Our Moon is made up of a small team of volunteers and trustees who are passionate about seeing young African students succeed in education. We have a wide variety of roles from research and social media, to fundraising and mentoring students. In the next series of blogs we’ll be introducing you to the team, starting with Our Moon’s CEO, Helen. We’ll hear how she’s taken Our Moon from idea to reality!
Helen, what inspired you to begin Our Moon?
Through my years of experience working with financially-disadvantaged youth from around world, I became aware there was an urgent youth unemployment issue in Africa directly related to education and more specifically in Zambia. My Zambian students urged me to visit their country to gain better insight and understanding of the situation. This visit was the beginning of Our Moon.
Zambia has a particular problem compared with other southern African countries in that there is no A-level programme or equivalent. This means that young Zambians have limited opportunities to access university places, and are under-represented in universities and colleges around the world. It is important for Zambia’s economic development that its young people have access to higher education. By mixing with students from around the world, students will return to their country with a wider appreciation of alternative ways of working.
So what change do you hope Our Moon can bring?
Our Moon’s vision is for a world where young Africans are educated to become socially conscious professionals who drive forward their communities, countries and continents.
Working in partnership with local government schools and NGOs, we want to establish equal opportunities for Zambia’s youth to access quality local and global education, opportunities and employment.
What challenges have you faced bringing Our Moon into reality, and what progress have you made?
There have been a number of challenges, but mostly it has been fun. Getting Our Moon registered by the Charity Commission was tougher than I had envisaged, but I am thrilled that we are now a registered charity!
We have made great progress. We have established a scholarship programme for young people to study for A-levels and be supported with employability training and applying to university. Our first scholars of this programme started in January. We have formal agreements with Hillcrest School in Livingstone, Southern Province and with NGOs. During my trip to Zambia in the summer, we held workshops for teachers and students to learn about opportunities to go to university abroad and how to apply. These were very successful and I will be running more workshops with Hillcrest School in June.
Tell us more about your recent trip to Zambia
Zambia is a beautiful country with very warm, welcoming people. When I arrived at the airport, I was met by Justin Mushitu, one of Our Moon’s former scholars who had helped with some of the preliminary tasks involved in setting up Our Moon, such as putting me in touch with local charities and helping design the logo and name.
What struck me on arrival were the contrasts. Lusaka looks like any other modern city: modern buildings, good roads, new cars and swanky shopping malls. However, when we turned into a compound, it was like turning back in time. People live in such poverty.
Zambia has a lot of land, so people don’t live on top of one another as they might do in the slums in, say, Delhi, and there are lots of trees. The earth is golden. It has a beauty about it in the fading sunlight. But people’s homes are very basic and many people will share one room. Many families are so poor that they can’t afford proper meals, and survive on one or two meals a day.
Another thing that made an impression on me was the way that girls are treated compared to their brothers. There is a lot of responsibility placed on them to do household chores, which takes time away from their studying.
So what advice would you give to a student thinking of applying to further education?
Go for it! It will bring you more opportunities in your life and also help you to contribute to your community, country and continent. It will help lift you and your families out of poverty. But it is also important that you get other skills along the way – work experience is very important for developing your employability skills.
And who inspires you?
I am inspired by people like Ann Cotton from Camfed. I would like to make as much of a difference to communities as she has. I am in awe of Malala Yousafzai – for someone so young, she is so articulate. She is the voice of so many young people in similar situations to her. Mostly I am inspired by all the students I have been working with over the past years who have gone on to do many incredible things for their countries and communities.
Outside of work, what could we find you doing?
I play the flute in a large concert band. I also enjoy running to keep fit. In fact I am just about to do a sponsored challenge of running on the five continents that I will be visiting in the next three months. I also enjoy catching up with my three boys. I love travelling and am looking forward to planning my next trip to Zambia.
What would you say to anyone thinking of volunteering for Our Moon?
Please do consider getting involved. It is an exciting time in our development and there is a lot to be done, especially on the fundraising side. We have a great team of people and would welcome your help! In next week’s blog we’ll be finding out more about what Our Moon’s brilliant volunteers are up to, so stay tuned!