Sylvia’s Children Takes Business Model To Ugandan School
Sylvia Allen has taken her expertise in sponsorship and public relations as head of New Jersey’s Allen Consulting to spearhead Sylvia’s Children Inc., a non-profit created to help the children of Masaka, Uganda, using a unique twist on education. When she reaches her ultimate goal, she will then apply the same model to other places.
Allen, like many, believes that education is the core of creating a self-sustaining community that can rise above poverty and, through her organization, she has implemented enterprising initiatives at the Mbiriizi Advanced Primary and Day Care School.
Sylvia’s Children has built a new boys dorm; a well for clean water; three double classrooms; a new library; a playground; a building for corn milling; and supplied beds, blankets, stoves, cooking pots, desks, shoes, socks, books, and other items. It has also hired a school nurse and purchased eight acres of land adjacent to the school.
“We now have more teachers, improved cooking conditions, and seven of those acres planted with corn,” Sylvia says. “We have enough room on that land to start a chicken farm and we’re going to start five businesses so that maximum by 2012 they won’t need me. I’m making it so they’re totally self-reliant.”
Enrollment at the school has increased from 439 to 1,002, ages three to 14, of which 236 are orphans.
“You could sponsor an orphan for a dollar a day,” says Allen. “What I’m asking people now is to sponsor a child for the rest of their education, which includes food, lodging and education.”
Her next goal is to use five acres of land, offered to her by a local nurse, for a hospital that can serve the surrounding villages. She will then go to the next group in need and start all over again. Allen vows to keep doing this for as long as she can.
According to statistic on www.sylviaschildren.org, there are 1.5 million orphans in Uganda; 95 percent of the population does not have electricity and water; more than half the population lives on less than $2 a day; and 80 percent of male children and 83 percent of female children do not go past 7th grade.
Prior to starting Sylvia’s Children, Allen hadn’t been involved in any charity on such a large scale, and says that eight years ago running a non-profit was nowhere on her radar. She was known the world over as leader of this top-tier marketing and PR firm that she had started in 1979, albeit she did teach courses about fundraising and sponsorship.
“I taught a class at NYU called How to Ask For Money for Non-Profits in the Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising,” Allen says. “Most non-profits are so sluggish in how they ask for money, ‘I hate to bother you,’ and all that. I was teaching them that if you have a worthwhile cause, you have no reason to be wimpish.
“There was a man in my class from an international organization and I was really tough on him because he said, ‘I’m just auditing.’ I don’t take audits — you either do the job or get out. Three weeks into the class he said, ‘I’d like to invite you to Africa.’
“When we got to Uganda, I was overwhelmed by the devastation due to AIDS, the homes run by 12 year old children. On the last day, I was told the children wanted me to be their grandmother.”
Allen became the adopted grandmother of the Mbiriizi Primary School student body. This was in 2003. She took her new responsibility to these children very seriously, many of whom were orphaned due to the AIDS crisis or only had one parent. She decided on the spot that upon her return to the United States she would start an organization that would help these children rebuild their lives and community.
Using her name and connections to help make a difference, she ensures that 100 percent of the funds she raises are used in the community with no middlemen. Allen Consulting covers all the administrative costs to avoid the typical top-heavy charitable structure that cynics focus on. In the past six years, Sylvia’s Children has raised $300,000, all of which has been used by the school.
“I took whatever marketing skills I’ve got – direct mail, website — and every time I give a speech, at the very end I do my commercial for Sylvia’s Children,” she says. “One of my statements is ‘I’d love to have you sponsor a child and if you aren’t going to help us, help somebody. Do something.’ My favourite is when someone says, ‘Well, I’m only one person’ and I have to be careful not to say, ‘What do I look like? Twins?’”
Voluntourism — the latest feel-good buzzword — is also something Allen encourages. She regularly takes people with her on trips, from medical personal to help with minor and extensive injuries that local clinics don’t know how to treat properly to those who just want to help however they can. At the Venture and Travel Trade Show, the organization had a line-up of people interested in volunteer vacationing, she says.
“I guarantee a life-changing experience, if you come on a trip with me,” she promises. “When you get back you say, ‘I can brush my teeth with the water under the faucet; I don’t have to sleep on a mat on a dirty floor; I don’t have to walk five miles for unhealthy water; I can go to a restaurant and order anything.’
“ I have three generations of antiques, and when I got back to my house [after my first trip] my first reaction was, ‘What am I going to do with this crap?’ All of these things I had a connection to, all of a sudden, they weren’t important.”
With her priorities now shifted, Allen believes that if a thousand children get an education, they will want the same for their children, which will help the village, the community and the country.
* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.