A core part of life at teapigs is our ethical scheme – we’ve always been committed to giving back to the tea growing communities that bring us our much loved teas, and for the past 10 years we’ve worked closely with a wonderful charity called The Point Foundation in order to do this.
The Point Foundation directly support educational opportunities for vulnerable children in Rwanda, and it’s been an absolute honour to see firsthand the progress they are making in the beautiful country that gives us our much loved everyday brew, and more recently our fab single estate breakfast tea. Through pack donations, we have raised over £285,000 and now fully fund teapigs house and sponsor 20 students at the House of Children School. It doesn't stop there though - we're on a mission to bump that figure up to £300,000!
Karen and Charles never fail to inspire us - they’ve dedicated a huge chunk of their lives to helping others,and we thought we'd find out a little bit more about how they started and what plans they have for the future. We’re sure you’ll find them just as inspiring as we do...
How did you come to be involved in the Point Foundation?
Karen: It all began when Charles was COO of Coffee Point, a vending operator company. They were really keen about their CSR, making aid trips to Bulgarian orphanages and donating computers and installing them at Lily of the Valley, a children's village for terminal HIV kids in South Africa. During a personal visit to South Africa in 2006 we visited a couple of schools and were so dismayed by their lack of resources Charlie decided to make the fundraising support official. Point Foundation was set up formally and registered with the Charity Commission in 2007. We called it Point Foundation as it started with Coffee Point, and even though the company has now been sold, its humanitarian legacy still lives on.
What do you love most about your job?
Charles: For sure it’s about “making a difference”. When you have been involved with so many amazing people living in some of the poorest parts of Africa, seen their struggles and their successes you look on life in a very different way. We’re both very humbled to have the opportunity to do something truly meaningful. It’s not easy, it involves a lot of hard work and worry. But it’s uplifting to be a very small part of long-term solutions helping phase out poverty in the communities we’re involved with.
What do you love most about Rwanda visits?
Karen: The people and children - and seeing the life changes our donors funds make first-hand. Rwandans are incredibly welcoming and whatever their personal circumstances they just enjoy meeting you. It's very humbling, especially when you know every person you meet over the age of 24 will have been directly affected by the unimaginable horrors of the 1994 genocide. They are a resilient nation - and also have a wonderful sense of humour - especially when they see Charles joining in with their dancing!
Tell us about the Ubumwe Community Centre (UCC)…
Karen: Rwandan friends Zacharie and Frederick founded UCC in 2005 with a goal to provide support and services to people of all disabilities and ages in Gisenyi. Through national and international funding support, UCC has grown to become a pioneering rehabilitation centre, removing the cultural stigma and neglect towards disabled people and successfully introducing acceptance of ‘different abilities’. The Centre offers people with disabilities vocational training courses in tailoring & knitting, craft making classes, Braille lessons and other educational opportunities that give people with disabilities the chance to gain income earning skills. There’s also Outreach Programmes, home visits, co-operatives, a disability aids repair workshop and therapy rooms. During evenings and weekends, classrooms are open to local non-disabled people for computer and literacy lessons.
It really is the most inspiring place, run by wonderfully dedicated people who are changing the quality of life for people with disabilities. For example Angela, who is severely deaf and mute, is considered unemployable in mainstream society. Through UCC she has a deaf aid fitted, learned sign language, bead making and small business skills. Angela and three other PWDs have set up a small co-operative together, selling their beads to earn a basic living income.
And what about the House of Children School (HoC)…
Karen: Donations helped UCC build a fee-paying nursery and primary school within the grounds. Fees are ploughed back into running the school and centre. The aim is for an inclusive school for abled and disabled pupils, but in Rwanda, low income parents struggling to feed a family think educating disabled children is a waste of precious money. PF’s Student Sponsorship Scheme, including monthly contributions from teapigs, ensures children with special needs can get equal access to primary education at the House of Children School. A couple of years ago we began funding wages for sign teachers and since then sign learning classes for everyone at the school has become part of the weekly curriculum! It’s pretty amazing, whether in the classrooms or the playground, watching the hearing and non-hearing kids merrily signing away to each other with such ease – all schools should be like that!
What impact do teapigs donations have on the work of The Point Foundation?
Karen: Massive! They're one of PF's major donors - and have been supporting projects for 10 years. It's a huge honour to have that sort of financial loyalty and trust. It also inspires us forward because we know the teapigs team are so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the projects they're involved in. They're not just ticking boxes for their ethical scheme. It was so exciting when Louise came up with the idea of a competition to design the artwork for the Single Estate Tea – 76 pupils from HoC took part and it was a such a great bonding exercise between donor and school and fantastic that Nick & Louise got to meet them all when they visited in April.
Charles: As the Single Estate Tea comes from the Pfunda Tea estate (a 10 minutes’ drive from House of Children School) teapigs really wanted to put donations from tea sales back into the school. Many of the 700 pupils and their families live around the tea estate. Amongst those pupils are 23 street boys, the youngest of which is 6. Last year, UCC was asked by the local authorities to take the street boys under their wing and reintegrate them into the community and get them back into school. The staff at UCC have done a great job doing this – 15 of the boys are primary pupils at HoC and 8 have recently been enrolled at a local secondary school. But it all needs funding, and this is where teapigs step in. The boys need clothes, shoes, school uniforms, lunches, milk, schoolbooks and health insurance. That’s around £20 a month per boy, plus extra funding for food particularly during school holidays. The support they’re receiving has already changed these boy’s lives – it’s given them hope and belief in themselves. So much so, some of them have formed a street dance group and they’re REALLY good!
Where are the donations are most needed?
Karen: We'd say education – it’s the best way anyone can help disadvantaged children and youth in developing countries. Without a decent education children can't possibly create better futures for themselves and for the progress of their country. They stay trapped in the poverty cycle. In Rwanda the genocide and civil war wiped out so much of the country's infrastructure including schools, universities, teachers...Rwanda is rebuilding itself, but there's a generation of children who have grown up without the chance of education so it's vital that the current generation don't miss out too, particularly the socially vulnerable and those with special needs.
Primary schooling may be free, but for low income families the cost of mandatory uniforms, lunches and even books prevents children accessing the school. A uniform costs £35 - for families living on less than £1 a day that's a huge obstacle.
What advice would you give to other companies wanting to do something similar or sponsoring projects abroad?
Karen: Research the projects and get to know the people directly involved in managing them. Building a working relationship between a donor and a charitable organisation is really important, especially if projects are abroad. We have 11 years of first-hand experience with all our projects and because we're field based we can regularly show teapigs the changes their funds are making with photos and videos - bringing the reality to them. Also, make your choice of project relevant. For instance, teapigs buy some of their tea from Pfunda Tea Company near Gisenyi where most of our Rwanda projects are based and their funds are helping children who live in the communities around the tea estate.