Hatrack Heroes! Episode 3


Guest: Eva Kernova

Organisation: The Choice To Change

Release: 2nd December 2019

Following on from Episode 2, we continue our chat with Eva from The Choice 2 Change. This episode we learn from Eva how she manages to maintain her focus, and keep up her motivation.

We'll also hear more about the school, how they are being supported by various organisations, and what they are doing to make sure the charity is run well financially.

Listen here!


Nick: Hi everyone, and welcome back to another Episode of ‘Hatrack Heroes!’, and today we continue our chat with Eva from ‘The Choice 2 Change’. Previously, we spoke to Eva about how she began the charity, how she became involved. We also learnt about the people involved with her, especially Sunil, who plays an active role with the children and their families.

In this episode we hear more about the school in particular, plus we hear about how Eva manages to stay focussed, and maintain her motivation. We’ll also hear about fundraising that’s taken place already, and how we can actually donate to ‘Choice 2 Change’ in the future.

So, Eva, previously we spoke about what the children are actually being taught. Most importantly English, but also things like general hygiene like food and health and so forth. Do you see this translating across to their parents now, are they…

Eva: Definitely yes

Nick: Yeah, okay

Eva: and we do have parenting meetings also once a month… so, we were having adult class, these classes would teach them how to read and count because many of them they would need it.

Nick: Ahh, nice….

Eva: So, we would also spend a certain time with parents every month.

Nick: I think it’s definitely important that the rest of the family can learn also about what their children are learning, so they can understand, and then hopefully encourage for the future.

So, in the mornings, child wakes up, they’re with their family. What happens, they get picked up by the bus?

Eva: No, so… because the school is based in the slums, most of the children are able to walk in. A lot of the children they wake up around 5 o’clock, and have a little job.

Nick: Ah, I see

Eva: Which there are… not many. But they’re able to support families. Let’s say they have a newspaper run, and they’re just earning a little bit of that.

Nick: Okay.

Eva: But not many! Average child will just wake up, if they have something to eat, they’ll eat together, or they go put their uniform on, and they just come in to the school. School starts at 8 o’clock, and they are there until 3. So, in the school we’re able to provide breakfast, milk before lunch, then lunch, then afternoon sometime we’ll have a biscuit. So, a couple years ago we were running a milk campaign during Ramadan, so we would collect the milk powder, so that would be for the breakfast, or the main break they would get a milk… which was actually one of the big things that would attract them to come back. In the beginning when we didn’t serve the food, we found that they didn’t come back to school, bcecasue they were forced to go on the street and get the money in order to get something on the table for the family. So, we were very much focussed on the lunch programme, and that started in 2013, and that changed completely the game. It really was…

Nick: It’s incentive, I guess.

Eva: Yeah, big time… so, when they come to the schools, they’re there until 3 o’clock. They’re getting the food, some of them they’re able to also get a shower, because cleaning in the slums is not that accessible, and it’s easy to do for many of them. We have a nurse that helps them terms of check-ups, some of them are sick, you know, so we do have a medicine run and check-ups done by her regularly. We do have a pharmaceutical company based in Bangladesh that is giving us free medication, so we don’t need to cover that. We also have free visits from the doctor helping us. We have free uniforms given us by xxx group. These are services that not able to access at home. And then what happened was that through my visits here for six weeks, I was able to get connected to people based in Bangladesh. My main focus was to build a network of individuals that are based there and could really help us. So, these companies are able to support what we are doing.

Nick: On a day to day basis for you, you’re not based in Dhaka. You also have a family here, so how do you keep up your efforts? How do you managed to stay focussed, and driven by this, it must be tough?

Eva: So, my focus was a little bit more towards my own family because I was pregnant, I was about to deliver a baby back then. I felt like how am I going to do this, long term, how’s it going to be? So, then I turned towards this ultimate higher power, and I felt like… “you know what, when we started it, I knew that somebody will come, something will happen for us to maintain and to keep going”. So, I was very happy that one month before my delivery when I felt like I’ll kind of check out for couple of weeks or months, and focus on my new-born. I was able to meet Farook randomly, and he’s Bangladeshi origin, and he was able to put together a campaign on line which gave us in six weeks $30,000.

Nick: Wowwweeee!

Eva: Imagine that… So, it was something I really felt that… even though you feel low, and it’s like ok, this is just my time yeah, my priority was the family and really was just to focus, just to switch off and say funds are going to be taken care of somehow.

There are days when you feel down because you do not have the direct access to it, you know… I just feel like sometimes when you’re just not in that right mindset, it would be easier to motivate yourself by being there, and that’s what’s nice. You know, if you let’s say if you work in a hospital and you face that patient, you know exactly why you’re there. You know it motivates you to kind of keep you there, because it’s exactly what you need. There are days when I feel like “it’s just too far, or it’s been too long, this is difficult”, …I go back, and I have to just box that mind… that thought, and put it into the box, and say ‘this is negative, it doesn’t help, I need to help myself by looking at the pictures of the children, or calling Sunil.

Nick: just gets you back into reality.

Eva: Exactly, and that’s… I think that’s important in anything that we do, even as cabin crew. You know, we go to this amazing destination. You have this fantastic life that everyone would love to have, but you’re tired, you have fatigue… And nobody understands.

Nick: of course, mmm

Eva: You know you have those days where you feel kinda like ‘okay, this is too much… this is difficult’. So, what are you doing then… you need to protect yourself, of course. Sometimes it helped me to just like step back, go for a swim, or just go to the gym, or just do something nice for yourself, retail therapy… whatever, whatever it can be.

Nick: (laugh) Yeah!

Eva: To kind of wake you up and say, okay this is why I’m here, this is what I do. And that makes it easier to keep going. I have a partner here who is helping me to take care of everything in terms of fundraising or any PR related activity here in the UAE. His full name is Mohamed Lock, and he owns a company called DMS, and he has been an essential help. We met him through one of the fundraisers, and he became involved since 2013. And, he’s very much like focussing on raising awareness amongst his friends,

Nick: okay, yep

Eva: and whatever party he’s throwing it’s always (the door) ajar, he’s like okay guys, if you want to do something, I’m going to Dhaka, supporting this charity. He’s been very big and essential part in terms of fundraising, in terms of building up our website, because his company does a lot of marketing. Mo’s also bringing a lot of friends to Bangladesh to visit… not cabin crew, it’s a different profile of visitors.

Nick: Okay

Eva: Let’s say it would be teachers from the schools, and his colleagues, or anybody who knew about the charity, or knows about the charity.

Nick: Yeah, yeah!

Eva: So, it’s great to see the community coming together…

Nick: yeah

Eva: Not only as a cabin crew, but also … my focus was very much around the cabin crew, but I’m saying, a lot of people that would like to be involved, and thanks God we were able to access those to.

Nick: And I believe Mohamed was involved in the special video online?

Eva: Yeah, he did that free of charge. Etihad flew them for free, so we got a free tickets. I also contacted FlyDubai, we got free tickets for one of the journalists coming in. I wasn’t able to be in touch with Emirates, because I was Etihad crew, so we didn’t really approach, but there’s so much that can be done, you know…

Nick: Yep!

Eva: In terms of meetings, in terms of really getting in kind donations.

Nick: In regards to this video, we welcome anyone listening to this podcast to check out that video that they have done on the website. It’s called ‘A Tale Of Two Boys’, it’s really quite an insight, insightful video.

Eva: We did that with a school in Abu Dhabi, it was Bissat School. It was really interesting because it’s a true story. A child read an article about our charity in Abu Dhabi week, and came back to school, and encouraged other children to run the fundraiser. So, it really happened.

Nick: Wow

Eva: So that video, it’s actually a true story.

Nick: That’s amazing

Eva: and I must say that’s what surprised me the most was the support that we got was from children, they were so passionate. You know, children that were based here in Dubai, or in Abu Dhabi, and would encourage others to do something. You know, so let’s say we had a little boy who was selling pizza. He would over sell at 30 dirhams for a piece of pizza in school. He was able to make 1,500 dirhams, just like that in one day.

Nick: No way, wow!

Eva: Yeah, and he donated to us… so that was in Al Raha school

Nick: That’s amazing

Eva: BISAD was the donation of the books. Friends of Yasmina School, in Abu Dhabi, they would organise a trip of the parents going to the slums of Dhaka and actually handing over the funds that they’ve been able to raise with the kids, for the kids.

Nick: Wow, okay

Eva: So that was actually very powerful

Nick: Yeah, of course… it makes it extremely powerful because of the fact that… I guess it’s more of an innocent thing. This is children coming up with this whole idea, one child coming up with this whole scheme. Do you think more can be done from adults?... if it’s just businesses, or Governments around the world, or from the Bangladeshi Government. Can more be done? Or is it they’re doing as much as they can?

Eva: I think everyone is doing their best. I’m trying to be positive at this point, and being thankful and grateful for whatever we’ve received so far. What is very infectious is the passion you get from the children. When they’re excited, they just want to do so much…

Nick: yeah yeah

Eva: and that’s what we should learn as adults

Nick: of course, yeah

Eva: To see that positive side, and being so enthusiastic, and not sceptical, and not discouraged, and not negative. You know, to see that passion in their eyes… to really be able to do something for those children in Bangladesh, and you know… so that’s something that I wish for adults and companies to do more.

Nick: yeah

Eva: Because there is so much sources out there, and small charities like us they need help off organisations, definitely.

Nick: yeah yeah!

Eva: It’s a priority, but there are other ways how to succeed or how to maintain.

Nick: yeah, that’s it.

Eva: What we need in terms of the sponsorship, and in terms of the support is to cover the salaries, and the rent. Our ultimate budget is $82000 for the whole year, to maintain everything. 47% is just the salaries, 20% is the rent, then we do cover a lunch programme, so that’s over 80% gone… and then the rest si for supplies.

Nick: Is there a way to make things cheaper, in regards to property perhaps?

Eva: We do not own the building, so one of the downsides… if you open a charity somewhere else, and you own the property you don’t need to pay for the rent.

Nick: okay

Eva: Imagine, if you want to buy a place in Dhaka, in slums, it’s actually more expensive to buy a flat in Dubai…

Nick: What!!

Eva: It’s the truth… because of the density of the population. They’re fighting for every centimetre of that land, so it’s so expensive. This is one of the feasibility studies that we tried… we basically went through each and every part that can be done to lower the budget and focus on what needs to be done. This is almost mission impossible. So, if in future we’ll be able to get in touch with the government, or entity and say you know what, “can you just give us a room”, because we started in a shack. We started in a shack which is the slum, just like you can see that… its nothing.

Nick: What do you have now?

Eva: Now, now this is a proper building... which is rented. It’s a four-storey building, and we’re renting 3 storeys of those

Nick: Oh wow!

Eva: So, it’s including kitchen, it’s a shower facility, it’s proper toilet… the kids are able to actually learn about hygiene. We do have laundry services, so they do have cleaning of their uniform once a month. So, we do these things because it’s important to teach them… just the basics, because they do not get that in the slums. Also, the idea of brushing the teeth, because they have no idea. Most of the people you see are brushing their teeth with the sticks, so there are things that are so normal for us, it’s a very big deal for the kids to be able to access a clean building with people to teach them how to be polite around the table, how to eat from the plate , how to shower. It’s a basic care, that where I feel that it’s really making big progress, and they can bring that into their families. So that’s why we’re saying one child per family. And it’s actually fair, in terms of seeing the community as a whole.

Nick: It doesn’t necessarily need to be money does it, it can be… as you said, in kind… It can be a skill that you have, or items that you have, it can be anything really can’t it really? … that can help in some way.

Eva: So, in kind donations were handled by a foundation called ‘Aerobridge Foundation’, and that’s where it’s actually interesting to mention, cabin crews from various airlines were able to actually gather those items that we requested. Let’s say it would be stationery, or it can be scissors… we did a scissors campaign with Abu Dhabi postal connect, a group of volunteers who put this campaign together. Then we would have ‘Aerobridge Foundation’ , which is actually bringing together cabin crew from different airlines, majority were from Emirates, but DNATA as an organisation they would be just going through that, so it would be different airlines also. Where we had these yellow packages that they would take to Dhaka whenever they had a layover, and there was like a duffel bag in the hotel where they were staying, it would be filled every week… it would be two or three set of crew who would come in, and that’s how we, you know, actually arranging the in kind donation. So, everybody could take their part.

Nick: Yeah yeah.

Eva: That was actually a really, really cool project

Nick: Yeah, nice… there’s so many things that could be done.

Eva: Yeah

Nick: With the finances, if someone wants to sponsor a child, or send money. How do they know the money is going to the foundation?

Eva: So, this was a crucial point for me when I started a charity. I wanted to make sure that we are 100% doing what we promised to the donor, and to the child. Because I felt that my money was being used for something that was being promised, but it was not delivered.

At this moment what we have, and yearly what we’re running is the audits. That’s a requirement by the Government also as a charity to be able to be registered, and to have proper paperwork in place. We have KPMG that does our audits on a yearly basis. So, this is a submission that is done… it’s pro-bono work.

Nick: Oh wow

Eva: It’s also… we don’t pay for the audit. One thing I wanted to mention, which was… we were able to be very transparent with money thanks to cabin crew. Because, as we started we didn’t have a stabilisation bank account, none of this… it was just an excel sheet. So, I would use the visits of the cabin crew for delivering the funds in Bangladesh. Also, if they were able, or interested to give us certain funds… we would see if it was recorded there or not. So, kind of like a secretive project, which was excellent. So, cabin crew were an essential part for us to… okay, if I give them this, does it appear in the log? So, building the trust with the community, and with the team over there…

Nick: Yep

Eva: Was also thanks to the people that they just took their time and went there. So, that was excellent… These little things that makes a big difference in a scale of doing bigger in the end.

Nick: Yeah okay

Eva: Another one it’s a legal advisory firm called Clyde and Co.

Nick: Okay

Eva: So, they do legal advisory for us here in the UAE,

Nick: Yeah, wow!

Eva: So, there’s numerous companies that they try to do their best in trying to support us. So, transparency was really much a very important key, not only delivering as best as we can in terms of education… and another thing that was also important, is that we are very neutral. This is an education project, this is not a religious project… so, our teachers, and the staff that have been chosen, have been selected very carefully… they’re coming from a different and religious backgrounds. 

Nick: Yep!

Eva: So, we do have Christians, we have Muslims, we have Hindus, and we have non-religious staff. So, in that sense you know that this charity is very neutral, with a very big focus on delivering the best without alter motives.

Nick: Now, I know you didn’t want to specify any children before, but can you describe to us how they are today? The growth that they’ve experienced since, what’s that 7 or 8 years ago. Is that possible?

Eva: It is possible. Let’s say, my… closest to my heart was Salim… unfortunately he’s not with us anymore because he was one of the oldest children, and he’s an orphan. So, he got an opportunity to work, so it’s fine… in Grade 8 he left, but I’m very happy that he was able to succeed at least, you know it’s 8 years completed. And, it was fantastic for me to see the progress. You know, you meet a child who you don’t understand what he is saying, and in the end when he is leaving, he’s able to be able to talking to you fluently in English, and I know that he’ll never get lost in life. And it’s his choice, whether he wants to go the right way, or not the right way, it’s still… a gift has been given to him, and it’s up to him to use it. He was very close to my heart… you have a child that is supporting his mother because he lost his father, so he needs to work, and he needs to study, and I know he will struggle a little bit at school, but he’s motivated to make a difference. So, yeah, there are children that I say are very close to my heart, because they all are! And, that’s why I don’t want to say more in that sense because they’re all very precious.

Nick: So, after school each day, they just go home, they do certain jobs as well… are you worried for them after school each day? Or, Sunil, is he curious about what they’re doing after school.

Eva: It’s not safe, absolutely not. But, the location of the school is very close so no matter what they’re going through, and they need help, they always can knock on the door of the school, which is great.

Nick: Yeah okay

Eva: You know, you can be constantly worried that you’re going to have a car accident tomorrow, that is never going to happen. You just have to deal with whatever, you know... one day at a time. It was a very overwhelming feeling at the beginning when I felt like… oh there’s so many that need help. No, you need to focus, you need to focus what’s important. This is the group that you choose, and this is your responsibility. Instead of being overwhelmed, that many children need help… For me it was the group to focus on. It’s the same thing… what if something bad happened… yeah of course we’re living in dangerous times, and kidnappings happening. You know there’s just so much that is happening.

Nick: Of course!

Eva: Also, what I’m saying about Salim, we lost him because of the bad influence of the slum. We know that!

Nick: Yep!

Eva: But at the same time, I see that as a positive thing that will turn… one day, he will realise. Some of them, they will achieve the level of education I want for them, which will be the university. But those that they will not, at least they will succeed and do much better than they will do otherwise.

Nick: On that, in terms of the children, they’ve got big dreams. I noticed on their mini biographies, probably a good half dozen want to be doctors. From your perspective… from the charity perspective. What do you think is the…? What’s the plan or the goal for these children in the long term. Okay, there’s English, but is there big desires for now, or is it a long-term plan, like five years to grow?

Eva: I just want to live in reality, and the reality is that we depend on the money, you know, and the financial support that we’ve got. We do not have a big organisation that will just send us $80 thousand a year, and that’s it. That would be a dream. It’s difficult! For us as a foundation, what is very important to get is to have the running costs in place.

Nick: Yep

Eva: So, we’re not there yet. We do not have sustainable projects that would support us to be not dependant on the donations that come from the outside. So that’s difficult! So, for me, what is important, and what my dream is about to keep us going. You know, make sure that we’re running, and the school is there… the team is there. The children know they are getting at least what we’ve provided until now. Of course, I would love to have more destinations, but… no, this is my priority. Those, our children that need help… it’s a small charity, it’s a small organisation. It’s hard work, to get people together, and really motivate them enough, and get sponsorship. But it’s still… this is what it is, and I’m happy that we were able to pull this together as a team. To have visitors coming in. Really, it makes so much difference if we have people that just want to see what life is about in slums.

Nick: Yeah, of course!

Eva: ...or somewhere around the world, which is easy to read about but is difficult to access.

Nick: Mmmm!

Eva: So, I would really encourage anybody to really use their time wisely.

Nick: Sure, yeah!  I mean, to be honest… as I said before, we come from places where we don’t have a clue about what goes on…

Eva: Yeah!

Nick: ...in these, I guess third world countries and other parts of the world where there’s no funds, no finance, no support. Really, we worry every day… I don’t have the most up to date phone, I don’t have the most up to date car, or I didn’t buy enough this yesterday, I’ll go get it today…

Eva: Yeah!

Nick: It’s just… it’s so simple for us…

Eva: It is.

Nick: …but we just forget! I guess for people that are living elsewhere in whatever country they might be in… I guess the best thing is to visit the website, which is thechoicetochange.org

You can see information about all the children, you can see how the school works. Photos about all sorts of different things, and you can really get a great insight about into what this amazing charity is doing over there. So, I welcome you to go online and check it out.

People, they can donate direct to the website, or they need to sponsor a child, or is it just…?

Eva: Yeah, so, on our website you have a sponsorship, so you can actually go through the description of each and every student. You can read about them a little bit, you can decide if you want to sponsor them monthly, or you want to sponsor them yearly, and ultimately get in touch with them. And also, if… better you have the time to access it, you can meet them in person.

Nick: So, if you want to go there, you just go to the website contact Sunil specifically.

Eva: Yeah, you can email him… you can also email me on eva@thechoicetochange.org so we can arrange that time where it’s going to be picked up from the hotel.

Nick: Can anyone come? Anyone…

Eva: Yeah, anybody.

Nick: So, we welcome that, yeah!

Eva: C2C is located in Natun Bazar… which is very close to the airport, so whoever would love to visit us it is very possible. It’s actually 25 minutes away from the airport. We have over 1200 visitors coming and you know, accessing the school, so that location we picked was very good, because you have a layover. You just want to get in… you just book a timeslot, and say I’m coming. We will get you from the hotel… you can see children you’re interested to support. You can see exactly the way they live in the slum, because it’s not easy for foreigners to come and access the slums. It’s also dangerous… ultimately it’s a community. It’s very safe to contact our director, who is based in Bangladesh, and they will take you.

Nick: So, Eva, thank you for letting me hear your story... it’s been a real pleasure. It’s an amazing job that you’re doing with you and your crew over in Dhaka, thank you very much.

Eva: Thank you Nick for having me.

Nick: Thank you guys for listening to another episode of Hatrack Heroes! Don't forget you can visit The Choice 2 Change either on the website at thechoicetochange.org, or by actually visiting the school in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We'll be back again in two weeks, Monday the (pause)... what is that... the, Monday the 16th of December, so we look forward to seeing you again soon.


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