A foundation helping children of war "blossoms" in New Canaan
Published 3:34 pm, Wednesday, March 28, 2012
It's been more than 30 years since Shiva Sarram escaped Iran during the height of Iran-Iraq War, but she still has this nagging feeling she forgot something.
Living in New Canaan, more than 6,000 miles away, she realized she left her home country and all its war-torn inhabitants behind. This is something she hopes to rectify by helping children of war around the globe with her new nonprofit organization the Blossom Hill Foundation.
"I literally remember being at the airport and wondering why I'm getting an opportunity to leave and none of my cousins are and no one else is and there's war and bombings and so many things going on," Sarram, who left the country when she was 6 years old, said. "I do thinking, for whatever reason, I got lucky to leave and I'm going to do something about it to give back. So this is sort of a 30-year-old baby."
Sarram left because her father got a job with the United Nations as a scientist in Vienna. Eventually, her family was able to get to the United States in 1981, but Sarram could never really shake the memories of living through a war.
"We used to sleep with our radios on at night to listen for sirens. We hid in our basement for fear of being bombed -- not that a basement near our car would have really protected us," she said. "We worried about our father being sent to war. We had to do our homework by candlelight because having the lights on would alert the enemy somehow and make us vulnerable to more bombs. So we had a lot of dark days, literally and figuratively."
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Her memories of growing up in a country ravaged by war inspired Sarram to start the Blossom Hill Foundation, which was established as a 501(c)(3) organization last year. Its mission is to "support organizations that engage and empower war-affected youth as leaders in the reconstruction of their lives and their communities."
"Our goal is to pull these children up and out of the rubble to a place where they are safe and free to express themselves -- and to heal themselves -- simply so that they may blossom into intelligent, thoughtful and productive human beings," Sarram said. "And hopefully, their children will grow up to be the same."
The foundation itself does not directly fund initiatives; instead Sarram uses her experience from her career as an analyst, as well as her past philanthropic efforts, to properly vet and identify worthy organizations, which Blossom Hill can help fund. Her organization has an executive board made up of volunteers, including two experienced journalists who cover many of these affected regions. With only two paid staff members -- an accountant and an attorney -- the foundation's overhead remains very low, meaning most of the money raised will be granted to different organizations.
"We have a very clear methodology in what we look for," Sarram said. "We really vet these organizations so while someone would ask `well, why wouldn't I just directly fund these organizations?' You could, if you had the time to sit and go through a whole gamut of grant making and make your own grants. We're a grant-making organization so we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. We just want to fund the best wheels. There are some fantastic programs already on the ground. We are funding U.S. based (Non-Governmental Organizations) that are doing work in war zones."
The goal, as Sarram said, is to award grants to organizations that engage children in unique ways. One such NGO is knows as "The Right to Play," which hopes "to improve the lives of children in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace."
"You will not believe what a simple bag of soccer balls will do for some of these kids," Sarram said. "Normally they are playing with rocks or whatever else they can find."
Another unique organization she mentioned is called "Skateistan" created by two Australians who showed up in Afghanistan in 2007 with skateboards, which they then taught the local children how to use. Now, thanks to their efforts, "Skateistan Park" opened Oct. 29, 2009, allowing young boys and girls to have an escape in Kabul.
"These are the types of organizations we are looking to give grants to," Sarram said. "Because they are really empowering these children and showing them a different side to the world other than violence. We hope these efforts can open their eyes and make them leaders in their communities to break the cycle of violence and war."
The foundation, in its young stage, has yet to fund any organizations just yet but is in fund-raising mode for this year and Sarram believes starting in New Canaan is one of the best ways to begin.
"The New Canaan community is a caring one, engaged one and generous one. We have received such great feedback on the work we are trying to do," Sarram said. "I think this community understands that we must do something. There are a billion children that go to bed every night listening to the sounds of sirens and bombs and fearful that the next day they are going to be the next child soldier. So I think this community is really going to help us in accomplishing this mission."
For more information on the Blossom Hill Foundation, visitwww.blossomhill-foundation.org.
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