Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Five Questions: Matthew Jenkins, trustee of Solomon's Children

Photo © 2010, Tugce Ozcan.
Navigating your way through the maze of charitable ventures is seemingly getting more difficult. There is quite literally a UK-based charity for everything imaginable and I am convinced that they all deserve our attention. In amongst this labyrinthine web of .orgs, one charity that I have become close to is Solomon's Children.

Matthew Jenkins is one of the trustees, a colleague and a good friend of mine. Along with his university professor and fresh batch of trustees, he is transforming Solomon's Children as a charity, expanding its remit and preparing for a large relaunch later in 2011. Matthew talks to Ayohcee about the charity and where it is going.

Ayohcee: What are the main goals or objectives of Solomon’s Children and how do you go about accomplishing them?

Matthew Jenkins: Our primary goal is to provide an ever expanding network of support for disadvantaged young people in Uganda. Our main focus in achieving this is to provide a link between potential sponsors from the UK and elsewhere with individual students from various parts of Uganda. Our team works with volunteers and teachers from Uganda to select young people to support there on the basis of individual merit. In addition to this, we work with local communities on small to medium sized projects to be of benefit to various groups of people within the areas in which we work. These range from providing financial assistance to build a nursery to more practical skills-based experience and training to put on art exhibitions.

AÓC: Solomon’s Children was founded in 2003, but has recently undergone a bit of a reinvigoration. What has been changed?

MJ: Solomon’s Children was founded in memory of Solomon Ochaya. The commitment to his family and to the education of his children was truly inspirational. The charity was mainly focused in providing assistance in Kampala. It was quite limited in its ability to expand due to the nature of being a small charity with a limited number of volunteers.

At this time there was a link between William Morris Sixth Form in Hammersmith, London and the Warriner School in Boxham, Oxfordshire. Both were working with a school in Kabale, in the southwest of Uganda. After a chance encounter and a number of very productive and exiting meetings, the charity incorporated the linked schools into its existing commitments and a new remit which satisfied the goals of all parties was drawn up. To put it simply, we are now able to provide a greater number of sponsors for deserving students and have a larger number of volunteers. This allows us to take on additional projects and have greater access to a more diverse number of ideas from a bigger group of people.

AÓC: With there being an ever increasing number of charities working in East Africa, what makes Solomon’s Children stand out when compared to any of the other charities working in there?

MJ: I think that an increasing number of charities working in this part of Africa can only be a positive thing. As a small charity we are able to provide a really personal and highly coordinated level of support to the individuals and communities we work with.

We are also able to allow students from the UK based schools to visit our partner schools in Africa. This provides our own students with the fantastic and immensely valuable opportunity to experience all that a very beautiful and fascinating country has to offer. This helps us to raise awareness of the challenges people in this part of the world face within the very diverse communities from which our students are drawn.

We are also trying to get as many of the students who are unable to visit Uganda involved with the charity by linking elements of our curriculum to the charity. We allow them to put on events which, in addition to providing a fantastic learning opportunity, raise much needed funds for the charity.

AÓC: Ayohcee recently contributed to Africa on the Blog starting a discussion on the subject of ‘The Right Kind of Aid’. If there is such a thing as a right kind of aid, do you think that Solomon’s Children is a good adherent to such a principle, as unquantifiable as it may be?

MJ: The idea of there being a ‘right kind of aid’ is of course a difficult thing to quantify and is by nature of the statement, entirely subjective in itself. Whilst being difficult to assess the impact of the aid you provide, a simple test could be to ask ‘what does this enable the beneficiary to do today that they could not have done without assistance and what impact will this have in the future?’ If you are to accept this as a suitable measure of the ‘right kind of aid’ then my opinion is that we are very much adherent to such principles. Our main aim is to empower individuals to develop their own communities by providing them with opportunities to obtain the education they need to do so. We are not trying to provide solutions to the people we work with on how to move forward, but simply enable them to generate their own ideas and gain the skills they need to see these through to fruition.

AÓC: Your operations are currently focused around the Ugandan capital Kampala and Kabale in south-western Uganda. Are their any plans in the pipeline to further expand the operations and scope of Solomon’s Children?

MJ: We are very open to the concept of any expansion of our charity.

In the medium to long-term, I am very confident that we will indeed expand our reach much further and perhaps even the remit of the charity. However, at the present time, we must focus on developing what we currently do and not try to expand too quickly. We must maintain our sustainability as a charity and continue to work to improve the way we operate and deliver the assistance we promise to our partners in Africa. We are always looking for additional sponsors of individual Ugandan students as well as for any donations that people or organizations can make to help our cause.

For more information about the charity Solomon's Children visit: www.solomonschildren.org. Solomon's Children are also on Twitter (@SC_Uganda) and have a page on Facebook.

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