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In recent weeks I have enjoyed meeting some of the team at Orphans Aid International (OAI), who opened premises in my electorate 12 months ago.

OAI is a New Zealand registered charitable trust, founded in Invercargill in 2004 by Sue van Schreven to rescue children from abusive and unsafe situations and to place them into loving families or homes.

During a visit to Romania in 2002, Sue witnessed first-hand a multitude of abandoned and orphaned babies who desperately needed help.  Sue and her husband were moved to open an orphanage in Romania, Casa Kiwi, housing four children.  From these small beginnings the international charity grew, and now has bases in India, Russia, Uganda, Bhutan Border and New Zealand, as well as the original Casa Kiwi in Romania, with 1,162 children currently receiving care.

Since 2005 OAI has been funded by donations and proceeds from op-shops located in Hawkes Bay, Invercargill, Dunedin – and its newest shop in Commerce Street,  Frankton.  Store Manager Martine O’Callaghan says it has been a fantastic first year and staff are looking forward to their second year with great enthusiasm.

“We don’t market ourselves as an “op-shop”; we’re a normal store selling various goods at really reasonable prices.  We are catering for a huge need – not only are we raising funds to help children on a global scale, we’re also helping people in our local community.”

“We really want to be a welcoming, smart shop, not a junk shop,” says Martine. “We’ve quickly become an important part of the community, and if we see someone in need we will help them.”

OAI also assist the New Zealand Red Cross to welcome former refugees to New Zealand. It’s a life-changing experience to settle into a new home with totally new challenges and routines, especially for children. OAI assist with basic household necessities and also with opportunities for engagement and friendship.

“In the future we’d like to do more projects in Hamilton and get more people involved,” explains Martine.  “We would like to begin a knitting group, and we already help people who are learning English or are new to New Zealand to learn more about the language and culture.”

“We just want to make it good and enjoyable for us and for the customers, and we’ve had a fantastic response from the community.”

“If people are feeling vulnerable, they want to feel that someone cares – and we really do, we wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

OAI also sell new goods from Uganda, Nepal and India, with proceeds going directly back to the projects in the country the goods came from.

Besides the orphanage, OAI also funds other projects, such as business mentoring in Uganda.  In the shop is a replica of a hut that a woman named Barbara used to live in, with her four children. After going through the project, Barbara began a grocery business in the old little hut and has been able to move her family into larger, warmer and drier accommodation.

850 children are fed daily in Calcutta at feeding stations run by OAI.  “For some of those children, that meal is their only contact with an adult during the day, and the volunteers get to know the children and look out for them,” says Martine.  “If a child stops coming, they can find out if they are unwell or need other help.”

“Poverty is relentless, and for those people being helped, OAI is the only light they have.”

Donations are gratefully received at the OAI shop. Good quality items are in high demand, and go out the door as fast as they come in.  Electrical items are not accepted, as they do not have an electrician to check items.

“Obviously we’re a business, and we need donations to make money to keep our service running. However, ours is a service to humanity and we seek to serve others.”

I appreciate the warm, welcoming attitude of Martine and her delightful team who make a visit to Frankton’s OAI shop a lovely experience. The shop is attractively set out with some intriguing displays that reflect the cultures and landscapes of many of the countries who receive their support. I encourage local people to pop in, and if you can support them by volunteering some of your time, donating goods or making a purchase, you will be helping many deserving families and children. Please email waikato@orphansaid.nz or phone 846 2077.

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