Retirement Life
17 October 2022

One in a million

We all have the power to change the world – collectively, at least. So They Can’s latest fundraising campaign, 1inaMillion, gives us a chance to work together to empower the poorest children in the world through education.

There’s a word used in Africa to express the spirit of togetherness and the ability to work together: ubuntu. It’s often translated as, “I am because you are”. It conveys the feeling that everyone is connected, and what you do, affects the whole world. So They Can understands and believes in being part of a greater whole in all of their work. They live and breathe ubuntu.


A passion to help

New Zealander CassTreadwell started the organisation in 2009 in response to the 2007 Kenyan election violence that saw more than 600,000 Kenyans internally displaced. In response to this crisis, Cass committed to providing support to an internally displaced persons camp of 6,700 Kenyans. So They Can was born to deliver on a direct request from this group: “We need a school for our children – an education is the only inheritance we can give them.”


It was then just a matter of figuring out the ‘how’. Once back in New Zealand, Cass set about organising a fundraising dinner party, where she asked her guests to bring money, rather than food.


“We raised $22,000 from that event, and in 2009, we took that money to Africa and started our work,” says Cass.


Working at pace

Fast forward 13 years, and the non-governmental organisation now supports 47 schools in Kenya and Tanzania and a teachers’ training college in Tanzania that is ranked first out of the 79 public and private colleges in the country.


“We want to empower the poorest children and so we work in the public school system, partnering with the government in Kenya and Tanzania from district to national levels,” says Cass. “While we do some capital infrastructure, a strong focus is on what goes on inside the classroom. We support out schools with our 10 education projects that include upskilling teachers, supporting the schools’ Board of Management, reading, writing and maths, girls’ rights and educating parents on the importance of sending their children to school, to name a few. Our Education Programme is our core focus, but we quickly learnt that a community needs to be supported holistically, so we established our three Enhancement Programmes: Child Wellbeing, Women’s Empowerment and Community Health and Development.”


To date, So They Can has raised close to $30 million and is currently helping 45,000 children and their communities across the 47 schools. One hundred women each year go through its business school course, and 200 teachers graduate annually from its Mamire Teachers’ Training College.

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Making a difference

“Education is the key to breaking the poverty cycle, improving equality, equity and health, supporting economic growth, saving the planet and so much more,” says Cass. “That’s why our 1inaMillion campaign can have such a big impact.”


When one million people give $1 a month, they are helping to provide an education for hundreds of thousands of children who currently have no access to education. One dollar a month donated by one million people would open the door to quality education and teaching for children in Kenya and Tanzania. It would also support children’s health and development through medical clinics, feeding programmes and access to clean water. And it would champion girls’ rights to education so they can stay in school and reach their potential.


“Currently, 85 percent of the girls in our communities in East Africa suffer female genital cutting (FGC) and are sold into child marriage before they are 13 years old,” says Cass. “Our work is aiming to stop the violence.” In the My Voice workshops, children are told about their human rights under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “I recently asked one of the chief cutters in a village why she wasn’t cutting girls anymore. She replied the girls were saying they had learned from So They Can’s My Voice project that FGC was illegal and the girls were now threatening to report her to the police if she tried to cut them,” says Cass. So They Can’s work keeps girls in school for longer and so alleviates some of the social injustices that still exist.


If we succeed with this 1inaMillion campaign, we’ll be able to help 400,000 children into education and support 500 schools

, says Cass. Dame Diana Crossan, Director and Chairperson of Lifetime Retirement Income, first met Cass in 2019, when So They Can was well-established in Kenya and Tanzania. At this time, there was an office in Australia, where Cass had been living and a small presence in New Zealand. With Diana’s help and support, So They Can’s New Zealand presence has grown. Diana has been involved with many New Zealand charities, but this was her first time applying her energies further afield.


“It’s been fantastic to see the incredible work So They Can are doing,” says Diana. “Donating $1 a month should not be a financial barrier for anyone. For the cost of one movie ticket a year, it’s really worth it. It’s an engaging and accessible way to help end child poverty in Africa. And donors will receive short snippets of information to connect more of us to these communities and the work they are doing.”


Lifetime Retirement Income has been a long-time supporter of So They Can and whole-heartedly supports 1inaMillion.

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Take action

Are you interested in getting involved? Join So They Can’s 1inaMillion community today and help work towards a world where every child has access to quality education – a fundamental human right that opens the door to ending poverty and building a safer, fairer and more sustainable world for all.

Photo of Kathy Catton
Written by:

Kathy Catton

Kathy Catton is a freelance writer and editor, based on the Banks Peninsula. She is an experienced feature writer, magazine editor and copywriter. Quick to grasp the crux of any story and tell it in plain English, Kathy enjoys bringing stories to readers that surprise and delight.

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