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Lucy’s welcome

On Saturday the 13th of November COCO supporters and friends gathered at the Grand Hotel Gosforth Park for an evening of dancing and entertainment, exquisite food and raising funds for brighter futures. It's been a challenging year for COCO, but we've achieved so much.

Our CEO Lucy's welcome talked about what we've been up to as well as the impact your support and generosity has had on the students and communities we work with during the pandemic. Lucy's speech received such a brilliant reception that we're sharing it here for everyone to enjoy. ✨

Welcome and thank you so much for being here. There aren't as many of us as usual but those of you who are here are dear friends of the charity and we are so grateful to you.

After the past 21 months, I think we are all more grateful for friends, family and loved ones than ever before.

Charity is not just about how much money you raise, it’s about the support that people give you when it really matters and that support enables us to pass on the gift of education, training and finance to those who need it the most.

Most of you will know we gave up our office when the pandemic hit and we have been incredibly blessed to be welcomed into the offices of Williams Ali thanks to Abu, The Common Room, thanks to Liz and right here in the Grand Hotel thanks to Jane.

The Grand have been incredible, not just tonight but also giving us their board room to come together as a team, inviting us to events where we meet people like Aura events and persuade them to make the room look this great!

Back in July, we held our Golf Day at Slaley Hall who are also here tonight. We don’t just hold our event there because of their world-class golf course (although it helps). We actually really love the people that work there and their support doesn’t end when 130 golfers leave their venue with bad heads and embarrassing scores the morning after!

COCO was a lonely place for a while when the team were furloughed but it made me appreciate them more than ever, both as colleagues and as friends. And whether you joined me for a socially distanced march around Jesmond, like Debbie, chatted to me about life over a cocktail like Kerry, came over for a cuppa in the garden, like Sam, took me for a walk on the coast like Chloe, embraced the zoom socials like my Kili family, made me Sunday lunch in the garage (Mum) or poured me a large sherry (Dad) you all played a huge part in keeping COCO functioning when I wasn’t sure we could.

The past few months have seen our dedicated, unpaid, trustees come into their own too. Calm and supportive in a crisis (unlike their CEO at times), our Chairman Steve Cram, Co-Founder Jim Panton (who stepped down this year but will never truly leave us) and their colleagues, Carsten, Katherine, Christine and new recruit Rebecca who are all here tonight to show their support. This group of volunteers have given so much guidance over the past few months but also entrusted the team and I to carry out our mission in East Africa in new ways.

The COCO Team

Charity is all about relationships and tonight is a great opportunity for us to strengthen those. So please talk to us, introduce yourself to Freya, our new Fundraisier or Rosie, the glue that keeps us together! Don’t worry too much about Matt, he is leaving us for big adventures at the end of the month. Just kidding, that man has been a lifeline for COCO and his crazy adventure ideas have left their mark on our fundraising calendar. He’s even forced me to take on Machu Picchu in September next year, (it didn’t take much forcing) and I would love it if some of you might like to join me, Debbie, possibly Rebecca and others.

One of our volunteers, here tonight will also be joining the COCO team once she hands in her dissertation on 13th December. Another Rebecca, where are you? Please come and say hello, if not tonight, then meet us for a cuppa and lets see how we might work together.

Mercy Primary

Between COVID and Climate Change, it’s been a pretty depressing time. But there are stories of hope and we will be sharing those with you tonight.

We will show you a video tonight of Mercy Primary School. The video is a few years old but you might not be able to tell because the host of the video (Mr Cram) doesn’t seem to age! It’s been a while since we could take new footage but we hope it gives you an idea of what we do and why you’re here.

This photo behind me might not mean much now but the line of classrooms behind the girls on the left of the screen, were temporary structures made of iron sheets when the video was taken. At the time of the video, you’ll hear Steve say we wanted to build another 6 classrooms! I am pleased to say that we will be running a campaign to build the final classroom, this December.

Teachers in Tanzania

When schools closed all across the world because of the pandemic, in Tanzania and Kenya there was no furlough for teachers so we subsidised their income and paid for training for them, thanks to the support of people like you. This meant that when the students did return, so did their teachers which has not been the case for some schools where teachers simply had to find alternative jobs.

Sustainable Agriculture Training in Naiver

Because we had trained women in Sustainable Agriculture in Kitale in Kenya, they survived the closure of markets as did their children.

Sustainable Agriculture Training in Naiver

Women in this region are paid 40p to stand in a line at 4am with a chance to work on industrial farms in Kenya. If they are lucky enough to be chosen, there day finishes at 6pm. That’s 14 hours, 2.8p per hour and many of these women are in their 70’s. They have no pension, they have no savings, they have to work to feed themselves and their families.   

Women who undertake our training are given the tools and education to plant their own crops to sell and consume. Many grow vegetables like these cabbages. Or this cassava plantation

The farms are close to where the women live, so during the pandemic, they could walk there and back within curfews to ensure their families were fed.

Sustainable Agriculture Training and Naiver Kids

Malaria is a huge problem in this area and can be fatal, especially for children under 5. Although it can be treated for 50p, for many this just isn’t possible. The women we train can afford medication for their children, and when the time comes, books and shoes for school and they’re not reliant on us, they are doing it themselves.

This is Isaac, standing very proudly at the bore hole we funded. Isaac emailed me yesterday and said

“The sustainable agriculture training is the lasting solution to end poverty in Bwayi when women are empowered through sustainable agriculture training, they use simple affordable and environmental friendly ways of growing crops for food security and increased income”.

This is Mama Rosie, one of the women trained. During the pandemic, women like Mama Rosie supported their community, those that we hadn’t yet reached and shared her crop and her knowledge. We had to provide some emergency food supplies, during the pandemic to untrained women, something we have never done before because it’s not sustainable. But sometimes survival trumps sustainability. The demand for this training is huge and we will train hundreds more women with support from people like you.

Pregnancy and lockdown

During lockdown, across the African continent there was a huge surge in underage pregnancies. Not because people were bored or irresponsible but because girls were pushed so much further into poverty that they had to sell themselves just to avoid starvation. In our partner schools we encourage girls to be strong and include the boys in conversations about gender equality. There were no unwanted pregnancies for the students we support, education is so much more than passing exams!

Small Loans at Mercy

Just recently we distributed small loans to parents and caregivers of children at Mercy Primary School. Whether they are selling tomatoes or dried fish. They not only receive an amount of money but are supported with workshops on financial literacy, cashflow, debt management, risk management and price setting.


Because we couldn’t get to East Africa, we covered the salaries of two monitoring and evaluation officers, one in Kenya and one in Tanzania. Frida and Ruth are our connection to the communities we are supporting and their reports are essential to ensure we are learning all the time from the people we are supporting.

I hope this brief welcome has given you some reassurance that you are making a difference and for that, we are eternally grateful!

So, that’s quite enough from me, I am delighted to hand over to our host for this evening...

If you'd like to hear Lucy's welcome in person next year, register your interest for the 2022 COCO Ball here. 💃🏾

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