So, its International women’s day and here at Choc Affair we have interviewed our very own, Linda Barrie, the founder of Choc Affair. I would describe Linda as determined and focused but will always make sure you have a cup of tea and give you advice whenever you need it.
We wanted to know more about Linda, her passions outside of Choc Affair, and her reasons behind them.
So here we go…
You’ve mentioned before about going out to Uganda, can you tell us a little bit more about that?
I went out there in 2011 with my sister, daughters and niece for two weeks, where we were part of a team building a house for an orphanage there. My sister and I came home and felt that there was a pull for us to go back and do more, so we went out the following year, during which time we started sponsorship of a child called Caro, and it just grew from there. We now have had over 50 children having gone through or are currently on our sponsorship programme, we rent a home out there from which we run the charity and we employ a full time manager and team member to look after the project for us. It’s crazy really how it has grown. Two years ago we started working with the gang of boys who live on the streets, and we’ll continue to work with them, encouraging them into education and skills training.
What would you say has been the highlight and the lowest point out there for you?
Hmmm, to be honest there are so many good things to talk about, but I think we can bring both high and low points together within the tale of our William! William was one of the young boys living on the streets, part of a group of 5 who were aged between 8 and 13 sleeping on the shop verandahs in town- two of the five did actually have family in town, but were choosing to sleep rough, they have since re integrated with their families. During that trip, we got to spend a fair bit of time with these 5 and before we left had managed to get three of them into the orphanage, where we knew they would be safe and looked after by the house mothers there.
William really struggled to adapt to this new lifestyle and kept running away, stealing locally, causing a lot of issues for himself. Anyway, he finally ran back to Kumi, and refused to go back to the orphanage, preferring to sleep rough. On our next visit, we went looking for him, and took him out for lunch and fed him, but weren’t sure of what we could do for him as he wouldn’t engage with any kind of authority. It’s pretty tough out there, because if you are caught stealing, there is every chance the men of the town will lynch the thief, and we were horrified that this would happen to William who by now was seriously involved with the older boys living on the streets. I think this was my own personal low, as there is something about William that really got to me. He is a tough one to get to know, has the most beautiful smile, but a whole lot of attitude, hot temper and the swagger that only a teenager can have. He is what I would describe as a loveable rogue for sure.
So what to do with William!! We talked about the possibility of renting a place and running a feeding programme for the street boys, and within 3 days we had rented a home and started decorating it! It was crazy how quickly it all happened. William got stuck in with us and worked alongside us bringing the rest of the boys to meet us. The feeding programme started up and every day upto 20 boys would arrive, share a hot meal together and have time with Robinah, it was a real blessing for the boys. However, the feeding programme was eventually shut down by the local council, as they disagreed with the whole idea, and now we work to encourage the boys into skills training, to enable them to be able to provide for themselves, whilst providing them support as and when they need it. William is currently not in training, but I am hopeful that during our visit this month we can try working towards enrolling him in college.
When are you heading out there next?
At the end of this month,we are going out there with a team of 12 of us, along with 750kg of aid!! There’s lots planned to do, lots of children to visit, a shoe making workshop to get ready to open and time being with the street boys.
What is it like when you’re there?
It’s definitely not like home here, that’s for sure! Cold showers, power cuts,lizards, and long drop toilets – when you drive along the roads, the earth is the most stunning deep orange, and there is a rich earthy smell that means you’ve arrived 🙂 It is the most stunning place, even with its poverty. There is a joy and an appreciation for life, amongst all the people we’ve met and spent time with, whom we call our friends and I can honestly say that our two week visits simply don’t feel long enough. I would love the opportunity to spend 6 months, really getting into the way of life and all that entails. I do enjoy learning the cooking methods and always end up bringing home spices and testing out the dishes on my family!
It sounds busy! What else do you do when you’re not working in the business?
I am a mentor and more recently have become a Trustee for a great charity in York, The Island. Research has shown that sustained and intentional mentoring relationships have a powerful and positive effect on young people, and so many of our younger generation are struggling with lack of self esteem, emotional resilience and mental wellbeing. The Island is all about mentoring our young people, and it is vital that more people step up to do so. I am passionate about about seeing lives transformed through relationships, and sometimes all it takes is for someone to say “ I believe in you “ and show they value another person right where they are at. The Island is doing so much good work, and I’m excited to be a part of that journey, and would recommend anyone to consider becoming a mentor. There’s a special need for more male mentors to come forward, as so many children lack a father figure in their lives.
You sound like you have a lot going on, outside of the business, how do you manage it all?
To be fair, I am no busier than a load of people out there, and I make the things I do my excuse for not going to the gym! No seriously, it’s not all me, we now have a great group of trustees on our charity’s board, and volunteers who help us enormously, and as we are only a small charity, currently it isn’t too onerous. But for the sake of transparency, I don’t go to the gym!!!
From everyone here at Choc Affair, Happy International Women’s Day!