Today has been a hard day. There are a lot of challenges involved with running a children's charity. Some are much more difficult to deal with than others. The organisation I started, CHW, is based in London, and we currently support locally run children's initiatives in five countries. Below are three of the most challenging things I have found in running CHW, in order of the least to the most difficult.
Firstly, raising funds is itself difficult, but you accept that this is a challenge that comes with the nature of this work. Since the recession hit, we have had less donations - an issue faced by most other organisations in the charity sector. As we are a small organisation, this has been difficult. It is frustrating not to be able to help the local organisations CHW supports as quickly as I would like. We have tried to hold more fundraising events, since individual donations decreased. These are difficult economic times, but this is a challenge we must rise to.
Volunteer and student at a "Clothes Swap" fundraising event
The Children's Struggles
The second thing, which is much more difficult, is trying to understand the backgrounds of the children we help. I have personally been to, and vetted, every organisation that we decided to support and have met the children they help. The children have had to face circumstances in their short lives that I couldn't have imagined when I was growing up - from walking to collect water from a well everyday (Ghana), to facing constant discrimination (Roma in Europe) and the constant threat of violence (South Africa) and a lot of other issues. This has opened my eyes to many harsh realities and I feel compelled to act, as I was given many opportunities in life, just by chance - for example, I have always had food and water; I was able to complete my education, etc. I would like to use all the opportunities I have had to help give opportunities to others who have not been so lucky.
To think of the challenges many children face is awful. However, in my field of work, there is also hope. I met these children through the local organisations that support them. These organisations are doing very good work, that we hope to contribute to, and will give these children a better childhood and more opportunities for their future. We support a range of projects from one which helps orphaned babies in China that need life-saving surgeries, to an organisation in Argentina which runs eighteen houses for children and teenagers who have been orphaned or abandoned, with three of the houses caring for those with disabilities. I just wish that local organisations, like the ones we support, could somehow reach all the children out there that need help, in every country.
The Most Difficult Times
The third thing, which is the most difficult, is experiencing the illness, or death, either of one of the children you have been working with, or of someone who is close to the children. I started CHW in 2007 and until 2010, nothing like this had ever happened. Even though we were a small organisation, we had been doing well, fulfilling the appeals from the local organisations, and building our networks within the five countries where we work. Everything was very positive.
Early success: one of our first projects in 2007 was to fund the purchase and installation of a water tank, which New Life International Children's Home in Ghana had asked us for.
In 2010, something happened which I will never forget. It was my last day in Cape Town and a little girl we were hoping to help through a local organisation, called The Future Factory, passed away in a road accident. The accident was avoidable - the driver of a minibus full of children overtook a line of waiting cars at a railway crossing, dodged the security barrier and went straight into the path of an oncoming train. Most of the children were killed. The little girl I knew, Lisle, was eleven. She had been through so much. When she was seven she was sexually abused, stabbed, hit over the head with a rock and set alight, by a family friend. She survived, and showed great determination to get past this. She became an inspiration to her community. The director of the Future Factory, Anne, supported Lisle and her family greatly. Anne and I were with Lisle's family when they had to identify her after the crash. I wrote about Lisle recently on the second anniversary of the accident. You can read more about her here. I raised money for her funeral, which was the saddest appeal I have ever had to run.
Then, this summer, another terrible thing happened. Last year, one of our biggest projects was to fundraise for a local Romanian organisation, FAST, to build a carpentry workshop for one of the families it worked with. The family had eleven children, and they were living in abject poverty. The father Sorin had carpentry skills, but nobody wanted to employ him because he is Roma, and there is much discrimination against the Roma people. The director of FAST, Daniel, believed that, with his organisation's help, Sorin could start a furniture business and support all his children. As the children grew up, they could join the family business and end the cycle of poverty they would otherwise be stuck in. Sorin and his eldest son, Lucian, who is seventeen, helped the builders construct the workshop. I visited last year, when it was nearly complete, and Sorin seemed so hopeful.
Sorin with Lucian and one of the younger children,
during the construction of the workshop.
I was devastated to receive an email from Daniel at the beginning of the summer to say that Sorin had been having stomach pains and Daniel had taken him to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Everything happened so fast after this, and Sorin's condition rapidly deteriorated. I am waiting for further news on Sorin. Lucian will now be in charge of providing for the family, as his father is in hospital and is very weak. Lucian is so young, and has so many people to support. Sorin was going to pass on his skills to Lucian and the other children. Now, if we are able to raise the funds (two hundred pounds per month for about a year) Daniel says that Lucian can have an apprenticeship with FAST (which has builders and carpenters within its team) and will be able to run the family business well. I hope that we will be able to support this.
Today, I received some sad news from one of the physiotherapists, Gabriela, at a project we support in Argentina. The organisation, Bethel, is the one I mentioned previously, which runs eighteen homes for children. Gabriela works at one of the houses for those with disabilities, and this is the house where I usually volunteer, if I am in Argentina, so I know all the people there very well. The residents have a range of disabilities. All have some form of mental disability and each have differing physical issues too. They are looked after very well and will be able to reach adulthood, if their condition does not have complications. One little girl, Luz, was able to do very little for herself. She could not talk. She had been given a wheelchair as she was too weak to walk and she was fed through a tube in her stomach each day. She was very much loved by the staff, and I could see how well she was taken care of - not just each day while I was there, but also by how much she had grown every time I went back to Argentina and visited. Today Gabriela told me that Luz had passed away in hospital. I think Luz must be twelve years old by now. I am so sad, but I do realise that Bethel gave her the best life she could have had for those twelve years.
Keep on Going...
People tell me how rewarding it must be to run CHW. They are right - a lot of the time it is. However, sometimes, it is really tough, especially when there is nothing more that you can do for someone. Then, maybe, what you must do is carry on being inspired by those people, and keep their memory alive through what you do. I won't ever forget Lisle or Luz and I must carry on working on CHW's projects to keep on reaching children who can benefit from our work.
Photos of some happy children at the projects we support in Ghana (above) and China (below). It is important to keep going, and help to meet their needs.