Aid can help African children realise their potential

Developing education should be a priority.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that could afford to send me to secondary school. Because of this, I went to university, travelled, pursued a fulfilling career and became the Managing Director of PEAS, one of the UK’s fastest growing charities, which is creating a network of sustainable, high- quality secondary schools across Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa.

 
It may seem quite strange for people living in the UK, where secondary school education is universal, to fully appreciate the transformative power it has. But just think how many of your life’s achievements could have happened without your secondary school education.
 
As someone from Northern Uganda, a region well-known for its twenty-year troubles at the hands of Joseph Kony, I am all too aware that a secondary education, and all the opportunities that come with it, is an unimaginable privilege for many children born into today’s world. In parts of sub-Saharan Africa female enrolment at secondary school can be low as 7 per cent, so to be a Ugandan woman with an education, a profession and a position of leadership is all too rare a thing.
 
In Uganda, if a child can go to secondary school, even if they complete no further education, those four to six years will have changed their life forever. And yet this opportunity is denied to the yet 3 in 4 children in Africa that do not go to secondary school, meaning that over 20 million children are missing out on secondary education. Without a secondary school education, an individual’s opportunity to lift him or herself out of poverty is severely limited and the cost to society is huge.
 
For women in particular the severe lack of affordable secondary school places is crippling. For most girls in Uganda, after the age of 11, education is replaced with working in the fields and childhood is quickly replaced with early motherhood. An un-educated girl is seven times more likely to catch HIV and her children are twice as likely to die before the age of five. But, for every year she is in school, an educated girl in Uganda can add 25 per cent more to her future earnings. A huge focus for the PEAS team is to ensure more girls enrol in, and complete, secondary school. Currently, over 48 per cent of PEAS students are female and we hope to see this figure rising as we continue to make more secondary school places available.
 
Most people in the UK would probably agree that education should be the responsibility of national governments. And at PEAS we also think this. Education is one of the most powerful ways to reduce aid dependence and empower populations to take charge of their own futures. If international aid organisations are to accelerate this process then we believe they must work with governments to develop sustainable education models that do not rely on continued foreign investment.
 
This is why PEAS developed our "SmartAid" approach. PEAS uses UK-fundraised money to cover the initial set-up costs so each school can open debt free. After that a combination of local government subsidies, boarding school fees and income generating projects (such as school farms), mean that PEAS schools can cover their own running costs indefinitely and in the long term build up a reserve to cover future investments in building repairs and new equipment. This means that our schools are truly sustainable and not dependent on UK fundraising to continue providing education year on year.
 
A really significant part of the PEAS model is that, in each country it operates in, a central team of locally employed education and development experts are responsible for quality control, financial auditing and providing support to the schools as they develop. Too often organisations rely on international experts rather than developing the talent from within each country but education cannot simply be outsourced if it is to lead to real and lasting change. But PEAS’s approach means that, by 2021, when we plan to have a network of 100 schools in Uganda running completely self-sufficient from aid, we will also have the expertise and infrastructure to run independently from PEAS UK.
 
Every child in Africa should have the opportunity to reach their potential and make something of themselves, and that is what PEAS is all about. It is inspiring to know that the work my team and I do every day will have a permanent impact on the lives of children in our schools and, through these children’s ambitions to be doctors, businesspeople, sustainable farmers, teachers, lawyers, and even political leaders, will also have a permanent impact on the future of our country.
 
Susan Opok is Managing Director of PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools). PEAS is a charity / social enterprise hybrid that is working with African governments to develop a network of secondary schools to provide affordable, high quality and sustainable education in Sub-Saharan Africa.
 
Founded in 2008, PEAS has already launched 13 public/private schools in Uganda and one in Zambia, with eight more due to open in February 2012. It aims to have launched 100 schools in Uganda by 2017 and is working with other African governments to develop similar funding models to extend secondary school access further.
 
The UK Government is match funding all donations made to PEAS until 13 December. To donate to PEAS Back to School Appeal and have your donation doubled by the UK government, visit http://www.peas.org.uk/donate or text PEAS01£10 to 70070.
Photo: Getty
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Empty highs: why throwaway plastic goes hand in hand with bankrupt consumerism

We are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff.

A University of California study revealed this week that mankind has produced more than nine billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, with almost all of it ending up in landfill or the ocean. With the terrible effects of our decades-long addiction to throwaway packaging becoming increasingly apparent, it’s clear that a fresh approach is needed.

In April 2010, David Cameron set out his vision for Britain in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. Keen to show that the Tories had turned away from the "I’m Alright Jack" individualism of the 1980s, Cameron sought to fashion a softer, more inclusive brand.

The good society, Cameron argued, embraced much higher levels of personal, professional, civic and corporate responsibility. There was such a thing as society, and we’d all do well to talk to our neighbours a bit more. The Big Society, however, was roundly derided as a smokescreen for an aggressive tightening of the Government purse strings. And on the advice of his 2015 election fixer Lynton Crosby, Cameron later dropped it in favour of well-worn lines about economic security and jobs.   

While most would argue that the Big Society failed to amount to much, Cameron was at least right about one thing. We are happiest when we are part of something bigger than ourselves. No matter how much the credit card companies try to convince us otherwise, mindless individualism won’t make us nearly as contented as we’re led to believe by big conglomerates.

By any measure, we are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff. As a nation, we have run up unsecured debts of more than £350bn, which works out at £13,000 per household. Fuelled by a toxic mix of readily available credit and interest rates at historic lows, we cripple ourselves financially to feel the empty high derived from acquiring yet more stuff.

Purchasing has become a leisure pursuit, ensuring the rate at which we acquire new stuff exceeds the rate at which we can find somewhere to put it. Burdened with ever increasing amounts of stuff, consumers are forced to outsource their storage. The UK didn’t have a self-storage industry 30 years ago, but now it is the largest in Europe.

With the personal debt mountain soaring, we’d all do well to realise that we will never have enough of something we don’t need.

The growth of rampant consumerism has coincided with an explosion in demand for single-use plastic. Like the superfluous possessions we acquire, throwaway plastic packaging helps satisfy our desire to get exactly what we want without having any thought for the long-term consequences. Plastic packaging is easy and convenient, but ultimately, will do us immense harm.

In 1950, close to 1.5 million tonnes of plastic was produced globally. Today, the figure stands at more than 320 million tonnes. The vast majority of our plastic waste either ends up in landfill or the ocean, and our failure to kick the plastic habit has put is in the ludicrous position where there is set to be more plastic than fish in global seas by 2050.

There is also growing evidence that our penchant for endless throwaway plastic might be storing up serious health problems for our children later down the line. According to a University of Ghent study published earlier this year, British seafood eaters risk ingesting up to 11,000 pieces of plastic each year. The report followed UN warnings last year that cancer-causing chemicals from plastic are becoming increasingly present in the food chain.

Something must give. Unsustainable as our reliance on fast credit to finance ever more stuff, our addiction to plastic packaging is storing up serious problems for future generations. The instant gratification society, high on the dopamine rush that fades so quickly after acquiring yet another material asset, is doomed unless decisive action is forthcoming.

So what is to be done? The 2016 US documentary Minimalism points to a smarter way forward. Minimalism follows the lives of ordinary people who have shunned the rat race in favour of a simpler life with less stuff and less stress. The most poignant bit of the film features ex-broker AJ Leon recounting how he chose to forgo the glamour and riches of Wall Street for a simpler life. After a meteoric rise to the top of his profession, Leon decided to jack it all in for a more fulfilling existence.

While challenging the view that to be a citizen is to be a consumer is easier said than done, there are small changes that we can enact today that will make a huge difference. We simply have no choice but to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic that we can consume. If we don’t, we may soon have to contend with the ocean being home to more plastic than fish.

Like plastic, our bloated consumer culture is a disaster waiting to happen. There must be a better way.

Sian Sutherland is co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet which is campaigning for a plastic free-aisle in supermarkets.