May 27, 2018 | ° F

Warm Heart Worldwide wins award for social enterprise

Founded at the University, Warm Heart Worldwide raises funds for the people of the Phrao Valley in Northern Thailand through the sale of handmade, organic and fair trade paper products made by workers in the rural village.

GreatNonProfit, a leading online source for reviews of nonprofit organizations, recognized Warm Heart — whose student members on campus sell silk scarves, journals and handbags — as a 2012 top-rate nonprofit.

Tara DeWorsop, former U.S. director of Warm Heart and University alumna, said the organization deserves this recognition because of its unique approach to tackling poverty.

Ninety percent of the nonprofit organization’s profits go back to sustaining the Phrao valley communities, DeWorsop said. The other 10 percent of the money helps handle business affairs.

“It really is sustainable,” she said. “There’s nothing about it that’s just going there and putting on a temporary band aid on a problem ... [like] the 100 percent failure rates of nonprofits that have come through before.”

Daniya Anwar, co-president of the University’s chapter of Warm Heart, said the organization holds biweekly sales in University campus centers, which usually take place from 5 to 7 p.m. on Mondays.

The organization provides a stable income for the people of Phrao Valley with its micro enterprise approach, said Anwar, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

But it also teaches workers how to use the natural resources available to them — like silk worms — rather than outside resources, Anwar said.

“They have to be very creative,” she said. “It will help them make a living so they can progress independently on their own and not rely on an outside source. Through that Thailand is able to retain its culture along with its own independence.”

DeWorsop said she became involved with Warm Heart after taking a social entrepreneurship class with the organization’s founder and University professor emeritus Michael Shafer.

Takmila Chowdhury, co-president of the University chapter, said Shafer formed the organization after he noticed that people in Thailand make less than 75 cents a day.

“He [was] visiting the area, and that’s how he got to be so passionate about it,” said Chowdhury a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

In 2008, Shafer asked DeWorsop to live in Thailand for one year to complete a fellowship while helping to develop the micro enterprise side of Warm Heart.

DeWorsop said meeting different types of people and learning about the culture was a highlight of living in Thailand.

“You get to see the different types of Thai culture, and you meet some really amazing people who’ve accomplished so much despite really difficult life circumstances that they’ve been born into,” she said.

DeWorsop said Thailand is rightfully nicknamed the Land of Smiles.

“There’s a very healthy outlook on life and a can-do attitude,” she said. “They have a creative outlook on life where they can make things out of recycled goods and make the most out of whatever you’re given.”

Warm Heart features different programs to help the community get involved, Chowdhury said.

An example is the Children’s Home, one of the most successful programs Warm Heart runs, she said.

The home helps educate children from the ages of 6 to 18 in the Karen and Lisu villages. Without the program, children would have to walk 3 miles one way to school.

The home taught five children in May 2009, Chowdhury said. Today, 37 children are enrolled in the program.

The University chapter generated more than $1,000 in profits last semester, Chowdhury said.

Aside from campus sales, the chapter sells products all over the New Brunswick and Highland Park communities.

“We try to seek opportunities for sales,” she said. “Church sales are fantastic. People are really interested in buying these Fair Trade things, especially for Christmas.”

Chowdhury said the chapter only has about five members.

“Right now we’re trying to recruit ... it’s hard to do everything, like work and school and an organization to run,” she said.

By Alex Meier

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