Spotlight on the inspiring women working at Ecologia Youth Trust

Spotlight on the inspiring women working at Ecologia Youth Trust

Robyn Cooper, Associate Director, Ecologia Youth Trust

How long have you worked at Ecologia Youth Trust and what has your role been?

Four years. I first started as the Project Development and fundraising officer. I am now Associate Director, working closely with Liza (Hollingshead), our founder and Director, who is retiring in February next year. We are working through the succession process and everything there is to learn about how to run a charity, which is a lot more than I initially thought! We are determined to make it a gentle process because it is so emotional and challenging by its very nature. This has been Liza’s life’s work.

Tell us more about what you and the team at Ecologia Youth Trust are working on in

There is a lot planned for this year. We are very much embracing it as a transitional year because our 5-year Scottish project Growing2gether branched out and formed as an independent charity in October last year. So this is the first time in a long time that the barebones of the charity is back to the way it originally was. Until the situation normalises in Russia, we cannot send volunteers or donations to our foster family eco communities there, so our focus at the moment is squarely on our work with our partners in Kenya and Uganda. In Uganda we work with Sky Is The Limit school in Fort Portal and in Kenya we work with International Peace Initiatives (IPI) in Meru County and Tarnos private school in Kericho county.

This year is all about development work and supporting sustainability! An exciting year but also challenging, making sure that the charity stays financially viable in the global conditions. Following the death of Sky Is The Limit school’s founder and director Mama Rose Mugenyi in December 2021 of Covid, we have been basically been supporting her family and the staff there to improve access to a quality education and increase the health and wellbeing for the 442 children who attend or live at the school.

This year, our goals are to support the school to provide primary education (including securing adequate wages for 25 staff members), a school meals programme, child sponsorship relationships, the Fruits of Sky Youth Enterprise project and their new project, the setting up of the 8-acre Mama Rose Organic Farm, which partly involves organic farm skills training for 5 women and 5 men who live locally.

At International Peace Initiatives based in Meru County, Kenya we will continue with our work of supporting children and young people to get the support they need at the Kitokha Amani Community Home (KACH) and have access to good quality primary, secondary and tertiary education. We will also be supporting the third and final year of Hair and Beauty Skills Training and in their final year as they take their first steps towards financial security. New projects that we are supporting are addressing an urgent need for clean drinking water, food sovereignty and regenerative land reclamation in the Kithoka and Njuruta communities.

We will continue to support Tarnos School, Kericho county Kenya, to provide quality primary and junior secondary education for 300 children. The new-build science laboratory is nearing completion and we will work towards it being fully equipped this year. We are also supporting the building of two new classrooms aid will continue to find funding for the development work towards Tarnos’ sustainability.

Here in Findhorn, we will continue to support Local Ukrainian children and families as they settle in Scotland.

That’s a lot, anything else?

Yes, of course! I already mentioned skills transfer and the succession process with Liza. We also plan to investigate the potential for new partnerships and to grow our international volunteering programme at IPI, Kenya. We will continue to grow our relationships and cultural understandings of our partners through visits and regular communication.

Of course, fundraising events and grant applications to grow our team and support our projects is ongoing and a normal part of working at a charity. The global cost of living, food and energy crisis as well as the effects of the pandemic continue to be challenging. We have wonderful supporters and donors and stay in touch with them regularly.

How do you feel about International Women’s Day and Women’s history Month?

Honestly, this is a tough one. Not to go on a feminist rant or anything like that but women have fought so hard to be where they are right now but only certain women in the world have been able to benefit from that. There’s still a lot of areas in the world where women do not get the same opportunity as men do and I think that’s a massive shame. So yes, I think initiatives like International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month is great because it offers a chance to celebrate women’s achievements and is a concentrated awareness of why we do these things but it’s also an awareness that people should hold day to day as well. So, I have mixed feelings about it I see the pros but also the cons.

What are your thoughts on gender equity as opposed to gender equality?

I’m all for gender equity. Something has always felt a little bit wrong about the whole gender equality movement that that has been going on because it’s really not the same as gender equity. Gender equity takes into account the individual differences in people so for
example, if we were having a bike race, gender equality would have all contestants riding the same size bike, starting from the same spot. Gender equity would give me an appropriately sized bike for my stature and possibly take other factors into account, such as
the race starting point. Gender equity is the way forward as far as I’m concerned because it gives everyone an equal and fair footing in life.

How does Ecologia’s work support gender equity?

We don’t discriminate against boys or men in favour of women of girls but in all of our projects we give girls or young women an equitable chance in an environment that can be stacked against them, to give them opportunity in a society where generally that’s not
normally available to them.

Ecologia’s founder Liza is leaving such a big legacy for you to live up to, why is it so important to you to take up the mantle?

I have never liked seeing people in pain and distress and if I can make just a tiny little difference to the children and young people that we work with then then to me that’s worth the disappointments, the hard work – the highs and lows of non-profit work – this is all
worth it if I can help to make someone else’s life just that little bit better, so they have a
fighting chance to thrive. That’s why I do it.

Ecologia is a female-focused charity, support our work on International Women’s Day, 8 March

#EmbraceEquity #InternationalWomensDay2023 #IWD2023 #WomensHistoryMonth
#WomensHistoryMonth2023 #herstory

About Ecologia Youth Trust

Ecologia Youth Trust is a Scotland-based charity, established in 1995. To date, we have
helped transform the lives of over 56,000 children, young people and families affected by
poverty, inequality, disease and climate change. We work with partners in Uganda and

Our vision: A world where every young person thrives.

Our mission: We support children and young people to shape their futures and grow
stronger sustainable communities. With a holistic approach, we work alongside partners to
give community and family support, quality education and the means to regenerate their
environment for immediate and long-term security.

Learn more about us:

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susie Kemp

Susie has 30+ experience as a creative copywriter, editor, and proofreader, starting out as a 20-year-old copywriter in the Mad Men world of early 1990s advertising in South Africa. Ever since, she’s had a love affair with creative conceptualisation, thinking outside of the box, writing to a deadline, and being thrown in the deep end!

She took an MSc in Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University as a mature student, in 2015, and continues to keep herself busy working as a copy-editor, proofreader and copywriter in book publishing, corporate communications, and publishing project management.

Apart from her love of working with independent authors, Susie has a fondness for working in the third sector and likes to use her corporate communications and marketing experience to support projects close to her heart. She has lived and worked in the Findhorn area for 25 years, and has been involved in a number of third sector projects and organisations, and family businesses.

Working at Ecologia Youth Trust helps Susie to live in integrity with her values of supporting the next generation to be the best that they can be, and she sees it as a way to give back to Mama Africa, the beloved continent on which she was born.

Ellen Shaw

Ellen joined the Ecologia team in June 2018 as Marketing and Communications Manager. Ellen has lived in Scotland for 6 years and has worked for non-profit and charitable organisations across varied fields. She currently shares her passion for helping young people through Ecologia Youth Trust and she works as a dancer and dance teacher in her spare time.

Robyn Cooper

Robyn is the Associate Director of International Projects, having previously worked within the team as a Project Development and Marketing Officer from April 2019 until May 2021. As Associate Director, Robyn is co-leading the International side of Ecologia with Founder and Director, Liza Hollingshead, bringing a new energy into Ecologia as they look towards the future of the charity.

Liza Hollingshead

Liza is the founder of Ecologia and Director of International Projects. She was born and educated in South Africa and worked there as a high school teacher. She moved to live in the Findhorn Community in 1974. She started Ecologia in 1995 after being introduced to Dmitry Morozov, the founder of Kitezh Children’s Community in Russia, and was inspired to support the community in its mission to rescue orphaned children from institutions and give them homes, families and education in a supportive environment.

This led to projects supporting disadvantaged youth and children in South East Asia and in East Africa. TRead more about Liza’s story here.