In the dry season, there is no water in the remote village of Akpakpa in central Nigeria.

Malaria outbreaks are common and with the nearest hospital many miles away, native herbs, which can cause extreme sickness, are often the only treatments available.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that numbers of women dying in pregnancy or childbirth in the region are high.

When four Bradford schoolfriends visited Nigeria to find out about healthcare projects they were shocked to discover they were the same age as some young mothers they met, who were so afraid of falling pregnant again that they broke down in tears.

The schoolfriends – Isabella Ricordo, Kimi Omolokun, Megan Crowley and Katie Deardon – have been helping to make a difference to the lives of mothers and babies in Africa with a life-saving package that has not only been adopted by the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development, it has raised nearly £170,000 for the charity.

The virtual Mother and Baby Care packs bring together vital means of support – including a water filtration system, immunisations, a sterile birthing kit, vitamins, a mosquito net and training for birth attendants – which are delivered to remote communities by aid agencies.

Produced for Cafod’s world gifts range, the packs have so far raised £169,340 for the charity.

Now Isabella, Kimi, Megan and Katie, all 18, have been nominated for Yorkshire Women of Achievement awards along with Elaine Barker, former assistant headteacher at their school, St Joseph’s College in Manningham.

The girls devised the package in 2008 for a national competition to find a ‘Solution for the Planet’, run by Partners in Innovation.

Part of the Positive Bradford initiative, Partners In Innovation encourages, supports and recognises youngsters who have made a difference towards improving society, economy and the environment.

The Bradford-based programme aims to develop a culture of enterprise and innovation in schools, universities and communities, and runs Solutions for the Planet with partners including Yorkshire Water, Arriva, H20 Water Services, Morrisons Utility Services, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Metro.

Learning about infant and maternal mortality rates in developing countries, the girls became painfully aware of the divide between healthcare and support for pregnant women in the UK, and in Africa.

They devised a business plan and went on to win the Solution for the Planet final at the Houses of Parliament. In recognition of their achievements, they were invited to Downing Street to meet Sarah Brown, wife of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

After approaching Cafod with their idea, the girls were invited to pilot virtual packs at £30 each. Accompanied by Elaine and Cafod representatives, they went to Nigeria to see at first-hand communities that would benefit from their big idea.

Of the mothers they met at an outreach clinic in Ankpakpa, eight out of 24 had lost at least one baby. One woman had contracted malaria three times during her pregnancy and had been left in severe pain, lying on the floor of her hut, terrified that she and her unborn baby would die. Those who do receive hospital treatment, if they can travel the long distance, are faced with a bill they have no way of paying.

“It brought it home to the girls the daily dangers these women face. Some mothers were the same age as them,” says Elaine, development director at Partners in Innovation. “They got emotional, but they needed to meet those women to fully understand what they’re going through.

“More than half a million women die every year because of complications related to pregnancy, and most are in developing countries.

“What started as an idea in school has become a reality and now, in Cafod’s 50th anniversary year, it has raised nearly £170,000 as well as helping to save lives. These girls are really making a difference.”

Adds Elaine: “The mother and baby packs can be delivered in all countries supported by Cafod. They help with training birth attendants in pre and post-natal care, and in safer delivery techniques, which can give a new mum and her baby a much better chance of survival. They also help pay for new equipment and vaccines to give babies a safer, healthier start in life.”

According to Cafod, the impact of the mother and baby packs has been “far reaching.” The charity’s website reveals that the girls’ visit to Nigeria was a first: “Never before had Cafod taken the risk of sending four 15-year-olds to witness need and to assess the impact of healthcare funding. The outcome of this visit has been most beneficial for our organisation.

“The pack for mums and babies has proved a firm favourite in the World Gifts catalogue. Encouraged and inspired by the girls’ experience, Cafod decided to invest in a second overseas visit for four sixth-formers who visited Kenya in June, 2011. Our partnership with Solutions for the Planet continues to flourish.”

Inspiring other youngsters is a legacy of the girls’ success. Other ideas devised at St Joseph’s College include a bee-saving project involving pupils setting up bee-friendly gardens in primary schools, and a children’s book called Splish Splash, containing key messages about water scarcity and conservation. Pupils have worked with Yorkshire Water on the project.

An idea to help street children who scavenge on rubbish dumps in Uganda was devised by a school in Scarborough and recently adopted by Hope for Children UK. More ideas are being submitted to year’s Solutions for the Planet regional finals, which got underway yesterday.

This month, Isabella, Kimi, Megan and Katie will join Elaine at the Sue Ryder Yorkshire Women of Achievement Awards. Elaine is nominated for the Woman of Achievement in Education and the girls are collectively up for Young Achiever of the Year.

They were nominated by Bradford businesswoman Jackie Whiteley, who learned about the mother and baby packs when she was a Solutions for the Planet judge.

“Women in developing countries often lack things we take for granted, such as clean water and basic medical supplies. This big idea will have a long-lasting effect,” says Jackie, who was crowned Yorkshire Woman of Achievement in 2009. “This year, for the first time, the awards include a young people’s category. I thought of these girls straight away.”

The awards ceremony, on May 25, is in aid of the Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice in Leeds.

“It was a great surprise to be nominated,” says Elaine. “It’s brilliant that Solutions for the Planet is getting recognition for enabling such great things to happen.

“The girls have applied for university courses in medicine and international relations. Their choices have been strongly influenced by their time in Nigeria, and their big idea.”

For more about the mother and baby packs, visit babies. For more about Solutions for the Planet, visit