By Matthew Hope, an EO Brisbane member, managing director of G.J Gardner Homes and CEO (Chief Energy Officer) of Raw Energy Cafes.
Three years ago, my construction company took on an adventure of a lifetime. Through our contacts in Kenya, we heard about the plight of 35 orphans who were going to lose their home and be thrown back onto the streets. I presented this dilemma to my team of builders at our annual conference, and without hesitation, people were pledging their support to build a new home for these children.
In the span of six months, we managed to raise enough money to finalize the project. That October, I led a team of 12 employees on a journey that would take us halfway around the world. Construction of the home had begun three months earlier, after we had purchased land and used local tradesmen to start the building process. When we arrived, the brickwork had been completed and the roof work was ready to begin. That would be our task for the next 10 days.
Under beautiful African skies, we got to work using the rudimentary tools available to us in the north-western Kenyan village. Throughout it all, we smiled and joked as we worked alongside our African brothers. And we laughed when one of the African workers mentioned how “the Australian builders are like bees. They make a lot of noise, but they work very hard!” It was an experience of a lifetime, and one that bonded us a team.
A few days into our journey, we had the privilege of meeting the children we had come so far to help. We ate lunch in their temporary home, and many of us were reduced to tears as we listened to their stories. Their living conditions were extremely basic; they had two children to a bed and 12 children to each bedroom. After lunch, the kids sang for us, and we presented them with gift bags that were filled with coloring books, small toys and games. The joy of watching their small faces light up as they opened their gifts is a memory I will never forget.
After we said our goodbyes, we returned to the construction site with a renewed understanding of our mission. From that point on, we cherished every moment we had together. And when that last piece of roofing iron fell into place, the team let out a loud cheer. We had completed our part of the mission; the rest of the building would be built by local laborers. Before leaving, we visited a UN refugee camp that contained 8,000 children. The realization of how much still needed to be done was overwhelming, and a stark reminder of the problems found on this beautiful continent. Our contribution, however meaningful, was but a drop in the ocean.
When we finally returned home, something significant had changed within our company. The camaraderie that had been built among our team was incredible, and it translated into significant increases in brand loyalty, staff retention and our best sales year ever. The other major upside was the community support that we received, which has also changed our brand perception in the marketplace. As for those who participated in the project, they rate the experience as the most significant and satisfying thing they’ve ever done with their lives. For me, it was a defining moment in my life, and one that taught me the universal power of entrepreneurship.
It’s been three years since we completed that Kenyan project, and the building is now home to more than 70 orphans who receive three meals a day and attend their very own school. We still keep in contact with the children, and continue to support their wellbeing. All in all, it’s been a memorable experience, and my entrepreneurial focus has shifted as a result. My goal now is to provide other businesses with the chance to show the human side of their company through similar projects in Africa. Together, I know we can use our entrepreneurial skills to make a lasting difference.