I am Tjitske Weersma, the founder/initiator of the 4 Smiling Faces Foundation. Setting up the foundation was never the plan nor the goal. For me it was, is and always will be about the children and what is best for them. All the rest just sort of happened to me. In 2008 I just went to do volunteering in a Nepalese children’s home, not knowing that that would change my life completely from day 1…
After years of hard work, in 2008 it was time to broaden my horizon and look beyond boarders; I wanted to see how children lived elsewhere in the world. For years Dutch children have been the centre of my working life. Now I wanted to see what the differences and similarities were between children in the Netherlands and children who grew up in a completely different environment. It was the start of an exciting adventure.
Because part of my family history has taken place there, the choice for Asia was an easy one. On many occasions, I was advised to go to Nepal. Why should I ignore good advice? My adventure started in the Disabled Rehabilitation Centre Nepal (DRC), a home for 55 children with a disease or handicap or living with all kinds of family, social and/or economic problems. That was a great experience. Later it became clear, one that has enriched my life and given it a totally new dimension.
It soon became clear to me that there could be lots of improvements in living conditions in the DRC. Thanks to support from family, friends, colleagues and working relationships, which continues to date, enough funds have been raised to make significant improvements in the home. In March 2009 I founded the 4 Smiling Faces Foundation to further professionalize all fundraising efforts for the DRC.
The goal was and still is to make the home an even better place to grow up in. I am very proud of the fact I can call myself part of the DRC family. I regard it as the greatest honour that the kids see me as their mother, big sister and/or best friend.
Since 2009, 4 Smiling Faces supports a second children’s home in Kathmandu: the Nepali Woman’s and Children Service Society orphanage (NWCSS). This is a home for 25 to 35 orphaned children, foundlings and former street children aged 0 to 18 years old. After the earthquakes of 2015, a third home was added: the Lotus Family Foundation Nepal, a small home for 14 former street children who were addicted to sniffing glue. Since the beginning of 2016, we also support the Second Home Child Outreach Program. This is an after school program for 26 disadvantaged children from Kathmandu’s suburb Jorpati.
Why I Do What I Do?
For many children in children’s homes in developing countries life is a huge challenge. They are vulnerable due to lack of help and support from trustworthy adults. This is even more true for children with an illness or disability. I would like to help them increase their resilience and self-reliance. So that they can create opportunities themselves and take advantage of the opportunities that present them selves. These children deserve to live as independently as possible and break the circle of poverty. With a little help and support from our side, they will succeed. In my youth, I was very lucky to get the help and support that I really needed at that moment. Now, I would like to pay it forward. Form me that would complete the circle. That something beautiful can come from such a dark time. That the bottle is always half full and that we look to the future.
For all the children we focus on, it is true that their lives would have been a lot more difficult, dramatic, unhealthy and especially unsafe if they hadn’t ended up in a children’s home. Because in spite of all the constraints of life in a children’s home, there at least the kids are taken care of as best as possible. That’s more than many other children in Nepal can say: many children live on the streets or are neglected at home.
When I ask children in a children’s home what they want the most, they all say the same: “to be with mom and dad!” Regardless of whether they actually have parents and/or if they are in the picture. Usually they call their fellow residents their brothers and sisters to indicate that they feel safe and secure in the children’s home. “We are not sad because we live in children’s home; with so many brothers and sisters it’s nice and cosy “. I consider it a privilege too work for these children’s homes!
My dream is to start our own child center where we can provide a warm and safe home to children, from a young age to the start of their independent life. What for some children will be their forever home, because they can never live without help or protection. Where children get all the space to be a child and to develop to what ever it is they want to become. Where they are supported, stimulated and challenged. Where what they can and want are most important. In short, where always applies: children come first!