There are moments in your life that leave a lasting impression. Last Monday night I had one of them and I wanted to share it with you, as it's one of the driving forces behind wanting such great success and growth for Shop Naturally.
I am a big believer in giving back, and I'm really proud of the active charity program that we have in place at Shop Naturally. At home, we make a monthly donation to the ME/CFS Society of Australia, which is the illness I was diagnosed with over 20 years ago now. This money helps them run the admin office that provides free information to sufferers around the country.
However, most of the charity work we do is overseas. Why? Since 2010, we have been a sponsor of The School of St Jude in Tanzania. The school was founded and is run by Australian woman Gemma Sisia (pictured right). This private school gives a free education and boarding to almost 2,000 of Tanzania's poorest kids. This is one charity where when you give them money, you know it's ALL going exactly where you think it is.
Not only do I have business colleagues that regularly run tours and visit the school, but I also have friends and family who have been to the school for a holiday and volunteered their time to help out at the school. These colleagues, friends and family have visited the homes of the students they sponsor and lived at the school for a week, participating in classes, playing with the kids, and in the case of my brother, a licensed plumber, spent the week doing repairs around the school. Our local Rotary Club went over and erected the second building ever build for the school on their first campus (they have three campuses now).
Each year, Gemma (pictured right) comes to Australia, usually with Felix (pictured left) to raise money for the school. They rely on the kindness of others and stay in the homes of sponsors as they travel. Young Felix above has stayed with my brother on previous visits, so I was pretty damn excited to not only meet Gemma last week, but Felix as well, and Felix has quite the story to tell. While I have seen countless photos of the kids and spoken to people who visited their homes and clearly seen the impact The School of St Jude has on their lives, the story of staff members and the sheer volume of business and commerce created around this school for the community of Arusha in Tanzania is beyond extraordinary, and this is the reason why we support them and will continue to do so for as long as we are in business.
10 years ago, Felix Mollel was Massai Warrior and he only spoke Swahili. It was his dream to get a job working at The School of St Jude so he could learn to speak English and make a humble living. He applied for a job, as a bus driver, and failed, six times. While many of us would have given up, he wrote down what he wanted to say in Swahili and had someone translate it for him. He called in some favours and got on the phone for an interview and perfectly recited his pitch, in English. When they started speaking back to him, he had NO IDEA what they were saying, and continued on just by saying, yes, yes, yes. Alas, Felix still didn't get the job.
Determined never to give up, Felix went to a local store and asked for 2 kilos of sugar as a gift for the head of his tribe. Through contacts, the head of the tribe was able to speak to the father of someone's friend, and down the line until he was finally able to get the job at St Judes as a bus driver. The remarkable part, Felix did not have the money to pay for the sugar. He told the shop keeper his story and said he was going to work at St Judes and when he got his job, he would come back and pay for the sugar. He did get the job, and yes, he paid for the sugar.
The spirit and generousity and kindness of these people is just like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. When I met Felix and introduced myself and told him who my brother was, he gave me a hug and said that my brother was like his family, so I was too. That kind of story doesn't leave you. Ever.
Fast forward to 2015, Felix now speaks fluent English and works in the office at St Judes and takes care of the hundreds of visitors to the school each year. He gets to come to Australia and stay with families who adore him and experience a life that's so far removed from his own village that I can't comprehend what goes through his head when he walks the streets of Sydney and sees the Vivid light display on the Sydney Opera House (which he did with my brother one year). Everyone who meets Felix instantly falls in love with him. He must be one of the most loved people on the planet, and well deserved. The kids at the school adore him, and while he was learning English, they used to quiz him and send him home each night with homework!
We currently sponsor a child called Livini (below), and one of the school's boarding rooms that houses 8 young girls. After my visit with Gemma and Felix last week, are also sponsoring one of the new 150 students who are starting the next school term. I look forward to getting photos and report cards from our new student too. It is because of our great & loyal customers that we can afford to send money off each month so Livini gets a good education, fed and clothed. If he were in the public system, he would potentially be outdoors under a tree with 200 other students to 1 teacher, which is the education Felix received.
If you are lucky enough to be in the position to sponsor a child, I cannot recommend this charity highly enough. Each time you shop with us, you allow me to do this, so thank you. My goal, from time to time, they need new school buses, and they cost $100,000 each. It's my goal to be successful enough to buy them one.
> Learn more about The School Of St Jude
> Make a one off donation to the Colour Their World Appeal