Clarks began in 1825 as a family alliance between two brothers, so we get the power of working in partnership.
Since 2008 Clarks UK has joined with UNICEF, the world’s leading organisation for children and child rights, to help fund educational projects through our shoe donation campaign, ShoeShare. There are ShoeShare drop-off points in more than 500 Clarks stores nationwide plus Clarks HQ, and any unwanted shoes collected are sold on to third parties with minimum wastage – up to 99% are re-used. All the money raised by Clarks UK goes to UNICEF education projects around the world to improve facilities, train teachers, help children go to school, and ensure girls and boys are offered the same opportunities. One example scheme is UNICEF’s School in a Box kit – a lockable box that contains essential supplies and transforms anywhere into an educational space with enough resources to teach 40 children.
Clarks Director of European Merchandising, Philip Jackson, became Clarks UNICEF ambassador two years ago to ‘own’ the relationship and act as advocate for UNICEF’s work in more than 190 countries which aims to help every child reach their full potential. He believes the partnership between Clarks and UNICEF is a ‘natural fit’ due to a shared focus on children’s welfare plus a global outlook and longstanding credibility. “It’s really important that we make a long-term investment – we work together with UNICEF to create a framework for education projects that are genuinely useful and create long-term development and benefits”.
Philip’s ambitious targets for the partnership included a ShoeShare campaign re-brand at the end of 2014, and for Clarks to break through the £1m barrier for fundraising – an amazing objective that has recently been achieved.
Opening up his journal, Philip shares his experiences on a November 2015 trip to The Gambia to see the work of UNICEF on the ground.
Sunday 15 November A funny day, full of apprehension before the trip. Did normal family things – swimming lessons, maths homework – and in the afternoon, played with the kids outside. After tea, I said my goodbyes and set off for Gatwick. After a slow journey I arrived ready for an early night and an early start – the adventure begins!
Monday 16 November After a fitful sleep full of normal hotel noise and anticipation the alarm finally went off at 4.30am. Quick shower then dressed, packed, and a short walk to the terminal.
After check-in there wasn’t much time before we were called to the gate for our flight to The Gambia which turned out to be packed! A mixture of locals returning home, holiday makers and a few randoms like us. One of the crew spotted me writing an email about UNICEF so we had a good discussion about the work and the country. Apparently the crew bring out suitcases of spare clothes for the locals and bags of sweets for the kids.
Banjul International Airport is a very small airport!! But very friendly and all the bags arrived and came out quickly. We were met by two UNICEF Gambia representatives and split into two white UN vans. It was a bit like being on the TV, especially when we had to pass through a Government checkpoint apparently introduced after the failed coup attempt in 2014.
After arriving at the hotel for a welcome drink and an opportunity to chat to the three other business representatives, we were taken over to UN House through tight security, which included surrendering our passports into the office of UN Gambia. We met Sally and Sarah who have fully organised everything for us. We had the opportunity to listen and ask questions which we did and then had a security briefing. The Gambia is classified by the UN as level 2 (UK/US is level 1, Syria is level 6).
Dinner was at Ngala Lodge, a hotel on the sea. It was all going really well until we were invaded by a swarm of white moths, literally thousands of them. We had to give up and leave – apparently it happens once a year about this time.
Tuesday 17 November The start of two days in the field. After a short delay of 30 mins – quickly learning Gambian style is a bit slow – we set off on a 4 hour journey to the country. The road was finished in the past couple of years so it's in really good condition. We stopped after about 2.5 hours to stretch our legs, buy some peanuts and have a look around. It was busy on the main crossroads to Senegal. Very interesting to see. We spoke to a 17 year old who has left school with basically nothing to do and just wants to go to England to try and make a life for himself – a clear reminder of why education and providing people with opportunities is so important.
After the short break, we set off again for the Central River region where the most deprived area was our stopover point for the night. Our first port of call was a community in the village of Mamourfana, to see 4+2 in action. The welcome from the community was amazing and to say we were overwhelmed would be an understatement. We all introduced ourselves, and members of the village explained what 4+2 was and how it had helped the community. They then had a little sing song for us which was fantastic.
The 4+2 campaign focuses on promoting key household behaviours to prevent child illness. It is aimed at encouraging communities to practise handwashing with soap and running water, use of insecticide treated nets, exclusive breastfeeding and household water treatment. There are many causes of illness and death among children under 5, however poor personal hygiene, malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and limited practice of exclusive breastfeeding are among the leading causes in The Gambia.
After lunch we went to see a school – it’s amazing to see the kids so happy but they have so little. Even the well for water didn’t work anymore so the kids only had water from a standpipe but it was switched off at 5pm. I found this visit particularly moving – I think partly because I have kids of my own – but also because education really is what is needed, but it’s such a long term investment. UNICEF has been able to provide guidance on who the school needed to speak to to get the well fixed and prevent further damage.
After the school we went to a village that has eradicated open defecation. Gambia wants to be the first African country to eradicate it by 2017 and they are really close to doing so. The villagers were so thrilled to see us and so excited about telling us why it was such an improvement to their lives. This village was really poor, all substance farming and no money at all – but they were so proud of helping themselves.
Following an hour’s drive to the URR (Upper River Region) for a visit to hear about a programme called Toscar – all about women’s rights and female genital mutilation (FGM) – we made it to our final stop by dark. Dinner was in the local town. We ate in what can only be described as a shack, but the couscous was great and there was football – England vs France on the TV – all very surreal!
Wednesday 18 November We were staying in a place called Basse which is right at the top of the country. Our first point of call was Basse hospital. There were some shocking sights – poor, poor children. This year is a bad year as last year’s harvest was poor (maybe food for 50% of the year, the normal average is 75%). Although quite a lot of the acute malnutrition comes from children contracting disease due to them playing in the same place that animals defecate. This gives them diarrhoea which causes them to lose all their nutrients and they don’t recover, hence ending up in hospital. UNICEF’s role is to provide the formula for recovery (+75/+100) and a recovery bar. They also work on the protocols and monitoring to ensure there are staff who work in the hospital that are basically trained. The hospital was the worst thing I have seen in my life – the conditions were horrendous.
After a couple more stops we visited a regional health centre where we spoke to the regional health controller. They have done such a great job with the CHN (Community Health Nurse) fraternity – we saw a CHN at our very first visit. UNICEF supports the CHN and especially the policy and practices they follow. At the health centre we also saw the immunisation store – immunisation is a big success story in Gambia, as the rates for immunisations are really high and it is seen as a positive thing to do. One problem they have encountered is that birth registration is low, so when people come for immunisation there is no record of birth. To overcome this they are simply putting together the two registration processes into one – sounds simple, but it’s a mammoth exercise to achieve it.
I think by the time our visits had finished, we were all really, really tired and were looking forward to getting back for a warm shower. We had a four hour journey to get back, which was pleasant – it’s amazing how quickly you become accustomed to your surroundings. It seemed so normal to see cows, goats and sheep wandering around the place and people walking on the side of the road.
Thursday 19 November After breakfast we headed over the road to the UN house. Back through the UN security and in to meet the UNICEF team. We had about an hour’s debrief, asking questions, sharing learnings and experiences.
Then we were driven to a hotel about 30 minutes away where we were to have a brunch with the upstream partners of UNICEF – Government ministers and other NGOs. There were seven tables and we were all asked to chair a table and lead the discussion on the chosen topic. For me, it was Education. Some very interesting discussions ranged from meeting the NGO that created the mothers’ clubs and worked with UNICEF to implement them, to a discussion with the head of statistics for the Gambia.
As I write this I’m sitting in row 7D on the flight home, next to a retired vet from Yorkshire who has spent two weeks volunteering at a donkey sanctuary. The time has flown by and it’s been an amazing experience, one that has definitely made me want to drive UNICEF even harder than before. I have met some people who will stay with me forever, and hopefully some people who will remain friends.
Help Clarks and UNICEF to reach even more children by donating your old or unwanted shoes at your nearest Clarks store.
Learn more about UNICEF at www.unicef.org.uk
Top Image © UNICEF/Giacomo Pirozzi - Children attend a UNICEF supported school in Malawi (School in a Box)
All Other Images © Clarks/Phillip Jackson 2016