Anti-Poverty Awards

Andrew Mellody and Nicole PrecelBy TIM LAM

What began as a series of fundraising concerts in Melbourne has grown into a not-for-profit organisation that empowers overseas communities to lift themselves out of poverty.

Co-Ground is an Australian not-for-profit organisation established earlier this year. Its director, Andrew Mellody, was the recipient of Connections UnitingCare’s Anti-Poverty award for 2015. The annual awards highlight the creative ways young people and schools engage with communities affected by extreme disadvantage.

Crosslight spoke with Mr Mellody about the story behind Co-Ground. It originally began as a short-term response to Cyclone Pam, which caused widespread devastation in Vanuatu earlier this year.

“A few of us got together and wanted to support the people in Vanuatu during that time,” Mr Mellody said.

“It initially started as a series of fundraising events under the banner of ‘Melbourne for Vanuatu’. We had some musicians and comedians get involved and raised around $12,000.”

Mr Mellody soon discovered most of the relief aid was bottlenecked in the capital of Port Vila. This meant communities in remote parts of Vanuatu, some of which had up to 90 per cent damage to houses and crops, were not receiving any assistance.

“We researched how to use the funding best. We knew of seven communities in a remote part of Epi Island in Vanuatu through our contacts. They helped explain that relief efforts weren’t getting through over there,” Mr Mellody said.

“We decided that’s what we wanted to focus on. So we researched who was potentially going to be operating in that space, contacting a lot of the organisations and worked out who was assigned to Epi Island. In the end, there was a big gap so we decided to work directly with the schools,” he said.

“The school was the one thing that would benefit all seven communities because they all utilise that school.”

Co-Ground recently completed the first stage of a project at Sara Primary School on Epi Island. They shipped more than 100 litres of paint, 52 bags of cement, plywood and solar equipment. The school now has windows, doors, electricity and will soon have more desks.

“We worked with the leadership team at the school and surrounding communities to understand the situation and basically let them lead the charge on what was needed,” Mr Mellody said.

“From their direction, we coordinated the purchase of the supplies and transported it across to Epi Island.”

Co-Ground believes the two main vehicles out of poverty are education and small businesses. It emphasises sustainable development and helping local communities lift themselves out of poverty. This requires harnessing the talents and knowledge of grassroots leaders to foster ownership over development projects.

“We make sure that people are happy at the local level, as that’s where we see it as being the most sustainable,” Mr Mellody said.

“The best way to do that is working directly with communities.”

Starting a not-for-profit organisation from scratch can involve great personal sacrifices. Two years ago, Mr Mellody moved into a caravan to reduce his rent and dedicate more time and money to helping people in need.

As the winner of the Anti-Poverty Award, Mr Mellody received a grant of $4000. This will assist Co-Ground to expand its activities in 2016, which potentially involves projects in the Philippines.

To fund these programs, Co-Ground will be launching two social enterprises in Melbourne next year: a continuation of the music concerts and a new mobile coffee van that will travel around Melbourne.

“The coffee sold through the van is ultimately about engaging people through their product choice,” Mr Mellody said.

“People can make a difference supporting education opportunities for remote communities in Vanuatu and it’s also a way of engaging people in what’s going on.”

Gawler East Primary School in South Australia was the recipient of the schools’ award. Children from grades two to four raised awareness about displaced villagers in the Philippines. This is the first time in the 11-year history of the Anti-Poverty Awards that a primary school has won. You can read Crosslight‘s interview with the two teachers who organised the initiative here.

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