For some time I have been saying that 2016 is a Leap Year and so there is one extra day. If you are salaried you won’t be paid any more for working that extra day so why not give it away to a charity? I therefore decided if I was asking others to do this I should do it myself so I suggested to a charity called Humanitas www.humanitascharity.org
, where I have been working with the CEO in a mentoring capacity, that I could offer a workshop made up with Marketors to see if we could help her and her team. She jumped at the chance and since she lives nearby I decided to host at our house in Harpenden. I therefore invited a number of Marketors who also live nearby to join me, in the process recruiting a good cross section of expertise in research, strategy development, sales, communications and PR.
We met on Monday 29th
February, Leap Day, and the sun shone all day. From Humanitas the CEO Sarah Wade brought her Co-founder Dr Ramiz Momeni and Genevieve Jones Hernandez - event manager. Humanitas believes every child is entitled to health care, an education and a family. It strives to provide children across the globe with these key rights. Sarah spent her gap year in Romania helping children in orphanages many of whom were not orphans at all but had been abandoned by their parents, particularly among the Roma community. At the end of her year she felt that while she had had a fulfilling year giving care to these kids nothing had actually changed or would change. She decided to stay and see what she and others could do. She stayed for thirteen years founding the charity Romanian Relief and later setting up Humanitas as an umbrella organisation. To date she and her team have looked after, and in many cases saved the lives of, over 38,000 people.
They started by taking children out of the bad orphanages and they built a residential home. These children were often disabled or had special needs and had extreme behavioural issues after being institutionalised in poor homes. But they realised this was not much better than a band aid and so moved the emphasis to prevention of abandonment through better medical care and education in family planning. They still do that both in the residential home and through foster care.
But the charity took on a more medical nature when they observed a high incidence of hydrocephalus, commonly known as ‘water on the brain’. This is a neural defect often caused by poor nutrition in the mother. In the West, where governments routinely proscribe the addition of folic acid and vitamins to cereals, the condition is rare. It can be diagnosed by prenatal scans and the post-natal operation is relatively straightforward and safe. However, in poor undeveloped countries, particularly in rural areas where diets are often root based and medical care remote, such operations are seldom carried out. For the poor victim life is short and death horrible.
When parents confront this condition they are afraid to face surgery. They may accept it as God’s will and the charity often takes several days in trying to overcome this resistance. Once the surgery is carried out the result is almost always benign. Romanian Relief is accredited by the authorities.
In 2012 the charity changed its name to Humanitas for two reasons. First, it was being asked to take its expertise in dealing with deprived children and hydrocephalus to other countries, particularly Ghana in Africa. Second, they were finding problems in raising money for the Romanian cause, particularly one associated with the Roma. People in Britain had experienced the Roma coming over to beg in our cities while the Romanians had always denied they had these problems in their country. In Ghana Humanitas has established a school for 120 children in a part where there are no schools. They have chosen Ghana as a kind of test market as it’s relatively stable with a constitutional monarchy and the school is largely funded by trusts and grants.
In the workshop we listened to Sarah and Ramiz tell their extraordinary story. We asked lots of questions. All of us have extensive international experience but while I have never been to those parts of Europe or Africa some in the group had and their questions were particularly acute. We drew out a SWOT analysis which can be summarised as follows:
· Track record since 2002, caring for over 38,000 children
· Growing a charity from one person leaving school to 45 persons
· Accredited by state
· Flexibility of operation
· Efficiency of spend- 80p in the £ to the target
· Trusts, grants have dried up in Romania
· Limited resources
· Fixed costs in Romanian foster home
· May be only children’s charity concentrating on hydrocephalus
· Using Ghana as test market for Africa
· Infinite demand for services
· Prevention of abandonment
· UNICEF, EU and DFID as source of funds
· Attitudes to Romania as part of EU
· Attitudes to Roma
· Denial of problem of abandoned children
We brainstormed a series of ideas to help the charity meet its objectives, particularly in the areas of fund raising and communication. One particularly interesting idea was to develop a social enterprise employing the Roma to support the foster home. Through Google we identified leading Roma figures that could be approached for their support. We offered to use what contacts we had to unlock the doors of the EU and DFID. One of us knew some of the medical suppliers in these fields and we encouraged them to develop relations with these companies for sponsorship and support.
Everyone, both Sarah and her colleagues and the Marketors present, enjoyed the day. We agreed to follow up in the autumn and in the meantime those of us who promised help need to deliver.