Lively Minds was founded by Alison Naftalin, a British Government Lawyer, in 2008. Within one year and for just £3,000, Lively Minds had set up 10 Play Schemes reaching over 1,200 children and training over 250 volunteers, perfectly demonstrating how one lively mind can make a difference through passion and creativity.
In 2007 Alison spent 2 months volunteering in Ghana. She observed the complex challenges preventing children gaining access to quality education. She saw children weren’t given the opportunity to question or reason and as a result were lacking creative-thinking skills. She wanted to find a way to give children in rural Ghana opportunities to learn through play (as we do in the UK) as these techniques are crucial for a child’s development.
On her return to the UK she started researching the importance of learning through play in early childhood development, and calling on the expertise of trustees Dr Susanna Payne and Dr Amanda Sinai, Alison gave up her job and returned to Ghana to try and achieve her vision with just £1,000! She spent time consulting with other development organisations, specialists, and community members before developing the projects.
“I wanted to give children an opportunity to play and learn with interactive and stimulating games. I believed strongly that giving children the opportunity to develop creative-thinking skills from a young age would give them a better start in life. So I hit on the idea of setting up Play Schemes, full of educational toys, where they could learn and develop crucial skills through play.”
“I knew that access to the games would have to be free of charge so that all children would have the opportunity to participate no matter what their financial status. I also wanted the Play Schemes to be run by the communities themselves. Rather than make the communities dependent on external assistance, I wanted to use local resources and to build up local skills. This meant that I would have to train volunteers from villages to run the Play Schemes. The volunteers had no previous experience of educational games and so it was important to give them plenty of time to master these games and the participatory teaching methods. I commissioned local carpenters to make wooden games. I also got everyone I knew in Ghana to start collecting cardboard boxes, bottletops and buttons, that I used to make the games.”
She partnered with local organisations, CALID and CID Ghana, to pilot 3 Play Schemes in Kotingley, Vittin and Wayamba villages. Once the Play Schemes were up and running these NGOs took on responsibility for monitoring and supporting the projects.
After 6 months in Ghana, Alison travelled to Uganda to pilot Play Schemes in rural communities there partnering with 2 community groups (Samika and HOGU) and Child Fund International. Within 4 months she had successfully set up 7 Play Schemes and realised the huge positive impact the Play Schemes were having on the volunteers.
“The people most willing to volunteer their time were the people with the least amount of education and the least amount of confidence in their own abilities. It quickly became apparent that attending the training course had a huge impact on the volunteers themselves. They gained enormous amounts of confidence, self-esteem and learned to work together as a team.”
Sarah Kanyonga (Samika founder) was so impressed with project she asked whether she could continue setting up Play Schemes in other villages – Lively Minds Uganda was born! Sarah was employed to continue the work with Joshua Buluke (HOGU Director) employed as Programme Manager.
In November, Alison returned to Ghana to check progress – All 3 Play Schemes were still working well. David Abukari, her partner at CALIDexpressed his interest in getting involved too – He was employed as Country Manager with local teacher Augustus Ninfaa as Assistant Country Manager. Lively Minds Ghana was born!
In 2009 Alison returned to the UK and ran Lively Minds on a voluntary basis – the day-to-day running being carried out by in-country staff. Over the next few years Lively Minds continued to grow in both countries. A new base was opened in the Upper East region of Ghana. In Uganda, Lively Minds partnered with UNICEF to role out our Child Sacrifice Prevention programme.
Towards the end of 2012, we received a grant from the Waterloo Foundation which enabled Alison to run Lively Minds on a full-time basis. In 2013 we received multi-year grants from DfID and Comic Relief to expand the Play Scheme project in Uganda and Ghana. We were able to build our staff teams in each country to support this expansion.
In 2014 Lively Minds won an Innovations in Education award from UNICEF/Results for Development and Re-imagine Learning Award from Lego Foundation/Ashoka. Having established proof of concept, we wanted to find a way to scale our programme and reach many more communities. In 2015 we therefore piloted a new training of trainers delivery method in Ghana. Instead of staff training the Mothers in each community, we trained Kindergarten teachers centrally and in turn the teachers trained and supported the Mums in their own communities. Our hope was that through this training of trainers method we could reach far more communities at lower costs, and at the same time could improve the kindergarten system.