Author: Lotta Heikkeri
Walki’s Leea Häkkinen believes education empowers women and helps end the cycle of poverty.
Leea Häkkinen, Manager, Management Systems at Walki Group, has always wanted to make the world a better place. Over the years, she donated to charities but was looking for another way to help.
“I wanted to do something concrete, something that would show that the money is actually making a difference."
In 2004, Häkkinen started sponsoring Omin, a four-year-old girl from Rajnandgaon in the middle of India via World Vision.
“I chose India because the status of women and girls is not good there. Girls aren’t often sent to school."
Since many children in India are forced to work at an early age, they don’t get to go to schools. This lack of education makes it difficult to end the cycle of poverty.
Omin’s parents are illiterate rice pickers, who used to travel around the region to find employment. But to be included in World Vision’s sponsorship programme and make sure the kids attend school, the family had to stay put in one place. So they settled in Rajnandgaon in the state of Chhattisgarh and signed up for the programme.
In addition to schooling, World Vision provides healthcare. As malnutrition is still a big issue in Indian World Vision projects, the children also get a warm meal at school.
A few years ago, Häkkinen finally got to meet Omin in person, after a decade of writing letters and sending pictures.
“I wanted to see how World Vision works and how the money is directed. When we talked to people, they kept saying how the projects had really changed their lives."
World Vision doesn’t hand all the sponsorship money to the families of the sponsored children, at once. It sends it out to them at a staggered pace to make sure it is used for the desired purpose. But if the sponsors want, they can donate small amounts directly to the families every other year. With Häkkinen’s donation, Omin’s family was able to buy a refrigerator. For Häkkinen it was important to choose an organisation that doesn’t just go and implement changes as outsiders but educates the community and enables locals to lead small projects in villages.
Since meeting Omin, Häkkinen has started to sponsor another child. This spring, she travelled to Ayacucho, a remote area in the Peruvian Andes, to meet Margiory, an eight-year-old Quechua girl. In a country still recovering from civil war, there are challenges in education, healthcare, and child protection.
“We visited many places, like hospitals, schools and people’s homes. The best part, naturally, was to meet Margiory and spend the day playing with her."
On her trips, Häkkinen has gotten to meet a lot of people, from schoolchildren to farmers, who benefit from the charity programs. She hopes that Omin and Margiory – among other girls in their areas – will pursue a profession so that they can pass on their appreciation for education to their own children as well, and in this way, hopefully, end the cycle of poverty.
Ambition to make the world a better place shows also in Häkkinen’s current position at Walki. She has worked for the company since 1987 and is now Manager at Management Systems and in charge of the sustainability reporting at the company. Walki has done charity work as well: the company donates annually to different social and environmental charities, for example enabling unprivileged kids to participate in sports.
“I believe everyone can help. Maybe we can’t solve everything, but even small actions count."
Child sponsorship is a form of charity where an individual funds a child, usually in a developing country.
It is estimated that over 9 million people are sponsoring children. The estimates of the amount of money donated annually varies from 3 to 5 billion US dollars.
Many organizations, like World Vision, do not give the money directly to families but fund development projects in the area instead to avoid inequality between sponsored and non-sponsored children.
What is the best thing about sponsoring a child?
It enables you to see other cultures and ways of living. The communication between the sponsor and the family gives a lot to both parties.
What have you learned from your children, Omin and Margiory?
Taking care of and caring for other people. It was interesting to see how happy people were even though they had so little.
What are your other interests?
I love to spend time in the nature and I am an avid photographer. On my travels, I’ve shown pictures of Finnish nature.