A Story of Building Opportunity into Charity

March 16, 2015

By Floyd and Kathy Hammer, Outreach, Inc.

After Kathy and I retired from a successful business career, we intended to relax and sail the world. Then a friend asked us to help remodel a leprosy hospital into an AIDs hospice in Tanzania. East Africa.  We had years of experience in the construction business, our last name is Hammer!  I said no!  Kathy said yes!  We made our first trip to Africa that year, 2003!

We returned to Tanzania the next year and came face to face with starvation, the result of three years of drought.  After Kathy learned of the 5th little child dying, Kathy said, “We have to do something; we can’t allow children to die like this!”  You can tell Kathy is the “heart of Outreach.”

We found two truckloads of maize (corn) in a Government warehouse, which we purchased. This was our first experience of helping people who were actually starving. We didn’t know exactly what to do! We knew we didn’t want to just give a handout, these were proud people. We did know that one of the things hunger steals from people is their dignity; a person’s self worth is measured by their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Charity may feel good to the giver; but the receiver often feels humiliated.

We knew the women created beautiful handmade baskets; that was what we decided to barter for.  Through the local Pastor the word went out that people could come the next Saturday morning and we would barter baskets for the maize.

That Saturday morning there were literally hundreds of Mamas ready to barter baskets for maize. Kathy and I were stunned at the number of women, the entire village was hungry!  We had hundreds of Mamas wanting food, bartering takes time, so we asked that if anyone had enough food to make it through the day to please come back the following day. No one moved; none of the Mamas had food.  Outreach began that beautiful sunny Saturday morning.

(Courtesy: Outreach, Inc.)

(Courtesy: Outreach, Inc.)

Kathy bartered for baskets, but what I did not know was Kathy was telling the Mamas that we would take their baskets to America, sell the baskets, and bring the money back to build their children a secondary school.   The baskets were truly beautiful and we knew that we could sell them to people back home who would want to help. Kathy and I are entrepreneurs, and practice the business principle of my first boss, J.B. Clay; “Nothing happens until someone sells something.”

This was our opportunity to create dignity and commerce.  This was business development, not just a handout from “do gooders”.  To date, Outreach has purchased and sold over 50,000 baskets and other hand-made craft items that you can buy from Outreach online at www.outreachprogram.org.

The first thing we did with proceeds from those first baskets was to begin building the Gunda Secondary School that Kathy promised. Today Gunda Secondary School has over 700 students.

It’s not always easy, dignity and self worth should be built into charity whenever possible. We understand that sometimes there is no other alternative but to offer help freely and with understanding of peoples self worth.  Outreach and our associate partners have packaged and donated over 265 million meals to children, families, and victims of disaster at home and abroad since we started in 2004.

There are times when it might be easier than you think to seize an opportunity.