A Salford volunteer has said the pandemic has hugely affected charity Porridge and Rice’s ability to fundraise for the Kenyan schools they support.

This prompted Olivia Cowell to use her own initiative to try and help raise the much-needed funds for the Excel Emmanuel Education Centre project she has been involved in.

She said: “Fundraising was at an all-time low due to cancellations of craft fairs and Christmas fairs meaning their usual fundraising opportunities were taken away.

“This meant the schools had no channels of donations and faced collapse.”

Credit: Olivia Cowell

As a result Olivia turned to her hobby of arts and crafts as a way of being able to make donations for the charity setting up online Etsy store, Hope for Excel

She added: “The fundraising project originated in April 2020 after I received a handwritten letter from one of the students that I taught whilst in Kenya.

“The letter outlined how the school and community were struggling due to the COVID outbreak causing many to lose their jobs and homes.

“This moved me and I knew I had to do something.

“I began thinking how I could consistently support them, and I began thinking of items to sell online, and before I knew it I had a full range!”

Caroline’s handwritten letter / Credit: Olivia Cowell

She originally began working with the charity in July 2019 as part of a month and a half long volunteering scheme.

She added: ” The trip changed my life and I was able to meet some of the most incredibly inspiring people.”

One of the people she met on the trip was then 13-year-old, Caroline Wakio, who has become a huge motivator for Olivia to continue to commit to raising money.

Olivia recalls being inspired by Caroline’s hopes and dreams of being able to continue her studies in order to pursue her dreams as she had never left the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Since her return to the UK and her further fundraising attempts, Olivia still receives monthly handwritten letter updates from Caroline who has gone onto study at high school since leaving the volunteer project where she met Olivia.

As part of her current activities, Olivia has a range of greetings cards, soap and jewelry on sale with all donations going directly to the Kenyan school projects.

She said: “The idea behind the greetings cards came from a friend’s parent who makes handmade cards for a living.

“She provided me with my first set of cards.

“The idea for the silhouette design came from a lot of trial and error with finding a design that is eye catching yet easy to replicate on a mass scale and when I say mass, I made over 10,000 handmade Christmas cards between October and December last year.”

Olivia added: ” I am proud that all of these are handmade.

Olivia’s products / Credit : Olivia Cowell

“I think there is a real niche in the handmade market and I think with the ever growing presence of the high street shops, it is more important than ever to support small businesses who make eco-conscious decisions.”

Volunteering has allowed Olivia to realize she has a passion for helping others and has allowed her to discover her commitment to benefitting the lives of others.

She said: “The project has brought about a real sense of purpose for me.

“By day I work as a learning support assistant for children with additional needs in a secondary school, so I know that helping people is a passion of mine, but having a project to my name has really been a blessing.

“Especially throughout lockdown when there wasn’t much else to do, it was definitely something that brightened the days when we were all locked inside.

“It definitely gets emotional.”

Credit : Olivia Cowell

Olivia has relished in seeing her hard work paying off with the Kenyan school continually expressing their gratitude for Olivia’s help.

She said: “They send regular updates with pictures of the children receiving meals bought by the donations, their new uniforms, new desks, and so on.

Knowing that my little cards and soap made in my kitchen can have such an impact on a community so far from home is hard to comprehend sometimes.”

Olivia sells her products via her Etsy shop which can be found here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/hopeforexcel/

You can find more information on the charity here: http://www.porridgeandrice.co.uk/

You can follow Hope for Excel on Instagram here: http://www.instagram.com/hopeforexcel



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