It Starts With Me: Aurelie Rob, Patrick Schraets and Sebastian Zak at MAER ACHOL

ItStartsWithMe AureliePatrickSebastian

Last month, we announced the beginning of our It Starts With Me Campaign. We featured our first spotlight on Banu Beylanli, showcasing her efforts towards encouraging the use of digital solutions in the sampling process.

But for us, the spirit of It Starts With Me can go beyond what we do in the office. One can be a force for positive change and growth for not just our business, but also for themselves and those around them.

Corporate Responsibility is a key pillar of OI’s operations, and that is why this month we are featuring Aurelie Rob, Patrick Schraets and Sebastian Zak and their commitment to the Maer Achol charity, an organisation which aims to shelter and support street children in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Initial Involvement

Broadly speaking, “street children” are young people for whom the street has become their home and place of livelihood. Estimates for the number of street children in Bangladesh vary from hundreds of thousands to millions: the majority live in Dhaka. Few, if any, will have access to an education. Maer Achol is not only a shelter for street children, supplying them with basic amenities, but also a place where the children can develop so that they may find a job when they are old enough. It’s this mission that Aurelie, Patrick, Sebastian, and other colleagues in OI volunteer for, and many other employees donate to.

For Sebastian and Patrick, Aurelie is the one who truly heads their charity work. “She is the matriarch, she takes a leading role”, Patrick declares, as Sebastian nods in agreement. She is the main point of contact with Maer Achol, coordinating most of the donation drives and other activities OI carries out with them.

Aurelie started working in Bangladesh in 2012 and joined OI in 2015. How she and her fellow colleagues began working with Maer Achol demonstrate CR’s importance to OI. Aurelie recounts that “in 2017, our office manager requested that managers volunteered for different service projects. Our colleague Gitanjali Saha as she was already involved with the charity and proposed that OI collaborate with it. I saw it as an opportunity to give back to the community. Even though Gita was not nominated in this campaign, I want to make sure that her efforts are also acknowledged.”

Patrick and Sebastian both volunteered around two years ago. They were introduced to the project through Dhaka’s social committee. “Maer Achol appealed to me because I always wanted to do something for the people,” says Patrick. “I donated to various NGOs when living in the Netherlands, but that is not the same as volunteering your time.” Sebastian was at first contributing donations to Maer Achol but is now leading drama classes with the children and directing the production of a play he has written for them. “Through art and theatre, you can learn a lot,” he states.

Maer Achol Children Rehearsing 'Plastic is Drastic'

Maer Achol children rehearsing Sebastian’s play, Plastic is Drastic.

What They Do

COVID-19 has made on-site visits and events difficult to arrange. Aurelie explains that “we used to arrange tours where the management could visit the children, and the children would enjoy would preparing small dances for them.” Despite this, the three volunteers have still managed to carry out multiple projects. “Last year we had our regular Eid shoe donation for the kids, and in June we visited the shelter and had a surgical mask decoration competition with them,” recounts Aurelie. “Since October, we have been run some cooking classes, where we cook a dessert and serve it to all 90 residents of the shelter.

“We also regularly put together donations of goods to the shelter, and whenever we do, we always make sure that it will benefit all the children. We check with Maer Achol directly what they need most. Over the years we have had donations of toiletry bags, desks and benches, mattresses, computers and TVs.”

Last year Patrick set up a stall at the Dhaka Dutch Club Christmas Bazaar, where handicrafts made by the children were sold, as well as a sale of unbranded OI samples. “These sales not only give us more donations, but they increase our exposure. It greatly benefits us to reach out to expat community in Dhaka as well,” says Patrick.

Patrick at the Maer Achol stall in the Dutch Club Charity Bazaar

Patrick at the Maer Achol stall in the Dutch Club Charity Bazaar.

Rehearsals for Sebastian’s play, Plastic is Drastic, are still going ahead, even though most classes are being carried out virtually. “If you do something valuable, you keep it up,” Sebastian explains. “Through the drama classes we are teaching the kids English and about sustainability in a fun, sociable way, while avoiding politics! I sent the script to the teachers and who then translated it into Bangla so the students could fully understand it. Sometimes the children have problems pronouncing the words, so I have to adapt depending on what they are capable of.”

The plan is to have two performances: the upcoming premiere which will be digitally broadcasted, and a second live run later in the year. Sebastian’s hope is that it will be in-person and paid, so that the proceeds can go to the shelter.

Why They Do It

When describing OI’s relationship with Maer Achol, Aurelie stresses that everything they do is voluntary. “It depends on everyone’s availability: we are under no work-based obligation though [our flexible working arrangement] does help us a lot to find the time, and the company’s contributions are essential for us to keep running these projects.” Patrick adds that “the people at OI support us, the organisation here is more peer-to-peer. Individuals donate their time and money in the best way that they can. It really is a more personal approach.”

So, what motivates them to give up so much of their time to the charity? For Aurelie, it is a way to make her happy. “Ultimately, it makes me feel good. In my previous life in Europe, we did not see poverty in such a prominent way, but here it is very present: it’s right in front of you. I cannot change the world, but I can help in a small way here.

OI Employees cooking virtually with Maer Achol kids

OI employees participating in a virtual cooking class with Maer Achol residents.

“Our CEO Michael is also really passionate about the kids, he is like a mentor and inspiration to us, as are all the other directors who have contributed to Maer Achol in the past.”

Sebastian’s reasons for being involved are more personal. “I started the theatre classes because my dad passed away. It made me want to give back and I realised that here, we can make a difference.”

Patrick says that “working with the children gives you a lot of energy and satisfaction, and it is refreshing. It takes you out of your day-to-day work stress and you remember what’s important. It also helps your empathy and you learn a lot about yourself in the process. If you have the chance to do something, you should.”

For Aurelie, Patrick and Sebastian, the work continues. “We are still planning a few new things for this year, some new craft projects,” says Aurelie. “We are also open to any suggestions that other OI colleagues would like to lead or be a part of!”

Sebastian Zak, Patrick Schraets and Aurelie Rob at Maer Achol

Sebastian, Patrick and Aurelie at the Maer Achol shelter.

Follow us on LinkedIn for more spotlights on OI employees who truly know what it means when we say “It Starts With Me.”

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