Going through a significant loss or change often has the potential to make us drastically rethink our lives. This is exactly what happened to me when I lost my mother to cancer in 2011 and had to write her obituary. At this point, I realised how much putting other people first had been an important factor in my mother’s life, and how I wanted to incorporate this into my own life. I started reflecting on the legacy I would leave and what I could do to make a difference in the world. As giving back had been a dominating theme for my family, I started thinking about how I could ultimately impact others’ lives for the better.
With my family and a fast-paced career as a marketing executive occupying much of my time, it was not until 2019 that I finally felt I could get started with my own charity project. Scribbled on a piece of paper in 2017 and officially established in 2019, Agapé was founded as a non-governmental and non-profit organisation, designed to improve the daily lives of orphans in Africa.
In ancient Greek, Agapé means “love - the fatherly love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God.” The simplicity of this word goes hand-in-hand with our organisation’s mission. The main objectives of the charity are to give warmth, love, and compassion to children who are not given the same opportunities as others. Essentially, the team and I wanted to contribute to the happiness of these children by first ensuring their basic needs were met. Agapé was founded in the Parisian suburbs, and my husband—who helped co-found the organization— and I were lucky enough to live in a modern world, one in which people have too many things which they take for granted and easily discard.
I had always wanted to give back in some way or another. But being a marketing executive while raising twins meant I had very little spare time. My husband and I began by coordinating the collection of goods, which lead to others getting involved in the project by word of mouth. Many of my friends on Facebook were overwhelmed by the success of the initiative and shortly after, our family apartment rapidly filled up with donations of the goods we wanted to send to Africa. As a marketing professional, I was not only able to easily raise awareness around the charity, but also organise the logistics and set-up of events. I soon became passionate about collecting, storing, and shipping donations to Africa, where I initiated contact with various non-profit organisations on the ground.
My network helped make the vision come to life, when a friend of mine with connections to a freight company offered to ship the collected goods to the Ivory Coast. There, we evaluated our first orphanages and planned social projects. Back in April 2021, at the height of the pandemic wave in France, the official launch date of activities was set. Although permission from local authorities was required to travel to Africa in that particular phase of the lockdown, I made the trip to the Ivory Coast to coordinate next steps. I was in a fortunate position as everyone in the Zscaler management team was supportive of me moving to Africa for a few weeks so I could fully commit to my role while planning and executing the first charity events on a hybrid basis with my business obligations.
I was able to work in my business routine with Zscaler channel partners during the daytime and live up to my commitment to our charity project during after-work hours. My colleagues showed great understanding and flexibility, especially when I was dealing with power cut-offs and poor connectivity. My key business takeaway was that working from literally anywhere is feasible, next to the overwhelming feeling of being able to help, where it is most needed.
It was a fantastic experience and very inspiring, so I started planning the next initiatives for Agapé while I was in Africa. As with every events project, it is important to allow flexibility to adjust and get creative when things started to take a different route. In December 2021, I returned to the Ivory Coast to stage the next events for orphanages and widows – this time equipped with 5G connectivity power for my laptop from my local French service provider to prevent interruptions of my business meetings.
The first events I organised for Agapé were focused on orphaned children or children with one parent living in extremely poor conditions. Local African charity organisations were supportive and helped set up contact to those most in need. Two different projects were organised during my first trip to the Ivory Coast. The first was focused on widows who were living on next to nothing at the border of society without water or electricity and hardly a roof over their heads. It was decided that a food bank project next to the donations collected in France was needed for the women living in the poorest conditions and still trying to homeschool their children. My team and I delivered basic food packages to a group of widows and got involved in very personal conversations with each of these mothers – most of whom had experienced an unexpected death of the main wage earner.
All people visited were invited to an event called “Day of the Lamb,” at a local orphanage. This event was set up for more than 100 children, ranging in age from newborn to 16. The children had a great day, taking part in singing and dancing competitions. This was an unforgettable experience not only for the children, but also for the charity team. Customised packages for each of the orphans had been prepared with donated clothes, toys, books, and school equipment. We also provided basic food, sanitary, and medical supplies to the orphanage.
The second event in December 2021 was set around a Christmas theme. My team and I traveled more than 300 km from Abidjan, the economic capital, to spend the day with orphans of a small town called Kotobi. One of Agapé’s missions is also to reach out to the “forgottens of the forgottens”- these orphans and children in need who live in orphanages and host families getting next to no help from the government of NGOs. We spent the day with 40 children at the orphanage where together we set up a Christmas tree, danced, celebrated Christmas, and, of course, the children received toys and clothes from Father Christmas. A collection of essentials was also handed over to the head of the orphanage. In upcoming trips, we hope to focus our efforts on the children we were unable to help in previous trips.
I don’t see why one child should have more chances or opportunities than another. In the longer term, the mission of Agapé is to empower these kids to go to school and sponsor their education not only for college, but all the way up to university. Who knows, we could be helping the future president of the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, or Congo.
That’s why Agapé intends to be able to sponsor at least 15 children in the 2022-23 school year through a new program called “a schoolbag for a lamb” - throughout which not only the children’s school fees would be sponsored but also their school uniforms and complete school kits for the year. I feel a great sense of achievement in being able to help those children in Africa, but I always feel I could do more.
Undoubtedly, it has been an exciting time for my team and me, and this is only the beginning as I am now preparing the next event due to take place during the Easter weekend.