Hope for Children was founded in 1994, the International Year of the family, by an amazing man, Dr Bob Parsons OBE, who had a vision to help needy children and families in the UK and developing countries who fell through the gaps of support by the larger charities.
He also wanted to set up an organisation of low cost in order that as much as possible of donors contributions could go to the beneficiaries. Strongly supported by his wife Ann, the charity was launched with a bequest of £5,000 from Jim Ward, and now has a turnover of over £1.5 million. Retiring as President of Hope for Children in December 2012, Bob continues to work tirelessly as a volunteer to raise funds and the profile of the charity. Sadly Ann passed away in August 2011 but her legacy will always remain at the heart of the organisation. Below is an extract by Bob of how the charity started:
Hope for Children – How it all started
I was confronted by a series of events back in 1994. When I retired from the probation service, I was asked to set up a Tracing Programme for Orphaned and Separated Rwandan Children as a result of the war. I refer to notes in my diary:
“I was sharing a tent with two local social workers in a camp in North West Tanzania, home to 76,000 refugees who had fled Rwanda. I was woken at 4.30a.m. by the sound of chopping wood, a baby crying and dogs barking. I had experienced a restless night, thinking why, thinking how long… longing for daylight to arrive. A far cry from my ritual Sunday lie-in at home! An indefinable stench seeped through the part-open flap door, a combination of burning wood, urine and decay. The grass was wet, the rainy season had arrived.
I quickly dressed, doused my face from a bucket of murky water kindly left outside the tent by the neighbour. I surveyed a busy scene of people washing and drying their few clothes, chopping wood, preparing fires, beating maize and setting off to collect water and more wood from the nearest access points, some three kilometres away. People spoke in Kiryarwanda and French or a combination of both. There was a strange sense of order as each member of the household knew his or her task, from the three year old upwards. A girl about six years old, assumed the maternal role, looking after her three naked younger siblings, cladding them in shoddy vests, knickers or pants. I made my way through row upon row of small grass igloos covered in the conforming UN blue plastic sheeting, coming to the new arrivals’ section where families had no shelter. They had simply snuggled up to each other that night, to keep warm and were now drying out. I felt thankful for my sleeping bag and purpose-made tent‚ and for having a home to return to.”
The first youngster I interviewed that day was Emmarend Munera, a Rwandan Hutu refugee. Emmarend was 14 years of age, but had the appearance of being about 8. He came from the Muranuli Commune in Bunamba, from a family consisting of mother, father and nine brothers and sisters. An unknown group attacked his home, and he was the sole survivor. He faked being dead for 8 hours, lying next to members of his dead family until the attackers left. He received machete wounds on the back of his head, lost teeth and suffered considerable loss of blood.
He made his way to the Tanzanian border with several other children and survived landmine and grenade attacks. Again, he lay amongst dead bodies overnight before continuing on his way with another group of children, finally surviving an ambush at the border. In all he walked for ten days living rough and begging for food.
He was seriously traumatised and depressed. He wanted to mix with the other youths of his own age, but they made fun of him. He felt rejected and lonely… one of the problems of being traumatised, having no family and living in a strange land. Emmarend was ‘adopted’ by a woman who had lost all her family and opened up her small 2 bedroom house to 50 children!
When I returned to the UK, a friend of mine died and left me £5,000 to do something useful for disadvantaged children. The combination of these experiences prompted me to found the charity Hope for Children.
Dr Bob Parsons OBE (Founder of Hope for Children)