Culture of Giving
A Glimmer of Hope connects Austin with Ethiopia
Marie, a 27-year-old living in Ethiopia, a mere $35 a month that shackled him to repeat his family’s cycle of poverty.
After graduating from 8th grade, Marie dropped out of school because his parents could not afford the monthly rent money to board him in the neighboring village of Kola Diba where he could attend the closest high school, some 11 miles away. So Marie fell behind his friends and became listless with few opportunities for work.
Marie's story of having little work due to lack of education — and lack of education due to lack of money — is a common one in Ethiopia, where hand-to-mouth poverty has shut out many young men and women from finishing their education and pursing their dreams.
“When people, particularly children, are collapsing and dying because there is no food and water, you cannot just turn the page, and turn a blind eye. It is not ok to remove it from your conscience.”
Enter A Glimmer of Hope. The Austin-based nonprofit organization opened a new high school in Marie's village, Robit. On the first day the school was open, Marie headed back to the classroom to become a nurse after a 14-year absence. The oldest of four siblings, this ambitious 27-year-old is the one in his family leading the charge to change their cycle of poverty.
A Glimmer of Hope was started by Philip and Donna Berber, after selling the online stockbroking service CyBerCorp to Charles Schwab for $488 million, in 2000. Philip Berber, an Irish entrepreneur who moved to Texas in the early 1990s, had created a vast amount of wealth. But neither he nor his wife wanted to keep it all for themselves.
A few months after selling CyBerCorp, the Berbers visited Ethiopia and saw a very different world from the one in which they lived. Donna had a friend who had recently adopted two teenage girls from Ethiopia, and talking to her spurred something in Donna. "I knew there was something more to my life," she says. "I was just so comfortably numb that I needed space enough to hear my calling."
After the couple's visit, Philip said, "It was the first time in my life I saw and touched and smelled poverty in a human form that I did not know existed.”
The couple decided to use a large portion of their money to start a foundation, A Glimmer of Hope, that Berber says is more about giving a hand up than a hand out. The organization builds schools, provides clean water and health clinics, makes micro-finance loans and provides emergency relief for people affected by the drought crisis in East Africa.
“When people, particularly children, are collapsing and dying because there is no food and water, you cannot just turn the page, and turn a blind eye. It is not ok to remove it from your conscience,” says Philip. “This is a harsh reality that is not going away overnight.“
There were, of course, many other charities working in Ethiopia. The Berbers could easily have made large donations to those or created an endowment. But they were not happy with the overhead and large portion of funds that were not going directly to the causes, but rather to administrative costs. So they set up their own organization, and fund all salaries and overhead themselves, directly. 100 percent of every dollar that comes through A Glimmer of Hope goes directly to the programs in Ethiopia.
The school conditions in Ethiopia adds to that cycle of poverty. Even if kids do have a school nearby, it’s often a crumbling mud or stick building. Children often sit on dirt floors or rocks while a broken blackboard may be the only hint that these falling-down structures are schools. Inside, dark unlit classrooms challenge kids to learn and read. No toilet facilities exist. Untreated water provides the only drinking option.
Glimmer schools give these kids a chance. The schools provide clean water, operable bathrooms, desks, chairs and even new blackboards. The classrooms are lit and large enough to hold even more children. In its ten years of existence, Glimmer has built more than 335 schools, 4,000 water projects and made 17,000-plus micro-loans, impacting the lives of more than two million Ethiopians.
"We all share in this responsibility," Philip Berber says. As for Donna, she believes that responsibility to relieve some of the pain and the suffering in the world is a gift. "I feel blessed to be on this path with others who inspire me every day. The greatest inspiration, of course, being the rural poor in Ethiopia who live in abhorrent abject poverty with such dignity and grace."
To find out more about A Glimmer of Hope or how you can help, visit www.aglimmerofhope.org.