“Normal”?

I get asked this question quite a lot — “You’re so young! What made you set up a charity?!”. The simple answer is that I want to help as many people living in poverty as possible. But also, I feel that something needs to be done about improving the levels of trust people feel towards charities.

Furthermore, it is likely to do with who I am, like most people’s career choices. I’ve never really been interested in money. I view money as a means to survive — it’s for food, water and shelter but also to travel to experience different cultures or learning something new. Anything else is an absolute bonus, but probably unneeded. So earning a huge salary has never really appealed to me. I remember when I was 19 and I would tell people I wanted to set up a charity, they would ask what about earning money? I said I wouldn’t mind living in a shed. I look back at this now and realise I probably would mind living in a shed (mainly because I do like my home comforts and a warm bed to sleep in). But, I would be more than content with living in a cosy little house to settle in with a family. This constant striving for bigger and better things has never appealed to me, I actually dislike it somewhat.

Although I received an amazing education, I’ve only ever felt like I was good at helping people. Whether it’s comforting a neighbour who is feeling lonely, volunteering to make cards for children in hospital, or helping my friend mull over a problem in their relationship. In a more selfish light, helping someone makes me feel purposeful, like I’m doing the right thing.

Digging a little deeper — when I was 18, a very close relative to me passed away in his late forties, after years of suffering from cancer and alcoholism. I went through the motions of feeling very sad, but what stayed around for the longest was a feeling of guilt. I felt guilty that I wasn’t there for him more. I was busy trying to juggle recovering from appendicitis surgery, plus exams, university applications and friends. Without going too deep, for about a year after his death, I went into quite a dark state of mind and constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough. My light at the end of the tunnel, was an “epiphany” to help those in most need — to turn my guilt into a positive thing. Hence, my journey to creating Made With Hope started.

The need to help people in Africa was too obvious for me to ignore. When I was 19 I felt like I was exposed to more media — the internet, Facebook etc. For about two years after, I explored the charitable sector and stories of children living in poverty in Africa. Alongside this obvious need to help these children, I also felt strongly about creating an organisation that people could trust. I was tired of coming across people who said they don’t donate to charity because they ‘don’t know where their money is going’. I didn’t come across one single person who felt like they knew where their money was going. This is when I decided that poverty in Africa and trust in charities would be my two main focuses for the rest of my life.

I actually didn’t really tell many people about my eagerness to set up my own charity. Although I’m really close to my Mum, I still didn’t tell her for a number of years. I felt like my parents would be disappointed that I wasn’t pursuing becoming a teacher anymore. And that my incredible Mum’s efforts to leave her job, move us to a different city where we had to lodge with friends in a shared single bed, just so I could have a better education, was all “gone to waste”. A part of me felt like I was the odd one out, like I was doing the “wrong” thing. I was surrounded by many people who were being “normal” and finding a job that pays well, even if they didn’t enjoy it. I still battle with this feeling quite often, but I’m lucky that I have my best friend (and boyfriend) Jonny, who constantly inspires and encourages me to carry on.

My boyfriend of nearly 7 years (woah!) is the true reason I had even an ounce of confidence to start Made With Hope (future blog post about this coming soon). He pushed me to do Made With Hope full time, day and night, and wanted to support me in our home in until I found my feet. I spent the first 18 months of juggling admin work for my boyfriend’s company with setting up a charity (which I had no idea how to do) and fundraising for our projects. I’m glad I did this, but I did find it hard to prioritise Made With Hope sometimes, because doing the more “normal” job felt more “right”. It’s now been about 9 months of not being “normal” and not earning a wage which feels incredibly weird sometimes. Having been brought up by a single Mum, independence is a huge thing for me and my Mum. I’ve had jobs since I was 16 and felt proud of my work ethic. Although I’ve had an amazing childhood, it was never full of family holidays abroad or the latest trendy clothes. We actually spent a year in our new (repossessed) house with no heating or hot water and lived in the front bedroom with a dodgy portable TV, cooking dinner on a camping stove. So having this kind of financial support has knocked me off balance a bit. But I need to remember to be grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to focus on helping to end poverty full time from my living room. However, I can’t help but wonder whether friends, family and strangers think I’m a “lucky git” having support from my boyfriend to focus on Made With Hope. I hope it’s all in my head :/

It’s been just over two years since I set up Made With Hope. So far we’ve built and support an orphanage in Tanzania, built a toilet and shower block, created a food/water programme for the children and now plan to build a school in 2016. I love my charity with a passion but I find I’m battling with myself as to whether I’m doing the “right” thing. I’m writing this blog to reflect on conflicting feelings of being “normal” and how to escape feeling them. I think I’ve got a journey to go on with this and would love to hear any inspiring words?