Showing posts with label LittleDrops Orphanage Fund. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LittleDrops Orphanage Fund. Show all posts

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Nigerian at Microsoft Brings Hope to African Orphans


For African orphans, sure mercies come as LittleDrops

Charles Duze, A Nigerian at Microsoft cares for orphans in Africa.

Charles Duze (pronounced dóo•zay) could not believe his eyes: Children just like him--some even younger--rifling through trashcans behind his high school cafeteria, lucky-dipping for food! Charles was enrolled at Federal Government College, Enugu, in Eastern Nigeria. Long after Nigeria’s Civil War ended, early in the ‘70s, ‘Coal City’ still bore scars of the internecine feud that left many families in tatters. A generation later, their inheritors were yet to recover lost grounds.

“Seeing this, day after day, unlocked something in me,” Charles recalls. It triggered an epiphany. “That was when I developed a real understanding and grew a passion for the plight of orphans.” There had been previous encounters pointing him to his calling. It’s all coming back as memories of his parents taking him on visits to orphanages and motherless babies’ homes in Benin City, tucked away in Nigeria’s Midwest, where he spent part of his childhood. On his own, he continued the pilgrimages to orphanages in Enugu.

After leaving Nigeria for the United States, Charles completed both first and second degrees against all odds and landed a job with Microsoft in Seattle, Washington. He thought of waiting to become wealthy to start a non-profit, but reckoned, “unless I win the lottery, becoming wealthy is way in the future for me!”

But his calling couldn’t wait. In 2005, with very little money and still lots of school loans to pay off, Charles Duze started LittleDrops Orphanage Fund. His philosophy: “Little drops of help add up. To start, you don’t need a million dollars.” Certainly not his boss Bill Gates’ billions either!

Lucky Charles, he met and married Nkiru who’s keen on the selfsame vision. She stands right by him in the trenches, saving orphaned lives from the ravages of time. Before then Charles had reached out to friends and co-workers to join his cause: Ensuring all orphans and vulnerable children on the African continent have access to food, shelter, clean water, clothes, education, healthcare and other basic necessities of life; taking care of their present needs for a healthy childhood. Charles Duze envisioned a second component to the intervention: Working to ensure that these children have a fair chance at a successful future so that they can one day stand on their own and contribute to society.

His passion was infectious; a good number pitched in with support immediately. Volunteer Ikenna Ekeh joined in early 2006, “to make an impact in my own little way.” After a couple of outings, Ikenna got hooked with a determination to not “just lend a hand once every now and then... I could go further and use my God-given talents more to support the cause.”

The vanguard volunteer, Ikenna took up driving LittleDrops’ online fundraising campaigns with vehicles such as their growing Facebook group; developing and updating, their various blogs; creating promotional materials such as flyers, brochures, wristbands and t-shirts and as promoting events in such as way that they turn out successful.

LittleDrops is an all-volunteer non-profit organisation. Hence one major issue Charles Duze has had to deal with is identifying and keeping open lines of communication with legitimate orphanages in Africa. This was a big challenge because of difficulties with information infrastructure there. Many of the homes had little or no access to telephones or the internet. He soon hit on a home-grown solution: ask his parents in Nigeria to liaise with the orphanages there.

The same idea worked for other places. Volunteers who had family or friends in those countries got them liaising with the orphanages. And whenever they travel to these countries, the volunteers visit the homes. That way LittleDrops gets extensive onsite verification without attendant expenses. And soon little drops of help trickling in begin to coalesce into ocean-spanning bailout for vulnerable children.

Back in 1845 Julia Carney captured what Charles Duze is doing today, in her classic poem “Little Drops of Water.” On the strength of Charles Duze’s vision, over two thousand orphans sheltered in 24 homes scattered on six African countries know indeed that,
Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth an Eden,
Like the heaven above.

To date, volunteers remain critical to LittleDrops. For instance, their wow Website was built entirely from the time, ideas and generosity of volunteers. “It is part of fiscal responsibility for us,” Charles explains, “to ensure that at least 90% of all donations make it to the children who need it so much. Volunteers are so important to our work.”

At Hopeful Grandmothers Orphanage, Nyahururu, Kenya

This no-frills model of doing non-profit, popularised by Microsoft alumnus John Wood (Room to Read), is now the toast of the corporate world. The business community is eager to see excellent results as turnover, with goodwill showing up on the bottom line as visible impact. For potential sponsors, it’s more than a mantra that doing good is good for business.

John Wood’s widely celebrated intervention in the education sub-sector is what Charles Duze is taking on in cheerful strides on this critical social front, with his many innovative orphan empowerment programs and lines of action.

Wearing a gentle, sunny smile Charles points to the similarity in operating system of LittleDrops and Room to Read as “something that runs in the Microsoft family!”

Indeed. From the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Washington, LittleDrops has leapt onto the front page as an outstanding example of doing non-profit right. It made a big impression at the company’s Non-profit Fair recently held to take stock of the abundant volunteer spirit resident in Microsoft’s employees.

St. Mary

It is Charles Duze’s concrete conviction that orphans are people, too – with voices that deserve to be heard. This is why LittleDrops does fund-raising enthusiastically around innovative ideas like “Express Your Dreams” contest. LittleDrops’ objects of attention can bank on such opportunities to showcase their aspirations creatively in art and writing, to open a window into their lives through which present and prospective supporters can get to appreciate them and their views of the world.

It’s a great way to connect to the world of the children of Africa. For LittleDrops, it is a way to help correct the perception of the adult population about vulnerable children. An orphan is way beyond a statistic; she exists on a very personal and individual level.

A different kind of fundraiser – LittleDrops 5Km Run For Their Lives – shook select streets of Seattle, Washington on Sunday, October 11th 2009. Before then, Laughs For Hope comedy shows set Atlanta, Georgia and Seattle, WA, agog with LittleDrops buzz: If you laugh, they won’t cry.

On the LittleDrops Website two hundred orphans, so far, have submitted essays and artworks on their dreams, passions and role models; they “now invite YOU to journey into their world to READ, VIEW, VOTE and HELP give breath to their dreams.”

The invitation had a democratic imperative. Although voting is now closed, enlistment into the cause continues: “Your vote could help some orphans and/or their homes win prizes,” the LittleDrops Web site invites. “We believe we can find 25,000 people who will care enough to listen to their stories.”

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