There are many things to do in Second life, but you may not know that you can actually change someone’s real life through this virtual world too.
Brique Topaz, founder and chairwoman of "Live and Learn in Kenya Int'l" came to second life with just that in mind, arriving 4 years ago and establishing the great Feed a Smile project.
The Feed a Smile project allows second life avatars to sponsor a child in Kenya. This sponsorship provides enough money to support a child’s everyday needs to attend schools, including meals. Also, this project holds concerts at The Lavender Field for Feed a Smile in which all performers give 100% of their tips to the cause. I was delighted to sit down with Brique and get to find out more information.
Interview with Brique Topaz
Hello Brique. It is a pleasure to meet you and thank you for inviting me out to The Lavender Field for Feed a Smile. For our readers that are not familiar with Feed a Smile, can you give us a brief description of what your organization does and stands for?
Feed a Smile is a "Live and Learn in Kenya Int'l" project, both in Second Life and in Real Life. Live and Learn in Kenya Int'l is a registered non-profit charity organization - both in Germany and in Kenya. I am the chairwoman. I founded the organization nearly 13 years ago in order to assist very needy children in the slums of Nakuru, Kenya to be able to go to school. They are not allowed to attend school without the school uniform, shoes, fees, etc. For that reason many children never go to school. We pay for everything that the 400 children on our program need to go to school - including a school meal every school day. The children come to our compound for meals and tutoring at the weekend and during school breaks. We also provide medical/dental care, AIDS and hygiene workshops, foster care to orphans (mainly AIDS orphans), girls club and boys club. Our children are now attending schools between kindergarten and university.
How did starting this program, which helps Real Life kids in a virtual world, begin?
A friend of mine in England runs an organization which sends volunteers to Kenya. She told me about Nonprofit Commons in Second Life. Nonprofit Commons is an entire sim of charities. You can be certain that they are all not scams because Nonprofit Commons demands proof of registration - and anonymity is not allowed. I became a member of Nonprofit Commons. I have an office there. After being in SL for a couple of months I rented some land and put up a big house - and then wondered what I should do with it... That's when I came up with the idea of organizing concerts for Live and Learn in Kenya Int'l - and called it Feed a Smile. You'll never see sad photos of our children - because it's our "job" to make sure that they have a reason to smile. These kids have lived through horrors that you can hardly imagine possible - from civil war to becoming orphans. By the way - nobody at Live and Learn in Kenya Int'l earns any money at all - except for the Kenyan staff - teachers, social workers, project manager, etc. - they need to feed their own children too... But you can be certain - they are not exactly well-paid.
The Lavender Field holds many concerts in order to feed the children in Kenya. Which event was your most successful to date?
To date, the most successful event was the Mad Pea event earlier this year. It brought in over 6700 US$ (1656127 Lindens) I'm still astonished!
I am sure there are some performers that would love to come and give their tips for this great cause. How would one go about doing so?
I'm open to just about any genre. If a performer would like to come and perform - then they just need to contact me. I'm especially interested in having performers with hosts who would perform during the times when my time zone doesn't make it easy to be here... between 3PM and 11AM. That includes musicians, DJs, dancers, tribute artists, actors and actresses, storytellers - nearly everyone and anyone who would like to share their talents to help feed the children.
Can you tell us a little bit about sponsoring a child through second life?
It is dreams come true when one of the 400 children in our program receives the message from the project manager that he/she has a sponsor. Sponsoring a child costs 360 US$ per year, about a dollar the day a day. This fee pays for everything that the child needs to go to school - fees, mandatory uniform and shoes, textbooks, school supplies and a warm meal every day. The sponsor receives a photo, a short description of the child and a letter of appreciation from the child - or a drawing if the child is still too young to write. A progress report, photo and a letter from the child are sent to the sponsor annually. Sponsors can write to "their" child, send packages or have presents bought for the child through our office if they’d like. The children always write a letter of thanks for packages or presents purchased for them. A photo is taken of them with their presents. The children are thrilled to receive photos of "their" sponsors. They aren’t just a number somewhere in Africa. They are real, live people who appreciate what is being done for them. Sponsors are guaranteed that 100% of the sponsorship fee is being used for their sponsored child and for nothing else. If the sponsor wants to remain anonymous, that is also possible by using their SL name and paying the fees to me in Lindens - which I pay into the Live and Learn in Kenya Int'l account. The sponsored child will write to the avatar's name. If an e-mail address is given - then the e-mails will go directly to the sponsor from Kenya.
Many people may want to help but are afraid that the money won’t be used for the purpose intended. What measure does your organization take to ease a future sponsor’s mind?
Well, there are a lot of scams out there - in SL and in RL. Charities are "big businesses" - so it is difficult to separate the good from the bad. We have all of our registration papers posted on our website. It is also possible - especially with sponsorships - to donate directly to Live and Learn in Kenya Int'l through Paypal either directly from the Lavender Field or through our website - www.llk-selb.de It is very difficult to become a registered non-profit charity organization because they are tax-free. Governments are always very strict about that. So, if a charity can prove its status as a registered non-profit charity organization then you can be certain that it isn't a scam. If you want to take extra precautions- the best thing is to contact the governments involved - in our case, the German government and the Kenyan government. They are always willing to give information to people interested.
If one would be interested in becoming a sponsor, how would they go about it?
I'm the person to contact. Photos of the children who need sponsors can be seen on the Feed a Smile Facebook group page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FeedaSmile/
Are there any upcoming events at The Lavender Field that you would like to mention?
The Lavender Field for Feed a Smile is a charity sim. Only a small part of the fee needs to be paid through the venue tip board (at the right of the stage). A very generous donor pays the rest. It was important to him that the sim was named Feed a Smile - and that it is a full sim. August will be a bit of a quiet month at the Lavender Field. Many musicians are taking the month off - so I will only be having a few events.
Link to calendar: http://goo.gl/dZXFng It is automatically updated.
I see that you have T-shirt here for sale for those that are afraid of commitment. Do all of the proceeds from the sale of this shirt go to the children as well?
50% of the proceeds go toward meals. 100%l of the proceeds from the clothing and objects in the shops in the market place here at the Lavender Field go towards meals.
It has been a pleasure meeting with you. This has been by far is the most heartwarming and humbling interview I have done thus far. I think what you are doing here is great, and I wish you much success!
Thank you so much. It's all about working together. I can only get by with a LOT of help from my friends.... My goal is to make Feed a Smile into a household name in SL. It is already known to the Lindens through the Drax File 16 and the Global Community clip on the official SL website. Her is the Drax File 16:: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha6gxbTw6iQ&feature=youtu.be
That was a great help. It's through the media that Feed a Smile is finding a special place in SL - and for that reason I really appreciate your interview.
Event Candler: http://goo.gl/dZXFng
Official Website: http://leben-lernen-kenia.org/