Investor Spotlight: Sue Bernstein
Our Investor Spotlight series focuses in on engaged members of the Spark Ventures community. This month, we sit down with Sue Bernstein who is one of the growing number of Spark supporters to have traveled with us to Nicaragua and Zambia to meet both of our partner organizations She most recently traveled to Zambia this January.
I am so impressed with the things Spark has accomplished at the Hope Community School, the Hope Orphanage, and the Hope Ventures chicken farm. In the relatively short time since my last visit, there are obvious changes and improvements to all of these places. But, the most compelling for me is how Spark’s involvement has impacted the lives of the children, teachers and staff, the surrounding community, as well as the local and international volunteers.
Spark is not just handing out money. It is a true partnership which involves a lot of strategic planning and give and take… To achieve common goals and maintain the pride of everyone involved in Zambia. Rich and another Spark staff member, Lucy, spend considerable time here in Zambia throughout the year meeting with Charles, his staff, and their Board of Trustees helping to facilitate the growth of all the operations of the social and business enterprises.
Charles was so incredibly proud of how they have expanded the chicken farm from 2000 to 12000 chickens.
When Jan and I were inputting information about the children last week, we sat in their “Technology Center” while Stephanie worked with Teacher Lewis, the seventh grade teacher, as she gave him some more lessons in Excel and Word. It was so much fun to watch his face as he mastered tasks which will help him become so much more efficient in how to use technology. This will be very helpful in the future when it’s their turn to start a business and they need to use technology like these sms services for small business and many others.
Cephas, the young man who lived at the orphanage and is now a high school graduate taking computer classes, working at the chicken farm, and planning to attend university, has a future he probably never would have had without Spark’s involvement.
The teachers at Hope Community School talk about how they have a regular salary, curriculum materials, textbooks, some continuing education, and the encouragement and support from Spark and our visits. The kids seek out Head Teacher Ngoma wanting to be our reading buddies. The children are energized by the attention they receive from us, even for just the few days we are there.
But my highlight of the trip was the little boy Elijah, who came to the orphanage a few days before we arrived. His parents are dead, and he lived with a grandmother who was struggling to take care of him. He was placed in the second grade. Moving to the orphanage, his life changed from sleeping on a cornmeal sack on the floor and receiving few regular meals (without the chance to attend school), to a life with Momma Agatha, a family of supportive older boys and girls at the orphanage, a bed with a blanket and three regular meals a day. At the beginning of our stay, he was quiet and reserved. But as the week went on, we watched him smile more, take part in the soccer and volleyball games, and dance and smile like the rest of the kids during our last dinner at the orphanage.
That’s really what this is all about.
I feel privileged to be a part of it.
Sue Bernstein first traveled to Zambia with Spark Ventures in February of 2013. She returned this January with a close friend. Within the past year, Sue has also traveled with Spark Ventures to Nicaragua. She is the mother of Spark Ventures Program Manager, Stephanie Denzer.