Posted by Michael Duffield in Organizations Edit

A trip to Uganda six years ago put Sylvia Allen face to face with people in desperate need. She saw households headed by children as young as 12 years old, and schools filled with orphans; all of this the tragic effects of the AIDS epidemic. She describes herself as having been “emotionally drained” by what she saw. Allen, by nature, is not one who thinks problems will solve themselves or that they are someone else’s to fix. And while she never, ever thought she would start a non-profit, if that was what was needed, she was going to do it. “We have an obligation, those of us who are living comfortably… to help other people,” she said. So when the head of Mbiriizi Primary School in the village of Masaka asked her to be the school grandmother, she said, “Yes!” She accepted this new responsibility with her characteristic enthusiasm and determination. Grandmotherly letters to students and an occasional gift would not be enough. No, Allen returned home and formed Sylvia’s Children, then set about improving the lives of her new grandchildren.

Allen, the founder of a public relations firm, Allen Consulting, is by her own description “a strong salesperson” with a “for-profit mindset”. She quickly put these skills to work for the Mbiriizi Primary School. First she found it a sister school in New Jersey, and got a commitment of help and support, “Children helping children”. Then she set about raising funds for projects at the school, at first to meet its basic needs, now with the aim of making the Mbiriizi Primary self-reliant. When she accomplishes this, Allen won’t be resting though, she plans to use the success as a model for schools in other places. She is already talking to groups in Malawi and Nigeria.

So far, Sylvia’s Children has supplied the Mbiriizi Primary School with a library, a dormitory for students, four blocks of classrooms, and teacher housing. It financed construction of a well, stocked the library with books, and brought in computers with internet access. It has supplied musical and sporting equipment, and brought nurses and a dentist to the school to treat the children. The school has more than 1000 students, and about one quarter of them are orphans. Sylvia’s Children sponsors over 200 of these students.

The purchase of seven acres of land near the school will allow for agricultural ventures, including a chicken farm, which will supply protein for the students and saleable birds. Sylvia’s Children is also supplying sewing machines so the students can learn sewing skills. The machines will also be used by local widows who can come to the school after hours and learn to make garments and start a business sewing school uniforms. There are also plans for a health clinic and a women’s cooperative, which will help the whole village. Another planned venture for the community is a fair trade coffee business, allowing the local growers to export directly and not have to sell their beans to middle-men.

Allen is a big promoter of her non-profit. She believes in letting people know that Sylvia’s s Children exists and needs their support, and uses her PR knowledge and capabilities to her advantage. She lectures frequently as part of her work, and includes a five minute profile of Sylvia’s Children whenever audiences don’t object, which they never do. She is also a big promoter of people getting out to help other people. She says if there is one message to take from her example, it is that, “One person can make a difference… If I can do it, each one of you can.” It may take a different form but, she says, “Do something!”

Sylvia’s Children

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