It’s great to work for a company with a soul. I’ve worked for beqom since its early days, supporting our sales and marketing efforts. But beqom too has done some supporting. Since 2011 I’ve been involved with Young Heroes, a wonderful organization which is changing the lives of AIDS orphans in Africa, and beqom (the company and its employees), with its “life is bigger than software” attitude, has been an enthusiastic supporter all along the way. It started when I joined a group that was riding mountain bikes across the tiny African kingdom of Swaziland to raise funds, and beqom wholeheartedly joined in the fundraising. As you read this, I hope you’ll give some thought to joining in as well, and maybe even joining us on the ride one year!
I was with my own son when I first saw these kids who were orphans of AIDS, and his reaction caught me off guard. It was 2011 and we were participating in the Young Heroes “SwaziCycle” event, riding from border to border of Swaziland, a little country with the highest AIDS rate in the world. With a population of just around 1 million, it has a staggering 125,000 children who have lost one or both parents to the AIDS crisis.
As it happened, a friend of mine named Steve Kallaugher had started Young Heroes in 2006 after serving in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, and seeing firsthand the problem there. He saw many households consisting of, for example, an old grandmother caring for 6 or 8 children who had lost their parents – her grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbors. Unable to support them all, the children did not go to school because they had to help the family to eat, in any way they could. The problem with that is, these children then would have a dim future. With no education, their only option would be subsistence farming, and at the same time their own risk of contracting AIDS would be much higher, as statistics show that education greatly reduces the likelihood of contracting AIDS.
So, Steve started Young Heroes (YH), which for over 10 years now has been providing basic needs – food, clothing, and medicine – to these families so that the siblings can stay together and can go to school. When they reach age 18 and age out of the program, YH now provides job training programs so that they can become self-sufficient.
To raise funds, YH has been doing a mountain biking excursion across Swaziland each year since 2010, to call attention to the plight of these children and raise funds for this very effective and essential program. I have taken part each year since then, with a goal of raising US$10,000. The entire group has raised about US$100,000 each year, and now supports 2,000 of the neediest orphans. That’s thanks to a lot of people contributing what they can, to charitable organizations like the Newman’s Own Foundation, and to corporate sponsors like beqom and beqom’s generous employees.
What I like about YH is that I can personally vouch for the founder and the organization, and know that it is run with exceptionally high integrity. 100% of the funds raised go directly to providing for the families, thanks to the fact that the Swazi government provides funding for the administrative side.
Getting back to my son, who came with me on that trip back in 2011 (and several since them). His impression was, “Wow, these kids are happy! They are laughing and playing! I guess you don’t need a lot of things to be happy.” That surprised me, as all I could think about was the fact that they had nothing – no electricity, no plumbing, no toys, not even a ball to kick (well, they made one out of rags). And the old grandmother, she did not look so happy and playful, as she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. But yes, they could be happy and laugh and play, because their basic needs were being met. And they are just normal playful kids who, through no fault of their own, were given a hard lot in life.
So when I approached the beqom executive team in 2011 about supporting Young Heroes, they were 100% behind it, and have been ever since. And so have the employees. Each year their contributions, and beqom’s match, help me to meet my fundraising goal, and make a huge difference in the lives of some very adorable children.
I hope you’ll consider donating to this wonderful cause. And maybe one year you will join us!