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Christel DeHaan editorial: Qualities of a generous spirit

This story was originally featured in the Deccan Herald based in Bangalore, India. An online copy can be found here: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/393650/someone-else-has-far-less.html

Gratitude and compassion, these two qualities are at the core of a generous spirit. Compassion is about understanding the needs of others. It is awareness that the quality of our lives is linked to the lives of people everywhere. And, gratitude - the quality of expressing thankfulness, showing appreciation and returning kindness - has been scientifically demonstrated to be a key factor to happiness, and an essential element of joy.

When an individual is grateful for the blessings in his own life, and has genuine compassion for those less fortunate, a philanthropic approach to life will almost always result.  
An individual with a generous spirit will recognise that, “I may not have much, but someone else has far less”.

My childhood, growing up in post-war Germany, taught me this. My mother, who lived through not one, but two world wars, talked often of the devastating effects stemming from war. Yet, she always was willing to lend a helping hand when someone was in need. She instilled in me the philosophy of giving that has guided my actions throughout my life - to care, to share, and to make a difference.

It was this philosophy that inspired me to start Christel House. I travelled to Mexico in 1998, and there I visited the shelters of Mother Inez who cared for close to 200 children.  As much as Mother Inez loved these children, she was not able to give them opportunities to optimise their human potential and ultimately break the cycle of poverty.

Standing in the midst of these young children and adolescents, I realised that turning poverty into a life of self-sufficiency and dignity would be a tremendous gift to them. At that moment, I also realised that giving money to Mother Inez would make life somewhat easier for these children, but inherently nothing would change.

We needed a model that would address the systemic causes and the debilitating effects resulting from poverty – poor health, isolation, abuse and abandonment. It would transition children from a life of hopelessness and despair into a life of self-sufficiency, independence, dignity and productivity. Every child deserves a seat at the table of life; particularly impoverished children. Each one of us has an obligation to help achieve this important objective.

I decided to direct my skills and resources to becoming the change I wanted to see, after the sale of the multi-national company I co-founded. A chapter in my life closed and a new chapter began. That new chapter focused on deploying my business skills and financial resource to help impoverished children break the cycle of poverty. Poverty begets poverty - it transfers from generation to generation. The cycle can only be broken through intense intervention and holistic human development programs.

Today, Christel House schools and learning centers are located in Bangalore and Lavasa in India, besides Mexico, South Africa, Venezuela and the United States. We have students who have finished their university studies in chemical engineering, accountancy, social services, business and in a number of other disciplines. They are successfully employed, supporting themselves and making a positive contribution to their communities.

Our children regard Christel House as an oasis…they love coming to school and they have an abundance of gratitude in their hearts. Our children know that they are loved and valued. They also know that they will need to continue the virtuous circle of giving back to society. Gratitude and compassion are powerful forces that move mountains. And in this context, advance the well being of our fellow men.

(The writer is an entrepreneur turned philanthropist and the founder of Christel House International)

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