My Herts Life: Dr Bob Parsons
PUBLISHED: 12:47 30 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:47 30 September 2014
The founder of Hemel Hempstead-based charity Hope for Children reflects on 20 years of the charity's work and his recent OBE
What is Hope for Children? Hope for Children (HOPE) exists to help orphaned, poor, exploited and other marginalised children in developing countries and the UK. It identifies disadvantaged children, families and communities by working through local representatives and partners. Through empowering, collaborating and learning together, the aim is to build a sustainable future for the children we serve. Our focus is to reach as many children as we can and deliver the childhood every child deserves. We strive to work towards a world where children’s rights are realised and where they can reach their full potential.
What was the inspiration to set it up? A lack of assistance provided by larger charities for individuals and small projects during a visit I made to Rwanda during the genocide in 1994 was the spark. I met an old lady who had lost all her family and had decided to take 50 orphans into her small home.
However, she was not registered by the local childcare ministry in Kigali and could not obtain food or clothing from the international NGOs, so I decided to help her from my own resources. On my return to the UK, I was left £5,000 by a person I had worked with in my earlier career, allowing the charity to start.
What has been the stand-out moment? If I had to select one outstanding project, it would be the 630 children we assisted following the tsunami in Sri Lanka. I met the minister for social welfare the week after the tsunami and she accepted the offer I made that these orphaned children should be fostered by grandparents, family, friends or neighbours rather than taken into children’s homes.
This commitment was made without having the money to fund the scheme, but upon returning to the UK, HOPE found a donor for five years. During the final year of the scheme, we negotiated with the Ministry for Social Welfare, which in a unique gesture agreed to cover from government funds the cost of sponsorship to support these children in the years following.
Did you ever envisage the charity’s success? It never occurred from the outset that the charity would help so many people. In the past year, HOPE has reached more than 70,000 children and indirectly supports many more families as a result.
You were recently awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to disadvantaged children in the UK and overseas. How did that feel? It’s definitely a highlight, but although it’s been given to me t’s very much a team award. Our partners in the developing countries have worked extremely hard on behalf of the charity over the past 20 years, so I would like to thank them for all their efforts and accept it on behalf of our team.
Many people your age have long since retired. What keeps you going? I am now in my 80s and still very actively involved in the charity, not least in the challenge of fundraising. I keep motivated in my work by making regular visits to the projects to see how the children and the families in the countries we help live. I am also inspired by the donations large and small that we receive. For example, we received a £1 coin in the post from a pensioner and a donation of a winter fuel allowance from another.
How can people help HOPE’s work? There are various ways people can support our work, from making a donation through to fundraising or volunteering. Our website hope-for-children.org gives more details about how people can get involved.