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Our People: Shezmin Madhani – and life’s purpose

Inspired by a trip to Kenya when she was only 21 years old, Bunzl Catering Supplies National Account Manager, Shezmin Madhani, founded a charity called Nia Children’s Foundation. Nia operates in Kenya to keep children in school by providing them with a proper breakfast and lunch.

A series of blogs recognising and celebrating people in our business who actively support local and international community and charity projects.

The name Nia comes from the Swahili language and means life’s purpose – and this is certainly a life-changing commitment for Shezmin, who runs Nia alongside her full-time job at Bunzl Catering Supplies.

This year, colleagues at Bunzl Catering Supplies in Basingstoke supported Shezmin’s charity Nia by raising over £800 in a Christmas raffle.  Managing Director UK & Ireland – Andrew Tedbury, and Managing Director Bunzl Catering & Hospitality Division – Matt Johnson, kindly donated £1,000 to Nia – that’s enough to feed 30 children for a year.

To find out more please read the full interview with Shezmin below:

An interview with Shezmin Madhani (National Account Manager):

How did to come to create your own charity?

When I was 21, I was at that point in life where I was trying to work out what I wanted to do, what inspired me, what profession might excite me.  Encouraged by my parents, I decided to go travelling, to see the world and to get a better understanding of the opportunities available.  So I travelled to Kenya, which also happens to be my Dad’s home country.  While I was there, I took the opportunity to research charitable activities happening in the area.  I came across one organisation working to keep local kids in school and I noticed a really important factor affecting school attendance rates.

What was the factor you identified?

I noticed that the local kids only came to school if food was available.  The sole motivation for attending school for these children was knowing that they would not go hungry that day.  Through charitable efforts, the school was able to provide meals twice a week for the children.  So for the remaining three days a week, the children would spend their time roaming the streets and searching garbage bins for food.  The key to funding a meaningful education for these kids was not money, it was food.  When you witness such need, which ultimately has such a simple solution, it is not possible to stand by and do nothing.  And so I made it my personal mission to help this community.  But first I needed experience.

I returned to London and took a job working for a charitable organisation called Operation Smile.  I worked for them for a year and during that time learnt about the nature of charities and how they work.  I also noticed that there was a real need to improve consumer confidence in charities.  There was not enough visibility over how donations were being spent, how much money actually went towards the cause itself.  I could see that a sustainable charity was one which offered donors complete transparency and confidence.  This was the philosophy I adopted for my own efforts.

So how did you strike out on your own?

After my time with Operation Smile, I felt I had the right knowledge to now address the challenge of providing food for the children I encountered in Kenya.  I reached out to a local wholesale supermarket in Kenya and was able to establish a partnership with them.  I provided them with a list of food items needed to feed the children for 1 month.  For £600, they would be able to deliver the required items.  So I set about raising the money.  We just don’t realise the profound effect something we take for granted, such as a hearty meal, can have on the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves.  During that first month where the children were regularly fed, the attendance rate was 100 per cent!

I knew what had to be done.  I did not want to just feed these kids for a month, I wanted my efforts to be sustainable.  I wanted to be able to help children at other schools in the area.  So in 2010, I officially registered my charity, Nia Children’s Foundation, in the UK.   Today, I am really proud to say that Nia supports two schools and a total of 420 students.

Can you describe what a typical meal looks like for these kids?

Yes.  So Nia provides all 420 kids with breakfast and lunch.  Breakfast is usually porridge and lunch is usually rice and beans or rice and peas.  In terms of cost, £5 feeds a child for one month and buys around 20 meals.  Only £5.  It is staggering to realise that for the price of a coffee and a muffin, you can feed a child for a whole month and provide them with an education at the same time.  Feeding a child for a whole year only costs £60.  Such a small amount of money for such a big difference.

Fully volunteer run, over 97 per cent of the money Nia raises goes towards helping the children. The remaining 3 per cent is spent on bank transfer fees to get the money to where it is most needed.

You can find out more about Nia here: www.niachildrensfoundation.org

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