How Steve Cram and Gentoo are lighting up lives in Africa

Champion athlete Steve Cram is lighting up Africa, with help from Wearside housing giant Gentoo.
Using a solar lamp in the classroomUsing a solar lamp in the classroom
Using a solar lamp in the classroom

The “Jarra Arra” charity has helped hundreds of schoolchildren in East Africa access electricity for study.

Coco - Comrades of Children Overseas - has invested assets transferred from Gentoo Group’s Nuru Fund into solar projects in five schools in Kenya and Tanzania, transforming learning and teaching opportunities for 422 students and 30 teachers.

Children in their new solar classroom at Mercy Primary in KenyaChildren in their new solar classroom at Mercy Primary in Kenya
Children in their new solar classroom at Mercy Primary in Kenya
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The Nuru Fund was founded by the Gentoo Group in 2013 and provided more than 900 solar lamps to rural communities in East Africa, replacing dangerous kerosene lamps.

Coco took over the fund’s charitable activities earlier this year, and agreed to expand the solar lamps and classrooms programme in East Africa through its Schools For Life initiative.

CEO Lucy Philipson said: “Coco was very grateful to be entrusted with Nuru Fund’s assets and we are delighted with the results that we have been able to achieve in only six months.

“Access to electricity for learning has a major and positive impact on the young people’s capacity to study, which in turn gives them so many more opportunities in the longer term.

Phaustine Ogolla, founder of Focussa PrimaryPhaustine Ogolla, founder of Focussa Primary
Phaustine Ogolla, founder of Focussa Primary
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“The solar programme also makes a big contribution to meeting the sustainability objectives of each of our Schools For Life, so we hope to be able to extend the valuable work that we are doing in this area.”

Since the transfer of assets from the fund, Coco has invested more than £38,000 into the programme with its team of partners in East Africa.

The work has involved the construction and equipping of solar classrooms, installing solar electricity and solar water pumps. Access to electricity enables students to study into the evening and to use IT in lessons.

Over the next six months, the funds will benefit 300 more people, as the schools enrol new students.

Coco CEO Lucy PhilipsonCoco CEO Lucy Philipson
Coco CEO Lucy Philipson
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One of the schools to benefit from the investment is Focussa Primary School in Kenya.

Founder Phaustine Ogolla said: “The solar lights have provided power to both the children’s home and the school. Children can study in the evening and, as a result, academic performance has improved three-fold.

“In the future, we plan to use the solar power to introduce IT to our students.

“We were using kerosene lamps which had smoke that was harmful to children’s health. The children were often ill, which meant a lot of money had to be used for medical care. Now our power is very reliable and free.”

The new solar classroom at Focussa PrimaryThe new solar classroom at Focussa Primary
The new solar classroom at Focussa Primary
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Gentoo assistant chief executive Steve Lanaghan is a former chairman of the Nuru Fund Trustees: “It is fantastic to see the legacy of the Nuru Fund living on through Coco, as they continue to invest in solar projects in schools and have a positive impact on so many throughout Kenya and Tanzania,” he said.

“We wish Coco every success for the future and look forward to hearing more about the life-changing work they continue to do in East Africa.”

Coco, co-founded by Steve Cram and British Army Major Jim Panton in 2000, focuses on small, sustainable, community-led initiatives that can make a big difference at a local level, and has raised and invested more than £3.5million since its foundation, supported 50 projects in 16 countries and helped more than 150,000 people.

To find out more about the work of COCO visit, find the charity on Facebook or follow @COCO_Charity on Twitter.