Geri Stengel

 
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A Social Entrepreneur Turns Children Into Young Heroes

I suppose you could say all social entrepreneurs are heroes, but only one has started an organization to support and acknowledge other heroes. These heroes are far too young to have taken on this responsibility, for they’re responsible for their own care and feeding: They have been left orphaned after their parents died of AIDS in the country that has the world’s highest rate of HIV/AIDS.

orphan familySwaziland, a tiny kingdom tucked in the northeast corner of South Africa, has an adult HIV rate of 42%. Approximately 125,000 (25%) children are orphaned, becoming young heroes just to make it through the day. One man set out to make a difference, though he didn’t know at the time that Swaziland was where he would make his mark.

Many of us were shaken by 9-11, but Steve Kallaugher decided to make a difference. For him, that meant joining the Peace Corp at age 53 and being assigned to Swaziland. One day a week, he worked with NERCHA, which ensures that services funded by the U.N. to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are delivered throughout Swaziland. After a year, Steve joined NERCHA full time.

Derek von Wissell, the director of NERCHA, asked Steve to help where the need was the greatest:  the nation’s growing population of orphans. Steve wanted to use a proven model that would involve the greatest number of players. After doing research, he chose the sponsorship model which has been successfully used by World Vision and Christian Children’s Fund among others. However, unlike those organizations, Young Heroes links sponsors directly to specific orphan families, to whom they provide monthly stipends used for food, clothing and other necessities for Young Heroes’ children.

It took about a year to develop, build and test the infrastructure (transparent financial systems;  a flexible and expandable database; a network of community contacts throughout the country; etc.) and hire staff. The time was well spent. The infrastructure worked from day one. Within nine months, 200 of 300 children enrolled had sponsors. Young Heroes has grown over the course of three years to serving over 1000 children. Services have grown, too, to include help with education fees and, later this year, medical care for HIV+ orphans provided in conjunction with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Were there challenges? Absolutely, but none that Steve hasn’t been able to solve. Collecting money from global donors online was an issue, not only because of people’s skepticism regarding appeals from Africa, but also due to burdensome regulations and restricted capacity in Swaziland. The solution was setting up a foundation in the U.S. to process the money via PayPal and Just Give. By establishing Young Heroes Foundation, which eventually received its 501(c)3, Young Heroes has been able to apply for grant money from foundations. However, Steve soon found out that many foundations don’t like to work in countries with which they are unfamiliar.

How do you build awareness? You launch the “100 Parties for the Orphans” initiative, and invite people to throw a party or two -- or maybe even 23 so far. From Norway to Seattle, WA and from Malawi to Birmingham, AL, people are throwing house parties to raise funds for the orphans on or around June 16th, to make the Day of the African Child a day of action on their behalf.

The largest party will be in Northampton, MA, Steve’s hometown. “Art for Orphans” will have live music from Tony Vacca, a well-known world musician, and lots of art for purchase. If you’re in the area on June 16, stop by -- your ticket also buys you a chance to win an original work of art. For information, go to http://www.youngheroes.org.sz/hamphelps.asp. Or, perhaps you’d like to throw a party or just donate.

Have a story about an extraordinary person who is motivated by purpose? Let me know and I’ll highlight them.