Koen Van Rompay (Founder of Sahaya International):
How Sahaya was started:
“While traveling to Madras in November 1997 to attend an AIDS conference, I was very shocked to witness the social and financial poverty that many people suffer. It evoked many emotions that were hard to deal with. Especially getting confronted with talented and innocent children who lack the basic level of comfort, and who are given little respect and very few chances in life, was often heart-rending. It made me realize how spoiled I was (and I still complain!). Yet, I became frustrated with my inability to change this injustice….because I am not a social worker, I am not a politician. I am just a veterinary doctor and researcher with no experience in this. But I felt I could not close my eyes….I had to do something. Just giving some money or some food to a begging child would not provide any longterm solution for that child.
Fortunately I befriended some very dedicated social workers, including Mr. Selvam of the organization READ (Rural Education and Action Development). The genuine warmth, honesty, and selflessness they expressed in their work, but also towards me as a foreigner captivated me, and since then, has been inspiring me on a daily basis. I became very touched with their ability to use their hearts, and to sacrifice their own interests with the goal of improving the social conditions of others in their society. I was surprised to find out how much they can achieve with very little money.
This whole experience was very meaningful to me, and motivated me to try to help them out in my own way. My family and a number of close friends were immediately eager to join in, and a start was made by selling hand-made cards produced by one of these Indian groups. I never expected that our card-sale would make such a big difference there. When I was invited again for another AIDS conference in Madras in November 98, I went to visit my friends in their rural villages, and their warm hospitality and gratitude was very moving. While visiting their schools and villages, I was deeply touched by the simplicity of their daily life, but yet these people possessed an enormous richness and generosity in their hearts. This experience definitely changed my view of life. I realized the satisfaction one can gain from collaborating and building together a future for the children!
In addition, I became aware of a number of obstacles that limits the efficiency of many non-profit organization in these areas. One of the main problems that many non-profit organizations in rural areas face, is that it is very difficult for them to have efficient access to current information from the outside world, especially since internet facilities in these remote areas are either non-existing or are very expensive to access. It is also difficult for them to apply for funding from U.S.-based governmental agencies or non-profit organizations, because many will only accept applications or give them serious consideration if they are mediated through a U.S.-based collaborator or through another official U.S.-based non-profit organization. In addition, many small organizations in developing countries do not have the support or the funds to hire somebody who is experienced in grant writing to help them with the structure, grammar and spelling of the English language.
This inspired me and a number of my close friends here to start a non-profit organization in an effort to provide a broader level of support. Although we initiate our collaboration with few organizations in India we expect that by starting in this relatively small way, we can gradually expand our activities in future years to include collaborations with other local groups in developing countries.
Where may all of this eventually lead to? Remember that our efforts so far have been making a big difference in the lives of many people in these communities. My hope is to be able to continue these efforts, and to update you all periodically with achievements. I have no idea where this path will eventually lead us. My motto in life has always been “it’s better to take a step in the unknown, with the risk of eventually hitting a wall, than to refrain and spending the rest of a life locked up, regretting what could have happened only if..”.
For now, we’ll take one step at a time….and the birth of SAHAYA INTERNATIONAL is one of those steps! ”
Koen Van Rompay