At the age of 27, government lawyer Alison Naftalin founded Lively Minds Charity following a visit to Northern Ghana. Lively Minds focuses on empowering communities to develop their skills and resources, to improve their lives and that of their children. The key to this charity’s success is the emphasis on sustainability, as it encourages independence.
Lively Minds has since expanded to Uganda and continue to enrich local communities through play centres and reading schemes. Their exceptional work has also earned them a British High Commision Charity of the Year nomination.
We give Alison and her Lively Minds team the platform to share their story…
Tell us about the premise behind your Charity
I was inspired to set up Lively Minds following 2 months spent volunteering at a primary school in Tamale, Northern Ghana, in July 2007. I saw that children living in the poor rural communities were not getting basic early years opportunities that we take for granted here in the UK and in much of the rest of Ghana. When I returned to the UK I couldn’t get what I had experienced out of my head and wanted to try and make a difference to the lives of at least some of these children. In January 2008, with just £1,000 raised through friends and family, I travelled independently back to Ghana.
I came cross people like Mary- a typical 6 year old from a community in rural Northern Ghana with very few basic amenities. She has never been to school as her father doesn’t believe in girls’ education. Her mother, Fatima, didn’t go to school either, as she was married to Mary’s father aged just 15. As a result, Fatima didn’t know simple childcare practices that could improve Mary’s life. I hit on the idea of training mothers like Fatima to run their own Play Centre for the kids in their village. This gave children like Mary a chance to learn through play at a young age, when this type of creative education makes such a big difference to their future development.
I also forged links with a local teacher, David Abukuari and together we set up 3 Play Centres, training over 50 mothers and reaching over 300 children. The children gained problem solving, creative thinking and numeracy skills through play and importantly the mothers benefitted too. The Centres were a huge success and David asked if he could continue the work in Ghana after I had left. So on my return to the UK in 2008, I set us up as a charity, and Lively Minds was born.
We now employ 10 Ghanaians and operate from 2 bases – Tamale and Bolgatanga. We have worked in 38 villages and reached over 8,000 children to date – giving them a better start in life and the chance for a brighter future.
How does it feel to be nominated for the Charity of the Year award and what would winning mean to you?
We are so delighted to have been nominated for Charity of the Year Award! It is such a fantastic achievement to be recognised by the community here in the UK for our work in Ghana. This year is our 5th Birthday year and it is fantastic for us to even have been shortlisted for Charity of the Year for GUBA 2013. Winning this award would have such a big impact for us, helping us to spread the word and raise our profile
What do you think about the GUBA Awards?
GUBA is a fantastic organisation and the awards are such a great way to promote British Ghanaian talent, excellence and achievements here in the UK. We are delighted to be a part of the awards.
Where does your motivation come from?
We are constantly being approached by new villages asking us to set up our projects in their community and I see how much of a difference the projects are making to so many women and children. There are still so many villages who can benefit from our work, and until we’ve reached them all… we won’t stop!
Do you have any plans of expanding your Charity?
We are really fortunate to have recently received funding from Comic Relief to expand our projects in Ghana. So over the next 3 years, we will set up our projects in 39 new communities in Northern Ghana so we can benefit an additional 15,000 children and 1,100 mothers. We will also continue to support our existing communities by providing regular further capacity workshops – such as parenting skills, malaria prevention and nutrition.
Are you involved in any other projects?
We have launched a Reading Scheme in Ghana, where we provide deprived rural primary schools with a collection of children’s books. We train all students in upper primary school to read the books aloud in an interactive way, translating into the local language and using pictures. These “Readers” then run weekly reading sessions for all children in lower primary school. We also successfully run our Play Centre and Reading Scheme projects in Uganda.
What message would you give to upcoming Charities/Foundations?
Get good people on board from the start – The only reason Lively Minds has been so successful is that I was lucky enough to find passionate and talented staff to implement the projects from the staff. Be ready to learn new things fast and don’t give up.
Do you have anything else you would want to add?
2013 is our 5th anniversary year and it is so exciting to have been nominated for Charity of the Year and be a part of the GUBA Awards. It would be such a fantastic end to the year to win. Any Ghanaians in the UK (or anyone!) interested in volunteering at our projects in Ghana too, can find out more at www.livelyminds.org/volunteer
Lively Minds is an exceptional charity ad we urge everyone one to support them in any way they can.
Vote Lively Minds for the British High Commission Charity of the Year at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/bhc-charity
You can also find out more about them at: www.livelyminds.org