Project Update

Setting our sights on Sri Lanka

Image: Tharaka Munidasa, front centre, and GFF India Saom Namchu, back centre, pictured here with children from the rural community who are involved with a SANASA Campus programme.

An introduction to Tharaka

Hi there my name is Tharaka! I am a recent graduate from the University of Auckland having completed a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering with First Class Honours. I was born in Sri Lanka but moved to New Zealand when I was 6 months old. Growing up with two different cultures, I was determined to fuel my curiosity to develop my global mindset. I gained secondary schooling experience in Hiroshima, Japan through my Asia Student Exchange Scholarship, a semester abroad at Pennsylvania State University, USA through the 360° Auckland Abroad Exchange Travel Award and finally, professional experience where I completed an internship abroad in Shenzhen, China through the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia.

Having reflected on the wonderful opportunities I have had abroad, I set a goal to give back to communities in Sri Lanka before engaging in my career. I connected with the Glenn Family Foundation (GFF) through the University of Auckland Business School, where I proposed the idea to expand GFF’s global reach by coming to Sri Lanka to facilitate a partnership with a local NGO and establishing a new location for the HELPS programme. I believe I can make a greater impact on my hometown if I can create the opportunity for volunteers to get involved for years to come! My current volunteer involvement involves teaching English communication skills to first-year students at SANASA Campus and looking to transfer these skills towards children in the village. Furthermore, I am consulting on an IT Development Programme to build IT skills for students and the community.

Sarah McLaughlinSetting our sights on Sri Lanka
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Violet Ge – Blazing a GFF HELPS trail in Hainan

In December last year, Violet Ge of Auckland University left for her birth place, Hainan, to pioneer a new GFF HELPS programme. With the school holidays approaching she was eager not to lose out on any time and so put forward a proposal to run a three-day Student Camp at Wulian School. She used her local connections to find where to host these activities, and managed to recruit a team of students to join her. Within no time they had their activity outlines for the three days and had created and translated professional GFF HELPS marketing materials and started a WeChat social media platform.

*Photographs by Yu Chen

Sarah McLaughlinViolet Ge – Blazing a GFF HELPS trail in Hainan
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Meet Sulochana Thapa, GFF Representative – Nepal

Hello Everyone! I am Sulochana Thapa born in Darjeeling hills and brought up in Kalimpong, India. Prior to volunteering with GFF HELPS, I was working with Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment in Darjeeling.

I completed my graduation and post graduation from Bangalore University, India with specialization in Community Development, Medical and Psychiatric Social Work. I have done a couple of internships on issues related to women and children in my earlier experiences in India. I have worked with organizations such as Bosco Mane (working with street children), Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology (working for children suffering with blood cancer), the Association of People with Disability (with a special focus on differently abled children), Pravah (a youth development organization), Hayden Hall organization (working with mother and child healthcare) Mercy Corps (working on the school component of WASH – water, hygiene and sanitation).

This is my first visit to Kathmandu, Nepal. Traveling across different places and serving communities gives me immense pleasure and energy to enjoy my work with the Glenn Family Foundation.

Sarah McLaughlinMeet Sulochana Thapa, GFF Representative – Nepal
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Meet Maiti

Meet Maiti


At the age of just 9, Maiti was travelling to Kathmandu with a group of older friends . She had run away from home to find work in the carpet factories. The work was unpaid, the only guarantee she had was of food and a bed at the factory, but she was happy, for the food and for her independence.

Sarah McLaughlinMeet Maiti
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Looking Ahead: 2019-2021 Strategy

Equipped with the valuable experience and feedback from our first GFF Representatives and the important lessons learned, we enter 2019 ready to scale up our operations and deepen our work.

Sarah McLaughlinLooking Ahead: 2019-2021 Strategy
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GFF HELPS 2018: The Year in Review

July 2018 marked the deployment of our first group of “GFF Representatives” of the GFF HELPS programme. We received applications from over 50 candidates and selected 8 – the majority from the University of Auckland, where our Founder has strong ties and a long history as a major donor. These 8 Representatives attended an in-person or online briefing before being deployed in pairs to rural communities in need, which were to be their homes for the next six months. They showed tremendous courage, maturity and cultural sensitivity, forming good relationships with local stakeholders and initiating projects ranging from Digital Learning and Mobile Libraries, to Solar, Football Coaching, Recycling and Hygiene workshops. We learned a great deal about the rural contexts we were in and their unique challenges and strengths. We also learned the importance of clear expectations between ourselves and our partners, which will help to strengthen our work going forward. These are the highlights from two of our GFF Representatives who have recently returned home, Sophie and Joe, followed by more detail about what we did in each location.

Sophie administering a questionnaire to the women’s group in Kavre

“Spending the night in Kavre Village was the highlight of my experience in Nepal, it was amazing to see how the village operates and the community works. The way in which the people live and to hear their stories and share a meal with them. It is always a humbling experience to sit among people who have the bare minimum of necessities, who can smile and laugh with you and are willing to share what little they have with you. It was also enlightening for me to hear the big difference a small amount of learning can make to one persons life. Basic literacy is something that can be taken for granted when you live in countries like New Zealand, but the things you are limited in doing by being unable to recognise numbers or count are innumerable and take your independence away. Yet through all of their struggles, all of the difficulties, these women smile and laugh.” – Sophie Jones-Williams, GFF Representative 2018, India and Nepal.


Joe officially declaring an area a Child Labour-Free Zone in Kalimpong, India

“I learnt to appreciate that on the whole people are generally good and want to do what they can to help others. Almost every person I met during our stay was incredibly welcoming and couldn’t do enough to help us be comfortable in their country. Whenever I did something to help someone such as running a football training session, they couldn’t be more appreciative to me for giving up my time to help them. It can be easy to forget that most people are good people that want to make the best of themselves and others around them, no matter what their background may be.” – Joe Fisher – GFF Representative 2018, India and Nepal.


We worked alongside a local project, the Yolanda Aklan Reconstruction Programme, who facilitated our introduction to local schools and community leaders. We visited local schools and developed good relationships with the teachers, principals and department heads and put forward our ideas for the schools. We ran a pilot of our Digital Learning project, where we use inexpensive tablets as learning aids to supplement schools with few resources. We learned some valuable lessons for how to adapt this project in different contexts.

We piloted our Village Solar Project; developing a model for providing solar panels in areas difficult to access. These households do not have access to the grid and rely on harmful kerosene for lighting, which causes fires and respiratory illnesses. Our GFF Representatives ran Reading Workshops in four schools and started a Mobile Library to enhance language development.


In Vietnam we ventured North to identify a suitable rural community to work with and found a severe lack of sanitation infrastructure. We built 10 toilets and two washrooms for a new school that will service 500 children from the surrounding villages. In the South we partnered with a local NGO and sponsored 10 children through their schooling. We also identified a rural community and are building our connections there for future work.

India and Nepal

In India we partnered with one of our grant recipients, the Bal Suraksha Abhiyan Trust, and worked alongside them in their child labour programmes and started a football coaching course which continues to flourish in our absence. We faced some visa challenges and so decided to move our Representatives to Nepal, where we had identified a very promising women’s education and empowerment programme, run by a local NGO, Child Development Society. We visited their women’s groups and found good opportunities for partnership. You can read Sophie’s research report and see Joe’s documentary about this work here. We also introduced recycling to a local school and ran a football club.

This first round of our HELPS programme was illuminating; we were able to test out our internal processes and a lot of project ideas to see which gained traction. This has strengthened our programme plans and operations, enabling us to enter the field in 2019 stronger, more focused on our objectives and able to deliver larger impact. We are under no illusion that there is still a lot of learning to do, and we are looking forward to 2019 and seeing how this programme develops.

GFF Team.

Sarah McLaughlinGFF HELPS 2018: The Year in Review
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