They'd never seen a computer. Now they're training to be the tech experts of tomorrow.
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Johnson & Johnson Caring Crowd

Over 247 million children in Sub-Saharan African countries have no school supplies. Not even a backpack.

Photo courtesy of CodeToHope.

Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest poverty rates in the world. And with all money going toward food, shelter, and tuition fees (many schools aren't free), parents are often unable to afford the supplies their children need to succeed. That's why it's not uncommon for kids to show up to school empty-handed.


But that's just one of the factors that puts Sub-Saharan Africa at the top of the list for education exclusion. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO), more than one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 aren't in school. That number increases to one-third among children between the ages of 12 and 14. And by the time they're 15, over 60 percent of children are no longer attending school.

Thankfully, there is an organization working to bridge the education gap. It's called CodeToHope.

Philemon Padonou distributing laptops to a teacher. Photo courtesy of CodeToHope.

CodeToHope is a non-profit dedicated to bringing technological skills training to youth who may have never experienced it otherwise due to lack of access. The organization was founded by Philemon Padonou, an engineer who grew up in the Benin Republic of West Africa and then moved to The United States to work and learn English.

When he enrolled in computer science classes in the US, though, Padonou made an important discovery: His lack of early computer literacy was holding him back.

"One of the biggest setbacks for him was that he couldn't type as fast as his peers," says Jacqueline Gaston, a Technology Services Analyst with the organization.

"His assignments were taking so much longer, even though he understood the material in the same way his peers did. These basic computer literacy skills, which he had to pick up on the spot, would have given him more opportunities."

So Padonou decided that he had to find a way to give those skills to the kids in his community. He was going to offer them an education in digital literacy so they could have opportunities that he didn't.

CodeToHope's goal is to fight poverty by giving future leaders the tools they need to empower their communities. That meant starting with the bare necessities.

Photo courtesy of CodeToHope.

Since its launch in 2016, CodeToHope has provided over 1000 children with backpacks full of supplies.

"The backpacks have notebooks, pens, pencils and a ruler," says Gaston. "Things that we would consider as being basic necessities. For some students, even buying this is unattainable." The kits also contain mosquito nets to help students prevent the spread of malaria. 90% of all malaria cases occur in Sub Saharan Africa, and two-thirds of those who succumb to the disease are children under the age of five. Even giving kids this seemingly meager protection can help keep them in school, and may even save their lives.

And these supplies are only one part of CodeToHope's campaign against poverty. The second part is all about technology.

Photo courtesy of CodetoHope.

The organization's main thrust is to provide children living in Sub Saharan Africa with access to computers and the education they need to become experts in the field of technology. Such access, the people at CodeToHope believe, will not only provide more opportunities, but allow communities to create better links to healthcare, knowledge and economic growth.

To date, CodeToHope has donated more than 400 computers to schools in Benin, which has, in turn, allowed the non-profit to serve nearly 3,000 students in the short time they've been an active organization. CodeToHope also arranges for expert mentors to teach children how to use the new devices — something that's incredibly important in a place where there's no oversight on digital education.

And this is just the beginning of CodeToHope's initiatives.

In 2019, CodeToHope plans to harness solar power to help the remote villages of Ganvie and So-Ava gain access to reliable electricity for the first time. The hope is that electricity allows for major improvements to occur, which may help bring the community together.

"Our model isn't to go in and provide help and leave. We're trying to create a sustainable model where we can help communities and make sure that we're having a positive impact."

The idea is that the education provided by this project will help prepare these children for the ever-changing world around them, which will, in turn, go miles to improve the overall health of their village, as there is a known correlation between education and health conditions of an area.

"We're not trying to fix their problems. We're trying to enable them to fix their own problems."

CodeToHope is only growing, and that's largely thanks to Johnson & Johnson's initiative, CaringCrowd®.

Photo courtesy of CodeToHope.

Philemon Panodou works at Johnson & Johnson. The company's credo  — to put the needs and well-being of those the company serves first — is actually what inspired him to create CodeToHope. It's also where he was first introduced to the logistics of creating a non-profit and where he secured initial funding. When Panodou began looking for gently used computers to bring to Benin, his J&J colleagues donated some along with funds.

Today, two of CodeToHope's major projects have been funded via CaringCrowd — a new type of fundraising platform that utilizes the power of social sharing to do good and improve wellbeing on a global scale.

CaringCrowd allows people like you to make the goals of non-profits around the globe a reality. Each project is independently reviewed by a team of outside experts so you know the money you pledge is going to a reputable place.

Best of all, Johnson & Johnson will match up to $250 per person per project as long as funds last. So the more we share the projects we're passionate about, the more monetary momentum they gain.

That means more backpacks, more computers, and more education for children in Benin and beyond.

The fight against poverty is long and arduous. But every notebook, pencil, mosquito net and computer brings CodeToHope one step closer to transforming the lives of the children who need it most — widening their futures to a dazzling array of opportunities they may have never had otherwise.

With organizations like this and people like Panodou constantly fighting for a better world, those brighter futures are entirely possible.

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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

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Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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