Mairead sorensen

Hope Foundation brings its vital message to America

Mairead Sorenson

By Áine Ní Shionnaigh

Until recently, my sole interest in Butler’s Chocolates was savoring the dark and white creations nestled within the luxury trademark brown and white packaging. Irish chocolate is always the best, Butlers exceedingly so. However this week when I spoke to the Chair of Butlers Chocolates, Mairead Sorenson, we discussed her other life interest: The Hope Foundation.

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Mairead is also Vice-chair of The Hope Foundation and is the 2012 recipient of The Philanthropist of the Year award. She has been a key supporter of HOPE, proactively involved since its inception 16 years ago. Last week Mairead brought her vison for HOPE across the Atlantic shores to the US with the first US HOPE event, ‘The Hope Foundation New York Lunch’ which was held at The Malt House in The Financial District.

The Hope Foundation is an Irish charity that is dedicated to promoting the protection of street and slum children primarily in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), and the most underprivileged in India, to promote immediate and lasting change in their lives. HOPE literally rescues thousands of children from the streets and slums of Kolkata and provides housing, day care and education, therefore giving hope and a future to children who would otherwise have neither. HOPE reaches out to the most forgotten and offers: protection, healthcare, nutrition, education, rehabilitation and a family for life.

One of my favorite quotes about hope is that from Victor Frankl who wrote, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. However even this quote is challenged in Kolkata and India at large as it’s about women and children: children who are too young to have to decide how to react to a horrible situation and women who have no independence due to patriarchal cultures and customs. Poverty has many different connotations. Of course there is poverty in on the streets of Ireland and NYC, but the extent of poverty in India is of another level altogether.

Kolkata was formerly known as Calcutta from the days of Britain’s colonial rule. In 2001, the name was changed back in an effort to rid the city of its British Colonial connections. A recent quote on a travel blog describes it accurately “Kolkata, India’s second-biggest city is a daily festival of human existence, simultaneously noble and squalid, cultured and desperate. As the former capital of British India, Kolkata retains a feast of colonial-era architecture contrasting starkly with urban slums”

India struggles with the poverty of a patriarchal society. On the surface, India is trying to move away from a male-dominated culture, however, it remains a male dominated society where women are often seen as subordinate and inferior. Discrimination is highly visible in rural and urban areas, throughout all strata of society. It is a country of contradictions, under the Constitution, women are guaranteed equality however this legal protection has a very limited effect.
Much of the discrimination against women arises from India's dowry tradition which has far reaching consequences for women at all stages of their lives and even more disastrous consequences for their children.

The Hope Foundation was founded by Maureen Forrest from East Cork who started doing volunteer work in Africa and then hoped to set up one girl’s home in Kolkata to provide refuge for 6 girls. Currently, HOPE supports over 60 projects, including 9 Protection Homes and the HOPE Hospital.

Over 250,000 children go to sleep each night on the streets and in the slums of Kolkata hungry and without any shelter or protection. Every cause is important but surely one that supports children left on the street to starve and perish is one which has to be supported.

HOPEs impact to date is as follows
- 30,000 children reached through our education and protection programs over the last 16 years.
- The HOPE hospital treated over 18,000 patients last year alone, through in and out patient departments
- 100’s of children, (orphans, abused, exploited and at risk children) are rescued each year through our Night Round Ambulance. Patrols Kolkata’s streets 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Food packages, medication and medical attention, clothing and blankets are regularly distributed as well as rescuing children in serious neglect or risk to be brought to our hospital or protection homes.
- Over 100,000 people are reached each year, through our Community Healthcare Program.
- HOPE now has 9 homes.
- HOPE is proud to say, we now employ over 500 skilled local people in West Bengal through local NGO’s. These include staff including doctors, nurses, teachers, counsellors and house mothers and fathers
Mairead wants to spread her vision for HOPE to the US by increasing awareness here of HOPE’s work in India. One program which has proven to be invaluable is the HOPE School Immersion Program. Through this program, which entails school based talks and seminars, and a trip to visit HOPE’s projects in Kolkata, students gain a precious understanding of injustices and social issues, in particular plight of street children and their communities in India. This knowledge is something these students will take with them on the own life’s journey, helping them have a social conscience and perhaps to strive towards creating a better future.

For many years, HOPE has been working with Secondary Schools across Ireland through Development Education Programs, driven by the strong belief of Students helping Students.

The Immersion Program gives students the opportunity to learn about the reality of poverty and social injustices facing young people their own age in India. Peer discussions on issues of social injustices that are faced in India are encouraged. Participants learn about the politics, economics, culture, history and rich wonders of incredible India. As well as the positive and life-changing effects that come from fundraising and raising awareness, it gives students the opportunity to engage in experiences not available in the classroom. The program enhances social and cultural development. It also enhances students understanding of international and domestic development issues and their own individual place within the international sphere.

For further information on how to get involved, please connect with
Caroline Dooley, PR, CSR and Communications Officer
The Hope Foundation
For US
T: +353 (0)21 4292990 M: 087 2345260
A: Silverdale Grove, Ballinlough, Cork, Ireland
F: +353 (0)214293432