How can we help, when there is so little hope?

Where the bathroom will be one day

I feel like my heart has been torn out of my chest.

We have been volunteering here in on the north coast of Colombia for nearly two weeks. As well as helping in the school each day we are also filming a mini documentary for our new Five Point Five project.

The first week we were interested in learning as much about the foundation as possible. Who it was that we were to feature in our video, the heart of the foundation. So we went each day to one of the two little schools and helped out in our halting Spanglish with maths, English, art, games and sports.

The afternoon school is in a slum about 15 minutes from the city. There is no public transport there and so the cost of going to the city ($3 for a taxi) is so prohibitive that people don’t. Most taxi drivers raise their eyebrows when we tell them our destination each day. Some refuse to drive in and just drop us at the entrance, some refuse to go in that direction at all.

The kids next door

The moment we arrive we are swamped by the kids. Gorgeous, energetic kids, all smiles, hugs and playful banter. They walk us to school down the muddy, rubbish lined street. They are naughty and fun and loud and eager to learn. This is supposed to be an afternoon top up program but the reality is that some of these kids don’t have morning school. There is no money nor motivation for their parents to send them.

kids being kids

Tonight I got a reality check. It’s 7:30pm and I am eating dinner with John and the director, Oscar. When he was ten Oscar ended up on the streets and we have been slowly eeking out his story with our limited language. As a homeless youngster he watched hundreds of other kids go crazy with drugs and made a decision that he was not going to try them.

That one decision has shaped his life, and now he is dedicated to offering education to the kids in the slums, hoping to help these kids improve their chances of a decent life.

The reality for these gorgeous kids is that many of them will never leave the slum. There is a thirteen year old who is not sure who the father of her unborn baby is. There are three boys who are outstandingly talented at football but will never have a team to play with or shoes to train in. Most of the kids do not get enough meals. They are innocent but they know too much.

little girl

With each conversation with Oscar the enormity of the situation becomes more apparent:

“Drugs is a huge problem as the kids who start young are mostly impossible to rehabilitate”

“Lots of young girls end up in prostitution”

“Many of the kids will be drugged and/or sexually abused”

Some of the kids at school are pretty special, and I mentioned one such boy to Oscar. He is eleven and talented at football, he is incredibly smart and keen to learn. He is the kind of kid who is a good influence on the others, a boy who shines innocently with promise.

Oscar shook his head sadly, “his family is really poor, his mother is pretty crazy and has a new baby every year. He already has a huge number of siblings and his older brothers are all heavily into drugs.

Reality hits. I am overcome with emotion. I manage to fight back the tears until I get home.

Many of the kids that we are falling in love with have little hope for the future.

Many of them will not get the education or support they need to leave the slum.

Many of them will not escape the alcoholism, drug addiction, violence and abuse in their homes and on every street corner.

For these kids Oscar and the volunteer teachers here are truly their only hope.

The ridiculous things is that the foundation only needs $7,000 to finish one of their two schools.

Only $7,000 and they can finish the construction that has laid dormant for the last six months due to lack of funds. They need to build another classroom, toilets and connect electricity to the street so that they can use fans to combat the heat.

The maths are not hard, 140 people give $50 and voila! a school is complete that will affect the lives of hundreds of kids who could potentially be the next Oscar.

This is the bit that I am not very good at, but the reality of life for these kids means my own discomfort in asking you for money becomes unimportant. So, I am asking you to please contribute to the school!

Whether you can afford $5 or $10 or $100 or more. Never in my life has the term “every bit counts” meant so much. Even if you are broker-than-broke you can hopefully afford $5.

This is my mission. To attempt to raise as much of the $7,000 as possible in the next 14 days so that we can leave the money with them before we go.

Two small actions to make a big difference…

  1. Please contribute here financially, if you can’t use a credit card or Paypal contact me for bank details.
  2. Also share this on Facebook, Twitter and ask your community to give too, lets show these kids that the grown ups of the world really do care.

Yes! I will help finish the school...

Please choose an amount to give...
    Please email me ( if you wish to give an alternative amount and I will send you a link.

Kids from the school

UPDATE: Since I posted this we have already had $1480 donated towards the $7,000!  Also it has been shared ALOT by so many of you. Thank you so much, please keep it up! I really think we could possibly make it or get really close!

As a thanks for reading this far here are some snaps from the schools over the last two weeks.


Sports every Thursday

Sitting outside when it is too hot in the classroom

Sports day and football is a favourite

pig in the playground

School days

Doing geography

Yes! I will help finish the school...

Please choose an amount to give...
    Please email me ( if you wish to give an alternative amount and I will send you a link.

If you like it, please share it!

Speak your lovely mind!

  1. I hear you say that it seems so hopeless, yet you are already coming up with a solution to make a difference. And in the bigger scheme of things $7000 is a drop in the ocean.

    Keep on going Serena, and keep giving us the reality checks.

    • There is hope, but of all the projects I have been involved in, these are the biggest problems to solve so far. And we have been talking to street kids here too and it’s heavy going.

      Mind you, the kids in the two schools are sooo lovely, absolutely gorgeous! It makes it so easy to want to get involved.

  2. A very moving blog Serena. Thank-you.

  3. Put up on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Chip In and if Carlos’s org is a registered charity, you can put up on Crowdrise. Better World Books will donate (and ship?) books for a library if you get in touch, http://www.betterworldbooks. Get Tim Ferris to publicize your cause, if you can, the 4 Hr Work Week guy – he has a huge following on his blog and actively supports educational charities. Good luck!

    • Serena Star Leonard says:

      Hey Liz,

      Thanks so much, some awesome links there! I have seen Kickstarter, but the others are new to me.
      You have inspired me to contact not only Tim but a few other of my blog heroes too, so fingers crossed they can help get the word out!

  4. I have no words after reading what you are experiencing.

    I read John story and I was shocked. But seeing the photos as well – blow me away.

    Have shared your blog post – Let the Universe answer your question. Helping to raise the money would be so bloody good :) For everyone xx

    • Serena Star Leonard says:

      Thanks so much for sharing it Lisa, the donations are coming in, I am so pleased!

      The experience so far has been great because it has reminded me what is important in life. I feel like I am alive again. But when it comes to the crunch, I REALLY want to see something good happen for these wonderful people.

  5. Hi Serena – I just shared this link on Facebook, but realized there is no link to the foundation to make a donation. Did I miss it? I would like to donate. Please tell me how. We are not called to have all the answers, or to understand. We are called to do what we can to make a positive difference. Look through new eyes. See the blessings – which surround these children. They have hope because they are alive. When I do humanitarian work – I find pockets of joy to celebrate. Listening, connecting, encouraging, affirming, and smiling are all gifts which can change lives and destiny. Embrace possibility. Where love lives, there is always hope.

    • Serena Star Leonard says:

      Thanks so much for sharing it and for your donation!
      You are right about hope. I was pretty overcome with emotion with I wrote the blog, but there is definitely hope here. If you just look at the amazing people who run this there is a huge opportunity to make a difference.

  6. Good news! After several tries – the SUBMIT button finally worked. Here’s hoping you exceed your goal;)

  7. Hi Serena, reading your story took me straight back to my experience in Bali last year, working with the underprivileged children in Tianyar. Although your kids certainly have it harder it breaks my heart to see how any of these amazing children have to live and yet they just keep smiling and laughing – a lesson for us all. I know what you mean by “it makes you feel alive” – I think basic survival does that. Let each experience seep into your heart and memory, when you get back to the Western world it will seem a million miles away…you are both doing amazing work and making a difference in ways you can’t see or begin to imagine…like the butterfly affect :-) Blessings to you both xx

    • Serena Star Leonard says:

      Thanks Paula,

      I am sure there are kids all over the world who grow up in these conditions. It is easy to forget how life is though when you see their happy smiling faces. You are right, it should be a big lesson for us all!

  8. Michael Gaffney says:

    Wow! Inspirational…. Really glad to help.
    Michael :-)

  9. Julie-Ann Wills says:

    Thanks Serena, what an amazing experience. Just makes you want to do something and be part of it, have sent it on to everyone. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Serena Star Leonard says:

      Thanks so much for sharing it. As well as the money (which of course is awesome!) I have been blown away by everyone being willing to share their story with their communities. Such a great feeling to be part of this community right now.

  10. Good on you Serena! It’s out there, I’m Happyzing it and using the other social networking sites. Hope it helps!

    • Serena Star Leonard says:

      Thanks so much Charlotte, I really appreciate it. Its always an honour to have Happyzine support xx

  11. This is a great thing you are doing, an amazing experience for you and really making a difference for those kids. I too sometimes feel so powerless but you remind me we can all do something, even the little things, like the small donation to your cause, all adds up. Good on you! I look forward to hearing updates on how you go and am off to share now!

  12. Serena Star Leonard says:

    It is amazing how it really does all add up. I can really see how important all of those $5 and $10 are now in the scheme of things. We spent the morning today laying pipes for the bathroom and levelling the path to the school. It was so good to see the money we raised just this week going straight into developments for the school!

  13. If you really want to help these people out…find a way to get them to stop reproducing. I did volunteer work for 20 years until one day I realized I was actually aiding the problem. I also realized that there’s no such thing as poverty – only over population – having kids you clearly cannot afford to. Unless they stop breading, you’ll never eliminate poverty. If everyone in NZ had 10 kids, we’d also be poor. Helping others does feel like the right thing to do. But it only sends the signal that its OK to reproduce as others will bail us out. This is why even after 60 years of aid Somalia, Ethiopia and many other countries continue to remain super poor. Good intentions have bad outcomes at times.

    • Serena Star Leonard says:

      Hi Mike,

      Its a common argument although it was not that long ago in NZ that everyone did have 10 children! My mother is one of 9 from NZ (and my dad one of 13). From what I can understand educated people have less children, and so projects like this are crucial for altering the cycle of poverty. These kids will have many more opportunities than their parents had because they are educated. I am not sure who you met in your adventures, but the poverty stricken people I have met are not making choices based on the opportunity to be “bailed out” they are simply surviving as best they can.

  14. Hi Serena,

    My mother was also one of 9. But that was 60 years ago and NZ still had (and has) a LOT more resources and ability than these “poor” countries. My experience in Somalia was that kids were being born when CLEARLY the parents knew they were being born into NOT poverty but actual starvation. I saw families with 3 kids where each were already severely malnourished but the parents pop another 4 out in next 5 years and still fail to listen about contraceptives and other measures. You just cannot win battles like these.

    Educated people do have fewer children but you are fighting a losing battle in those countries if you are counting on this notion to make a difference. I’ve spent 100′s of thousands of my own money (I’m an engineer) and two decades trying to “educate” the poor. Fruitless battle.

    After exhausting all possible avenues, my conclusion is that none of these band aid solution will ever work. Tackle the source by helping reduce reproduction. If aid and education worked then…why are they still living in huge levels of poverty? Western countries have been sending aid and missionaries to educate them since 1947. But have barely made a dent.

    Those countries that were poor then have only gotten worse. If you see my actual research on this subject and experience what I have, you’ll see things differently.

    Its easy to give aid or educate them. Tackling the real issue (reproduction) is much harder. Hence most agencies keep away. Reduce the population of any poor country by 30% to 50% and most of the sticking problems goes away automatically. They need a resource and population balance within their setting. No amount of external resource drive/input will work on a long term basis.

    All the best with your endeavours (You have good intentions & I admire that).

  15. I agree with Mike – we need to crack the population taboo and I wrote a blog on it not so long ago ( and feel very passionately about that topic! BUT, in the meantime, while people are living in dire poverty and still having more children by the minute we need to do something here and now. We always need both, long term strategies (and by the way, the most effective birth control strategy is education of women) and we need band aids. In particular in the light of the enormous divide between rich and poor. A little bit of practical redistribution through passionate people is welcome. Aid has been troubled by corruption, yes. We have a long way to go to ensure that the money benefits the intended target groups. However, I am an optimist and find your passion infectious! You go Serena!

  16. Are they having too many kids because they are poor/uneducated? Or are they poor/uneducated because they are having too many kids?

    My conclusion after very extensive research is the later. Think about resource/time/focus distribution. With 5 kids your resource/time/focus is 1/5 per child. Have one kid and its 100% to that child.

    Perhaps with one kid they had a slim chance of escape from poverty. But with 5 kids there chances just got 500% worse off.

    I would seriously question the IQ of someone who would have 5 kids when clearly they themselves are living in stark poverty or even starving. Now try to ‘educate’ someone of this caliber. I honestly believe its way beyond education to save them. Much drastic intervention is needed. I lost this battle after years upon years of trying. Perhaps let natural selection do its work. Any aid or other intervention from the West simply prolongs the suffering/problem.

    • Hey Mike,

      Thanks for opening up a great discussion!

      I think natural selection is a little harsh. Whether or not we can alter the mindsets of their parents we can definitely impact the lives and future for each and every child.

      I am sure that population reduction will have a great impact long term but people have problems regardless of whether they are rich or poor and I think that making little kids fight their way out (or die trying) may be a little callous!

  17. Hi Serena,
    I’ve just donated – and will be posting this link to generate interest and motivate to get the funds so you can finish the school…xx

  18. Pingback: Platform of Women | Where every woman can share her story

  19. Having heard a radio interview with Serena this morning I was prompted to have a quick look at this website.

    My lesson I have learnt from reading the foregoing posts is that everyone’s effort and input counts whether it be a little or a lot of money or the gift of practical and physical on the spot input.

    But I don’t feel solid in my thinking!

    I found myself reflecting on Mike’s comments as to where the prime focus might need to be directed and he makes so much sense.
    The idea of bringing children into a world of immediate malnutrition/starvation seems abhorrent relegating us to some kind of sub species.

    I ponder if the problems can be best solved by Mike’s approach of throwing all resources at procreation control and education, or, by Serena’s approach of educating and helping the young now thereby chipping away now and creating a ‘shift” over a few decades.

    Guess it’s over to each individual to exercise their own motivations and act accordingly.

    I wouldn’t want to overly complicate the discussion by introducing “employment and money” issues for some of these nations and the huge effect technology appears to be creating in reducing the world’s “required” workforce.

    Probably another discussion not for now or maybe not even for this particular website.
    Thank you for the thought provoking contributions.

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge
Protected with IP Blacklist CloudIP Blacklist Cloud