Classrooms are Paused but Hope is Stronger than Ever

In a short time, novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, have spread from a seemingly distant issue to a global pandemic. Now, just a few months after we first heard of it, COVID-19 has affected people and organisations all over the planet… and Classroom of Hope (CoH) is no exception.

How is Classroom of Hope Responding to COVID-19?

As the real impact of COVID-19 is becoming apparent, nonprofits have had to respond and prioritise. CoH’s first priority has been the safety of our team around the world. We’re lucky to have a big family of staff, partners, and donors… but that also means we have a lot of people to check on.

Our Team:

Duncan and Nicola, expecting their second child soon, have moved back to Australia for now. The rest of our team is scattered but safe and secure. Everyone is working remotely from Australia, Europe, the Philippines and the United States.

Our Local Partners:

Bit by bit, our schools and projects around the world have shut down to avoid the spread of the virus. Until recently,  close to 95% of Classroom of Hope’s ongoing projects were paused. New school builds were frozen, fundraisers put on hold, big ideas moved to the backburner. This has only just changed in the last week and some of our local partners have been able to recommence the construction of new schools because these construction projects are recognised as essential services.  Our local partners are all sheltering in place, helping their communities and keeping us updated.

Children’s Action for Development (CAD):

CAD has confirmed that all their schools in Cambodia are currently shut. Racky and the rest of the team are all working from home. They have enough money reserved to continue paying their staff for a while longer. During this downtime, they’re working to lay the groundwork for a second school funded by Navitas Education Trust.

Child’s Dream:

Child’s Dream has shut most offices and encouraged employees to work from home. All CoH funded schools and new builds were closed but in recent developments, Child’s Dream is now able to continue with school construction projects in rural communities across Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Their project staff is still working to support programs and minimise the impact of COVID-19.

Duncan, Nicola (with daughter Aura) and Lotte from Classroom of Hope outside the Child’s Dream Head Office in Chiang Mai with Child’s Dream Founders Daniel and Marc.

Pelita Foundation Lombok:

Classroom of Hope and Pelita Foundation had five new pop-up schools in progress this year. Luckily, all five schools were completed just before the virus hit! With all future building paused, Pelita Foundation is now focused on protecting their local community in Gerupuk, Lombok. Their new Coronavirus Task Force aims to minimise the impact of the virus by spreading information, setting up sanitation facilities and providing basic medical materials.

We are so grateful for these incredible partners. They are our eyes and ears on the ground, allowing CoH to stay updated on our communities. We will continue to do what we can to support them as they work tirelessly throughout this crisis.

How to Survive as a Nonprofit during Coronavirus?

Our Situation – Adapting to a New Reality

Once we were confident that our team was safe, we moved to our second priority – our nonprofit’s survival during COVID-19. The first step has been to adjust to our new reality. We’ve had to be flexible: observing, adapting, and making changes. We’ve had to adjust to continue to engage donors during the pandemic and be effective. By staying agile, we’re ensuring that Classroom of Hope can make it through.

We’ve been feeling the effects of the crisis for more than just the past few weeks. With the initial spread of the virus in late January, our donations started dropping off. As people started worrying about personal finances, small website donations stopped. Some large donors were forced to pull out when companies had to re-examine their budgets. When the stock markets crashed in March, the taps turned off almost completely.

This has left us feeling immensely grateful for our two groups of absolute legends: our Wise Owls and our Principals.

Our Heroes – Engaging Donors during a Pandemic

Our Wise Owls have been with us for a few years now. They are a group of passionate donors who understand the importance of covering overhead costs for growth. They invest monthly towards Classroom of Hope’s operations. This helps to build our capacity and further our impact. We are so appreciative that this support has remained consistent throughout the COVID-19 crisis!

The Principals are a new concept launched earlier this year. They are a community of philanthropists: business leaders, entrepreneurs, and visionary investors. Our Principals commit multi-year support to our operations.  Our Principals are more than investors; they are part of our Classroom of Hope family.  Their commitments allow us to plan for our future and create a stable and sustainable nonprofit. This is more important now than ever as we navigate through COVID-19.

Our Approach – Staying Agile

Fortified by the investments from our Principals, we’re taking steps to ensure CoH’s sustainability. We’re staying agile, using this time to streamline our nonprofit and put new systems in place. We’re determined that after this pandemic, CoH will be ready to emerge stronger than ever.

With most of our projects frozen, CoH has been able to focus on our core operating costs and cut our budget by 40%. We set a new goal; raising enough funds to have twelve months of reserves. Through the generosity of our Wise Owls and Principals, we are well on our way to reaching that goal!

So What Can We Do Now?

With these adjustments, we’ve addressed our second priority – our nonprofit’s survival. So now what? Anyone who knows us is aware that we can’t just sit on our hands and wait in the face of a crisis. But how can a school-building nonprofit respond when schools are shut down? How can we continue to engage donors during the pandemic?

The answer is simple: observe, stay flexible, and adapt. While CoH’s constitution focuses on education, we are and have always been a community development nonprofit. Our primary goal is to listen to what underserved communities need and be effective in our service. After discussions at a board and executive level, a decision was made to try and raise funds through major donors, foundations and philanthropists for critical food relief in Indonesia. If you are interested in this initiative, please contact Duncan directly at duncan.ward@classroomofhope.org.

Where Do We Go From Here?

How will we know when it’s time to get back to “normal”? That’s the question on everyone’s mind, and no one has a clear answer. Like all of you, we’re taking it week by week. We’ll continue to observe the global situation and stay in contact with our local partners.

Until then, we’ll be focusing on our priorities.

  • Keeping our team safe.
  • Keeping Classroom of Hope alive and relevant.
  • Listening to the needs of our communities and doing what we can to help.

Thank you all for your continued support. We’re all in this together, even when we’re far apart. Stay safe, stay healthy, STAY HOPEFUL.

By Kristina Buckingham
CoH Social Media

Updates from Lombok after the recent earthquakes

Last week, Duncan went to Lombok to visit our partner, Pelita Foundation. He saw the incredible work the Pelita team have been doing building Pop Up schools. Over 400 schools were destroyed by the recent earthquakes, leaving thousands of children without education or a safe place to be. Pelita Foundation is providing steel structures, school materials, and child-centered activities to create Pop Up schools as a one-to-two-year solution to get children back into school.

Students and teachers gather together for the opening of the first Pop Up School in the Pemenang district of Lombok.

“I was shocked and saddened to see how much devastation the earthquakes left in Northern Lombok. The experience allowed me to see first hand the incredible work that Pelita Foundation is doing in building temporary Pop Up schools. The Pop Up schools are a beacon of hope for the children of Lombok. I could see it in their faces and in their smiles. These Pop Up schools are their safe place right now. Classroom of Hope have a big job to do in supporting Pelita in their mission. Currently, we are working in the Pemenang district and after seeing the success of the Pop Up schools there, we now intend to scale the program to the other districts once we have completed our work in Pemenang.”   – Duncan Ward

Duncan visiting a local school destroyed by the earthquakes.

A school building destroyed by the earthquakes on Lombok.

The destruction caused by the earthquakes on Lombok.

Duncan was joined on the trip by Tudor Morrow, the General Manager of Old Man’s and long-term supporter of Classroom of Hope. Tudor was there to open the first official earthquake protected Pop Up school supported by Old Man’s.

Tudor stands in front of the first Pop Up School, donated by Old Man’s.

“My trip to Lombok was an eye-opening and humbling experience. No one could prepare for an earthquake of this magnitude and the devastation that occurred across such a vast area. Having the ceremony in the Pemenang district really drove home the impact of the earthquake and the effect on the villagers, especially the kids. I was brought to tears with the poems and honest truth told by the children of the school. I am proud to be a part of such a positive group doing an amazing job at keeping kids in school while all the time focusing on education, positivity, and health.” – Tudor Morrow

Tudor and Duncan were hosted by Claire and Denok. Claire is the Foundations Manager at Pelita and Denok is head of the board of directors for Pelita and also the Lombok Manager of Gugah Narani Indonesia(GNI), an NGO working closely with Pelita Foundation.

From left to right: Claire, Denok, Duncan, and Satria (Pelita volunteer) stand in front of the new Pop Up school in the Pemenang district.

We asked Claire to share what she would want those who have supported Pop Up schools in Lombok to know. She told us these three things:

1.  Education is truly valued on Lombok.

“Even after everything they have been through, the losses and the absolute devastation that these families and communities have faced, they are still making makeshift schools out of tarps and tents and finding whiteboards and any supplies that they can to deliver educational programs. That’s a testament to the value of education.” On a recent trip to visit one of these makeshift schools, Claire recalls seeing a whiteboard. “There was obviously a lesson being taught around emotions. The teachers had written different emotions on the board such as happy, sad, angry and scared. The emotions that had been circled were ‘happy’ and ‘hope’. For me, this was a symbolic moment. Under this hot, dirty tarp the teachers were not only teaching the children but also making sure to keep the spirit of their teachings positive and happy.”

2. Every penny counts.

“Every penny that is donated really, really makes a true difference. There is truly so much to do with the 16 schools we have in our district and we are now looking to move into new districts to build Pop Up Schools. The next district has 105 government schools, so every penny counts with so, so much to do.

3. The donors are making a real difference.

“The donors from Classroom of Hope and the donors of Pop Up schools are making a true on the ground impact and a difference to the lives of so many children and teachers. At the opening ceremony, one of the students read a beautiful poem about how the earthquakes came and she woke up to the dark. Her days were dark and everything had changed. And then Pelita had come and brought the light. Those were her direct words.  It brings me to tears even now. Just how these Pop Up schools are bringing the light to a dark situation and that everything that the donors are doing is making a true, true difference.”

Claire gathered with the students of the new Pop Up school.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

If you would like to support Pop Up schools on Lombok please visit https://classroomofhope.org/lombok-relief/ where 100% of all one-time online donations go directly to Pelita Foundation.

If you are interested in sponsoring your own Pop Up school, please contact us at join_us@classroomofhope.org