Golder Associates founded the Golder Trust for Orphans (GTO) in 2003 with the mission to improve the quality of life of children who have been orphaned or displaced by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa.
In 2010, I decided that as a leader in our employee-owned company, I wanted to do more than just donate money to this cause. Having grown up in a single-parent household, I wanted to make a difference in these children’s lives and experience first-hand the cause that we were supporting. I have been very fortunate to travel the world with Golder on business – but not to Africa, and not on any prior volunteer projects.
My participation in the annual GTO volunteer trip brought me to the tiny kingdom of Swaziland. I was struck by how this nation of 1 million people is one of the few in the world with a negative population growth: 20% of the population are orphaned children, it has a 40% AIDS rate (the highest in the world), and the life expectancy was only 33 years.
Upon arrival in Swaziland, we set off to Bulembu, an abandoned mining town. The small town has enough remaining infrastructure to support a future for the children. Golder supported many projects in the community including a honey production operation and a bakery, in addition to the support provided to the children.
I found that the poverty, needs, and challenges facing the kids in such a beautiful little country were just overwhelming. During this first trip, we constructed a playground and refurbished small homes to house the children and their caregivers, the “Aunties”. As part of the trip, we spent time with an assigned group of young children and helped them with their school studies. I met a wonderful 6-year-old boy, beaming and full of life.
I was so moved by my experience in Bulembu, I committed to returning this past March. I was amazed at the improvements in this tiny village since 2007, through the contributions by the NGOs and the GTO. Most importantly, I saw how the lives of the children had improved. Now there is a new dining hall, a training facility, and a high school.
On this second trip, our projects included building a large chicken house/coop for the high schoolers to learn how to raise and sell chickens, constructing trampolines and a jungle gym for the baby home. The children participated one day and when completed, thanked us with several beautiful songs.
At the end of our week, we brought the children from the baby home out to try out their new recreational facilities. When they saw the brightly colored jungle gym, their eyes lit up as big as saucers! The caregivers wanted a group photo and it was then, that this little girl, out of nowhere, came and took my hand as we walked toward the jungle gym. I was blown away by how she reached out to me, totally trusting and at ease. It was hard to keep the tears back. My colleagues happened to capture that moment and commented on how similar the photo was to the GTO logo.
This has been a life changing experience for me and I encourage everyone, if you can, to reach out and help the children of the world. A helping hand can make a world of difference in their lives.