Joyce Meng's Blog

Our Featured Partner of the Week: Flying Kites

[i]We're very lucky to have a fireside chat with [b]Justine Axelsson[/b], founder of [url=]Flying Kites[/url]. We're incredibly proud to support their work and feature them as our Givology Partner of the Week! What we find truly unique about Flying Kites is their focus on comprehensive care and dedication to each individual child who comes through their center. [/i]

[url=][b]Click here to contribute to Flying Kites today![/b][/url] [b]Our goal this week[/b]: to fully fund all their students!

[b]What inspires you to work for Flying Kites?[/b]

A lot of things inspire me about Flying Kites - most importantly, the children who we’re working with in Kenya. When I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya in January, it was incredibly rewarding to see how our children are growing and flourishing at Flying Kites. It's been wonderful to understand and invest in each of the kids personally, knowing what they want to be when they grow up, where they go to school and what they are learning, and where they came from. A couple years ago when Flying Kites was just beginning, my biggest inspiration was the desire to do my part to try to tackle injustices and human rights issues. Globally, there are hundreds of over-crowded orphanages and low quality schools…these centers don’t give children a chance.

[b]What makes Flying Kites’ program unique? Is there a story that you would like to share?[/b]

Flying Kites is not the only organization with a mission like ours, but we’re unique since we’ve adopted a family care model versus an institutional care model. We approach child care from a holistic perspective, including a healthy diet and nutrition, education, clean water, open space to explore and grow, and medical care for services beyond what is commonly available to orphaned children.

[b]How does Flying Kites measure impact?[/b]

Right now, we’re still a small program with 29 children that we care for and educate, along with 33 children from the local community who attend our school. With our small number of children, we can still be very personalized in the monitoring of performance - not only standard measures of exam scores, but also participation in school before and after coming into the Flying Kites program. A lot of important metrics can’t be put on paper, especially since we work with a variety of ages from toddlers to teenagers with different needs and backgrounds. A lot of kids have come from difficult circumstances, and seeing how well adjusted they become at Flying Kites and how resilient they are in moving beyond their past really matters, such as better grades and developing close relationships with other children in the house. When I was in Kenya, I was speaking to James, one of our oldest boys. I hadn’t talked to him personally for more than a year at his point. When we first met, he was really shy and withdrawn, but this has all changed in the last year. He has truly come out of his shell, and was really excited to talk to me about geography and Kenyan politics ahead of the election. I was really proud!

As another part of expanding impact, we’re focused on developing outreach to the local community. We don’t want to isolate our school and center from community needs, so we’re now working on helping families with tuition payments and providing scholarships for children in the community who otherwise would not be in school.

[b]How does Flying Kites reach in the community? When the need is so great, how do you prioritize who to help?[/b]

We do have limited resources and Kenyan legislation and laws have changed over the last two years. The government is now focused on reintegration - doing a sweep of children’s homes in the country and requiring mandatory reintegration into families when possible. It’s not going to happen overnight, but this change has been a huge factor in our admissions process. The last thing we want to do is to take a child in and belatedly find out that there was a relative capable of caring for him or her. When a child is discovered by authorities or well wishers and referred to us, we do a site visit to see where he or she was staying, give immediate medical attention, and check for pre-existing family members.

[b]What are your focus priorities for 2013?[/b]

2013 is an interesting year since our 8 oldest children are now attending schools that are not Flying Kites operated, as we only have grades through year 6. This is an additional expense and we know that costs will have to rise because of textbooks, tuition, and personal needs. It’s not an expense every month, but we’ll need to manage our expenses particularly at the start of the new term, so we’re very focused on financially preparing for school fees and providing further scholarships. We would also like to hire someone with a variety of skills in Kenya to assist our country director in coordinating and managing volunteers coming in, reporting back to the US board of directors, and continuing to increase our standards of care. We want to make sure we have a full inventory of supplies too. Bringing someone in to our Kenyan operations will be an expense for Flying Kites, but a necessary one.

On the US side, we’re hoping to hire an executive director for Flying Kites. We're sort of at a turning point, and are looking for individuals with expertise in development and non-profit management to help take Flying Kites to the next level. We’ve achieved a lot thus far and want to bring in someone with significant experience in fundraising and organizational development so that we can be sustainable in the long term.

[b]What's your best advice for social entrepreneurs and education innovators?[/b]

Just because something hasn’t been done doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad idea…it’ll just require more work to see it through. Starting something on your own is a lot of time and money. When we started, the ideas were very pie in the sky- we wanted to do and achieve a lot. Now we’ve learned that we can’t put a cart ahead of the horse - we have to prioritize and focus on one thing at a time and do it well. At first it’s fairly challenging to get to know the local laws and work around obstacles, but just stick with it because if it doesn’t happen in the first year or two, it will happen eventually. Patience with oneself is key.

[b]About Justine:[/b] [i]Justine Axelsson is a founder of Flying Kites and currently serves as the organization's Director of Sponsorships. Justine studied at Salve Regina University and obtained a B.A in English Communications in 2007. She lives and works in Newport, RI. [/i]

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