I am only one but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
– Edward Everett Hale
This past Friday, I received an urgent call from a desperate mother seeking help for her daughter, who at 13, is seriously depressed and wanting to end her life. I ended up staying at the office past 8 PM, the phone glued to my ear as we talked through the issues, while I tried to scan my brain to find resources to help the mother and her daughter. Before leaving the office for the weekend, I made sure that I sent out all the specialists referrals the mom needed, which included the suicide prevention hotline number and my personal mobile number.
The past few years have been challenging for ASK, as we worked hard to raise funds to continue the programmes which help meet the needs of families with special needs children, who rely heavily on our support and services. In the fundraising process, many donor applications require that we disclose statistics quantifying the number of children we have helped through our organization’s services. However, our labor of love is not something we can always do ‘en masse’ as supporting children with special needs is done in customized and well staffed small groups and the children benefit most from individualised programmes and assistance. We know that our support impacts families in profound ways.
Once I had a father who came to see me to seek assistance for his son, who has ADHD and was expelled from school for behavioural issues. Then I spent the first half hour watching this man broke down in tears right in front of me. At that moment, it was immaterial that he was the head of a company and managed hundreds of employees. Here in my office he was simply a father who needed an understanding ear, personal care and support. He left not only with all the information he needed but also with the satisfaction that his son’s issues were addressed sensitively and effectively. In both cases, just some personal care and attention to the issues at heart was what the parents really needed and what the children benefited most.
Now try to quantify and monetize that kind of personal care and support in accounting terms! Can you? The kind of terms and numbers that attract donors are hard to deliver for many small and specialized non-profit organizations that are making significant impacts on many lives as we speak.
At ASK, our motto is “Just ASK, we are here to help”; we provide support and assistance to any parent who emails and contacts us, just like in the two examples above. Last week alone I answered many calls and emails not only from Geneva and across Switzerland, but also from parents in Japan, Hungary, U.S. and Canada, all seeking information on support services in Geneva and appropriate school placements for their children with special educational needs.
At ASK, we offer child centered, personalized assistance to parents, as no two children are alike in the special needs world. Nevertheless, I believe making an impact on one child and one family at a time can be so unquantifiably meaningful, especially when there is a mother at the end of the phone line desperately seeking help for her child, who is on the brink of suicide. Imagine yourself as that mother and father and I am sure you will understand what ‘impact’ meant to those families.
A significant impact ASK made to the education landscape in Geneva over the years is subtle, but the value of consistent advocacy for children with learning differences and special educational needs, empowering their parents and educators has been proven to be effective. After 15 years of visiting numerous schools offering services such as; teacher training through the Annual ASK Seminar Series, independent assessments and parents workshops, many schools are now offering teacher training of their own, employing psychologists as staff members and some are taking more interest in developing “Special Education Needs” policy to be able to meet the needs of ALL students. These developments are a huge success not only for the special children we advocate for but also for ASK and their empowered parents as well.
This TED talk video by #Dan Pallotta “The way we think about charity is dead wrong” spoke volumes about why many small NGOs like ASK, despite all the successes we have achieved over the years, still struggle to find donors to keep the organization from folding. Fundraising will always be challenging for many NGOs where we struggle to attract potential donors who expect a huge impact for their donation.
According to Maximpact, what all NGOs share is the desire to further their vision and mission, whatever it might be. Individuals and groups who form NGOs tend to have a passion for their beliefs. They are usually coming from a place of altruism and care for the human race and for the future of our world. To that end, the goal of NGOs is to improve the human experience by lending their efforts to a specific and specialized cause. (#Maximpact blog post March 20, 2017)
To quote the “Power of Positivity”:
One tree can start a forest;
One smile can begin a friendship;
One hand can lift a soul;
One word can frame the goal;
One candle can wipe out darkness;
One laugh can conquer gloom;
One hope can raise your spirits;
One touch can show you care;
One life can make the difference, be that ONE today.
ASK is looking for that ONE person, who is interested in supporting a small organization whose mission is dedicated to supporting children with special needs and their families.
Will you be that ONE today? Be that one changemaker for the children with special needs.
About the author: Joy Tong is the founder and director of ASK – All Special Kids, an NGO based in Geneva, Switzerland. In March 2018, ASK will celebrate its 15th anniversary. The organization is staff with mostly volunteers.