Eco-Block Schools: Continuing our education mission while cleaning up the environment.

It was over a year in the making. 18 months to be exact. Until finally, last month, the time came to build the first-ever “Eco-Block School” we’ve been speaking and dreaming about for months. A first-ever not only for Classroom of Hope, but also for the earthquake-devastated island of Lombok, Indonesia, and for our partner Block Solutions, the inventors behind the technology that takes plastic waste and turns it into blocks, which then turn into buildings and, in this case, a brand new school.

When doing anything for the first time, there are lessons to be learned, challenges to overcome. This project was no exception. We’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details about 18 months of emails, zoom calls, meetings with local government officials, logistics, budgeting, and fundraising it took to pull this thing off. However, a little bit of background information may be helpful for you to understand how this all came together.

It started with an email that a friend of ours sent with a link to an article about schools being built in Africa from recycled plastic waste. From this moment, a seed was planted and our founder, Duncan Ward, began researching how we too could start building schools while also removing plastic from the environment. Eventually, Block Solutions came to our attention. A Finland-based company that builds low-income housing projects in Africa with their recycled plastic block technology. Their Eco-Blocks are comprised of various forms of recycled plastic, such as PET plastic bottles and PP plastic, which are washed and broken down into granules and then mixed with wood fibers before being processed into an injection molding machine to create the Eco-Blocks. Block Solutions had not yet used their technology to build a school when we first began our conversations with them, but there was no reason it could not be done!

It was decided that the location for the first-ever Eco-Block School would be in Taman Sari, a small earthquake devastated village in Lombok, Indonesia. Lombok was rocked by a series of major earthquakes throughout 2018, which killed 563 people, displaced more than 417,000, and destroyed over 400 schools. In the aftermath of the earthquakes, Classroom of Hope supported the building of 23 Pop-Up Schools with our local partner Pelita Foundation, which helped approximately 4,000 children get back into education.

Pop-Up School at Taman Sari

The Pop-Up Schools were a temporary measure. There was still an urgent need to get thousands of children back into permanent schools. With so much rebuilding left to be done on Lombok, it was obvious that the island would be home to the Eco-Block School pilot project. Moreover, since many children and parents were left feeling scared and traumatised after the earthquakes it made sense that we would rebuild using Eco-Blocks which are lightweight and designed to be earthquake-resistant due to their elasticity. 

After months of preparation, working closely with Block Solutions, our local partner Pelita Foundation, and the Lombok Regional Government, it was time to start preparing the site at Taman Sari. In late March 2021, volunteer local community members demolished the damaged and temporary classrooms at Taman Sari to make space for the permanent structure.

Demolition of the damaged and temporary classrooms done voluntarily by local members of the community.

By mid-April, a building team from South Lombok started to work on the foundation and extended the floor space to accommodate the new five classroom school. The crew continued to work on the floor area foundation and also on the steps and retaining wall until the end of May 2021.

The construction crew working on the floor area foundation.

By early June the site was ready for the Eco-Blocks which arrived in Lombok on 7 June 2021. The local community worked together to move all the blocks to the site. On 9 June 2021, the metal u beam, which would support the blocks, was laid and the first layer of blocks was assembled by the local contractors with leadership and guidance from Block Solutions Chief Technology Officer, Toni Kontkanen. Toni flew from Finland to Indonesia to instruct and guide the local construction team in building the first-ever school built with Block Solutions technology.

Toni from Block Solutions and the local construction team work together to set the foundation. Photo by Kristina Buckingham.

It took over a day to ensure the foundation was completely level and then five days to assemble the blocks into the first earthquake-resistant, five-classroom, Eco-Block School. The structure of the school was made from 15 tonnes of recycled plastic waste, assembles much like Lego, and can last up to 100 years.

The structure and roof of the school complete. Photo by Kristoffer Trondsen

Although the structure was complete in less than a week, the construction team still had work to do to prepare the school to open in July. It took two more weeks to finish the details and aesthetic of the school which included tiling, plastering, painting, and installing ceilings, lighting, fans and whiteboards.

The school was completely finished on 3 July 2021. At this stage, schools in Lombok are closed due to the coronavirus. The school will serve 132 students and 12 teachers once restrictions lift.

The success of our Lombok pilot project is now set to usher a new wave of Eco-Block Schools that is slated to begin construction in the coming months with four more Eco-Block Schools and two homes. Following that, plans are in motion to scale the project with the construction of an Eco-Block factory in Lombok and the incorporation of Block Solutions Indonesia. This means that plastic can be sourced, recycled and blocks manufactured locally, with the added opportunity to be shipped throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

Considering Indonesia is the world’s second-largest plastic polluter, the new Eco-Block solution is hoped to help combat plastic waste management at a grassroots level across Indonesia. Eco-Blocks have the potential to create a major environmental impact and help to create a sustainable choice in construction. By using Block Solutions technology, plastic that currently pollutes oceans, rivers or landfills can be transformed into long-lasting, safe, and affordable homes or schools. Our grand vision is that the factory will inspire other regions of Indonesia to build factories and then across Asia and the world. We feel this technology should be shared so that we can take plastic waste, create value and make an environmental impact!

It’s also important to understand that there is significant economic evidence to support that by building with this new technology we will add value to the Indonesian economy. Take a look at our summary infographic or for a detailed cost-benefit analysis check out this report by our partner Mettalytics Consulting.

Our next big task at Classroom of Hope is raising the funds to build 200 Eco-Block Schools and get children back into education. If you believe in this technology, as we do, then we want to hear from you! We need the right strategic partners who see this as a business opportunity and social investment in the future.

Want to follow along as we embark on our Eco-Block Schools journey? Follow us on social media.

Note: excerpts from this blog were written by Fraser Morton from Far Features

School’s Out for Coronavirus: Top Free Homeschool Tools

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused schools to close across the world. Unfortunately, this includes Classroom of Hope’s schools as well. Slowly, some students have started to return to their classrooms, but the vast majority of students are still learning from home.

Many are turning to online teaching to keep students engaged. However, not all students have access to this option. Online teaching requires a dedicated teacher (and school that can continue to pay them) and a reliable internet connection. Unfortunately, this isn’t a reality for many schools worldwide.

To help address these crucial gaps in education, resources are appearing for families new to homeschooling. In fact, there are so many tools available now that it can be overwhelming. For many, the question of how to continue education from home adds yet another challenge to an already difficult time.  

Classroom of Hope’s mission is to provide access to quality education to students in developing countries. With schools closed, we can’t currently do that in person. But we can help students and parents navigate this new challenge!

Below, we’ve listed a few of our favorite FREE homeschooling resources. We’ve tried to include tools for all different ages, backgrounds and levels of internet access. 

How to Homeschool During Coronavirus

First, Take a Deep Breath

Everyone in the world is struggling through this pandemic together.  No one expects that parents will suddenly be able to offer the level of education that teachers can. So breathe, and remember that you’re doing your best.

Okay, But Where Do I Even Start?

Start slow. Realize that even two to three hours per day will make a difference.

Talk with your children and decide which subjects to focus on. Math, Science, and Language are usually core subjects. Are there other fields that they enjoy, or need more practice with?

Grade 3 Teacher: Khang Kanha Ti Na (12) solve a maths problem on the balckboard

Figure out how your student learns. Are they best with hands-on activities and games, or by doing worksheets? Educational videos? Do they need structure or are they self-disciplined?

Evaluate your resources. Do you have reliable internet access to watch live stream classes or videos? If not, can you view lessons and basic web pages online? Do you have a computer or a smartphone? If you don’t have internet access at home, is there somewhere you can get online and print worksheets?

FREE Homeschooling Resources during COVID-19

Each tool listed below has pros/cons and different audiences. Some are only available for certain age groups, some for certain school subjects. Most need some degree of internet access, but some offer offline options.

For Reading Practice
(Pre-K through Year 8 Reading Levels)

The International Children’s Digital Library provides free access to children’s literature from cultures around the world. 

Their collection includes over 4,000 books in 59 different languages! There are even books offered in multiple languages. 

The website is child-friendly and easy to navigate. It’s also available in various languages. You can sort by location, language, subject, and more. Books are not downloadable – readers open up one or two pages at a time, and you need internet access. The site is available on a computer or a smartphone, and file sizes are small.

This is a great option for young readers, including non-English speakers or English-Language-Learners!

For Downloadable and Printable Worksheets (Kindergarten through Year 6)

K5 Learning was founded by parents to offer quality educational tools for their kids to use at home. They offer online lessons for a charge, but what we love are their free worksheets!

The website offers free mathematics and reading worksheets. Reading options include comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and grammar. You can sort worksheets by topic or by level. Each downloadable PDF includes an easy answer key and can be printed out! 

You don’t have to make an account to access these worksheets. There are reminders on the website to start your 14-day free trial, but this isn’t required to access the free worksheets. 

This site is great for elementary level English-speaking students. The ability to download and print worksheets makes this a good option for families with limited internet access.

For Parents Who Want More
(K through Year 5)

Hand2Mind is a great resource for parents who want more complete lesson plans. This site normally charges for educational tools. However, in response to COVID-19, they’ve started to offer some great resources for free.

Free weekly schedules for K-5 students include daily lessons and activities. Worksheets on mathematics, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths), and literacy are downloadable. Each also includes an answer key, and they’re all available in both English and Spanish!

For parents that don’t feel like they have the time to take on the full weekly activity schedule, that’s fine. Each of these worksheets can also be used individually. 

The site also has great resources for parents who are new to teaching at home. They provide guides for educational activities and advice on how to establish a daily routine. Just make sure to stay on the “Hand2MindAtHome” part of the website, where the free resources are.

For Kids Who Want to Play While They Learn (Pre-K through Year 6)

ABCya is based on the belief that children learn better when they’re having fun! This website’s 400+ fun and free educational games can be sorted by grade level, by subject, or even by how they relate to common standards for each grade level.

The free version of this website is only available on a desktop computer (the app costs money), and has ads. The games require strong internet access.

This can be a great option for children who need a break from worksheets! 

For Students in the United Kingdom

BBC Bitesize is an incredible resource for UK learners aged 5 to 16+. This site offers guides written by teachers and mapped to follow the curricula of the UK. They provide online daily lessons and videos. They also offer parent toolkits and further resources.

For secondary students, lessons on this website follow specifications for main exam boards. These curricula are even broken down by region, with a choice of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales. This allows students to continue preparing themselves for large exams from home.

Most lessons are only available on the website, instead of being downloadable. There are a lot of videos and games rather than worksheets. Lessons are offered across a wide range of school subjects, including electives like music and history. 

For UK students with good internet access, BBC Bitesize seems to have everything. Being backed by the educational system and aligned with national testing is a big perk!

For Literally Everyone

Khan Academy offers “free world-class education for anyone, anywhere”. (Sounds like our mission!) This not-for-profit offers free lessons across all areas of study for Pre-K through college. Their classes include videos, articles, practice questions, tests, and more. Even better – no ads!

You need an email address to create a personalized (free) account. This account allows you to track your progress, make learning plans, or save lessons for later.

The best part of Khan Academy is its global accessibility. The platform is accessible in 40+ languages. We were amazed to see that this includes demo sites of Burmese, Bahasa Indonesia, Swahili, and Thai! What an amazing possibility for some of our CoH students.

In addition to its desktop site, Khan Academy has apps for Apple and Android. Through the apps, students without consistent internet can download videos to learn offline.

This is a great option for secondary and tertiary students who want to continue to learn from home. It is also a possibility for non-English speaking students to continue studies in a wide variety of subjects. 

Honourable Mentions

BrainPop offers playful videos and interactive assignments for all major subjects of study (K-8). They also have special platforms for English-Language-Learners. However, their free access offer only goes through June 15, 2020. 

CorbettMaths has a basic website offering printable math worksheets with accompanying videos, quizzes, and answer keys. This is a good resource for students looking for extra practice in mathematics.

Ed Helper and Have Fun Teaching are both websites with lots of free printables. Both sites offer great child-friendly tools for reading, literacy, mathematics, and more. However, neither site offers answer keys, which would make it difficult to check students’ learning. 

And Now, Another Deep Breath

The resources we’ve mentioned in this blog are just a few of the many tools that are available to parents today. It can be overwhelming to see them all, and to think of how best to put them into practice.

These tools can be used separately or together to create the right options for your students. The most important takeaway is that you don’t need to start from scratch when it comes to education at home. 

Be patient with yourselves and with your students. Remember that no one expects you to become a teacher overnight. Do what you can during this time, but be sure to find your own balance. And eventually, schools will be back in session! Students have already started going back to school in some parts of the world.

We’re waiting eagerly for that day that all Classroom of Hope supported schools are reopened. Until then, be sure to follow us for more advice and resources as we navigate this new time together.

Dombokbon Grade 2. The teacher Som Ban helps Panna (8) in a writing lesson.

Our Recent Field Trip to Cambodia

Photos by Manuel Gussmann

Going into the field is always a wonderful reminder of why we do what we do. While we love and appreciate doing our day to day work, it is truly something special to be able to visit schools in person, meet the students and see the impact created on the ground. It’s a powerful, almost overwhelming feeling of gratitude we experience when we get the opportunity to visit our projects. When we get to share the experience with other people, like our donors, these wonderful emotions get all the more heightened. 

On our recent trip to Cambodia, we attended the opening ceremony of two new schools. These ceremonies are an inauguration; an official handover of the school to the community. The first school opening ceremony took place in Oddar Meanchey Province in the village of Srei Krosang along the Thai / Cambodian border. Our team set out on a three-hour drive from Siem Reap to rural Srei Krosang with our local partner, Child’s Dream, and donors, Alisoun Mackenzie & Friends and Acts of Kindness Collective, to open Prasat Toek Khmao Primary School. 

The team and donors were warmly welcomed by the community lining the gate and pathway to the new school. There to greet them were smiling children, proud teachers, school directors and parents and honoured government officials and community leaders.

A warm community welcome

The ceremony began with a sacred blessing from a monk, followed by the national anthem, dances, speeches, a handing out of medals and cutting of the ribbon to formally open the school. The school was then officially handed over from our local partner to the community. 

Monks giving a blessing to start the opening ceremony
Donors gather on stage at the opening ceremony

Child’s Dream co-Founder, Marc, officially hands the school over to the community

The donors spent time with the students distributing locally-sourced stationery supplies and backpacks. They then enjoyed a local lunch and afterward, it was time to dance! Alisoun Mackenzie and her team from Scotland busted out their best moves with the community in a joyous celebration of the collaborative efforts which created this brand new school.

A group photo in front of the new building at Prasat Toek Khmao Primary School. 

The next day the Classroom of Hope team parted ways with our local partner and donors to set off for Battambang, Cambodia where we would open the next school, Adoung Trach Primary School located in the Sanger District of Battambang. This school was implemented by our local partner Children’s Action for Development (CAD) and was supported by Navitas. Navitas has been supporting projects in Battambang, Cambodia alongside CAD and COH since 2014.

A view of Andoung Trach Primary School from above.

There was great excitement at Andoung Trach school as over 500 people arrived to attend the official school opening. The event was presided over by the Excellency Governor of Battambang Province and other key stakeholders from the Provincial Office of Education, District Office of Education, Commune Council, police, community, teachers and children. Navitas was represented by Tim Tabaka (Regional Sales Director, South East Asia), Nga Phuong Tran (Regional Manager – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos) and two teachers, Sharla Stolhandske (Canada) and Tresna Maclean (Australia).

Tim Tabaka gives a speech at the opening ceremony
The opening ceremony

After speeches were given, 60 scholarship students (including 30 who came from Toul Lvieng school) were presented with school materials including uniforms, shoes, bags, pens and books. 15 bicycles were also distributed to children who live a long distance away from the school. All school supplies and bicycles were sponsored by Navitas as part of their support of scholarships in the Battambang area.

Tresna (left), Sharla (middle) and Nga (right) distribute scholarship packages to students
Tim and Tresna distribute bicycles to students
Students after receiving their scholarship packages
Donors, CAD, teachers and COH in front of the new school building
Racky, Founder and Executive Director of CAD

After the opening ceremony, the CAD team took us to see the next school in line to be rebuilt with funding from Navitas. Students of the school, Toul Lveang Primary, were learning under tarps held up by bamboo and wood. The school structure does not provide any protection from the rain during the wet season and gets uncomfortably hot on sunny days. The environment is not safe or conducive to learning. We had seen pictures of this school and knew it was in desperate need of rebuilding, but it was a different experience entirely to see it in person and to meet the children studying there. Everyone was relieved in knowing that this school will be rebuilt within the year.

A new building at Toul Lveang Primary School will be built this year supported by Navitas.

At the end of every field trip, we come away with a deeper understanding of the need on the ground and the genuine impact our local partners create. In sharing these visits with the donors who fund our projects, we get to see it all through their eyes; it’s like seeing it for the first time. And every time, after these special days of celebration, we hear from those who have seen the impact firsthand, “it was an experience I will never forget”.

Every Step of the Way for Lombok

Two months ago, my friend Matt and I ran an ultramarathon across Indonesia’s Lombok. We signed up for the challenge to raise funds for Project Lombok – a collaborative project between Classroom of Hope and Pelita Foundation Lombok to build pop up schools for the children who lost their schools during the 2018 earthquakes.

This was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It was tough. Really tough. I am proud of myself for completing it. I am also really proud of Matt. And I am grateful. Grateful for the experience, grateful to the people who supported the journey and grateful to be in a position to push my personal limiting beliefs to give back to others.

I’d love to share the experience with you. From the beginning to the finish line.

The First Starting Line

This journey began long before the day of the run. Matt and I made the decision to run an ultramarathon sometime in September 2018. I had recently been inspired by a group of people who ran an ultramarathon for charity. Duncan and I are constantly looking for people to challenge themselves and to fundraise for Classroom of Hope. I felt motivated to walk, (or should I say run) the talk. Matt, an experienced runner and marathoner, had also been inspired by the same ultramarathon. He was ready to take on his next challenge and he wanted to do it for a good cause.

Classroom of Hope had been supporting a disaster relief initiative to build Pop Up Schools in Lombok after the earthquakes. Matt and I decided we would run for the children who lost their schools. We committed to run across Lombok in August 2019. We set a goal to raise $20,000.

The Lead-Up

When I began training, I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve always dabbled with running because I enjoy being outside and active, but I would not have referred to myself as a “runner”. I was seriously out of practice. My last run was sometime in late 2016 before I got pregnant with my daughter, Aura. I started my training with a 2km run and I could hardly finish it. I went back out again and again. Eventually, I could run 5km, then 10km, then 15km.

Luckily for me, Matt knew from experience how to train for marathons. Training for an ultra is different from a marathon, but Matt had done his research and I followed his lead with my training.

I also took his advice around my diet and how much I needed to be eating. Saturday night was carb-loading night because every Sunday morning we would set out on our weekly long run. We would start the first 10km together and then we would each run at our own pace. We were training our bodies to run for long periods of time, rather than just focusing on distance. A couple of weeks before the ultra we ran our longest duration, six hours. We refueled with water, salts and a small snack every 5km. This was the approach we would take for the night of the run.

Two weeks out from the ultra, I didn’t do any more running. I had injuries in my left ankle, foot and knee. My body needed rest so I stuck to restorative yoga practices during that time. The intense part of my training was behind me, but the tension in my body was building up. I was an emotional rollercoaster filled with uncertainty, doubt and fear about how this was all going to go. August 15th could not come soon enough.

The Day Before the Run

My heart sank into the bottom of my stomach. I felt sick as my eyes glazed over the words on Jenny’s “Lombok Ultra Marathon Health & Safety Support Briefing”. 

Some of the topics covered by Jenny during the Health and Safety briefing.

“What am I doing here?”, the voices in my head took over. “Do you actually think you can run 83km overnight across an island? This is crazy. Fake an injury right now and get out of this!”.

Jenny, an experienced medic and health and safety specialist, had come with us to Lombok to oversee the health and safety of the run. As she briefed us 24 hours before the whole event was to kick off, I realised, perhaps for the first time, the enormity of the task I would undertake the next day.

Jenny taking us through the Health and Safety presentation the day before the run.

The subject matter of Jenny’s presentation was no joke but her light and confident approach eased my panic slightly. It gave me peace of mind to know she would be in my support car with her vast knowledge and expertise. She would also be in communication with Megan in Matt’s support car to ensure his safety. I looked around the room at all the people who attended the health and safety meeting and each person who was there to support Matt and me through this. Their faces calmed my internal hysteria.

I looked over to Matt, who looked so calm and collected throughout the whole briefing. I later found out that this was a conscious effort on his part to keep himself from getting too anxious. He shared with me afterward that he also found comfort from the support of the people in the room.

Our local NGO partner, Pelita Foundation ( who does all the groundwork for our Pop Up Schools program) had been incredibly supportive of the run. They helped to organise the finish line and members of the Pelita team would be driving the support cars through the night. To my right, my dear friend and Matt’s wife, Megan, was sitting next to me. She had gone above and beyond to organise everything we would need for the day of the run. She thought about all our gear and made lists of all the food we would need. During training, she cooked our carb-loaded dinners the day before our long runs and she always made sure we had a hearty, nutritious meal to come home to afterward. My husband, Duncan, was sitting next to Jenny. I thought of all the support he and my daughter had given me throughout my training. The training process can feel selfish at times. It’s massively time-consuming. For all the times I went for a long run or to yoga or to the gym, Duncan stepped up to take the lead with Aura. When I would return home from my runs, Aura would always greet me by saying “Go, Mommy, Go!”. They were my biggest cheerleaders and there is no way I could have made it to the start or finish line without them. And of course, sitting to my left was Matt who would go along this journey with me. We knew we wouldn’t run the whole thing together, but knowing we would be on the same path, completing the same mission, reminded me I was certainly not alone.

Run Day

From the early morning, I felt as though I was in a dream. I wished in every moment that time would stop or that I could tap into some magical power that would speed up the clock to the following day when this would all be over.

While I daydreamed, the awesome support crew Matt and I had around us continued about their awesomeness. Dear friends came to pick up Aura for a playdate with their daughters so I could spend the day resting and getting my mind right. Megan and Jen meticulously went through all our gear, medical equipment, food and drinks to ensure the support cars were properly stocked and we would not want for anything. Jen also worked closely with Duncan and the Pelita foundation to review the details and logistics of the run. Manu, a Classroom of Hope field photographer, quietly captured the moments of the day and prepared to capture the moments of the night. For these recorded memories, I am eternally grateful. Like any challenge, we never accomplish anything on our own. Matt and I had our capable and very supportive village moving us along every step of the way.

Jen and Megan ensured we were prepared for anything and everything.

Time didn’t stop. Before I knew it, we were loading up the cars to drive to the start line. I would start running at 6 pm and Matt would start running at 8:30 pm. With this gap in between our start times, we hoped to run a part of the ultra together in the latter half. At the start line, the adrenaline kicked in and I could not wait to get started. I think there may have been a countdown, but I don’t remember. All I remember is that I started running with my support car slowly following behind me and a police car in front leading the way.

Running through the winding hills of Lombok

I felt amazing. My pace was good and my body felt strong. The first 20km were all up and down winding hills. Matt and I had prepared ourselves for this and I could hear Matt’s voice in my head reminding me to take it easy on the uphills. This strategy worked well for me. It didn’t feel like long before the winding roads were behind me and I was entering into Mataram, the main city of Lombok. People were out having dinner and drinks. The buzz of the city gave me another boost of adrenaline. I took my earphones out to listen to the sounds and music of the streets.

Matt had started his run by this point. Jenny let me know that he was feeling good and off to a strong start. He was taking the same approach to the uphills that we’d talked about and enjoying each passing moment as it came. A lot of preparation had gone into this day and he was enjoying all the parts of it that he could.

Shortly after passing through Mataram, we pulled over for one of our scheduled stops so I could top up on salts, water, and food. I forced myself to have a small bite to eat at each stop, even though I really wasn’t hungry. I looked up from my chia pudding and mango to see a man dressed in running gear approaching my support car. His name was Beku, a member of a Lombok running team who had heard about what Matt and I were doing. He asked if he could run with me. He promised to stay a couple of feet behind and respect my pace. With one last swig of water, I set off with Beku. We hardly spoke a word to each other as language was a barrier, but he ran with me for 25km, all the while fending off wild dogs and protecting me from speeding motorbikes.

Me and Beku running towards the halfway mark.

At the halfway mark, 42km, I was still feeling good. Matt’s support car and mine were in constant communication, so I knew he was also in good spirits. I thought I would pause and rest a bit at the halfway point, but I just wanted to keep moving. So I did. Matt did the same when he reached 42km. Feeling good, he just kept moving.

Matt running through Lombok

Beku ran with me until about 55km. He then left because he had to work in the morning. I was back to running on my own again, with my support car closely behind and the police in front.  I was still feeling good. I had really surprised myself at how well I was running and then, out of nowhere, my right knee buckled. It was excruciatingly painful. In an instant, it felt as though everything I had worked for had been ripped away from me. My knee would not bend; I could not even put one foot in front of the other. At over 60km in, I still had roughly 20km to go. I had no idea how I would finish.

I sat in the back of the support car. Jenny had told me that at some point in the run I would experience a “come-to-Jesus moment”. Well, here it was. The most critical moment of my run. It was as if when my knee buckled, my mind and spirit buckled too. She helped me to refuel, she iced my knee, gave me a tablet for the pain and she talked me through the emotions that were arising. Duncan came towards me from one of the other support cars. As soon as he approached, I had a complete meltdown. Jenny, Duncan and I talked about my options. Jenny said Matt wasn’t too far behind and I could ice my knee until he caught up. Maybe running together would help. I knew she was right, but I also knew if I sat in that car for another minute there was a very good chance I wouldn’t get back up again.

Matt and I had heard ultramarathon runners speak of this moment. This moment when you have to get out of your body and out your head. You have to go somewhere deep inside of you. Your body and your mind can take you so far, and then it’s something else that drives you. I wasn’t sure exactly how to get there, but my intuition guided me to listen to mantras and to just put one foot in front of the other. The volume on my phone was set very loud and it wouldn’t adjust. I accepted this completely and understood that the booming mantras would help to block the outside world and to find that place inside myself. One agonizing step after the other, I found a rhythm with a power walk; swinging my arms intensely from back to front. I used the force of my upper body to propel me forward. 

I kept refueling with Jenny and the support car every 5km, but I was cautious not to stop for too long. After a few of these stops, and in need of some additional moral support, I asked Jenny when she thought Matt would join me. She explained that Matt had been suffering from dehydration which had started right around the same kilometer mark at which my knee had given in. He was walking and drinking water to get rehydrated, with Megan by his side. I could sense that he was also having his “come-to-Jesus moment”. He had run for 60km and the distance had begun to take its toll. We all knew that Matt wasn’t going to give up, he just needed to manage things differently to keep moving forward. That’s all either of us could do at this point. Just keep moving forward. Part of me wanted to stop there and wait for him. We were in this together. But I also knew, just as before, that if I stopped for too long I wouldn’t be able to keep going. I continued with my bizarre power walk and mantras knowing intuitively that eventually Matt and I would run together.

As I approached Kuta, about 4km out from the finish line, the flat roads I had become accustomed to all started to slope downwards. I had been looking forward to the downhills the whole run, but the moment they started, the pain in my knee escalated. I didn’t think it was possible to be in any more pain, but here I was again, so close but so far, unable to see how I could possibly finish what I had started. Jenny and another member from the support car came out to be my human crutches. I leaned on them to get me down the hills. It was the longest, most unbearable part of my entire run. I was choking back tears. Tears of pain. Tears of frustration. Tears of exhaustion. Finally, we made it through the downhill roads and I was able to hobble without the extra support.

About 1km left in the run, Jenny called at me from the support car telling me to look back. I could see Matt running towards me. He had made a serious comeback from the dehydration and was able to pick up a lot of speed on those downhills. We had always talked about running together at some point and here we were 1km out from the finish line and about to cross together. In perhaps the most Canadian moment of all time (we’re both Canadian) we apologised to each other right away. He was sorry he hadn’t caught up to me sooner and I was sorry I would have to hobble, instead of run, into the finish line.

Matt feeling good after recovering from dehydration

We walked for about 500m until we turned a corner and saw a group of children holding a sign that said THANK YOU. These were some of the incredible, resilient children that our fundraising would help to support get back into school. We were amazed that they had come to see us. When we saw them we knew we had to run to the finish, for us and for them.

Children holding a “Thank You” sign at the finish line

Overwhelmed and exhausted, we were elated to see that finish line materialise in front of us and to then cross it together, greeted by friends and family and a bunch of pretty unbelievable kids. We had done it. Tears streamed down my face as I hugged my daughter and my husband. This time though, they were joyful tears. Tears of disbelief. Tears of complete amazement.

Running to the finish line
Running to the finish line
We did it!
Megan and Matt at the finish line
All the feels
The route we ran

All photos were taken by the incredible Manuel Gussman

Celebrating Success. It Takes a Village.

Duncan and I have admitted to each other time and time again that we are not very good at celebrating our successes. We don’t often pause, reflect on our work and pat ourselves on the backs for a job well done. Sometimes we high five, but most of the time we’re quick to say “That’s done. What’s next?” and move on without acknowledgment.

Our family of three in Ubud, Bali.

We became parents a year ago and have now become particularly bad at pausing. All the forewarnings we received from practiced parents turned out to be true. With a little human who needs us constantly, we have less time for ourselves, less time for reflection and less time to just breath!

The end of June marked the end of the Financial Year and CoH had a fantastic twelve months! At the same time, we celebrated our daughter’s first birthday. When these two very significant, but very different, milestones coincided a few weeks ago we took a breath. We reflected.
We felt proud.

Aura’s first birthday.

The arrival of our baby girl last June brought Duncan and me immense happiness. It also brought us sleepless nights, self-doubt and nappy changes. We went through the steep learning curve that every new parent has to go through, all the while keeping our ‘other baby’ (COH) thriving. To say we have had our hands full would be an understatement. Yet, in the same year that we became parents, we managed to have our best year ever at COH.

What does “our best year ever” mean? In terms of measurable results, it means we raised the most money in a year than we have in the past. $425,000 for children’s education. It means that we are building four brand new schools in rural Cambodia and distributing over 100 scholarships in Northern Bali. It means we’re continuing to support Child-Friendly Schools and STEM education in Cambodia.

The students and teachers of O’Romdeng Primary School say “Thank You!” O’Romdeng Primary School is the first of many new schools builds Classroom of Hope is funding in partnership with Child’s Dream. Photo by Geoff Bartlett.

Of course, we didn’t do this on our own. Incredible fundraisers have pulled off unbelievable things for Classroom of Hope this year (like The Bali Hope Ultra and the Ben Stocks Team in Perth…but that’s a whole other blog post) and we’ve formed new partnerships and had some new and wonderful volunteers join our team. As more people are coming to us, wanting to help, Duncan and I are learning to work smarter, to loosen our tight grasp on the COH reins and empower others to get involved.

Michelle, one of the 2018 Bali Hope Ultra runners, poses with the students of Tigawasa, Bali. These students will receive scholarships through our partner Bali Children Foundation, funded by the Bali Hope Ultra Marathon 2018. Photo by Shayna Pitch.

In many ways, becoming parents has been a catalyst to this new, expansive growth. We don’t have the time we used to have. We can’t do it all, and we no longer want to. We’ve come to understand the expression “it takes a village to raise a child” and we see now more than ever that it takes a team to grow an organisation.

In a world where success is often attributed to reaching goals and quantifiable results, of course, we feel proud when we see the numbers. But honestly, it is this subtler, less quantifiable outcome that has us smiling on the inside. People are raising their hands to join us. It’s the most humbling, exciting feeling!  We are growing, not just in funds raised, but in community and in reach. To us, that’s the real indicator of success. That’s something to feel proud of.

Confronting Fear on Our Journey Towards Purpose

We wrote this post some time ago and we’re finally ready to share it. Why are the messages below so hard for us to share? There may be many reasons, but to be honest, when we get to the core of each reason, the underlying emotion is fear.

You see, we literally eat, sleep, breath, walk, talk, jump, skip, everything Classroom of Hope (CoH). Classroom of Hope is our work, our purpose, and our creative, compassionate brain child. It’s also our livelihood. It’s understandable that we are emotionally invested in our baby, right?

The truth is though; Classroom of Hope really isn’t a baby anymore. We turned 4 in October 2016. It feels like we skipped the toddler phase completely and all of a sudden our baby has its own identity, ready to learn and give to the world in a way that we were not able to before. We’re growing and as we grow we need to keep adapting.

For the first 3 years working in Classroom of Hope, we didn’t receive salaries. We worked our day jobs and committed our evenings and weekends to running our organisation. We were also incredibly blessed with other volunteers who raised their hands to help us build websites, take photos, brainstorm new campaign ideas, provide office space. You name it. With no operational budget, we played the charity card as often as we could while we got CoH off the ground.

Of course, we knew these were temporary measures. Working multiple jobs was burning us out and Classroom of Hope wasn’t getting all of our love and energy. We had a decision to make: minimise CoH’s impact and give up the dream OR follow the dream, grow and create more impact.

We chose the dream. We grew!

Growth for CoH implied three major shifts:

1)   We needed to be full time in our organisation

2)   We needed to get paid (unfortunately, we can’t pay our bills with                 positive vibes and good intentions)

3)   We needed investors

One of our major challenges was in the numbers. In order for CoH to have two full-time staff (on a modest salary) and an operational budget, while still sending over 85% of donations to the field we would need to be bringing in over half a million dollars in donations per year.

We weren’t. If we had taken large sums of money from our donations at the time to help with operational costs, our projects would have suffered. It was time to get creative.

**Disclaimer: We know that non-profits need to spend OPEX and CAPEX in order to scale just like every other business and each non-profit has to figure out the best way to cover their operating costs while doing the incredible (usually complicated) work that they do to create impact. Watch this TED talk by Dan Pallotta**

From the start of our Classroom of Hope journey, we have hugely admired a charity in America called Charity: Water. One of the numerous things we love about the way they work is their 100% model. Charity: Water is able to send 100% of public donations to fund clean water projects because they have private investors covering everything else.

“Brilliant,” we thought. “We have to try this in Australia”. We envisioned two bank accounts: One to fund education projects and the other to cover operations. With this new model in mind, we began our search for an Angel Investor who understands this business model.

We pitched this idea 32 times to various corporate businesses and philanthropists in Australia hoping one of them would want to become our Angel. Each time we got the same response. “We love this idea. Great concept. But we would rather donate to projects directly. Good luck”.

We thought we would have to rethink the model, but we realised, after some hair pulling brainstorms, we just had to flip it.

Instead of seeking one Angel investor to cover our operational costs, we could ask multiple people (everyday individuals), who believe in the work we do to invest in us through monthly micro-donations. These investors would be our Wise Owls. We knew we wouldn’t be able to offer stock options, but we would treat them like shareholders with a common indicator of Social Return on Investment (SROI) based on the number of children who receive access to quality education.

This idea caught on.

By the end of 2015, (after we’d raised well over $400,000 since inception) we received our very first CoH paycheque (hallelujah).

For the past 16 months, we’ve been surviving on investments from Wise Owls combined with a percentage from donations. Our salaries are $18,200 a year each. That’s $1,516.67 each per month.

To be clear, we didn’t start on this non-profit journey for the buckaroonies.

But the reality was that on these salaries we couldn’t keep up with the cost of rent, food, transport etc. in Perth, Australia. So we sold our beloved Jetson (our car), put most of our life in boxes, packed our bags, said goodbye to delicious $5 flat whites and moved to Ubud, Bali.

We made some sacrifices, yes, but this move was a conscious, positive choice. We love living in Bali. Our cost of living has gone down dramatically and we live a good, quiet life doing the work we love for a cause we truly believe in.

Since being full time more funds are coming­­­­­­ through the door, we are gaining more brand awareness and our business model is gaining traction. All of this means we help more kids gain access to quality education.

Our Wise Owls have taken us in the direction of becoming a sustainable organisation. This model is working. But we still need to grow, we still have work to do and we still need more Wise Owls.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
- Margaret Mead

As we stand now, we have 167 Wise Owls. 167 incredible, like minded people who believe in us and who give what they can to support us. With their support we’ve been able to pay ourselves but we have not been able to secure our operational budget or enact the 100% model.

It’s been a journey with winding roads and giant boulders. We have no regrets and with faith and focus we carry on our mission.

“There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions – in a way that serves the world and you.” 
- Sir Richard Branson

Our Wise Owls mission is to reach 1000 members who can invest a minimum of $9 per month in CoH operations. For all you numbers people out there: our goal is to reach a grand total of $108,000 per year to cover two full-time staff salaries (37K each) and all our other operating costs (34K) for us to become a lean, well balanced, medium sized charity. When we reach this goal, we will enact the 100% model and send 100% of online public donations to fund education projects in South-East Asia, Indonesia and Rwanda.

That’s our life as an open book. With all our cards on the table, we can feel the fear creep in.

But we quickly snap out of that zone. We flip it. Our work has nothing to do with fear. In fact, it is all about love and hope. It’s about incredible kids across the globe who need access to quality education. It’s about the 263 million children who aren’t in school. Our vision is massive. It needs to be! We are doing our part to end the global education crisis by 2030 (See UN Global Goals) We’d like to eventually do ourselves out of a job. But for now, there is still a job to do. And we need your help. It truly is about changing the world.

Watch our Wise Owls video to get the visual story of our journey towards purpose.

Our Leap Thus Far


Today is an uncommon day. It is a Leap Day and that’s not going to  happen again for another 4 years. How special! So, instead of letting this extra day pass us by we are taking advantage of our bonus 24 hours to reflect and to share some updates!

Exactly 3 months ago we leaped (pun obviously and shamelessly intended) into our dream. It was on that day that Duncan and I went full time into Classroom of Hope, full time into our passion and full time into bringing education to children in developing countries.

We were  over the moon to embark on this journey and everyday we learn, we grow and we love what we do more and more.With full and grateful hearts we’d like to tell you about the last 3 months.

Back to where it all began.

Over the years Cambodia has become a home and our local NGO partners have become family. We arrived in Cambodia on the 29th of November to spend 3 weeks checking out impact and researching future projects (exciting details to come!).  We’re supporting 15 schools in the province of Kampong Cham which were all officially Child-Friendly and complete in July 2015 (yay!). This trip however, was about visiting our other 7 schools in the province of Battambang which are set to be complete by October 2016 (Yay! Again.).

We were on cloud-nine touring the schools, seeing their progress and catching up with our dear friend Racky, who is the inspiration behind Classroom of Hope and the founder of Children’s Action for Development (CAD).

Duncan (CEO/Funder of CoH) and Racky (Founder Children’s Action for Development)

The CAD team took us to visit all 7 schools in the Battambang region. We soaked up all the beautiful rural-Cambodian landscapes as we clocked 160km on our motorbike, carrying our camera gear so we could report on the impact at each school.

Our founding partner Navitas supports these 7 schools in Battambang. Check out the impact video we made for them.

Whenever we see the impact that education makes in lives of the children we support, we get totally pumped to keep on going! It inspires us more than anything.

We were ecstatic after visiting Cambodia and all the wonderful kids. Since our trip we’ve been focused on fundraising for more projects so we can impact the lives of more children through quality education.

#BagWalkers Walk Again!

Last year, our #BagWalkers walked for girls’ education and raised over $32,000 to provide scholarships to girls in rural Cambodia. We were blown away by the support we had for this campaign and by the love and dedication of our amazing #Bagwalkers. So, we’re going for #BagWalkers round two!

For the last few months we’ve been planning our next #BagWalkers Campaign which launches March 7th. This year #Bagwalkers are walking for the children of Gitumba, Rwanda who currently walk 5 hours a day to get to and from school. Crazy right? We think so too, so we’re going to build them a school. Wanna help? Send us an e-mail at bagwalke[email protected]. We’d love to have you on the team!

We are extremely happy to announce this year’s bags have been created and designed  by Freeset and Liminal Apparel – a fair trade social enterprise that only uses sustainable or organic materials and reinvest all profits into the communities that produce their products.

Impact in Rwanda

Our first bit of impact is coming through from our Schools for Excellence project in Rwanda where our local partner African Evangelistic Enterprise (AEE) has built 8 toilets for boys and girls and a water facility at Nyamatete Primary School. Classroom of Hope volunteers Geoff and Sheryl Bartlett have been in Rwanda, working with our local partner to  gather content, data and stories from the field. Check out these beautiful new toilets!

The new toilet block is in the centre (looking at south side), flanked by the old toilet blocks.
Photo by Geoff Bartlett

100Women Grant 

Last week Classroom of Hope was incredibly humbled and honoured to receive a grant from 100 Women. This grant will support our STEM4Women project to empower 10 young women to undertake Science, Technology, Engineering and Math studies in 2-year tertiary-vocational degrees. Personal development training and career counselling will also be provided to ensure high employment rates upon graduation. We’re so excited to follow their stories and tell you all about it!

Leaps and Bounds

So there it is folks! That’s what Classroom of Hope has been up to. We know we still have lots to do, but we’re stoked about the impact and progress we’ve made so far. We’re also incredibly grateful for all of our amazing supporters and donors who make everything we do possible! Thank you for believing is us and our mission.

Happy Leap Day everyone!