Kiwi Cosmetic Company Changing the Face of Aid in Africa

Kiwi Cosmetic Company Changing the Face of Aid in Africa

What would you do if you came into a lot of money?

Would you travel? Would you buy a huge house and fill it with expensive things? Or would you want to use it to help others and make a real difference in the world?

Newsworthy was fortunate enough to travel to Africa with the charity So They Can and witness someone making that very decision – would they be a big donor or not?

The kids of Aberdare Ranges Primary School had been working on a haka for months – their way of saying thank you. For those who witnessed it, it was a moving experience.

"I was very emotional during the performance," said Maree Fitzgerald. "Just to see all those kids and know where they've come from and how hard their lives have been, and [now] they're well fed and happy."

The school was built for Kenya's poorest children by Australasian charity So They Can. 

Wellington woman Ms Fitzgerald has come here to see the charity's work first-hand because if it's up to scratch, she might be a big donor.

"I really wanted to come out and see the projects and almost do some due diligence," Ms Fitzgerald said. "And just make sure I do want to get involved more and that I can find a space that I might fit in to be able to help out."

Ms Fitzgerald was at a crossroads. To date, her life had been totally focused on work.

It was a very successful focus, allowing her to sell her IT business and look for something completely new. She said selling her shares left her in a position where she would never have to work again.

As part of her trip Ms Fitzgerald visited Nakuru rubbish dump, home to more than 600 families.

Sixty of the children from the school came from there, spending their first years scavenging for scraps.

They have to compete with vultures and pigs for the food they need to survive – which is rubbish in the first place.

So They Can's founder, Cassandra Treadwell, knows the dump well. She first went there in 2010 and couldn't walk away. She was so horrified she decided to expand the charity's projects.  

"It's just a horrendous place to be and it shouldn't have to happen," Ms Treadwell said. "We all live the way we live at home and there are children here that live in this.

"I've seen kids cuddled up to pigs at night in this rubbish dump for warmth; we had children here that live with teenage boys and get food from them and protection from them in exchange for sex – children as young as three years old."

It's not a safe place. Even the vultures have been known to pick children up and go off somewhere and drop them.

The charity takes children rescued from the dump site and homes them in their orphanage – the Holding Hands Children's Home.

With 120 kids, it's now at capacity. They're all safe from harm and provided with an education at Aberdare Ranges Primary School down the road.

In order to do all this, Ms Treadwell needs sizeable funding. Next year, they need $2.7 million.

While she would appreciate a sizeable donation from Ms Fitzgerald, that's not her only source of funding. Already she's been very creative.

The women here grow sunflowers, so Ms Treadwell brokered a deal with Kiwi cosmetics company Trilogy to turn their sunflower oil into a natural perfume.

The women harvest the seeds and send them to the local press. The oil then goes to Trilogy and the resulting perfume is sold all over the world. But all of the profits go back to the charity, So They Can.  

"We give back $2 for every product sold," Trilogy CEO Angela Buglass said. "Last year we were able to give back $20,000 [and] this year we estimate it's going to be more like $30,000."

It was a big move for Trilogy but Ms Buglass said it's a calculated risk.

"There are options," she said. "We could give to charity and just hope that the money goes to the right place, or we could develop a product that had a great story and then put it to market as we've done with the fragrance and So They Can."

Trilogy pay market rate for the oil, which supports the efforts of about 50 women farmers.

So, at a time when Government aid is in decline, is this sort of deal with big business the way of the future? Well, it certainly gets a big tick from the Head of the United Nations Development Programme.

Helen Clark said the work Trilogy is doing is "fantastic".

"So often people have a great product locally but where's the value chain? Where's the distributor? So it's a very practical role that a business support from outside can give. Enabling people to get value from being associated with a brand is important."

We need more people doing it, Ms Clark said.

Ms Fitzgerald's trip was to see not only the children at risk, but the work Trilogy and So They Can are doing. But is she ready to put her money where her heart is?

"My verdict is I'm very impressed with what So They Can has done, and in terms of due diligence I don't have any hesitation about getting more involved or anything like that."

She said she's in "boots and all".

In an incredibly generous donation, Ms Fitzgerald came back from the trip and decided to give So They Can $50,000 for their efforts.

With that money, they can build another house for the children at the orphanage and will also cover the costs of another fit-out for another house.

Sam Hayes travelled courtesy of Trilogy.

To see more of the charity's projects, or to make a donation, sponsor a child or volunteer, go to