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Packs for back to school in Kenya

Every primary and secondary pupil in Edinburgh is being asked to contribute to a sea container taking school equipment and clothing to Kenya, in the first city-wide campaign to help educate children in Africa.

The Back Pack Project, run by Scottish International Relief, has already distributed 80,000 backpacks of essential equipment and clothes for a child to attend school, including shoes, clothes, pencils and jotters, plus a backpack to carry it all. The charity hopes, with the council's help, to rally Edinburgh schools to provide thousands more for Kenya.

The Back Pack Project is one in a series of approaches that the city council wants to facilitate. Over the past few years, it has been building towards a standardised approach between its schools and those in Africa, including establishing a trust fund. It wants to formalise the most successful strategies.

Claire Soper, international manager at the council's children and families international unit, says: "There are 26 Edinburgh schools with links to Africa. They have a lot of knowledge and experience to share with one another and other schools keen to establish links."

Key to its approach is the Edinburgh Africa Education Trust, which will be able to apply for larger sums of money denied to individual schools. These funds will be shared across the city to encourage and strengthen educational links for more schools.

The trust is almost ready to launch. But rather than delay the Scottish International Relief appeal while trustees are appointed, the council is supporting the charity in its bid to raise pound;5,000 for the container by approaching benefactors.

This term, Edinburgh took a step closer to a co-ordinated approach with its third annual Network Africa conference. For the first time, pupils were invited, taking the numbers well above 200.

Speaking at the conference, Marilyne MacLaren, convener for education, declared: "This is not about charity and educational imperialism, it is about both sides learning from each other. We've held conferences to bring together the different schools with links to Africa before, but never with the pupils. We felt it was time to involve the young people."

Pupils from more than 20 schools were grouped in workshops to describe and discuss their links. With the primary pupils, each group leader led them through a series of questions, while the secondary pupils worked through the eight UN millennium development goals that aim, among other things, to eradicate poverty and promote primary education.

Kendal Gater, who joined Dalry Primary in September and will develop its links with a school in Kakoma, Malawi, was positive: "It will be helpful to meet other schools to find out how they have done it, what has worked and what hasn't."

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