Learning From Others – Collegiality Part I

The OHH smile

There are a lot of aspirations within a little charitable trust, two of them include collegiality and doing something instead of nothing. Hence to develop our own best practice we have adopted a culture of collegiality. This means developing strong relationships with donors, our beneficiary (Performing Life), our advisors and anyone who can assist us to become better. As such, this month we contacted Orkney Helping Hands (OHH) who has been supporting development projects in Bolivia for a number of years. Bevan had a positive experience meeting them on their visit to Bolivia in 2010 and therefore we recently contacted them to learn more about their successes and strengthen our own project.

While working as a volunteer we had the pleasure of meeting the founders of OHH. This was an important meeting as it reinforced the belief that gains can be made in the lives of the participants at Performing Life with the right kind of support from the developed world. Not only that, we also recall how happy Barbara and Jim McVean from OHH were to be in Bolivia. It gave them a lot of satisfaction and Barbara recently said, “I think that the project that [Performing Life] is involved in is amazing”.

OHH funded dental care

Barbara’s daughter – BarbaraAnn McVean – has been committed to development work since she was 17. Now, nearly 14 years later, she is based in Cochabamba, Bolivia working with NGO’s that support at-risk youth. Much of the work she does has been supported by OHH. The OHH charity is made up of six people who all reside in Orkney. In a nutshell, BarbaraAnn sources projects in Bolivia and manages each project from beginning to end to ensure donations are spent carefully.  Meanwhile, back at home, OHH raises the money to make those projects happen.

So where does all this come from? Barbara has described Orcadian culture as an inherently generous one and she is aware of many others on the island who support other charities. But for OHH it all started in 2005 when she heard about the street children that BarbaraAnn worked with, “I decided I would like to do something to help them. In Orkney we live a very sheltered life, we do not have people living on the street. So I asked a friend if she would sleep on the street with me, so we would raise awareness of the street children of Bolivia.”

That’s when she hatched the plan to camp out for two nights at the beginning of December, “we only took with us a sleeping bag, no food or water. We informed the local press and radio.” This simple act then turned into something bigger. Barbara herself was astounded, “the response was totally amazing considering it is such a small community. People stopped their cars to put money in our bucket, so many folks told us afterwards that they were extremely moved, they also said that it made them realise just how much they had, having a roof over their heads, food, water and heating”.

From that one initiative they raised over £3000. And after that the money kept coming in. Barbara herself puts this down to parochial pride. “Over the years the paper has followed what the money has been spent on, I think because we let people know where their money was going and also because a local girl was in Bolivia sourcing [the] projects,” explains Barbara.

In the past OHH has supported many different projects in Bolivia. In particular they have helped Performing Life with the sale of bracelets made by families involved with the project.  With those sales parents have been able improve their housing or start micro-finance projects. More recently the micro-finance projects have continued with the establishment of the Revolving Development Fund (RDF) reflecting OHH’s commitment of helping families become financially independent. The RDF is an interest-free loan and when it is paid back the money then will be used to support another family.

OHH, Bevan, John

As well as microfinance OHH has donated money to Performing Life for emergency medical and dental care. In 2010, when Bevan was working with the director of Performing Life, he discussed the dental care project at length. In one case the director described how the teeth of a child were malformed and growing in a misshapen manner. This was a health risk and something that would never have been identified if it were not for the chance to get a check-up. Thanks to OHH the money was provided and that kid got the help he needed.

It is this spirit that a little charitable trust embraces. For OHH simplicity and doing something instead of nothing has grown into something substantial. “[In Orkney] the local chip shop has a collection jar, they also have a feature wall, and I update this on a regular basis, with photos and info, in four years they [the chip shop] have raised over £4000 [for OHH],” notes Barbara. This small act has led to raising the equivalent of more than five Bolivian annual wages.

It is for these reasons that OHH needs to be acknowledged. They have shown how small acts delivered in a committed manner can help make a difference in a developing country. Their commitment to monitoring where the money goes combined with a strong relationship with their beneficiaries is also commendable. At a little charitable trust we thank OHH for their example and for taking the time to discuss their work with us. They prove that there is a lot of potential in charity projects as well as a lot of enjoyment in the process.

For the full interview with OHH follow this link.

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