Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UPG Portugal our sister charity celebrates 10 Years! A Touching Speech from our Founder

UPG is like a very present friend, therefore I can say it is permanent, and the child feels and readily available commitment, at each moment, to its growth and well being”. These are the words of Sister Isabel, 10 years after I arrived in Mozambique as a volunteer.

I start with her, because everything started with her, in the day she took me to Chiaquelane because it was embarrassing to go back to Portugal without having seen more of the country.  There were 30 children living “from the air” or the help that might or not arrive.  My head could not make sense out of this, and how easy it would be to try and change something.  Seeing 30 children in this condition, I knew I had 30 friends I could convince to help them.  1 month later, in Portugal, and on my way to London, Um Pequeno Gesto (A Little Gesture Portugal) was born.

10 years ago, this was all UPG was: my request to 30 friends of A Little Gesture that I personally committed to transform in a Great Help for 30 children.  Many here today will admit that, as myself, they did not know that 10 years later, we would be here, celebrating more than 1000 Little Gestures per year from all of you, that reach almost 2000 Mozambican children every year.
This is a night of celebration, and as such, it is on me to remind everyone here why we are celebrating.  In 10 years of work, Um Pequeno Gesto:

  • Supported well over 11’500 beneficiaries, including almost 900 sponsored children in 2014
  • Applied well over €800’000 on the ground, directly in the children or the communities
  • Provided a new house for 30 families and built 5 new water wells serving over 4’100 beneficiaries
  • Provided well over 1’500 per year with access to education, including pre-school, primary, secondary or even higher education, with Silvestre being the first University graduate to have graduated this summer
  • Supported technical education courses for children and young people, seeking to provide academic bases and tools adapted to the local reality, including sewing courses, arts & craft, IT, carpentry or locksmith
  • Responded in a relentless manner to the 2013 floods in Southern Mozambique, raising well over €70’000 in Portugal and the UK, applied in emergency aid and reconstruction in our areas of intervention.
“UPG surprises me for its interest in each of the sponsored children.  A lot of renewed hope in hundreds of children, thanks to the Little Gestures of the sponsors”, these are the words of Father Rosendo, our partner for many years in Chongoene.

Even though the number of children grows every year, the goal is not only to reach more children, but to reach each one of them individually.  Before, I used to know the name of all the children and sponsors by heart, but when we grew the numbers from 90 to 375 in one year, memory failed me.  But even not knowing the names and stories of the 900 children we sponsor today, one of us does – one of the team members, the volunteers or the partners.  Each face has a name, a story and a family. Silvestre is developing a brick production project with 15 colleagues in his community; Arnaldo wants to open an IT center in Chongoene; Clarencia, sponsored by UPG, won a spelling contest at the SLM school, competing against much older students.

This night is not only a night to celebrate.  This is also a night to launch the foundations and the dreams of the next 10 years of work. Yes, our goal is one day to be out of plan, out of goals because no one needs us anymore and we are out of business.  But we know that day is a long time ahead, and work multiplies itself as we get more involved in the communities where we operate. At the same time, successes are often contaminated by children who give up from school to go work or beg,  little 12 year old girls getting pregnant, children dying with malaria, floods devastating houses and schools built, between all the logistical nightmares work on the ground can entail.  It would not be fair to not remember the daily difficulties on the ground, because each victory is the result of an intense fight, ours and from our local partners, who are with the children and the communities on the ground.
But each difficulty is compensated – a child that was afraid we could come close and the year after give us her hand to teach us how to dance, a child learning the letters under a big tree and now having a roof and a desk in Pre-School Flor da Infancia, the child saying that when she grows up, she wants to be a Director. 
The balance is always POSITIVE.

Because we want to continue our work and celebrate more victories, this is a night of fundraising. A night where we are raising funds for one of our largest expansions ever, a daily feeding program for 802 children in the School of Santa Luisa Marillac.  We started this program last year, following the floods that devastated the region and flooded the school and the little belongings of the families around.  For a charity starting with 50 sponsored children, this jump will need a lot of Little Gestures. Tonight, there will be plenty of opportunities to contribute for this project.

For those who ask themselves whether Little Gestures really do make a difference, I always like to present some numbers, as UPG is headed by business managers and economists.  
UPG seeks to apply well over 90 cents per Euro on the children.  This number is the result of an enormous effort of a team of volunteers in Lisbon, London, Mozambique and the world, who allow us to maximise each donation.  When we talk cents, it looks like it does not matter. But when 20 cents per day can feed a child in the School of Santa Luisa de Marillac, every cent counts. Tonight, we could have spent €10’000 hosting you following traditional ways.  But thanks to the restless work of Patricia and Marta, the generosity of our host Vasco Aragao, the participation of DJ Baratta and Selma Uamusse, and more than 40 sponsors donating multiple goods for the auction, lottery tickets, graphical materials and drinks, the costs of this event are a tenth of this and well over covered by the sponsorships raised.  Everything you contribute tonight will be spent directly on the children.

After this appeal, I should stop and be grateful for the last 10 years. The successes are greater than the drawbacks, the children growing, developing, learning how to smile are more than those leaving a world they did not chose to live in.  Knowing I will not be able to say all the thank yous I owe for the last 10 years, some of them I can’t miss out:

  • Thank you to those who thought it was possible and responded to my first appeal 10 years ago. Without that trust, I would not have known how to keep going
  • Thank you to all the sponsors, some with financial difficulties, not giving up to support their child in Mozambique.  From Escolinha do Andre comes the message “The sponsors are so important for these children that they each know their name, despite the difficulty to express their joy of how important they are to them. “
  • Thank you to all the donors, small or large, because each gesture is to the measure of each one, and it is important for us
  • Thank you to all the partners and volunteers that give their time and commitment so that UPG can go further, weather with work on the field or weekly hours from home or at HQ
  • Thank you to all those who made tonight possible, minimizing costs and maximizing value to the Mozambican children.  At headquarters, a special note to Patricia, Marta and Diana.  Patricia is my sister, and despite being on the original group of 30 sponsors who supported me, I think the only did it because she did not have much of a choice.  10 years later, she is responsible for fundraising for both UPG and ALG and the driving force that finances the projects we want to do
  • Thank you to my parents, family and friends, as no matter what they complain about my lack of time for anything and my constant running around, they know they made me what I am today.  Despite the initial scepticism, my Mum is the force of nature that took on herself the task of knowing the name of each sponsor and child and coordinates the operations in Mozambique, from Portugal. She is the one many sponsors will recognise as the voice of UPG in Portugal.
  • And a special thank you to Bernardo, for his unconditional support for my choice to have two jobs, and for never getting tired of hearing me speak of the children that are today also his.

Not being able to go for longer, I stop and follow the advice of a good friend, focusing on what we were able to achieve, with Your Help, with a lot of joy.  Congratulations UPG
Congratulations for what we have achieved together for the children.

At ALG UK, we want to continue building a better future in Mozambique together with UPG Portugal for another 10 years. Contact us to get involved or donate here!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why I support Silvestre (by Sara Vicente, Chairman of ALG)

Silvestre is 30 years old. He does not have a father since he is 13 and he does not have a mother since he is 24.  When ALG met him, at the age of 25, he did not have a very bright future ahead. At the time, he was working at the SLM School, helping Sister Lidia with the Sponsorships. He would collect information on the children, visit their homes, chase the ones missing school, report back to us. He made the Sponsorship program look so simple.

One day, Sister Lidia told us what he really wanted was to go into University and he had very good grades to get in. The Uni was close by, so he could continue his work with the children while studying. The amount was high (>£1000 per year) and this was a new field for us. We had not supported higher education before. However, we knew that was the next step for the students that would last in school and wanted to continued studying. More than a burden, it was a sign of opportunity. 

ALG took up the challenge (with another 2 Students) and I personally sponsored Silvestre through university. It was rewarding to see his progress and effort throughout the years, his eagerness to learn, his commitment to his studies and to the children. He built a family and was a father in the meantime but his commitment was not diminished. On the contrary, he was even more eager to get an education to be able to provide for his family. 

It was not a surprise when he came to us with the idea of social enterprise. He was the leader of a young community group in his village and he had the knowledge of all the difficulties we faced when building houses for the families, as well as the poor quality they had, from his experience visiting the children, and how vulnerable the housing was when facing floods, as recently as 2013.  He then decided it was in his hands to do his bit for the community and gather a group of young people to produce bricks. 

But it so much more than bricks. Silvestre is getting his group to produce bricks that will be affordable in the region and allow people to build their houses in sturdier bricks rather than wood sticks. That will be a significant improvement to the village, easily extendable to the surrounding areas. Moreover, he wants to offer to build houses for the elderly, who can not anymore build themselves houses, to give them proper shelter, for free. Our only question when he sent us the proposal, was how he was going to live off it…. But with few adjustments, the proposal was a solid business proposition and one that we could not ignore. 

After all, development needs to evolve to make the communities be independent from aid. This is the right thing to do after we gave people education and food support.  And so I am personally proud to endorse this project. In a way, because he is like me, wanting to change the world piece by piece. And because he makes ALG work even better.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Team ALG @ RPHM 2014

This year you exceeded all expectations and 37 runners joined Team ALG at the sought-after Royal Parks half marathon in London.

With our fantastic volunteers on the day Bruno, Galia, Joana, Nicole, Noelia, Piedade and Rita and hardworking massage volunteers Georgina and Vicente, yesterday our organisation had the best support ever.

Stay tuned for the full results coming out this week - at just over £15'000 we are still short of our £20'000 target for the children in SLM school! 
For the 50 children in the HIV day-centre and 802 children eating daily in the school, your support at RPHM2014 was the extra mile towards alleviating poverty in our projects in Mozambique.

Still time to donate here!

Monday, October 6, 2014

One Brick at a Time

Today, ALG starts its first ever crowdfunding campaign. We are fundraising £2762 for a Chokwe region with affordably better housing and a higher employment, one brick at a time!

What? Financing a small Bricks Production Community Project in rural impoverished Chinhacanine to build better quality housing at economic prices, offer free housing to the elderly and drive local labour by trainining unemployed youth from underprivileged background in a sustainable centre of activity

Why? Did you know that in Mozambique around 70% of the people live with less than $2/ day? In a country where the main activity is domestic agriculture for self-consumption, ALG considers essential to support local entrepreneurship to develop sustainable income generation activities and help break the cycle of poverty

Who? Silvestre Quenha is a young man who works as ALG Technician in Chokwe. He graduate in Management & Accounting in 2014 through an ALG university scholarship, ALG’s first ever graduate! He now aims to launch a project in his community through the Youngsters Community Association he chairs

And the Benefits? Improve living conditions, bring employment to the community and help break the cycle of poverty

Go here to find out more and know about what you can earn!