Happy Kids Foundation

The Problem

Happy Kids Foundation exists to eradicate extreme poverty for a small group of orphaned and vulnerable children in the rural village of Hohoe, Ghana. Rather than focus on the macro problem of poverty around the world, I set my sights on a small group of children that were left with no one and nothing to sustain their lives. These children are the results of bad circumstance, that of a world where their parents where too poor to care for them or are no longer alive. I found them in 2010, when I wandered into a rusty gate and found a decrepit building bursting at the seams with children. Happy Kids Orphanage was started by a local woman named Elizabeth, who struggled to maintain it and received no outside funding. They had one room the size of a closet where 12 children slept on the urine stained cement floor, no pencils or pens or books, and they were starving. There were at least 30 other orphans that needed to live there but couldn't because of the lack of space, so each night they shifted from a different house in the village. Their education was non-existent, and most of them were unable to hold a pencil. Every day was a struggle to survive. It became obvious that to eradicate poverty requires a multitude of things - the children need to be loved, to be empowered, to be fed, to have access to skills training and health care, a roof over their head, and a quality education.

Plan of Action

Recognizing the horrible conditions of the children in the Hohoe region, I set out to create a new model that would holistically address every aspect of the brutal poverty that ravaged their lives. In 2010, I built a dormitory building, giving 40 children a real home, their first actual beds to sleep on and a mosquito net over their heads. With enhanced living conditions, the kids are healthier and better able to focus during school. With the knowledge that infrastructure is only part of the problem, I concurrently focused on also building a new school and implementing sustainable programs that would support it long after I am gone. In partnership with the orphanage founder and the local staff, we turned Happy Kids into an NGO that has very specific development goals. I didn't just want Happy Kids to be another orphanage surviving off of sponsorships and donors, I wanted them to be empowered to stand on their own, and for the local community to take part in the plans and projects for the organization. In the years following, we built 5 more classrooms on a separate plot of land. We were able to get 10 computers donated and opened an internet cafe to generate a sustainable income, and also to hold computer literacy classes for the children every friday, as well as computer literacy classes for the surrounding community. We partnered with a fair-trade fashion company called Della and began the Happy Kids Sewing and Empowerment Program, where the children learn sewing skills in an apprenticenship setting with a trained seamstress. The children are now able to sew their own clothes and school bags, and will soon begin selling them to learn business skills. The children in the program now have an income generating skill that will provide them with an income that can pay to further their education and their lives long after they leave Happy Kids. The severe malnutrition of the children is addressed through the distribution of a nutritional porridge. This porridge, which is high in nutrients, is distributed at the school every day as a free snack to 108 of the orphanage and community children. With the establishment of this program, we've seen a 25% increase in attendance at school, and the improvement of the children's grades because they're no longer distracted by their empty bellies. We also planted a farm for the children to learn how to cultivate their own vegetables, and have 84 egg-laying chickens, which provides the vital protein crucial to their diets. All of these projects are led by a local expert consultant, so that the Happy Kids staff and children become experts in each of the associated fields. While we had been able to build up the school buildings and establish libraries at the school and orphanage with thousands of donated books, the educational quality was still terrible. We realized that a nice classroom and supplies made no difference if the teachers were unmotivated, untrained and uneducated. In July of 2012, we hired our first educated teachers, who have revolutionized the educational quality of the school. Together, we're working to abolish corporal punishment in the village and emphasize the creativity and individuality of each child. Two things that are no easy task. All 108 children at the school were registered for health insurance in 2011, and I hold quarterly demonstrations in first-aid to staff, parents and community members. In December of 2012, I managed the construction of 5 bathrooms at the school compound. Through the purchase of a water tank, we now have clean water at the orphanage, but do not yet have clean water at the school. The children still have to walk to the river everyday to fetch water, but we're hoping soon we'll be able to buy a water tank to stop this. For the future, we want to continue to seek out sustainable programs that will help the orphanage and school to no longer be dependent on donations. We're currently planning projects that will generate a significant income; a rabbit farm and a fish (tilapia) farm. Through the orphanage and school, we provide intensive support to 150 individuals. However, compounded with the amount of people reached through community first-aid demonstrations and the adult computer literacy program, we've helped over 350 people. We've made tremendous progress in 3 years, but still struggle to find every dollar to pay our teachers, feed the children, and keep these programs going every month. My dream would be to access more funding to scale up the projects and engage more of the community programs, and to replicate our model for sustainable development in other orphanages and schools across Africa.

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