In her previous life, a successful banking career was everything to Laurien Meuter she did what she thought was expected of her. But in the past six years she has found her life’s purpose in the form of the Tiny Miracles Foundation, which has changed her way of looking at the world forever. Talking with Laurien, you can feel
her unshakeable passion for her work. ‘To do this work you need to be totally convinced that this is your purpose, that nothing can stop you. You need deter- mination and persistence,’ she says. ‘You need to be able to look beyond what is there now, and towards what you are working for, and to realise that what we call happiness having a big house, material goods, etc is something else entirely for these communities.’
We want the communities to feel that they can create a better future for themselves and their families.
BUILDING ON THE FUTURE
Laurien and the foundation have recently started working with a community in the tribal area just outside of Mumbai. ‘What is blissful here is that we have space,’ she tells us enthusiastically. ‘We’re going to start an organic farm, a beehive, and the children can grow their own plants so we can create a very peaceful, pleasant world. It looked like a garbage dump before! We’re actually starting work with the neighboring community of 650 people this year, too, which means we’ll have worked with 2000 people in total.’
‘Unlike the people from Mumbai, these rural people are pretty much disconnected from city life so we’ll introduce them to the opportunities the city offers,’ she continues. ‘What’s great here is that men are also very much involved, which makes a big difference in male-female relationships.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
‘I can still get very emotional when I am there,’ Laurien says. ‘Mostly when I see the power in somebody’s eyes, especially the women and children. You can really sense that they are about to embark on a different life once they start believing in themselves.’
She gives us a moving example. ‘Once we organised a day trip to a water park for all mothers. They couldn’t swim so they were lying in the children’s pool in their saris all day. We gave them food, hired a double decker van. The next day I overheard them saying that it was the happiest day of their lives no drunk husbands, no stresses, good food. Then you realise what life is all about.’
The energy Laurien gains from her work is all-encompassing. ‘It fills a void inside me,’ she tells us. ‘I enjoy and value my own life more and worry less about futilities.’
PART OF THE COMMUNITY
As an outsider with not much experience in a world so far removed from corporate life, Laurien realised early on that she was trying to find ‘equality’ with the community. ‘But realistically, however close our relationships are, they’ll never be equal, because I will always be the one with money. But I feel we are on a great big adventure together.’
‘On the surface, I totally feel like a part of the community they don’t even notice me there anymore. I feel safe even in the most dangerous area of Mumbai, because I know I am part of them.’
One of the foundation’s greatest challenges is creating work for the parents. ‘Because only when they work will they be able to earn their own income,’ she says, ‘which creates self-confidence, and gives them choices.’
All of the foundation’s programs are geared towards helping people create their own earning capacity. ‘They know we’re not there to ‘give’ them anything,’ explains Laurien. ‘We’re there to work with them, not for them.’
They’ve also developed an app that allows the foundation to measure its impact in real time it even includes a happiness measure. ‘It’s very exciting,’ she says. ‘I think this might be a small break through in discussions around impact measurement in the NGO world. But let’s test it at Tiny Miracles first!’
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