Helen Taylor Thompson had been instrumental in re-opening Mildmay mission hospital in London, and the first hospice for people dying with AIDS, where Princess Diana famously shook hands with patients in an attempt to break the stigma around the disease. She also helped launch Community Action Network (CAN) as a network for social entrepreneurs.
Helen had long been aware that in some poverty-hit communities, poor girls were of little value and readily let go by their family into child labour or more likely sexual exploitation and slavery. She had the idea of fitting out a shipping container as a mobile classroom to provide simple education, particularly on health and hygiene. Growing increasingly concerned about the burden of HIV on vulnerable communities in Africa and Asia, she dreamed up the idea of also using new technology to teach people about HIV and other health challenges, in their own language.
Helen recalled: “I met a lady who was tilling the ground with several children round her. She told me her husband was dead, and she was dying and her youngest child was also dead. However her three elder children were free from AIDS, but she was so worried as to what would happen when she died, as there was no one to care for them. All her family were dead as were her neighbours. She then pointed to a broken-down building and told me that that was her church and they would have cared for her children, but they too were all dead. “Please go back to the UK and tell them about us.”
In 1999, Helen recruited Steve Clarke to help turn the dream to reality. Steve, a long-time friend and former colleague, was inspired by the idea of providing lessons on disease prevention and health. He talked to his friend Andrew Ashe (now known as the founder of onebillion.org), about the best ways to teach someone in a remote village who had never been to school. DVDs were just emerging as a new technology and, though DVD players were incredibly expensive at the time, they seemed the best way to reach people in areas where there were no computer networks. DVDs could be produced in the user’s own language and translated into other languages, cheap to replicate, robust, and easy to use in regions where there was little knowledge of technology, and so The Starfish Initiative, which became Thare Machi Education, was born.
Thare Machi The Starfish Intiative was registered as a charity in February.
Thare Machi means “starfish” in the Marathi language of India, inspired by the story of a boy rescuing stranded starfish on a beach. We may not be able to make a difference to every person but we can each make a small difference to someone.
The first four DVD lessons were commissioned in in English, with some also in Hindi and Assamese.
Our first DVD player was donated to us which, at the time, was worth £4,000.
Cinema-style units were made from converted cargo containers, to serve as temporary classrooms. They were fitted with DVD players. The containers could be moved from place to place, on a donated, purpose-built trailer.
We launched the whole project at Fishmongers Hall, London Bridge, with a demonstration classroom on show.
We then commissioned two container classrooms, equipped with eight DVD workstation benches. These were dispatched to India for high profile launches in Delhi and Guwahati in Assam and we began work with our first local partners, showing our lessons about HIV and AIDS.
The Delhi launch was hosted by our user group, Action India, and attended by the Minister of Health for India. The Assam launch was attended by the Chief Minister of State for Assam and was hosted by the Assam Tea Company.
Some years later the chief tea buyer for Taylors of Harrogate (totally unknown to us) was wandering around a tea plantation in Assam and came across our container in full sing with women busily learning how to avoid getting AIDS. He was so impressed he called us up on his return to UK offering a donation of £2,000.
2003 – April
Reception and official launch at 10, Downing Street.
Founder, Helen Taylor Thompson was invited by our Patron Cherie Blair to 10 Downing Street to meet with business people and celebrities, including Chelsea Clinton and actress Nina Wadia (who subsequently also became a Patron).
Thare Machi’s first African container classroom was installed at the Jane Furse Memorial Hospital in Limpopo, South Africa. Throughout the period, new scripts were being written, and translated into new languages.
Helen Taylor Thompson was awarded an OBE.
2007 – September
Our name was changed from Thare Machi The Starfish Initiative to Thare Machi Education (TME).
By now, there were 20 DVD topics in English, on issues from tooth care and basic hygiene to HIV and landmines, many of which had been translated into regional languages for 11 different countries, including India, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and China – with more in demand.
A chance meeting with Corinne Sandenbergh (a native South African) in a UK café led to the development of the Human Trafficking’ lesson.
Corinne is the director of STOP, a non-profit working to counter Human Trafficking. She challenged us to apply our DVD model to a lesson outline she supplied that would alert potential victims to the dangers of being trafficked.
Our Human Trafficking lesson was launched in South Africa by our Patron, Cherie Blair, at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Pretoria, courtesy of the Right Hon Paul Boateng who is also a Patron of our organisation.
This event was a catalyst for the creation of the National Freedom Network, a nationwide group of agencies in South Africa that was created by a team of volunteers and led by Justine Demmer of the National Freedom Network.
The key message in the DVD is “YOU ARE NOT FOR SALE”. It raises awareness of the risk of trafficking, gives key information on what you can do if you suspect traffickers are operating in your area, such as what questions to ask, and also gives information on who you can call for more help and advice.
The HIV DVDs were added to the curriculum of all schools in Gauteng Province of South Africa – with 2 million children watching the lessons.
We also launched the “non-interactive” version of the DVDs which can play in a waiting room or other setting where it is not easy to control a DVD player.
TME worked with the Department of Health Science at Leicester University to create a lesson to educate Gujarati and Hindi speakers in the UK about the myths and facts of using insulin to manage type 2 diabetes.
In May, thanks to our Associate James Blackham, 10 volunteers from Goldman Sachs created 20 new DVDs in one day. This was the third year of this collaboration where for the first hour we trained them in the techniques of laying down a new language audio track on one of our English language templates. This is a task which requires care and accuracy and which is helped by good computer and mouse skills. About 8 of the 10 volunteers worked in the IT department of GS so we knew we had a fighting chance of achieving our goal.
As Steve Clarke prepared to step down from his role as Director, local volunteer Rachel Butt joined the organisation, initially as volunteer operations officer, but later to become Director.
Thare Machi (Isle of Man) was registered as a charity.
Our online lessons were launched on World AIDS Day (1 December). We’d been trying to solve the challenge of getting the lessons online for several years, but the problem was finally solved by Graham Butt, a teacher from Leamington Spa. At launch there were 44 lessons (our HIV titles) available online; there are now over 900 lessons accessible via a smartphone or computer for the first time.
Research funded by the Isle of Man International Development Committee in Rwanda demonstrated the impact of the lessons in reducing childhood diseases.
The IDC funded a study looking at how effective our DVD discs are by comparing health outcomes in two districts –one where the DVDs had been used and an adjacent one where they had not. This demonstrated highly significant results with a 26% reduction in the numbers of children presenting with intestinal worms, as well as a 10% reduction in cases of diarrhoea. What is perhaps most striking is that worm infestation is not mentioned in the Basic Hygiene DVD shown during the research. So a reduction in worm infestation is a proxy better hygiene as a result of viewing the DVD.
The dramatic results of the intervention led to a request from the Rwandan government to train health workers throughout the country in the use of the DVDs as well as the supply of DVDs to show in the clinics.
In March, TME responded to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa with the Chief Medical Officer of Sierra Leone distributing copies of our “Basic Hygiene” lesson to local co-ordinators. Later in the year we produced a more detailed lesson; actor and comedian Hal Cruttended provided the voice over.
Our Avoiding Ebola lesson was recorded and produced in record time; within a few weeks of drafting the first script over 500 copies had been ordered.
In 2014 we also managed to have our first lessons fully produced in Africa, after team member Yann Hausammann visited Kenya to train local volunteers in recording and authoring.
Our network expanded further and our outreach included grassroots groups in Sierra Leone and DR Congo, due to introductions by Chris Crowstaff – through her work at the time as founder of an award-winning NGO. An example of the value of networking and collaboration!
August 1st: The start of a three year project, funded by the Isle of Man government, in which Rwandan health workers were trained by our local user group there, One Light Rwanda, to use the DVDs, after the Ministry of Health saw the results of our research the previous year.
The funding contributed to the supply and duplication of 37,000 individual DVD discs. Most of these were duplicated within Rwanda at a cost of 30p/copy. From our experiences elsewhere we estimate that during its life a DVD might be shown on average to 200 people. This is a conservative estimate as, although some may immediately get scratched and not be shown to anyone, others are shown to over 80 people at a time so five showings to that number immediately doubles the estimated audience for one disc. If those 37,000 discs are each shown to 200 people that equates to nearly 7.5 million viewings.
2015 was also the start of a two year project, part-funded by The Beacon Trust, with the Goodwill Social Work Centre in Madurai, India.
Between 2015 and 2017 the Goodwill Social Work Centre carried out an extensive project in Madurai to distribute the DVDs as widely as possible, and during that time an amazing two million viewings of DVDs were recorded, and local health co-ordinators reported reductions in Dengue fever.
The programme included the promotion of healthy living, using the DVD lessons for village women with the direct involvement of Social Workers in organising programmes.
Husband and wife team, Andrew Sampson and Chris Crowstaff joined the team of volunteers and helped rebuild the website after a server failure, later collaborating to create an entirely new site.
The World Health Organisation reports that globally cases of malaria were slightly up in 2017, but not in Rwanda where there were 430,000 fewer cases. Although there is no evidence to support our contribution, it is notable that Avoiding Malaria was one fo the DVDs distributed throughout Rwanda in the local language of Kinyarwanda.
The first translations of our lessons into languages for Afghanistan were made.
International Women’ Day: Helen Taylor Thompson chosen as one of the BBC’s ‘100 Women’ – 100 influential and inspirational women around the world.
July 31st: Completion of the project started in 2015, in which our local user group trained Rwandan health workers to use the DVDs.
November: We reached 90,000 beneficiaries reached in Burundi, with our user group the Association for Solidarity, Health and Social Assistance (ASASS)
TME won the “Not-for-profit excellence” award at the 2018 Leamington Business Awards.
2019 – January
TME became part of the Helen Taylor Thompson Foundation, which also includes CAN.
In February, our name was changed from Thare Machi Education (TME) to Education Saves Lives and our website was redesigned to reflect the name change.
The outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic resulted in changing working patterns for almost all of the hundreds of organisations now using our lessons, with lockdowns and social distancing affecting group viewings. An online only lesson about the coronavirus was launched; being online makes it easier to update as understanding of the virus changes.
September: At the age of 96, after a short illness, our founder Helen Taylor Thompson sadly passed away. The organisations she helped lead will become her legacy, her impact will live on through Education Saves Lives, and will be added to every time someone watches one of the lessons created through her inspirational work.
Helen is of course very much missed – with many messages of condolence sent for publication on our website, from all over the world.
Education Saves Lives continues to respond to the health literacy needs of vulnerable communities. One of the effects of the pandemic is likely to be the worsening of existing health problems for the most vulnerable, so although lessons will have to be shown in a different way, they will still be needed for many years to come.
We now have 33 different lesson scripts, each of which is available in up to 65 languages.
Our lessons have been seen by millions of people in countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and South America.