What makes it all possible


Anton Nyman works for UNICEF Sweden, and he recently returned from an IWitness trip to Sierra Leone. Here he explains why the IKEA Foundation’s funding is so important for UNICEF’s work, and he thanks IKEA co-workers for helping UNICEF improve children’s education in Sierra Leone.

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Over the last couple of days, I have had the privilege of visiting Sierra Leone with five IKEA co-workers. The purpose of the visit is to see and learn more about the programmes that the IKEA Foundation supports in Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Here we have met teachers, children and community leaders, and we have seen and experienced a lot. And from my experience, I can truly say that the money donated to UNICEF’s programmes on child-centered teacher training and emerging issues is making a massive impact and gives more children access to a good education. But that does not surprise me at all. Actually, that it is something that, as a UNICEF employee, I expect to see on a visit like this. It is our job and mission to support vulnerable children and to make sure that their rights are listened to and acted upon. There is still very much to be achieved in the work for children in Sierra Leone, but the work done is really pushing in the right direction.

School picture - by Martin Nordin

School picture – by Martin Nordin

What really has made an impression on me during this visit is what makes it all possible. Of course, there are a lot of factors that have to work to make it all happen. We need the right staff, the right local partner, a connection with the right authorities, and so on. But without money coming in from private donors, corporate partners and governments, none of this would be possible. Without the support from the IKEA Foundation toward this specific programme, fewer children would have the opportunity to get a good education. It is as simple as that.

The most common comment I get when telling people that I work for UNICEF is: “It must be great to work for an organisation that really does something important. That really makes a difference.” And yes, it is truly a privilege to work for UNICEF, because children and societies really benefit through the work that we do.

But the change made for children is not just thanks to UNICEF or any other non-governmental organisation. It is thanks to dedicated people. It is thanks to our engaged donors and partners. It is thanks to people like you, working at IKEA and making it a successful business, that more children in Sierra Leone and many other places can get the quality education they have the right to get. It is your engagement and dedication to do a good job that makes it all possible. It is from the sales of beds, lights and bookshelves that children in Sierra Leone are given the tools they need to rise from poverty. It is thanks to your work with selling soft toys that more children can face a better future.

Soft Toy picture - by Martin Nordin

Soft Toy picture – by Martin Nordin

So all I can say is thanks. Thanks for your engagement and dedication. It must be great to work for an organisation that really does something important. That really makes a difference for a lot of children.

Feel pride in what you do, because what you do is great!

Best regards,
Anton Nyman
Senior Corporate Officer
UNICEF Sweden

About Juli Riegler

Juli is the IKEA Foundation's Digital Communications Manager. Next to managing the IKEA Foundation's website and Facebook account she works closely with Save the Children and UNICEF and IKEA's yearly Soft Toys for Education campaign. She enjoys doing a lot of different sports, travelling and connecting with people from around the world.

Powerful mothers


We left our motel in Kabala at 8:30 a.m., driving for about one hour north on very bumpy roads, shaking us properly through. The bad roads connecting some of the main cities like Makeni and Kabala are one of the reasons the economy is not picking up as quickly as it could. The area around Kabala is rich in fertile soil and cattle farming, but farmers cannot sell their crops transporting them beyond their local markets is a logistical challenge. One can only commute from one town to another with a motorbike or off-road vehicle.

What the locals call a “match-stick tree” because it lights up very quickly when fire is around. – by Juli Riegler

What the locals call a “match-stick tree” because it lights up very quickly when fire is around – by Juli Riegler

When we arrive at our destination, the small village of Musaia, we are welcomed by a group of people singing and dancing. All the schoolchildren are lined up, the girls to the left of the road and the boys to the right. They wave and cheer, their eyes filled with excitement and curiosity.

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Warm welcome as we walk together to the local primary school – by Juli Riegler

Cause Canada is UNICEF’s implementing partner in the Koinadugu district, working actively in eight out of 11 chiefdoms to promote education and the empowerment of women. After the wonderful warm welcome and introduction, we get the chance to speak to the mothers’ club that was initiated by UNICEF and implemented by Cause Canada in 2010 in Koinadugu District. Since then, the mothers’ club has been very successful in sensitising the surrounding villages toward education, children’s rights and women’s empowerment.  The 23 women don’t necessarily need to be mothers but rather women who have a strong belief in their children’s education, equality and human rights.

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The club’s main focus is the education of children living in their community. If children don’t show up at school, representatives of the mothers’ club go and speak to the parents to find out the reason. If a child is not home sick but is working, they will convince the parents to allow the child to go back to school. The club manages its own money and has a designated person overseeing the budget. The money is typically invested in food and school supplies but can also be invested into projects like building water wells or school maintenance. To keep building their financial resources, the mothers also produce agricultural products and sell them so they can reinvest into their children’s education. The club’s work is fully voluntary.

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This little girl has lost her mother and is now looked after by women in the mothers’ club, who will take care of her and make sure she goes to the local primary school once she turns six years old.

The women also engage strongly in the rights of the girl child. They fight teenage marriage and pregnancies, which still happen often in Sierra Leone. A couple of years ago, they heard about a girl in town who was to be married to a local policeman. They got highly involved and finally called the police to get the girl back. They managed to stop the marriage.

Children from the local primary school. They carried their school benches outside to be able to welcome us – by Juli Riegler

Children from the local primary school. They carried their school benches outside to be able to welcome us – by Juli Riegler

The mothers’ club also experienced a small scale-up because a neighbouring community followed their example and started their own club. The mothers invited us for lunch in their village. They had cooked perfectly seasoned vegetable rice and prepared fresh meat. They offered us fresh oranges, bananas and the tastiest pineapple I have ever eaten.  Once finished eating, they performed a final dance to thank us before saying goodbye.

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The women from the mothers’ club had cooked for us and served fresh oranges, bananas and pineapple for dessert. The hospitality of Sierra Leone is wonderful.

The women from the mothers’ club – by Juli Riegler

The women from the mothers’ club – by Juli Riegler

Today was very inspiring and positive as we got to see how a few women can team up together and—sometimes even against the support of their husbands—drive a lot of change in their society. They are passionate about ensuring high-quality education for their children and protecting them from early marriages and pregnancies so they can complete primary and  secondary school, which is not very common in rural parts of Sierra Leone. We met strong individuals who are motivated and constantly plan new projects to increase the quality of living and to create a better future for their children. The mothers’ club impressed us deeply, and I believe this is a wonderful model that will hopefully be copied by many more communities in the future.

Children who are not of school age yet came running towards us when we visited the newly build primary school in the Wara Wara Yagala chiefdom – By Juli Riegler

Children came running towards us when we visited the newly build primary school in the Wara Wara Yagala chiefdom – by Juli Riegler

 

 

About Juli Riegler

Juli is the IKEA Foundation's Digital Communications Manager. Next to managing the IKEA Foundation's website and Facebook account she works closely with Save the Children and UNICEF and IKEA's yearly Soft Toys for Education campaign. She enjoys doing a lot of different sports, travelling and connecting with people from around the world.

Education is empowerment


Children are the most important people in the world. We know that when children are educated, encourage and empowered, they have the power to change their lives and the community around them. Taking responsibility is a privilege, and that is what IKEA is doing through the IKEA Foundation and its partners like UNICEF and Save the Children.

By Natalia Hahn

By Natalia Hahn

Today we met with a really inspiring teacher named Susan in Port Loko, Sierra Leone. We had met her on Monday and she spoke only briefly to us that day—she was so intriguing that we had to come back and interview her. Susan was one of the first Sierra Leonean facilitators to be able to take part in training sponsored by UNICEF on emerging issues. This training enables teachers to identify the most significant current issues in Sierra Leone and to rise to overcome them. These issues and topics include child rights, human rights, equality for all, women’s issues, health and sanitation, deforestation and more. Teachers learn how to address these issues and to positively mentor children around them.

By Natalia Hahn

By Natalia Hahn

When we interviewed Susan, a teacher at Port Loko Primary School and a lecturer at the Port Loko Teachers College, we saw an ambassador in her. We saw someone who was inspiring, knowledgeable, caring, energetic, dedicated and animated. She really understood that children need to be sensitised towards cultural issues in Sierra Leone—that children need to respect each other and realise that they are equal, like brothers and sisters. Susan realises that if a country with more women than men fails to see the importance of quality education for female children, that society will fail them. She believes that children are the future of Sierra Leone, so they need to be equipped for the world of tomorrow, to understand that women have a place in society outside of the home, and that education and awareness can lead to empowerment.

Susan grew up in a small village and had one school uniform. She says that she owes her education and teaching career to her mother, who believed in the power of education for all children and for her daughter.

By Natalia Hahn

By Natalia Hahn

Now Susan is a role model. She practices what she preaches. She teaches friendliness, love, equality, respect—and then models those qualities herself. She takes it upon herself to educate other teachers about what she knows. Then, the knowledge is like a gift that keeps on giving. Children share their knowledge with their families and then their communities. Susan says this is how the attitudes in Sierra Leone can change and create a better society.

By Natalia Hahn

By Natalia Hahn

The parallel that I see in what Susan is doing and the IKEA Foundation’s IWitness programme is that our co-workers are ambassadors for the work that our partners are doing for those in need. Our co-workers go out into the field, see first-hand the impacts of the Good Cause campaigns and the education programmes – and take the experience back to their stores to share the good news. The good news then spreads about the importance of the successes of the Good Cause campaigns.

There is no telling how proud I am to be an IKEA co-worker when I see people like Susan—when I see real gratefulness and enthusiasm for the support that IKEA is giving their projects. We are contributing to real change in society, something that is long lasting and gives people the opportunity to help and empower themselves with proper tools and knowledge.

By Natalia Hahn

By Natalia Hahn

About Natalia Hahn

I am a sustainability leader for IKEA Group, focusing on co-worker engagement and community strategy. I work closely with the IKEA Foundation to ensure relevant and timely communication within the IKEA Group and to our co-workers. I come from IKEA Canada, where I worked as a sustainability manager before moving to Sweden in January 2013. I have a two-year-old son whom I love to spend time with.

Everyone benefits from child friendly teaching methods


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RC Primary School in Foredugu village – by Martin Nordin

“One of our boy’s mother died. His father said he needed him to drop out of school and start working. The boy answered: I need to go to school, it’s as important as my name.” – Mr. Ibrahim, Teacher, DEC Primary School, Buya village.

UNICEFs Land Cruisers going through tough terrain to get to the School in Buya village. Photo by Martin Nordin

UNICEFs Land Cruisers going through tough terrain to get to the School in Buya village. Photo by Martin Nordin

It’s Wednesday morning, we are leaving Makeni for a 45 minute drive to the village of Foredugu to meet with teachers and children that have benefited from the CCTT and EMI programmes. We are all eager to get on the road, going out to the school and seeing first-hand how this works; it’s what we are here for.

Mr. Dumbuya, Teacher at RC Primary School, Foredugu village - By Melani Schultz

Mr. Dumbuya, Teacher at RC Primary School, Foredugu village – by Melani Schultz

“When we were working with the old method I felt like an instructor and the children felt very ashamed when they answered wrong. Children were in fear. Now, when working with the CCTT method the children feel empowerd, like they take care of their own education, like they are doing it themselves.” – Mr Dumbuy, Teacher

Students in the classroom of RC Primary School in Foredugu village - By Martin Nordin

Students in the classroom of RC Primary School in Foredugu village – by Martin Nordin

“In some schools they still use coporal punishment, using the cane to correct students. When we meet teachers we explain to them the benefit of not hitting children. When they say they still need the cane to point the board, we say, use your finger instead” – Mr. Alhaji

Mr. Ibrahim Koroma teaching matter in the science class at DEC Primary School in Buya village - by Martin Nordin

Mr. Ibrahim Koroma teaching matter in the science class at DEC Primary School in Buya village – by Martin Nordin

“Now working with the CCTT method it really feels like the children dare to challenge us, they even teach us sometimes. Like when I talk about different fishing techniques, the children contribute with examples of the local techniques used in thier own community and that adds to all our knowledge.” – Mr. Ibrahim, Teacher, DEC Primary School, Buya village

RC Primary School in Foredugu village. Photo by Martin Nordin

RC Primary School in Foredugu village. Photo by Martin Nordin

About Martin Nordin

I'm a senior art director working at IKEA Communications Creative Hub in Malmö. I have been working at IKEA for seven years. I'm 36 years old and live in Malmö with my family. For the last couple of years, I've been working with the IKEA Good Cause campaigns: Soft Toys for Education and Brighter Lives for Refugees. I'm very much looking forward to getting out in the field and seeing the real work being done by our partners and the things our efforts have achieved.

Breast is best


Humans do a lot of things naturally. But, despite what I’ve always
believed, breastfeeding isn’t one of them.

A nurse instructs a mother, as she demonstrates for the class, how to properly hold a baby when breastfeeding.

A nurse instructs a mother, as she demonstrates for the class, how to properly hold a baby when breastfeeding.

On Tuesday we were meant to visit a school funded by the Soft Toys for Education campaign. However, we were informed that the Sierra Leone government had (just the day before) declared a national holiday to celebrate fallen soldiers from the recent civil war, and schools would be closed.  So we improvised. Our UNICEF guide arranged for us to visit Makama Peripheral Health Unit near Makeni, where pregnant and lactating women and children under five receive free health care.

Map of the area.

Map of the area.

Nurses run the health center, and in addition to patient care they hold classes on family planning, breastfeeding, nutrition, hygiene and disease prevention. We were able to witness one of these classes. The topic was breastfeeding.

I assumed because breast milk is free, easy and accessible, it would be the first choice for mothers in Sierra Leone . I was wrong. I was surprised to learn that many women in Sierra Leone do not exclusively breastfeed their babies (there could be many reasons such as social or economical factors). This has a detrimental effect on the health of the child because mothers give their babies plain water in combination with breastfeeding. Since water lacks nutrients, babies can become malnourished. If not properly treated, water can also cause diarrhea (one of the leading causes of death for children under five in Sierra Leone).

But the nurses we met are on a mission to change all that.

Josephine, head nurse

Josephine, head nurse

Using a combination of illustrations and demonstrations, nurses teach mothers all they need to know about breastfeeding. Everything is covered. From basics, like how often to breastfeed (4 x 3 x  per day) and how to hold the baby, to the more complex—like what to do when an elder tries to give your baby water, or when you must work in the field but have no one to watch over your baby (take your baby with you and place her close by on a blanket in a shady spot ). All of these lessons have one aim: to get women exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of their children’s lives.

Illustrations showing how to hand-express milk for later feedings.

Illustrations showing how to hand-express milk for later feedings.

And they are making progress. The proof was right before our eyes. Charts showing the decrease in cases of malaria, diarrhea and other afflictions hung on the wall, and healthy-looking children bounced in their mothers’ arms.

A little girl being weighed

A little girl being weighed

 

Green = Nice and healthy

Green = Nice and healthy

About Melani Schultz

I grew up in the dry, dusty desert of Phoenix, Arizona – which instilled in me a love of warm weather, the blazing sun, and chlorinated swimming pools. Now I live in cold, dark Sweden – which has only intensified my love for warm weather, the blazing sun, and chlorinated swimming pools. I have a husband and 2.5 kids (2 daughters + a dog). I'm a Copywriter at IKEA Communications Creative Hub. I'm proud of and committed to the sustainability work IKEA is doing, which is why I'm thrilled to be part of the team working with IKEA Foundation and its partners, UNICEF, Save the Children and UNHCR, on the Soft Toys for Education and Brighter Lives for Refugees campaigns. Recently, I worked on the new identity and communication package for the IWitness Programme.

From bountiful beaches to basic needs for children’s education


After 16 hours and quite a long delay, I finally landed at Lungi airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Stepping out of the airplane into warm air filled with wonderful smells, I take a few deep breaths for the last, and probably most exciting, part of my journey from Amsterdam to Sierra Leone: crossing a lagoon on a speedboat to get to the city. Once I arrive at the beach from where the boat is leaving, I look up at the dark skies through some palm trees and see the bright moon and stars shining. Even though it’s almost pitch black, I can tell it’s absolutely beautiful.

The crossing is fun, as we go over the water at high speed. A driver is waiting for me on the other side, and he takes me to the hotel. I arrive way past midnight and crash directly into my bed.

The next morning feels great. The air is warm and welcoming. At breakfast I have some time to meet my fellow IWitnesses. We sit and chat, taking photos of the view over Freetown.

Our first day in Freetown – Natalia, Martin, Melani

Our first day in Freetown – Natalia, Martin, Melani

 View over Freetown from our hotel

View over Freetown from our hotel

The rest of our group will arrive on Sunday, but today we meet John from UNICEF, who has offered to show us the city and one of the many bountiful beaches that Sierra Leone has to offer.

The drive through the city is intense—bouncy roads, little sheds and houses on both sides of the road, streets filled with busy people going to church or selling their products. It smells like fire because people are burning trash. It quickly gets to 35 degrees, but we keep the windows of the car down to take in the scenery and observe the busyness of everything happening around us.

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It takes us almost one hour to leave the hectic roads of Freetown behind and continue driving further south to Bureh Beach. Once we arrive, we almost cannot believe the beauty of what we see…

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After a swim, eating freshly caught fish and relaxing in the sun, we drive back to meet Anton from UNICEF Sweden, who is arriving just in time to join us for dinner.

The contrast could not have been more extreme, seeing the most beautiful beaches and the daily struggles people face every day. One does not get the impression that people suffer, but the facts cannot be overlooked. Sierra Leone is still recovering from a cruel, 10-year-long civil war, which ended in 2002. The maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world. About 50% of all children work instead of going to school. Girls get married from 11 years of age and drop out of school due to teenage pregnancy. UNICEF’s work in Sierra Leone is critical to improve education and child protection.

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In Sierra Leone, UNICEF focuses on child survival and developing basic education and child protection. At the UNCEF office we get to understand the bigger picture of the challenges related to nutrition, early childhood education and empowering women. With our main interest being education, we soon learn that the country is on the move, experiencing a strong willingness to change and improve.

The enrolment rate for children of six years has gone up to 76%, but about 52% of the teaching staff is not qualified for their level and position. Funding from the Soft Toys for Education campaign is going to improve both issues. When teachers are trained in child-friendly teaching methods and corporal punishment is abandoned, the enrolment rates go up naturally.

At noon we leave for Port Loko, where we meet teachers and facilitators at a teacher training centre where teachers learn child-friendly teaching methods following a UNICEF scheme. The deputy principal and several teachers and facilitators tell us how the new programmes have changed their approach to education and the way they treat their students.

Natalia and Melani in the car on our way to Port Loko – by Juli Riegler

Natalia and Melani in the car on our way to Port Loko – by Juli Riegler

One focus is to abandon the use of the cane and all corporal punishment and to create a child-friendly learning environment, where children want to be, can learn and have fun. This has not been the case in Sierra Leone, where the war has affected a whole generation and physical punishment has been a common way of raising children.

UNICEF teacher training centre at Port Loko – by Juli Riegler

UNICEF teacher training centre at Port Loko – by Juli Riegler

The training centre reaches out to teachers from the whole country and creates a scaling effect, as they take what they learned back to their home communities and pass on the knowledge and methods to local teachers, families and community leaders. This way the programme has already reached many remote and very small villages. In 2013, 398 teachers were trained and certified. The training is followed up on and evaluated by visits from facilitators, who visit the schools and report on their improvement.

The training not only addresses child-friendly teaching methods but also tackles some of the main concerns of Sierra Leonean society, like child marriage, teenage pregnancy and education on sanitation and hygiene.

The first day has truly been an eye-opener in terms of realising where this country is coming from but also what progress is being made and the ambitions to improve life for the coming generations.

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About Juli Riegler

Juli is the IKEA Foundation's Digital Communications Manager. Next to managing the IKEA Foundation's website and Facebook account she works closely with Save the Children and UNICEF and IKEA's yearly Soft Toys for Education campaign. She enjoys doing a lot of different sports, travelling and connecting with people from around the world.

This is happening: My trip to Sierra Leone with UNICEF


 

“Are you excited?”
“Are you nervous?”
“Oh , that’s so cool!”
“It’s going to be the experience of a lifetime.”
“You’ll never be the same.”
“It’s life changing.”

These are just some of the things my co-workers, family, and friends have said to me since they found out I’d be going to Sierra Leone on an IWitness field trip. I don’t want my answers to disappoint anyone, but the truth is, this all still feels like a dream and I can’t get my head around what is about to happen, so I say, “Yes! I know!” to all of it.

The range of feelings one might have when one is about to embark on a journey to a foreign place, to see things they’ve never seen (and will likely never see again), to experience a culture and a way of life so completely unlike their own—I’m experiencing all of them. But as of right now, they are safely locked up in some part of my brain where I store my thoughts about the unknown—until the time comes when I can process and make sense of them.

Maybe tomorrow, when I’m on the plane to Freetown, it will sink in. Or maybe it will sink in when the airplane doors open and I’m hit with the heat and smells of the tropics. Maybe it won’t sink in until I’m out in the schools with the kids, or until I’m back on familiar soil. I don’t know when it will hit me. Or how. But I do know my mind and heart are open. I’m ready for it. Ready for anything…

About Melani Schultz

I grew up in the dry, dusty desert of Phoenix, Arizona – which instilled in me a love of warm weather, the blazing sun, and chlorinated swimming pools. Now I live in cold, dark Sweden – which has only intensified my love for warm weather, the blazing sun, and chlorinated swimming pools. I have a husband and 2.5 kids (2 daughters + a dog). I'm a Copywriter at IKEA Communications Creative Hub. I'm proud of and committed to the sustainability work IKEA is doing, which is why I'm thrilled to be part of the team working with IKEA Foundation and its partners, UNICEF, Save the Children and UNHCR, on the Soft Toys for Education and Brighter Lives for Refugees campaigns. Recently, I worked on the new identity and communication package for the IWitness Programme.

UNICEF welcomes co-workers to Sierra Leone


 

After an unforgettable experience, an IWitness group returned from Sierra Leone. You can follow their journey via their blogs during the next weeks. Read  the introduction post from Issa Davies, UNICEF Sierra Leone, who accompanied them a long the way. 

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My name is Issa Davies, and I have been working as a communications officer at UNICEF Sierra Leone for almost six years. It was a pleasure to work with the IKEA team that recently visited some of our education projects in Sierra Leone. They found the experience really thrilling!

I served as their guide and interpreter for their week-long visit, which was mostly spent in rural areas with inadequate social amenities like good road networks, water, sanitation and electricity. In spite of all these challenges, the team remained committed and was determined to go on and see more. They saw UNICEF’s projects to give children a quality education, especially those who live in disadvantaged rural communities.

Issa Davies UNICEF Sierra Leone s

Issa Davies UNICEF Sierra Leone

Our work with teachers who had been trained on child-centred teaching techniques and emerging issues was very encouraging to them. These are new teaching methodologies that put the child at the centre of learning. They encourage children’s active participation in class by stimulating creative thinking and discouraging the use of the cane. Our IKEA visitors were able to witness this first-hand in some schools in Port Loko District in northern Sierra Leone.

After spending a few days with schools in Port Loko District, we proceeded to the more agrarian and mountainous communities in Koinadugu District, which is in the extreme north. Yes, this is the place to be when you want to see collective groups of women actively promoting their children’s education and discouraging child marriage through mothers’ clubs. Mothers’ clubs are a UNICEF initiative that started in 2010 and have been implemented by a network of non-governmental organisations in over 2,000 communities across the country. In these clubs, mothers also engage in income-generating activities, such as farming and soap making, and the small profits help keep their communities’ children in school, refurbish schools, and give stipends to teachers who are not yet on the government’s payroll.

Of course, this cannot be achieved without the reliable partnership of Cause Canada, which implements the programme in Koinadugu District.

Our IKEA visitors reiterated that these programmes have had positive impacts on the lives of children and women. They no doubt remain committed to supporting UNICEF’s mission of helping children.

I feel very satisfied to be contributing in my own little way towards the achievement of UNICEF’S mandate of helping children and women.

Everywhere we visited, communities definitely want a brighter future for their children.
They have all made us proud!

About Juli Riegler

Juli is the IKEA Foundation's Digital Communications Manager. Next to managing the IKEA Foundation's website and Facebook account she works closely with Save the Children and UNICEF and IKEA's yearly Soft Toys for Education campaign. She enjoys doing a lot of different sports, travelling and connecting with people from around the world.

iWitnessing the Future of South Africa


“We are all meant to shine, as children do.” by Marianne Williamson.

“Why do you want an education?” Mkuma Mkosinathi, a student in 11th grade at the Ximayi Khoso High School, asked his fellow classmates.

He walked around the room and used his arms and sometimes his entire body to express his thoughts and ideas to his classmates: thoughts on why an education was important, thoughts on why it was important to pay attention in class. Every once in a while he would pause and then emphatically ask, “Do you understand what I am saying?” And the students would answer, “Yes!” in unison.

Mkuma Mkosinathi, a leader-in-training teaches a class at Ximayi Khoso High School (with IKEA Norway sitting in). Photo: Michele Bianchi

Mkuma Mkosinathi, a leader-in-training teaches a class at Ximayi Khoso High School (with IKEA Norway sitting in). Photo: Michele Bianchi

As a leader-in -training, today was Mkuma’s day to teach a class and as guests of the school and UNICEF South Africa, we (IKEA Norway and myself) were there to see what was being done to improve schools in South Africa. The school we were visiting was being run under a program called “Safe and Friendly Schools” which has been orchestrated in several schools in the area through education officials, UNICEF and local communities, including parent councils and police officials.

Classmates in a "Child-Friendly School." UNICEF work closely with governments, teachers, communities and other partners to create conditions that attract and retain students across South Africa. Photo: Michele Bianchi

Classmates in a "Child-Friendly School." UNICEF work closely with governments, teachers, communities and other partners to create conditions that attract and retain students across South Africa. Photo: Michele Bianchi

After a fantastic welcome including South African song and dance, we walked into the classroom to see Mkuma in the middle of his lesson. It wasn’t until later that we learned he was a student, not a teacher.

We couldn’t tell when we watched him lead the classroom. He wore a dark blue suit jacket and freshly ironed matching trousers. He spoke with confidence and purpose and had the students’ complete attention. He challenged the students and made sure everyone was paying attention. He had the confidence of a man beyond his years. It took a while to realize that we were witnessing a man in training.

Elisabeth Rytterager, Sindre Kalve Jonassen and school officials observe a class in session at Ximayi Khoso High School. Photo: Michele Bianchi

Elisabeth Rytterager, Sindre Kalve Jonassen and school officials observe a class in session at Ximayi Khoso High School. Photo: Michele Bianchi

As I gathered my thoughts at the end of a day that was full of welcoming greetings, classroom visits and playing with children on a half-built football (soccer) field, I couldn’t help but think that Mkuma was a living example of what is happening in South Africa today.

Despite the statistics you read about South Africa – and we have witnessed many of these things with our own eyes – poverty, lack of resources, families tore apart by AIDs – there is an overwhelming sense of optimism and ownership.

But it’s not blind optimism. Or the kind of optimism you read in white papers and annual reports. It was an “alive” form of optimism that washes over you when you talk to students, teachers and parents.

One of many posters on the walls of the Ximayi Khoso High School that remind students and teachers what constitutes a "Child-Friendly School." Photo: Michele Bianchi

One of many posters on the walls of the Ximayi Khoso High School that remind students and teachers what constitutes a "Child-Friendly School." Photo: Michele Bianchi

I heard so many ideas today from all members of the community and agencies working hard on finding solutions. I also heard an admittance that many of these challenges are so complex that even with the best schooling, experience and passion for solutions that the answer don’t always come easily.

It was such a brief encounter today with children ages 5-18 and the adults that are helping to shape their lives. I wondered if our presence there was of any help. We were only there to “witness” the work that others have done. We didn’t pick up a shovel and imagine a soccer field or learn how to make bricks so that we could help build a school, like many of the parents had done before there was help from a new democratic government.

But even though we didn’t pick up a shovel or lay bricks, I still believe there is value in being a “witness.” Sometimes when words fail or actions don’t come at the right time, if we can stand next to someone and say, “I see you,” that can be a powerful moment. Like the most important moments in life, like birth and death, words often fail us, but as long as we are there, standing next to someone, with more feelings than words, there is still something being shared.

Happy and confident students at the Ximayi Khoso High School. Photo: Michele Bianchi

Happy and confident students at the Ximayi Khoso High School. Photo: Michele Bianchi

I felt like the distance that we traveled from Norway and Sweden to see these schools meant something to the children, parents and teachers. They felt “seen,” and the work will carry on long after we go. Maybe by students like Mkuma.

As Judas Tmnisi, the assistant principal, said as we were leaving, “Because you came here you will always be a part of us moving forward. We will always remember you and this day.”

He also said, “We will only part, so we can meet again.”

I hope I can come back to South Africa and see the results of the changes that have taken place. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw Mkuma teaching a class of small children, telling his students that they are the future of South Africa.

 

About Michele Bianchi

I'm a native Chicagoan living in Älmhult, Sweden with my husband and 13-year-old daughter, Marina, and working at ICOM (IKEA Communication). I was really thrilled to be accepted into the iWitness program because while I've work in sustainability communication for a long time, most of the places I've visited have been wilderness areas – which has made me a tireless advocate for environmental protection – but I have less experience "on the ground" with social issues. I believe that in order to care about a place or people, you need first-hand experience. Then comes the understanding of the issues and the feeling of responsibility to do something as a global citizen. I'm going to South Africa and preparing myself to be moved immensely. Then we'll see what happens!

Change?


Here I am, back in Sweden. Back in routines, back to work, back to my old self?

When I came home in the middle of the night the first thing I did was to go to my sons room, give him a kiss and tell him that mommy loves him. This is what I wish that all the children in the institutions or at the day care centre gets every night and every morning. To hear that mammy and daddy loves them. I have been faced with the facts that my wish is far from the reality.

Madde

Madde

I have also been told what we are doing, what IKEA’s Soft Toys for Education campaigns contributes to, how Save the Children International is helping Save the Children Lithuania and what Save the Children Lithuania is doing. And I am proud. Proud that I can still say that there are people who care! People who put their heart and soul into changing children’s rights and lives. Children themselves writing on paper hands, how they think parents should discipline them without violence, and then giving the paper hands to parliamentarian members.

Proud of IKEA and the IKEA Foundation. Because of what we do, we are changing the world. IKEA Foundation’s money goes to Lithuania and they are really making a difference. They are empowering communities and families so they get the possibility to keep their children and are able to give them a safe environment. They are educating community leaders so they also know children’s rights and that they need to have social workers and child psychologists for example.

Maybe the children that live at the institutions today only notice a small different but I truly believe that the children tomorrow don’t even need to go into institutional care. They are going to stay with their mothers or fathers, being told that they are loved. This is because of the massive work that IKEA, IKEA Foundation and Save the children are doing.

So, back to Sweden, back to routines, back to work and am I back to my old self?

No, I am never going to be my old self, I am always going to be a better version of myself. I am going to work harder than ever for the next campaigns, I am going to tell the world about what we do and how they can help. And I am always going to fight for Children’s rights!

Thank you for this opportunity, now it’s my turn to do some good hard work!

With love, Madelene

 

About Madelene Kahnberg

Hi everyone! My name is Madelene Kahnberg and I am working in the Kållered store in Sweden (Gothenburg). I have been working at IKEA for several years now, 10 to be more precise. I have had the opportunity to do many exciting things, from working in the cashiers to the kitchen department, the restaurant, bedroom, business and for the last years at Children’s IKEA as a Shopkeeper. Right now I am working as a Country Super User for iSell Sweden part time and the other half as a Co-worker at Kållered. My heart is where the children are! I absolutely love to work at Children’s IKEA. I am so proud to be working at Children’s IKEA where we take so much responsibility in how we produce our products. To get the chance to go on an IWitness trip is fantastic! I look forward to see, what the donations contribute to and to get the opportunity to share this with all my colleges at IKEA, my friends and families! I hope you will follow me as the trip begins by reading and sharing the IKEA Foundation blog. See you soon! Madelene