Help Educate at-Risk Orphans and Vulnerable Children

heroIn 2004, UNA-USA undertook a pilot initiative to address the educational needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Africa, the initiative became known as HERO (Help Educate at-Risk Orphans and Vulnerable Children). In partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), HERO became an awareness building and fundraising initiative of UNA-USA, dedicated to providing comprehensive, school-based support to orphans and vulnerable children living in HIV/AIDS-affected communities in Africa – specifically in Ethiopia, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia. The HERO campaign was envisioned as the quintessential opportunity for UNA-USA members, and their communities to jointly address two of the eight Millennium Development Goals of the UN, achieve universal primary education and combat HIV/AIDS. With support from its partners, UNA-USA Chapters, UNA-USA members, students, schools and individuals wanting to make a difference, HERO helped to transform the lives of Sub-Saharan Africans in rural communities, by transforming the lives the children in those communities. The HERO campaign came to a close in 2009.


Harena Primary School

Harena Primary school is situated just off a mountain road 9 kilometers north of Mekele – a city in the Tigrai Region of northern Ethiopia. It is the only school available to the children of the Harena Kushet (village) that comprises approximately 9,500 members. More than 500 children, in grades 1 – 7, share Harena’s 10 classrooms.

Efforts of Harena School-Community members to improve the learning conditions for their children were exemplary. Community members helped to build the additional classroom for the 7th grade by donating construction materials, such as stone and sand, and by working as volunteer laborers. Before the new classrooms were built, children who wished to enter the 7th grade had to walk kilometers before reaching a school they could attend, as a result, many were removed from their families and communities, and some often abandoned their education.

The devoted students of HERO’s student campaign, Club HERO, specifically the sudents at the Adolfo Camarillo High School in southern California, HERO, along with the Tigrai Development Association, were able to fund the following project at the Harena School:

2008 - HERO funded a project to furnish and properly equip 4 classrooms with furniture, windows, doors and other basic renovations that would make the school suitable for classroom use. The furniture has had 400 direct and about 2,000 indirect beneficiaries. Because of the supply of the furniture, the following outcomes will be achieved:

  • Dropout as a result of the discomfort in the classrooms will decrease significantly.
  • The students will do better in school because they will pay more attention to their lessons.
  • The community will have better confidence to send their children to the school and hence enrollment will increase significantly next year.


namibiaIn 2008, construction workers, community workers, and the HERO Youth Ambassadors built and painted a total of twenty houses – one for each San family living by the kindergarten – and erected a fence to keep domesticated and wild animals from roaming in and out of the houses. Work continued on a communal toilet and shower facility for the newly refurbished homes that was completed after the Youth Ambassadors left Namibia.

2008 - HERO also worked to implement a health and wellness component that was taking place
alongside of the construction at Eenhana, and separately at the Eendobe and Onamatadiva
Kindergartens. As part of this project, Jason Zimmerman, a counselor for the Youth Ambassador
Program and a practicing nurse, gave general medical examinations to the children of these three
schools. With the help of the Okongo Hospital, he also administered TB tests to the
kindergartners at Eendobe and Onamatadiva.


The Tithandize School

zambiaAt the time of HERO’s involvement in Namibia, the Tithandize School had 470 pupils, more than half of whom were orphans. Classes were being conducted in a large, dilapidated hall with poor lighting and ventilation. Lack of space was a critical problem. In addition, the building’s poor ventilation increased the risk of catching airborne diseases, and with only one toilet and no water facilities, students were also left vulnerable to water-related diseases. The school was located in a densely populated urban area that was prone to cholera outbreaks, safe water and sanitation are essential for safeguarding pupil health.
Thanks to Mr. Lee Smith and our devoted UNA-USA Colorado Division, chapter members, and  HERO, along with its ground partner CARE-Zambia, has been able to fund a project at the Tithandize School.

2008 - The construction of a new two-classroom schoolhouse, a teachers’ office, store, and three latrines have recently been completed. The school now is able to provide a significantly improved learning space that is safe, properly ventilated and soundly constructed. Furthermore, the new latrines will improve hygiene conditions, reduce the risk of waterborne disease and promote better enrollment and attendance rates. This one-year project involved close collaboration with community members, who took part in the initiative by supplying basic materials and contributing labor. While qualified engineers were hired to oversee construction, the parent-teacher committee was heavily involved in mobilizing residents to participate in the project and care for and sustain the new school.

South Africa

Sinegugu Primary School

Sinegugu Primary School is situated on top of a hillside in the Kwa-Sani local municipality of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The approximately 125 students of the school attended class in a converted church that served as a one room schoolhouse. Lessons were given simultaneously to each of the six grades in one room, making it difficult for students to concentrate.

As part of the 2008 Youth Ambassador Program, and in partnership with the Natal Schools Project Trust (Project Build) and Jungle Fun, HERO re-built the Sinegugu School. Two schools containing three classrooms each were built next to the converted church at Sinegugu. Playgrounds complete with a jungle gym and two swing sets were also constructed by this year’s 21 Youth Ambassadors.

HERO’s model of comprehensive school-based support was based on the premise that if learners are able to access and attend school, it was necessary to aggressively confront barriers—such as the lack of basic resources like toilets, kitchens, water wells, etc.—to promote school attendance and learning. Learners must be able to attend school in a clean, healthy, and safe environment. Lack of resources conducive to such an environment led to illnesses, which in turn led to poor attendance or difficulties learning in the classroom. To confront these obstacles and create a center for holistic support HERO funded the following projects at Sinegugu:

  • 2008 – HERO funded the construction of 6 toilets
  • 2007 - HERO funded a new kitchen for the school including a stove
  • 2006 - HERO funded the construction of two toilets and a community food garden

Emtshawazo Primary School

SALike Sinegugu Primary School, the excellent principal and staff of Emtshawazo Primary School were struggling with limited educational resources. Situated in the Ingwe local municipality of KwaZulu-Natal, Emtshawazo hosts its approximately 92 students in a two room school building. Classrooms served students in four grades: Grade R (Kindergarten) to Grade 3. Because of Emtshawazo’s lack of additional classroom space, many children in the community travelled to other less resourced and over-crowded schools once they reach Grade 4.

Also part of the 2008 Youth Ambassador Program, and in partnership with the Natal Schools Project Trust (Project Build) and Jungle Fun, HERO re-built the Emtshawazo school. Two schools containing three classrooms each were added to Emtshawazo’s already existing structures. Two playgrounds, one specifically for Grade R, complete with a jungle gym and two swing sets were also constructed by HERO’s 2008 Youth Ambassadors. HERO funded the following projects at Emtshawazo:

  • 2008 – HERO funded the construction of 6 toilets
  • 2008 - HERO funded the refurbishing of the school’s community food garden
  • 2008 - HERO funded classroom furniture & developmental learning tools for Grade R
  • 2007 - HERO funded a new kitchen for the school including a stove
  • 2007 - HERO funded the repairs made to the school’s fence preventing the entrance of unwanted animals 
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