Posts in Category: Experiences

Experiencing Kenya’s Tenderfeet Project

The Collette Foundation’s Kenya site, Tenderfeet, continues to thrive allowing children an environment to learn, develop, focus and engage. Below is an account of intereaction that recently took place between Collette Foundation volunteer, Dan Hoskins, and the children of Tenderfeet.

I had driven all over Africa and found that none of the terrain was ideal and was often covered in potholes and rocks. Out of all the roads I had driven on, the road leading to Tenderfeet was the worst. Tenderfeet students take a bus over that road twice a day in order to get to school… and they look forward to the ride.

The door to Tenderfeet was an oasis of blue in a world of burnt umber. The courtyard was green and educational artwork covered the building. The alphabet with corresponding pictograms crisscrossed the walls which were covered with numerals, geometric shapes and math equations. For budding horticulturists, there was even a painting of a flower with all the parts labeled: “stem,” “root,” “petal,” and so on.

The Tenderfeet school provides education for 125 students from one of the poorest sections of Nairobi, Kibera, who have lost either one or both of their parents to AIDs. Without Tenderfeet, these children would not be able to receive an education, despite Tenderfeet only being able to offer education from pre-school to 8th grade.  The most surprising part of the whole experience was how small the school was. Sizing up the entire compound, the school sat on barely an acre.

While I was there, I was filled with the sense that this place… Tenderfeet… is really making a difference for all of these kids. the Children performed songs and poems and I could see a level of confidence in them that they otherwise would not have.

As a gift for visiting the school, I brought the children soccer balls and the children were so excited about it.

The word kindergarten, in German, literally means “children’s garden.” I never understood how perfectly that word fit until I visited Tenderfeet.

Giving Back in Miami with Tourism Cares

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Recently, Collette Foundation volunteers spent time in Miami, FL to give back at the Tourism Cares for Miami event.  There were over 300 volunteers in total from throughout the travel industry  who took on three different projects: clearing debris from the presently closed Miami Marine Stadium, planting trees at Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, and planting sea grass at North Point.

It is always a unique and rewarding experience to join together with colleagues and other tourism professionals in rejuvenating tourism sites in need.  Helping to protect the environment and wildlife along the way provides tremendous satisfaction in the work we do.  These are the projects:

Miami Marine Stadium:  The stadium opened in 1963 and was once a venue for boat races and concerts until 1992, when Hurricane Andrew caused damage.  As a result, the venue was considered condemned and has been closed ever since.  Over the 20 years of abandonment, trash and debris had accumulated. In one day, the Tourism Cares Volunteers cleared away 6 large dumpsters of trash to begin the restoration and eventual reopening of the site.

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Virginia Key Beach Park:  In 1945 Miami-Dade County opened Virginia Key Beach as its “colored only” beach.  It was closed in the early 1980’s and, after being closed for 26 years, was reopened to the public in 2008.  This historic park has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The trust that now runs the park has worked over the past several years to restore the ecosystem that was damaged over the many years of neglect. Tourism Cares Volunteers were tasked to plant over 800 trees in hopes of returning indigenous vegetation to the property to assist birds in their yearly migration.

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North Point:  This important part of the key had begun to erode. As part of the ecological efforts on the key, the beach needed stabilizing.  A dune was built, but grass needed to be planted to reinforce the sand.  Tourism Cares Volunteers planted over 10,000 sea grass plants along the dune to help secure the dune from erosion.

Tourism Cares Sea Grass (3)

This is my 10th year participating in Tourism Cares’ give back events and this one was the best one yet.  Yes, it was hard work, and seemed to be a daunting task in the morning. But it turned out to be a tremendous success in the end, and all three groups finished their tasks.

Tourism is in our hearts, and it gives us a warm feeling knowing that we have done our part to give back.  We all went home with new friends and an unmeasurable sense of accomplishment, ready to do it again.  When saying our goodbyes, we would all say to each other…“See you at the next one!”

 Author: Cassie Stetkiewicz

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Warm Wishes

The Collette Foundation received a warming Christmas card this year from our Peruvian site, Hogar de Mercedes de Jesus Molina Orphanage. Partnering with the Peruvian Hearts, the Collette Foundation has been able to support orphaned girls along with providing a daily lunch program allowing for disadvantaged children in the area to receive a hot meal.

The card was directed to the project’s ambassador, Kevin Ferguson. He kindly translated the card to share the kind words.

Season Greetings and thanks for all the support we received from you every time you come to visit our home. Also, the girls join this greeting and send you their fond memories, especially those who are finishing high school in May and are grateful for everything that you have done, because you’re always like a father and a friend that they will never forget. With all these feelings and wishes you a nice Christmas and Happy New Year filled with God’s blessings.

Hermana Yudith

Upon sharing the Christmas card, Ferguson recalled how much he cherished his time spent at the foundation site.

“The girls are growing up in front of my eyes and I still cry (after countless visits) when I leave those kids,” he said.

We love how invested our ambassadors and teams become in their sites and are grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside the Peruvian Hearts to support Hogar de Mercedes de Jesus Molina Orphanage.

Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts

After Hurricane Sandy swept the east coast, the Collette Foundation took immediate action in helping those locally affected. Once the hurricane had subsided, Westerly Rhode Island had proven to be greatly damaged. In collaboration with the Westerly Chamber of Commerce, the Collette Foundation’s efforts were sent to the historic Andrea Hotel where a small group of volunteers donated a portion of their Saturday in hopes of restoring the hotel to its former welcoming state.

In addition to donating time, the Collette Foundation made a $5,000 donation to the business grant of the Westerly Chamber of Commerce, which was set in place for all affected businesses not fully covered by their insurance companies.

Finding the “Pura Vida” in Costa Rica

Collette Foundation volunteer Sonia Smith visited the Escuela Jaime Gutiérrez Braum school located in Tierras Morenas, Tilarán, Guanacaste in Costa Rica with her family recently and shares her story with us today:

The small village school has approximately 110 students from preschool through sixth grade with only 2 classrooms to hold all the students. The Collette Foundation is currently working to build a new structure to make room for more classrooms. During my visit, my family and I got a sneak peek at the early stages in the building process. I saw the area that will soon be classrooms where the wonderful children I met can thrive, learn and be inspired.

The current conditions make learning difficult, yet each child I met was so friendly and extremely sweet. They were always smiling, wanting to hold our hands; they loved taking pictures… especially looking at themselves on the camera afterwards. They showed us their classrooms, play areas and even some artwork they had created. These kids have so little and they are so proud of what they do have. They are happy. The experience was very humbling.

The most unforgettable moment for us was when we got to give the students some gifts we had brought with us from the States. We brought a variety of new school supplies for the kids to enjoy and help enhance their learning. They were so appreciative and just so excited.

We left the school feeling truly moved by our visit. We learned that “Pura Vida” is a saying in Costa Rica that means “pure life” or sometimes “full of life”… the saying reflects an appreciation for really living. These children captured the Pura Vida spirit and really taught us what it was all about.

Giving Back in Costa Rica: Part II

The second school we visited – Escuela Ujarras in Sarapiqui – is a very small school with one small classroom. There are about 35 children from kindergarten through sixth grade. There is no school yard and no area to play.

The school was hit very hard by a tornado last year and it is a dangerous area for the children to go everyday but they don’t have anywhere else to go. Here, there is just a small area to eat, not a lot of food, and hardly any school materials. The clothing the children wear are mostly hand-me-downs-many of the children were wearing outfits that were too big or too small them as a result.

Last year, the Collette Foundation donated $2,500 to buy Christmas gifts for the children, school materials as well as food.

Enjoying a dance from these adorable, colorful kids.

When Danny and I went, we took 35 backpacks with notebooks, pencils, crayons, ruler, erasers, pencil sharpeners, folders, socks, a pair of sneakers for each child and a box for the whole school with markers, glues, pens, first aid kits, as well as many books with Spanish-English to help them learn English. They all want to learn English very much.

The supplies behind the smiles

Each sneaker that was given to each child was recycled from Danskin water bottles and all the Crayola crayons we took were made by solar power and for every one used a tree was planted. The Collette Foundation not only put beautiful, huge smiles in these kids’ faces but also helped the environment by buying recycled materials. 

The children at Escuela Ujarras were so excited to see us! It really made our hearts swell to have such a genuinely warm welcome. They were waiting by the gates and couldn’t wait to say “Hola!” and show us their classroom and even sing to us. When we delivered the backpacks, they didn’t know what to do – they were so very excited. They couldn’t stop smiling and their hands were just itching to open the backpack to see what presents lay inside.

Danny and I also presented a check to Ofelia, the director at the school for $5,000 to support some much-needed school repairs.

It was so hard to leave the school and the children. They were so sweet.

My trip to Costa Rica really was life-changing. I’ve been so committed to these projects without ever really knowing how much it meant to the people receiving our support. Now, I can picture so many innocent faces smiling with excitement and gratefulness. I can hear their voices singing, feel their arms around me, hugging me and showing me how happy they were for my visit and for our continued support.

In a sentence – I’m more motivated than ever to make the lives of these children better. It’s such an honor to be a part of this mission.

Giving Back in Costa Rica: Part I

I am the ambassador for the Collette Foundation’s Costa Rica projects. What are we doing in Costa Rica? The Collette Foundation has been working with two schools in Costa Rica now though a foundation there called Hijos del Campo:

One of these schools is called the Escuela Jaime Braun in Tierras Morejas. There are about 80 students from kindergarten to 6th grade; the school has just two small classrooms.

The Collette Foundation is helping build a sports multi-court (gymnasium) for the school and also the community. Here, the children can play soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, and they’ll also have a stage for plays and changing rooms. This will be the only entertainment this school and community has ever had that is safe and fun.

When we visited the school, we were welcomed with the kindest, happiest children! Their faces were beaming with joy just to have visitors. They danced for us and we danced with them and played with kites with them and ran around and talked with each student. They wouldn’t let go of our hands; they kept saying “thank you” over and over again for supporting them with school materials and mostly helping them build a gymnasium.

Me with the kids from the school in Ujarras.

We were there all day. The parents cooked lunch for us and we ate with them and had a tour of the school and the small areas in the community.  They didn’t want to see our time together end; they wanted us to stay there and sleep at their home and they wanted to show us so much more but our day had to end.

So many thank cards and notes were written thanking us for the support we are giving them.

As I left, my sense of commitment to this charming school intensified. They still need so much. They have so little food and materials. They have no idea what the outside world is like but they are so happy, so kind, and so grateful for what they have. They have dreams of becoming doctors, singers, actors, teachers and hope that one day they’ll be the change in their community.

To read part II of our Costa Rica adventure – click here.

Hippo Water Roller delivery was a great success!

This April marked the Collette Foundation’s fourth delivery of Hippo Water Rollers in South Africa. To date we have given 665 Hippo Rollers to the Kgautswane community – we’ve made a great difference, however there are still families in need. Laura Schmeltz,Quality Assurance Supervisor, has been at Collette for 13 years and was a participant in this year’s familiarization tour to South Africa. Please take a moment and read Laura’s reflections.

In April I had the privilege of traveling on the Spectacular South Africa familiarization tour.

What a beautiful country South Africa is!  Everything we saw & did there was amazing, but one of the most memorable experiences our group had was delivering 165 Hippo Rollers to the Kgautswane community on behalf of the Collette Foundation. The community is located in Limpopo, South Africa, a couple of hours drive from Kruger National Park. 

The hippo roller is a barrel-shaped container which holds 24 gallons of water and rolls along the ground.  Normally people of the village would have to transport water in 5 gallon buckets on their heads, often having to travel up to 6 miles to get water.  The Hippo Rollers save them time & create much less strain on their bodies, so it is a big advantage for them to have these rollers. 

As we pulled up to the village we could hear the residents singing.  There were men & women, young & old alike.  They had all come out to welcome us and thank us. (They had even created a high spirited “Hippo Roller” song that we all got quite a kick out of!)  It was a very moving scene.  After a project leader from the Hippo Roller Project demonstrated to the crowd how to use the Hippo Rollers, our Fam group helped put handles on all the barrels and lined them up for distribution. One of the community leaders had pre-determined who would be receiving the hippo rollers that day as unfortunately the need exceeded the number of rollers we had on hand.  Elderly women & families with young children were given first priority.  As the leader called out the names of those people who were on her list, they came forward to be presented with their Hippo Roller.  Some of the women danced & yelled and raised their Hippo Roller in the air as a sign of excitement & praise. You couldn’t help but smile & feel their excitement!

As I talked with many of the people in our group later on in the trip & asked what was their favorite experience was in South Africa, most said the Hippo Rollers was the highlight.  I know for me personally it was an experience I will never forget & it reminded me to be grateful for all the little things in life that we’ve come to take for granted.  

If you would like to join the Collette Foundation’s efforts in supplying Hippo Rollers to the community. Please email info@collettefoundation.org or simply make a donation of $115 for each roller you would like to fund. Please note in the memo section that your donation is for Hippo Water Rollers.  A special thank you to Good Shepard Church for their donation of $1,000 to add to this year’s donation!

Reflections from Cambodia

Recently, Siobhan Siedzik, Ambassador for the Collette Foundation’s project site in Cambodia, had an opportunity to travel with an Explorations group to Siem Reap and visit Journey’s Within Our Community. She shares her photos and reflections below.

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I am recently back from my first visit to Cambodia (Feb 5 until the 12).  Having never been there, I really did not know what to expect – but having worked on this project for nearly 3 years I was very excited to meet the partners and see things for myself. I was so blown away by the Cambodian people as well as JWOC.  During the past few years we have been in constant communication with JWOC through email, telephone and photos watching each of our projects come to life. Andrea and Brandon Ross, the founders of JWOC, are amazing people – they had a vision, and they have worked diligently to see it become a reality.

When we partnered  with JWOC, we  both had hopes of what we could accomplish together and I am very proud to say that so far we have accomplished all of our goals. The Collette Foundation has been a major contributor for the construction of a Community center, which houses several classrooms for school aged children and adults as well as very young children. We have funded the construction of a paved driveway and an outdoor play area, which is very important due to the heavy rainy season in Cambodia. We have funded a Reed Pond, for the regeneration of rain water into clean water, and just recently we have been a major contributor to their newly opened library!

The Children at JWOC range in ages of 4 to about 20. They have sewing classes, computer classes, and English speaking classes for the Older Students. They have dance classes, reading classes, drawing classes as well as other programming. I was blown away by how this is all organized – it’s amazing!

During my visit, I was taken out to meet families in the village of Siem Reap – riding about 1 ½ hours into the country. I could not take my eyes off what I saw. My head was going from one side of the SUV to the other. The way in which the people live is totally amazing and sad to me, but, they are the happiest people that I have ever met. They were so friendly, not begging for you to give them anything. The houses in which they live in are approx 10×10, and it is not uncommon for a family of 8 to live there. One of JWOC’s projects helps nearby villages with clean water by building wells. I was taken to a village and shown what they originally had for water, which was literally a hole in the ground with green muck –  that is what they used to drink, eat, and wash. With the help of JWOC they now have had clean clear water for months.

While in the village, I met a lady that was making broom and I can tell you- her brooms are better than what we can get at Target. She carved the handle, got the bristles from the tree, boiled bamboo for glue, it was amazing. She made 10, and sold them for $1.00. Yes, $1.00, and if she sold her lot it was a GREAT day! Can you imagine?

I was traveling with an Explorations group and together we went to visit JWOC. We happened to be there for the opening ceremony of the library and they asked that I cut the ribbon. I was completely surprised and very honored.  It was very emotional for me, seeing my project that I’ve worked so hard on and watched develop,  this was something that will stay with me forever. I am so proud and honored to work for a company like Collette. As we all know this is a family company, and we are treated like family, so now I can say that the JWOC community is part of our family!

We are now moving into our next phase with JWOC and will stock the library for the children; we are funding the purchase of books as well as other library materials. After that, we will brainstorm again to see what’s next!

A dream realized: My Visit to the Tenderfeet School in Kenya

New Tenderfeet School

New Tenderfeet School

Jambo! Hello! I’m back from my trip to Kenya! To meet Margaret was a great honor for me. She started Tenderfeet on her own and she is the reason the school is what it is today.  She is truly an amazing woman!

Seeing the school and meeting the staff and children was a dream come true for me! What an experience! Even though I know the impact the Collette Foundation has had on Tenderfeet, seeing it for myself I can truly appreciate the magnitude of what the Foundation has done. These children are getting an opportunity that only three short years ago was Margaret’s dream.

That dream—building a foundation for a better life—would not be possible for some of the children now attending Tenderfeet without the building that was funded by the Collette Foundation.  Margaret would only have 20 students not the 80 that currently attend.

The Children of Tenderfeet

The Children of Tenderfeet

I can’t describe how moving our visit with the children was especially when they sang for our group; some even included coordinated hand movements to their song. Once we visited all the classes, it was time for us to get down to work.

Serving lunch

Using the brand new stove installed in the kitchen, we helped prepare and serve lunch. Margaret and the rest of the kitchen staff are very grateful for the new coal stove that the Foundation had just recently funded. It makes the preparation of much quicker now.  One thing we all noticed was how well mannered the children are, they all waited quietly as their classmates were served. It was only when everyone had been served their food that they said a prayer and dug in.

The visit went by quickly but the memories I have are priceless and I will treasure them forever. Here is some video from my visit. Enjoy!

–Carol