On Peter Virdee’s gift to Patricia Parker, the founder of one of the most respected charities in Darfur.
The Giver: Peter Virdee, a property magnate and chairman of the Virdee Foundation, which strives to help vulnerable women and children
Charity begins at home
Seeing my parents giving money, especially as we came from a very humble background as they had only been allowed to bring £3 with them from India, was inspirational. Growing up I couldn’t understand this — I thought we were suffering at the time, but they were still giving money out to people.
One day I challenged my parents on this, asking: ‘Why are you giving money away when I want a new pair of shoes?’ And my father said: ‘Look, you have a roof over your head, you have all your faculties, and you already have a couple of pairs of trainers!’
That had an impact, as did my religion. The Sikh religion clearly states we should give at least 10 per cent of our wealth to charitable causes.
Property is my core business. I’m involved in several other businesses such as renewable energy, spread betting, insurance brokerage, pharmaceuticals and the care industry. All these have something to do with real estate and we now manage over £5 billion worth of assets. This has allowed me to set up my philanthropic ventures and sequentially I have been invited to sit on the philanthropy advisory board of Coutts. I spend about 30 per cent of my time on charity and community work, often mentoring children and young adults.
I look at the DNA of the charities I give to — what I don’t like to do is reinvent the wheel. The Virdee Foundation looks at the direct impact the charities have on individuals: there’s a test that we do and then I take that to the board.
What drew me to Kids for Kids is the fact they’ve adopted 78 villages and had an impact on over 364,000 people in such a remote place. The work that Patricia has done to date is phenomenal and very touching. I was invited to the Ambassador’s Ball, which is where I met her, but prior to that — and Patricia doesn’t know this — Kids for Kids was on my radar, so when I got the invitation I said I’m definitely going to get involved.
You’ve got to have political willpower in any country — hand in hand with the charity, you need to make sure you’ve got political clout and try and get that directly or indirectly into the region. I’m a very firm believer in lobbying governments to actually make a difference in regions such as Darfur. It’s a shame governments sometimes turn a blind eye. If we don’t keep bringing it to their attention, these issues will drift away to the back of their minds.
Kids for Kids is something we will add value to. I will definitely be taking my expertise and my black book and seeing how I can help in that region, because you have to have a two-pronged approach on this — you can’t just go down the charity route, you have to go down the political route as well.
A step up
Philanthropy is part of a journey. This is a conduit between now and the good times — you can’t have people who rely on charity all their lives, you have to make these people self-sufficient, they have to generate their own income and a better life for themselves.
A good charity should always make sure it allows the people it’s supporting to better themselves by doing and getting into that position if they can.
The Gift: Patricia Parker, the founder and chief executive of Kids for Kids. In 1998 she was awarded an MBE for her charity work
Never say never
Never start a charity, do not start one in Africa, and if it has to be in Africa, definitely not in Sudan, and if it has to be in Sudan, definitely, completely, not in Darfur. Yet somehow we are the most respected charity in Darfur, according to local village leaders.
I went to visit my son, who was working at the embassy in Khartoum. I’d been doing some work for Save the Children, so I said I’d like to see how children lived in Sudan to raise a bit of awareness. They plotted to take me out to Darfur. I didn’t know where it was, and I thought it was the size of Wales. It’s about the size of France — that’s how much I knew.
There are still no roads outside [regional capital] Al Fashir — all you could see were people and donkeys with jerry cans, walking for water. We saw this little nine-year-old boy walking in the middle of the desert and asked him: ‘What are you doing, are you lost?’ He said he wasn’t lost, he was getting water — he didn’t know how far it was, but it took him seven hours just to reach the hand-pump.
I had no idea people were walking that far. We found his mother, who was camping outside a village in the dry river bed with four other children. She gave us the only hospitality she had, a bowl of goat’s milk, which was their evening meal. Goat’s milk is the only source of protein for the children — not only that, but the goat will survive when nothing else will.
The water the little boy collected kept his brothers and sisters alive as well as the goats. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the two, so as well as providing goats for families we set up water pumps — one of the largest aquifers in Africa is beneath Darfur and no one is drilling for water.
At a family level we provide six goats per family. A nanny goat costs £38 but the average annual income is just £25. After two years they pass on the same number of goats to another family.
Delivering good news
Another area we started to address is childbirth. Obstructed births are the norm, often requiring rope delivery. The alternative is a four-day trip to hospital to deliver under the horse tranquilliser ketamine. So we now train midwives in the region too, via a midwife school in Al Fashir. Mosquito nets are also crucial — during a recent yellow fever outbreak, not one child in any of our villages died.
Since we started in 2003 we’ve trained 168 midwives and ‘adopted’ 78 villages, providing schools, agriculture and training. I don’t believe in charity and handouts — people lose their dignity. One of our key principles is that people aren’t accountable to me, they’re accountable to each other. We are helping them to help themselves out of poverty, with projects appropriate to the region.
The people who support Kids for Kids are philanthropists in the deepest sense of the word. Peter’s involvement will make a huge difference in our ability to build kindergartens, commit to the education programme, commit to water — things that are crucial differences now Darfur is out of the news. Helping in Darfur show people’s enormous love of humanity. Everything we do is sustainable, so if you do become a champion in some way, as Peter has done, you know it will go on — it will be long-term.
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