Pets: Even pets can get in on the act; if you have enough of them and they're tolerant. A home petting zoo quickly attracts visitors and can be a wonderful way to make new friends while raising funds.
    Social media: Most importantly though is to share the connection and ensure your social networks are all aware of the cause. Ask them to pass on the link - just as I am asking you - to help bring about change that means so much to so many.
    Thank you.