My Story on Starting EchoStars, Rose Figtree
I started EchoStars in Dec 09 as a means to raise funds to build a school for the children who live in a slum in Dhaka Bangladesh. We live part time in Bangladesh where I go often with my husband who has business interests there. After many trips and constantly confronting the poverty and the ugliness of life there I could not in any good conscience continue to go without trying to make some sort of lasting impact to address the hideous disadvantage these children face in life.
The beggars of Bangladesh are everywhere and I knew that giving to them was not going to achieve much past the next meal. The ‘official’ advise is not to give to beggars due to the fact that it is supposed to encourage them and force more children onto the streets. The reality however to see young children begging between the cars like dogs scrambling around is a confrontation that cannot be dismissed with the notion that ‘we must not encourage them’ or a few coins tossed at them to ease the conscience. It wasn’t hard to make the decision that if I was not going to give to these beggar children on the street then I had to find a way to give in a meaningful way.
I wanted to direct some effort towards a project that would help the most disadvantaged and the most vulnerable. These children who are born onto the margins of life were obviously the ones who were my targets. I live in a magnificent Historic property ‘Farnborough’ and have had the luxurious indulgence of building a 6 acre garden over the last 8 years. I became a grandmother in May ’09 and the confrontation of holding my adorable grandson and experiencing the wonderful elation of this gift of life to seeing other young babies swaddled in rags in their mothers arms sitting in the filth and garbage on the roadside in Dhaka was too much to bear. I could no longer allow myself to follow what so many Westerners do and become desensitised to this level of inequity. I could not accept it as my God given right to live in such splendid beauty while others live with such an ugly prospect to face survival and struggle like animals from meal to meal.
The problem of world poverty cannot be overstated and there are many charities all vying for the charity dollar so it is easy for people to not feel they need to become personally responsible. Like giving a few Bangladesh Taka out the window of the car to a beggar it does not make much of a difference. We respond to a need in a cursory fashion to ease our conscience but most people do not take a personal responsibility or interest in addressing the problem of world poverty and inequity. It is just too big an issue. I also struggled for a time before I actually made the commitment to start EchoStars in wondering how I could possibly make any difference and why should I even bother. A good friend involved in her own charity work in Australia helped clarify my commitment and it was as simple as bringing the issue into human scale of ‘one child at a time’. To not focus on the big picture but to focus on the reality of my grandchild versus a child in the gutter. To recognise the value of one child’s life was not hard given my recent head over heals love affair with my grandchild.
With the overpowering joy of the birth of my grandson I realised that if I could not ignore the fact that each of us can and should recognise a level of personal responsibility. I would give everything I own and the last breath of my life to my grandchildren should they need it and I know that to change a child’s life in Bangladesh takes less than a dollar a day. This was surely achievable and I could try to balance this equation a little by giving thanks for all I have in setting up something to help these grossly disadvantaged children.
A child’s innocence and vulnerability is no different if born to splendour or born to poverty. EchoStars was therefor born to address my conscience as a proud and adoring grandmother and make sure that at least some of the millions of these children of Dhaka city could have hope and opportunity as part of their lives just as my grandchildren have it in theirs.
Three years later BrightStars school is a five storey concrete block that is nearing completion. Although not the prettiest building at the moment it is a Palace and a haven of comfort to our BrightStars. The roof was poured last month and we have over 200 young, beautiful and devoted students all attending BrightStars and receiving the love, support and education that is every child’s human right.
Our main source of funding is the Sponsorship of the BrightStars School Development Program. (BSSDP). It costs just $300 per year per child to run BrightStars School. The school provides each child with a uniform, a hot meal per day and basic medical and dental checks once a year. We hope to open a medical clinic in the school once construction is finished. We are seeking a stronger sponsorship base to secure the our future. An annual pledge, whatever the amount , will give us certainty for the future and offer hope and opportunity to our beautiful BrightStars. EchoStars takes no administrative costs out of donations. Every cent goes to support the school and the students.
We also have a fledgling program for the mothers and the older female siblings of the school. We give the mothers a small payment to attend training as they would otherwise not be able to attend for the need to survive takes precedence from day to day. We have a range of products now available for purchase from the website.
Historic Farnborough is the base of EchoStars and I now open the garden three times per year to raise funds for the school. It opens in Autumn and Spring and on one day in November for EchoBeat – our annual garden concert.