I "met" Ali while lurking on the UK Riders list, a peer group of ICT circuit riders. She caught my attention because she founded an organization that works with orphaned and disabled children in Kenya. She also asked some really good questions about blogging for ngos on the listserv.
Ali is the Founder of AVIF (ABLe Volunteers International Fund). In 2002, she established a 65-teacher international summer school in NE Asia. She lived in China for 8 months with her 2 young children. On returning to the UK in 2003 she spent some time working in internet security before deciding to go back to school. She was studying Astrophysics but unfortunately, as a single parent, she found it difficult to continue with the financial burden. Having friends in Kenya, she came up with the idea to provide summer schools in Kenya. In March 2006 AVIF was born, the first volunteer placement ran over a 5 week period this summer. (She chronicles the program's start up on her personal blog)
She shares why she started her NGO, "The economic situation is far worse in Kenya than China so volunteer teachers were the only option. I decided to make AVIF a charity rather than a company as people are always more willing to offer time to a non-profit organisation. That said we are hoping to launch a trading company allowing all the orphanages and communities we reach in Kenya to sell their hand-made local crafts; bags, sandals, pumice, soapstone, plates, jewellery etc, to further their own futures. Trade not Aid !"
AVIF is a virtual organization that uses free and low-cost Internet technologies like VOIP to manage its programs and development work from the UK. Notes Ali, "It is me in my living room and a friend named Sharn Argwings-Kodhek networking in Nairobi. We access all orphanages via the internet. We have a substantial network of people we speak to by SKPE or SMS. Kenya has a poor bandwidth at best and this limits internet access to email only in most areas, except large corporations in large towns. Mobile communications are extremely accessible however, with very few dead zones."
The organization works directly with local ngos and volunteers matching them by interest, need, and skills. Organizations in Kenya are carefully vetted. Notes Ali, "Unfortunately there is a lot of corruption and greed in Kenya. Assigning volunteers to work with vetted organisations allows us to fully verify the organization's commitment to the children. "
AVIF plans to open an online shop to sell items to raise money for its program. "We have a large number of really beautifully-made items, hand made by the communities the volunteers lived with this summer. They have sent me photographs, weights and full descriptions of all the items. These items will be listed and hopefully sold on our online shop and the items packaged by the Kenyans and dropped with DHL for global delivery."
AVIF uses the Internet to recruit volunteers. Notes Ali, "We advertise for free on the very many ESL /TEFL websites for teachers and also recruit many primary education student-teachers in 2/3rd year of university degrees via the UK government's Teaching Development Agency (TDA). We also advertise the Volunteer Centres in the UK web sites."
The organization has just started to use a blog to engage volunteers and others interested in their work in a conversation. Volunteers are able to post about their experience in country. Notes Ali, "Blogs also allow much more "real" info as well as progress reports. It is so much more alive than a static web site. We've just begun blogging and thankfully I've been helped by my peers on the UK riders group."
Photo from Ali Lowndes on flickr