Business as a force for good - the 'One Heart' experience

What is the One Heart Foundation and what are they doing in Africa?

The One Heart Foundation was started by one Australian architect by the name of Dean Landy almost 13 years ago in Kenya, around the time of the awful 2007 tribal clashes. Birthed out of a combination of factors, including the statistic that 22,000 children are dying of preventable causes associated with poverty every single day in Africa, the One Heart dream began. At its core, One Heart exists to end the poverty cycle one child at a time. The way One Heart facilitates this is by building children’s homes and self-sustaining villages, not ‘orphanages’ (no one is looking for another home after coming into the care of One Heart), to adopt orphaned and abandoned children from as little as 3 years old to rehabilitate them from life on the street, give them security, an education, their childhoods back and a future they can really lay a hold of – but the secret ingredient in all of that is to give them genuine love. Knowing the horrific backgrounds they have come from, they’re now absolutely thriving after coming in to the home, and I am fully convinced they’re going to grow up to change their world and ours! This amazing work is carried out across Kenya and Uganda, with 133 children being cared for, to date. One Heart is contunially looking to build more villages in the most dire parts of Africa and bring the rescue effort to the children in them (with our collective support) over time as well.

What is the “Run From Poverty”?

The run from poverty is an incredibly unique and totally immersive experience that takes teams of 10-18 people to Kenya and Uganda for 12 days on the adventure of a lifetime. The basic idea is that you choose to run a distance, ranging from 2km to a full 42km marathon, in the world renowned high altitude plains of Kenya. But, while you’re there, you experience the Kenyan culture in all it’s fulness, as well as be a part of the work of One Heart on the ground, and learn about yourself as you venture on the often deeply introspective journey. Each person who signs up to be a part of the experience is challenged with the mandate to raise $10,000 as part of the preparation for their trip (this amount does not include their personal costs for the trip, it’s a direct donation). This challenge of fundraising instils a sense of ownership for the person going before they get there and gives them a reason to promote their run and the cause that it is attached to. Getting to see what the money is used for once you arrive is one of the most satisfying elements of the trip. During your time in Kenya you are exposed to the running culture, the Kenyan way of life and you visit the One Heart village and spend plenty of time with the kids and their house parents and teachers. You also visit the places they were originally adopted from to gain a deeper understanding of the difference made to a child’s life when they are taken off the streets and into a loving home. The trip concludes with a day of Safari in the world famous Maasai Mara national park, where you get to watch the sun rise over the breathtaking African savanna and reflect as a team on the amazing experience you’ve just had. As far as I’m concerned, for the same money you could go to Europe and visit a famous landmark, but that wouldn’t really change my life or the lives of others and it won’t create legacy – the Run From Poverty trip can, will and most definitely does do that! I unreservedly recommend it to anyone who wants to shake things up and make a real difference.

How is this work different from other charities?

Other than one paid part time administrative staff member in Australia, every other position of oversight at One Heart is a volunteer role. This enables roughly 94% of every dollar donated to One Heart to end up where it is supposed to go. Also, One Heart believes in giving a 'hand up', not a 'hand out', which means that local Kenyans and Ugandans make up the board and the bulk of staff in both countries. The locals are empowered to care for their own and break the poverty cycle for the next generation. In addition to that, the villages themselves are built with sustainable materials and have a number of sustainable, income generating projects operating at the same time in order to cover the costs of running the village, i.e.: a goat farm, a bakery, dairy, fisheries, vegetable greenhouse and more. But perhaps the biggest difference is that One Heart is not an orphanage, it’s a home, and it’s a place of genuine love. Kids enter it broken and get put back together slowly and learn to love and be loved again and to pursue a far richer quality of life for themselves and their ‘brothers and sisters’ who continue to come into the home. It's extraordinary to really see that first hand.

What are the children like?

We have a lot to learn from these kids. The majority have come from a very dark place, but they’re free spirited, gentle, full of laughter, gracious and fully conscious of the second chance at life that they’ve been given, and the role that their sponsors have played in that. Considering the fact that some of these children were found as infants in a public toilet or behind a dumpster, or have been orphaned as a result of disease or violence that has struck their parents; to see who they are and the love that they have for everyone around them at this stage of their life is moving beyond words. They’re amazingly resilient kids and their warmth is something to behold! I was personally struck most by their ability to dream. They all want to be something remarkable and they are pursuing it with everything they’ve got; lawyers, doctors, pilots, architects, chief justices – all dreams that were impossible in their previous track of life. The first One Heart child graduated high school last year and she is now enrolled in a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering at university. How can I possibly turn away from the chance to give more kids like her the ability to continue to dream, achieve and give back?

What does this have to do with my business?

I heard something that really resonated with me recently, “if you are more fortunate than others, build a longer table, not a higher fence.” None of these people chose the life they were born into, and they’ve proven the capability to make something of themselves when given the love, backing and practical support needed to thrive. We as businesses are the ones who affect that greatest change by what we do, and there happen to be a lot of us who are part of this network at Waterman. If we all gave $5, what couldn’t we do together for these kids? You have power, resource and influence as a business person, and you’re already wealthier than most of the population on earth. The only thing that remains is choosing what to do with that resource. For me, leaving a legacy isn’t about saying that I’ve been able to retire the wealthiest out of all my friends, but to be able to look myself in the eye at the end of the day and be able to say “I’ve done as much good as I could, to as many people as I could, every chance I got” – I’d like to look back and say we made a real dent – together.

How can I get involved?

I’ve adopted a saying from Dean Landy; it goes “we can either be overwhelmed by the problem, or inspired by the challenge”. If you’ve read this far down, you have the heart to help and thankfully there are many ways to do that. You can: sponsor a child for $55 per month, you can sponsor a teacher or a local Kenyan student, you can contribute financially or physically to the building of more children’s homes, schools and facilities. Of course, as mentioned before, you can also come on the ‘Run From Poverty’ experience! There is also the option to give a one-off tax deductible donation if that is the way you see fit to help. From my experience of being there, the One Heart village itself has needs; for example a sound/PA system for school assembly, football boots and uniforms for the  boys and girls soccer teams, new instruments for the One Heart orchestra, etc. You can always inquire about ways to help with those specific needs as well. If you’re a member of Waterman, you can sign up to add $5 to your monthly invoice that Waterman will donate directly to One Heart. If every business in the Waterman network did that, we could build another village overnight – and I sincerely hope that we all pitch in and do that, because that’s facilitating change on an epic scale together! And isn't that why we're ultimately in the game?

 

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