Colourful Life Foundation in India

During a recent trip to India with Gemporia, Gem Collector presenter Alex McKay visited our Colourful Life Foundation India’s first completed project.


The latest school we are sponsoring in Jaipur stands out brightly with its freshly painted walls and new welcome sign, a far cry from the dilapidated buildings surrounding it.

Just six months ago, the Government Middle School in Bais Golam was all but a ruin, with a leaking roof, worse for wear toilets and classrooms which hadn’t been updated in over 20 years. With pupil attendance at an all-time low, the headmaster approached our offices in Jaipur, which are located just 200 yards away, for help.

The cry for help fell upon our Managing Director, Sharmil Mathur. She was quick to visit and was shocked to find that a school so close to our offices was in such dire conditions. Sharmil realised this should be the next project for the Colourful Life Foundation, India. Within just two months, the school has been completely renovated, with new toilets, new food preparation area, the leaking roof fixed, new desks, as well as shoes, uniforms and stationery for all the children.

Schooling in India works very differently to what we are used to seeing in the UK. The government’s educational remit only stretches to the supplying of teachers and daily food for pupils. The condition of the school buildings is left to the local residents and businesses, however many schools, like the one I visited, are located in poor areas, leaving little hope for local donations.

Quite simply, without the incredible efforts of Sharmil and the Colourful Life Foundation, the school wouldn’t be the great centre of learning that it is today. The headmaster was pleased to inform me that since our support for the school began, the attendance ratings had gone from 62% to 85% and that the number of pupils had gone from 69 to 156. This school is now a real success.

I was sad to learn that many Indian families place more importance on educating their sons than their daughters, often sending boys to private schools and girls to the local government school. These schools are usually drastically underfunded and in poor condition, which means that girls will begin their lives at a disadvantage compared to their male peers.

Along with the schools we already support, this Bais Golam school stands as a shining example to those who walk through its gates, telling them that no matter what race, religion or gender they are, they have a real chance to learn and prosper.


Words by Alex McKay

Ace Africa – School Support and Girls Hygiene Programme

School Support


Children in developing countries face many barriers in accessing basic education. Although Primary education in Tanzania is free, the cost of school uniforms is often too much for most families earning less than a dollar per day. Children find it difficult to attend school with worn out uniforms, resulting in lack of school attendance and poor academic performance.

Fatimah is an 11 year old girl studying at Kisongo Primary School with her brother Athuman who is 7 years old. These siblings are from a family with a single mother who also is bed ridden with HIV/AIDS. Due to the lack of income in the family, Fatimah and Athuman had to wear tattered uniforms to school, and sadly their fellow students started laughing at them.

Athuman and Fatimah decided to leave school to assist their mother and provide some income for the household. Athuman was selling polythene bags in the market while Fatimah helped take care of the home and her ill mother.

Ace intervention

Ace Africa have helped implement Child to Child Clubs in Primary Schools across East Africa. Children are encouraged to learn crucial life skills in a safe environment. Teachers educate children on HIV/AIDS matters, and in turn children then visit the homes of those affected.

After a CtC club session at the school one of the CtC teachers told Ace staff about Athuman & Fatimah. The following week, Ace staff and one CtC club teacher conducted a visit at Faitmah’s home to discuss with them about school attendance and what could be done to assist them.

Upon arriving at the household, Athuman had gone to sell polythene bags at the market. Fatimah was home with her mother, and explained that other students laughed at them because they had torn uniforms and they lacked any scholastic materials, so they decided to go home to help their mother.

Ace Africa provided Athuman and Fatimah with new school uniforms, books and pens. They are now attending school regularly and have joined the school Child to Child club where they have learned how to establish their own kitchen garden at home. Their confidence and school performance have already improved due to their regular attendance. Their mother also receives counselling from Ace and has been referred to a support group nearby for aid and assistance.

The further education Fatimah and Athuman receive from CtC will also enlighten them about sexual health and rights, preventing them from getting infected. They can also pass on their knowledge to their peers and future generations, allowing their community and even their country to make strides towards a more prosperous future.


Girls Hygiene Programme

Jennifer Laizer is a 14 year old class six student studying at Ekenywa Primary School in a rural and remote area of Arusha Tanzania. Due to overwhelming poverty in the home, her parents could not meet the day to day costs of running the family and they took Jennifer to her grandmother’s house so she could have a place to live. When she first experienced menstruation while in Class five, she felt embarrassed to discuss this with her grandmother. She missed two to four school days each month as she used to report being sick each time she had her period. Jennifer started to lose her self-esteem and confidence and her school performance dropped dramatically from being in the top five to the bottom of the class.


Ace Intervention

Thankfully, Jennifer attended the Ace Africa girls’ hygiene and menstrual management program for her class. She learned that menstruation is just a normal rite of passage for girls and discovered that it was not an embarrassing situation but rather a stage in life that all girls had to undergo as they advanced into being women. She was also provided with education on hygiene and provided with three pairs of pants and sanitary towels to use during her menstrual period.

Jennifer now attends school regularly and has been an active Life skills & sexual health peer educator, helping other girl’s going through the same challenge she once had. She is now confident about herself, optimistic and dedicated to her studies resulting in her regularly attending class and an improved school performance.



Thank you to Joe Waddington, Ace Africa Founder, for the information

Words by Sian Smith

Boys 2 Men Mentor Mentality

Interview with Leon Aston – Boys 2 Men Mentor (

After seeing an email at work asking for volunteers to help mentor local disadvantaged teenage boys, Leon Aston jumped at the chance, having coming from a big family, and having always contemplated working with children. Since having 2 children of his own, he realised working with these boys would enhance his own personal development both for his own children and the boys at the Forge School.

Leon recalls how his own grandad, who had 7 children, was a legend in the family, a great story teller. At age 20 he came over to the U.K. from Jamaica, and brought up his family on the ethos of, ‘hard work, and never stop believing in what you can do.’ Leon fondly tells us, ‘He was 83 yesterday and is still busy working with the carpentry around the church. Whatever you do in life, you work hard, and then you go home and look after your family.’

Leon’s own driving force is making a difference with the kids, gaining their trust, showing them there’s another way to go down. ‘If you work hard, you can achieve anything… if I’m working hard at personally developing them, they’ll find what they’re good at, I’ll find what they’re good at and help them. If they focus on that instead of being disruptive… I enjoyed school, my friends and the environment.’ ‘what I wish I knew then, that I know now, and that I hope I’m passing onto these lads, is just give something a go. If I work hard at something, I can achieve anything.’

Perhaps one of the driving forces behind both wanting to help and being able to help, is being able to draw on personal experiences in his own life. ‘When I was 16, my own father figure left. From that moment, I had this anger inside me that I couldn’t get out… I started acting like an idiot, getting in trouble and that. It was because I didn’t know how to get this off my chest… Years later, we had a moment in our Boys 2 Men training where we were sharing experiences from our own lives, and at that moment I decided to get it off my chest. And ever since then, the anger I had, has gone. At 16, 17, 18 I was a bit reckless, but I came through it. Having my own kids has helped too. It will make me an even stronger Dad.’

Leon’s ability to make good of his experience with having lost a father figure is what drew Phil to Leon during his interview: ‘this is very much the heart of the programme. Nurturing lads by empowering Dads. Leon’s experience hits right at the heart of what we do.’

And Leon couldn’t agree more: ‘I turned it into a positive. I just want to help these kids. My kids won’t have this life.’ Even though his own children are only 4 and 9 months, Leon is already putting things into place that perhaps he wouldn’t have done a year ago. ‘I can already see little traits that I’m going to nip in the bud. Working with the lads makes me calmer.’

All the mentors work together during their fortnightly mentor sessions, but certain lads gravitate to mentors according to their own interests.

Leon’s own talents have helped him forge his own connections with a couple of the boys, with his interest in music production having resonated with them. ‘with the music, they can put down what they feel… one lad, I could tell he wanted to learn something, but didn’t know what. So I showed him a beat, and then he wanted to know what we could next. I said we could add some words or poetry to it. Then he sat down for a good 2-3 hours just writing music. I told him to put his main rhyming word in the middle of the page… the word he chose was ‘mad’. All the other words were quite angry. Then he started talking about his parents and his life, just from what he was writing down. A conversation is harder. But all his raw emotion was coming out on the paper… then we recorded it. For him to find the confidence to do it, he was just so chuffed with himself. Also, they normally find it hard to share what they’ve done with the rest of the group. But I said how chuffed I was, and would he share it with the rest of the group. He played it to the group, and he had this glow about him. Then after he was asking “when are we working on the next one?”

Phil emphasised what a massive breakthrough this was for Leon and the charity: for this young lad to talk about his feelings, make something, share it AND be proud of it! Leon: ‘We’ve got the breakthrough. Every day with this lad will be productive now.’

When I asked them to share their most memorable day so far, Phil and Leon instantly grinned, and just said ‘Swimming!’ 6 months into the mentoring programme: they went for a swimming day at Droitwich Lido, the last day of term. ‘It was great throwing each other in the pool, messing around, laughing together. It was good to see them with no stress, just being teenagers.’ Phil: ‘these kids, who have so much baggage, somehow we’d built a relationship, the mentors had built a relationship to such an extent that on this day so they were able to be themselves, and just act like 14/15 year olds.’ But the nature of the people within the project, means it’s not always fun and games; one of the boys had a lot of stuff going on this day, and unfortunately didn’t join in. but even on this occasion, Leon’s able to see the progression with the group; ‘normally, when one goes, they all have a go. The lads tried to get him to join in, but he just didn’t want to. But all the other lads stayed, and it was wicked.’

It’s very scary with what might happen to boys like these once they leave mainstream education, and who knows politically what the future holds to help them through social service care. But instead Phil is thrilled at what has been achieved in the mentoring programme. ‘They’ve had a valued-added input that they wouldn’t have had without the Gems Mentors… it’s sown a seed. They’ve had an experience of something good and wholesome, where they’ve been valued. And that stays with you.’

The main hope is that they now get drawn to people like the Mentors, people who can add values to their own lives, having seen what they can achieve through people like our Mentors.

The Forge School are using their work with the charity as part of their submission to Ofsted, showing that they are doing their very best. The activities the mentors engage in is funded by the school with Boys2Men being the facilitator and the link between the school and Gems. The support from the Colourful Life Foundation has enabled Boys2Men to become established as a charity and as part of their work, offer opportunities such as this to young people who are not able to cope in mainstream schools. If the mentors are willing, a new group of lads in year 10 will be introduced to the mentors, taking them through to the end of their time at the Forge School.

It was when I was asking about the different activities that the boys all do together, that another strand to the whole project became clear. So far they’ve taken part in watersports, camping, swimming, climbing, mountain biking. Lots of high energy sports, because risk and adventure is part of the heart of boys – but a father figure as role model during these activities is key here. Learning how to handle situations together – nurturing lads by empowering lads. Back to nature can help this nurturing, spending time outside, having real adventures together, getting hearts pumping and minds racing through the thrill of risk-taking, not trouble-making.

Words – Sian Smith