When we think of our childhoods, we remember those early years filled with fun activities like painting, drawing, reading, playing with friends, and much more.
We remember being in our happy homes with our families, feeling safe and loved. Those early years are integral in shaping us into the people we eventually become, and building our identity. Yet, there is a huge chunk of society that grows up without having any childhood at all – children who grow up on the streets, orphanages or madrassas. In the absence of stable home environments, they grow up to be broken and shunned. This is the story of one girl who took it upon her to change that backdrop.
Sarah Adeel, an ordinary student of architecture at Rhode Island School of Design, began with an inspiring perspective. Her philosophy – homes and buildings are more than just the physical structures that they are. She believes that they are creative spaces that train us to stand up and stand out in the world. Strings of memories, teachings, experiences, and occurrences in our homes come together to make us well-rounded humans.
“I believe buildings and spaces affect people in so many ways – the way the light enters, the colours, the walls, the experiences all shape and define a person’s way of thinking and behaving as they grow up. I wanted to capture this powerful aspect of architecture and do something with it that could change lives of those children who have never known a nurturing home” – Sarah shares enthusiastically.
Her vision to combine architecture and design with philanthropic development inspired her to create ‘Lettuce Bee Kids’. During her research, she realized that a lot of good work is happening in Pakistan for under privileged children but most organizations and institutes fall short of two very important aspects: lack of self-sustainability and lack of Social inclusion
She has come up with a creative and unique way to create a self sustainable space that provides maximum social inclusion to these dejected children and provide them with the upbringing they never had a chance at in their own confined environments.
“We are not a school, there are quite enough of those already. What we are trying to be is that bridge between these kids and schools, which connects them with the existing schools after improving their self-image. Our idea is to give them the social acceptance at a young age, so tomorrow when we place them in schools, they can adjust better and don’t fall out the next day because they feel they do not belong”.
Sarah steers Lettuce Bee Kids by using four main building blocks – ‘Art and Design’ to develop creativity and individuality, ‘Music’ to inspire self confidence and expression, ‘Love for Nature’ to teach responsibility and self-sufficiency, and ‘Respect for Elders’ to create intimate relationships and homely environment. All these programs have a range of activities – all geared towards creating spaces for these kids to structure their days, to unlearn certain things to be socially accepted, as well as fend for themselves in a respectable way.
She likes to call the organization a social enterprise, and not an NGO. “People discount any initiative that calls itself a not-for-profit. While we are not a commercial entity, we do not accept donations and grants. The idea is to be a self-sustaining and revenue generating organization”.
Sarah is working on a series of innovative ideas to achieve that, such as, turning the artwork of the kids into textile designs, stationary, and packaging illustrations for corporate companies; training kids to maintain vegetable gardens and a small deli; and so on. Other than these, she organizes health workshops to provide hygiene and self-care information; as well as summer camps to get the kids acquainted with basic Computer, English and Character Building skills so that they could later enrol in normal schools rather than ‘special schools for street children’. She is giving them a complete home learning environment together with love and self-confidence so they could integrate into society instead of staying on the brim.
When asked about the challenges she faces, Sarah talks about two main issues. ”The biggest problem I feel is that most people in Pakistan are not supportive – there is such a lack of empathy and acceptance for new ideas. Most have no interest or hope in these children having a future. The other big challenge is convincing families or guardians of these children to let them be part of the program which they consider a waste of time and income”.
But Sarah doesn’t give up easily. To solve the first problem, she is trying to form profitable partnerships internationally, in the hope that support will follow on the home ground soon after. She had two successful exhibitions in Pakistan and has managed to organize an upcoming exhibition in Paris to display the merchandise prepared by the kids, and is in talks with a huge corporate brand to purchase the artwork of the young children to feature in their textile collection.
On the second issue, she had to work even harder. She visited the parents and guardians personally, persuading them. After understanding that most of their concerns rose from financial needs, she came up with a holistic plan to involve the families in the project as well. Sammaan is her design experiment which trains mothers of some of these kids to develop homemade jewellery that is then sold online by her enterprise. This way ‘Lettuce Bee Kids’ provides a holistic solution for these families with a long-term viability plan.
We asked her where she gets her inspiration and resilience from and she said – “My single source of both inspiration and resilience are the children I am working with. Once their self-image changes – so do their dreams. After this realization, there was no turning back for me. Honestly I never had even thought about getting into the development sector. My research and thesis led me to this discovery that a well thought out social/corporate partnership can alter the landscape of the development sector while changing millions of lives, without being constantly dependent of philanthropy and funding.”
Sarah’s efforts are truly extraordinary and she has proven that one doesn’t need big resources or plans to help others. Sometimes, smart ideas, innovative collaboration and basic empathy is all you need.