Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell has joined forces with her Chapel Park constituent, Jennifer Wood, to support Hands Up For Action – the Kenya-based charity she founded three years ago.
Jennifer, 26, has worked tirelessly to improve the educational prospects of children and adults in Kenya following her first visit to the country at the age of 18. After studying for a Masters degree and researching access to education in Kenya, Jennifer decided to set up her own education project in the country.
She launched Hands Up For Action in September 2011, which became a registered charity earlier this year. Jennifer also left her full-time teaching job in Britain last year to dedicate herself to the development of the charity’s work.
Hands Up For Action focuses on the provision of education to vulnerable people, including ex-street children, children in prison, and those in low-income areas. This work is undertaken mainly through a transitional programme to support people into formal schooling, focussed workshops and training.
Despite starting as a small-scale project, the charity now has 4 full-time local Kenyan staff, making a significant difference to the lives of hundreds of children. Many former street children have successfully transitioned into formal schools through the Hands Up for Action transition project, including 14-year old Charles.
‘I was blown away by the reality of life for children surviving on the streets of Kenya during my first visit, and I couldn’t walk away from the experience I had. I came home and decided I would do whatever little bit I could to make a difference.
‘When Charles began attending Hands Up, I was told that he would never be ready to go to school, that he lacked determination, and the terrible experiences he had on the streets would hold him back. However, in just over a year he became a new boy with ambition and a big smile on his face. He transitioned into formal school with no problems, and I am positive he will carry on doing very well. He has been given the chance of a future.’
Children aged between 4 and 16 attend Hands Up For Action’s transition programme, many of them ex-street children. They attend academic sessions, as well as life skills training and counselling to help them deal with past experiences, and learn the routines and expectations of formal school with a passionate and approachable teacher. Those receiving focused workshops are given the opportunity to explore and discuss relevant life issues, such as hygiene, disease, and friendships.
Catherine McKinnell – who is taking a keen interest in Jennifer’s work following her own visit to Kenya earlier this year with development charity CAFOD – said:
‘What Jennifer has achieved so far in a relatively short time is astounding. I know from my own recent visit to Kenya just how little so many Kenyan children have – and the enormous barriers there are to entering formal education, which is the key step to getting out of poverty.
‘Jennifer’s dedication and commitment to helping young people in Kenya is so impressive. She is making a real difference to their lives and future prospects, but her charity needs further support to continue its work.’
The only way Hands Up For Action can operate is through continuing support from local people and organisations, as it is funded entirely by donations. The charity also has plans for future expansion of the project, hoping to recruit more staff and increase the resources for its projects.
Jennifer said: ‘In the UK, we all too often take for granted the access to great resources that we have, and when I take simple educational aids across to Kenya I realise just how lucky we are in our schools. Everything I have purchased or which has been donated to the project is used regularly and benefits the children.
‘Hands Up For Action’s work is small-scale and inexpensive, but it has a huge impact on the lives of children in Kenya helping them to move towards a positive future. We are desperate for funding, so any support from local schools, businesses or other organisations would be greatly appreciated.’
Ways to support Hands Up For Action include their monthly Sponsor A Desk programme, which is invaluable in helping the charity to continue to operate. Further information about the charity’s work can be found at www.handsupforaction.co.uk, or people can get in touch with Jennifer directly at [email protected].
Jennifer has also set up a new business, Hands on Afrika (www.handsonafrika.co.uk), which organises tailor-made volunteer placements at the project sites in Kenya. She will be working with a number of UK universities to encourage and support students into volunteering responsibly overseas, and is also able to set up trips for individuals and groups of all ages.