The holidays are already upon us - I love this time of year because I feel we have an excuse to give more – and that puts joy in our hearts. Call me idealistic, but I’d like to think we humans are secretly looking for any reason to be extra nice, or to help those less fortunate. We are especially inspired by the selfless acts of others during the holidays.
In the spirit of this season of giving, I want to share the stories of a few exemplary people with inspirational lives, and their ideas on how you too can benefit from a life of service.
Leadership in Action
Robert J. Padberg is the founder of the Bureau de Nutrition et du Développement (BND), an organization that provides daily snacks and hot meals at school canteens to hundreds of thousands of children in the most impoverished parts of Haiti. His daughter, Miriam Padberg-Owens, co-owns a high-end restaurant with her mother in the capital city of Haiti that has directly and indirectly employed up to one hundred local men and women in food preparation and service.
Both the school canteen program and the restaurant provide long-lasting careers to individuals so local families can thrive, which, in turn, helps communities to build important social equities much-needed in Haiti right now: economic viability and stability. When Padberg started his organization almost 40 years ago, he provided a daily hot lunch to 26,000 children. Today, BND continues to provide daily morning snacks and hot lunches to over 400,000 children in schools throughout Haiti.
“When the Roman Catholic missionaries in Haiti first approached me to take over their charitable food program in the 1980s, I actually had zero interest in doing this type of humanitarian work. But when we went into the innermost parts of rural Haiti, I could see they needed help,” said Padberg about the early days of BND. “I suppose after that, there was no denying that it was an important thing to do, and the rest is history. I decided to dedicate my entire life to this work and even now, at an age past retirement, I still try to discover new ways to launch programs that could be of help. Creating BND has given me a really meaningful life in Haiti.”
Supporting local economies and communities is the backbone of BND’s DNA. “The women who manufacture the ingredients for the snacks are like a family to us and we are really invested in their success. All of our employees are from Haiti and that is something I can take pride in – that we are giving not just food, but livelihoods,” Padberg said.
Padberg-Owens went on to explain, “The whole process of creating the products for the canteen morning snack program is empowering and is a cycle that benefits everyone. Rather than rely solely on highly processed and imported foods from abroad, whole ingredients are acquired from local farmers to make healthier snacks, while establishing a local food supply chain that supports the economy.”
“The acquired job skills for these women provide a foundation for a career – and it gives them confidence to do so. These jobs are a vital source of income for communities where stable jobs can be scarce for women,” said Padberg-Owens of both BND and her restaurant, Brasserie Quartier Latin.
A highlight of being on the for-profit side of things is that Padberg-Owens is involved in fundraising for charitable events. In addition to providing meals to families in temporary shelters adjacent to the restaurant after the 2010 earthquake, as well as helping to organize summer camps (a nearly non-existent concept in Haiti until recently), she throws an annual holiday party for disabled children complete with a visit from Santa and his elves where they receive a special holiday gift basket of goodies and toys.
For Padberg-Owens, the rise of crowd sourcing for the fundraising aspect facilitates her annual causes and clears up the common misconception that people must volunteer time or make large donations to be effective; rather every little bit helps!
Tolerance and Acceptance
‘We all live with the objective of being happy: our lives are all different and yet the same.’ - Anne Frank
Humanitarian photographer Alissa Everett has documented social issues, remote locations and indigenous cultures in more than 120 countries on six continents, instinctively identifying the universal human dignity in all of us. Her photographs connect audiences with significant social causes such as gender-based violence and the plight of refugees and migrants. She is also the founder of Exposing Hope, a nonprofit that raises funds for women and children who are victims of human rights abuses; her photos help fund the charity. I asked Everett how we can see these disenfranchised groups through her lens of compassion and take action.
“Nobody wants to leave their country - they do it because they need to or they won’t survive, and often life is difficult on both sides. There is a common thread in humanity, and this is also present in refugees and migrants: they want all the same thing, the good life,” said Everett.
“Globalization means that they get to see the distorted lifestyle that social media paints: money, clothes, cars, glamour and they have the same intrinsic desires to acquire those things, just like those of us in the developed parts of the world. They want to forget their own reality.”
Helping these communities
“Supporting small businesses run by immigrants is the best way to help new communities thrive. Talk to them and really connect - find out who they are and what they used to do in their previous lives. Giving new arrivals opportunities to work helps dispel the myth that they are only there to take away jobs and benefits,” said Everett.
In fact, most people will find that immigrants are willing to take on the jobs that locals won’t. Right now, the world is facing an acute labor shortage, so if there is an influx of people looking for jobs, it is a win-win situation for everyone.
When it comes to donating, Everett said it isn’t always easy to give money, but every little bit helps. “Sometimes people are too embarrassed to donate only $5 because they think it won’t go far but it does - it matters a lot to the receiver.”
Both Everett and the Padberg family represent the best of what resides within each of us. May their examples create opportunities for our readers to reflect… and give.