In August of this year three high school students from Woodstock will travel to India and Nepal to spearhead a local chapter of the new philanthropic organization Khusi Hona (or “Feel Happy” in Hindi.) At that time, Jonah Martindale, Jeremiah Tart, and David Fletcher, accompanied by parent Sharon Fletcher and KH founder Matthew van Rooyen, will visit two or three of five orphanages in this largely poverty-stricken region. In doing so, they will bring a new breed of “crowd funding” charity to several highly needy corners of the third world. While here at home, with drug and alcohol abuse apparent among Woodstock’s youth (and a nameless malaise, harder to brand, exponentially tainting “first and second worlds” globally) such enlightened actions could not be better aimed nor timed. But just how did Woodstock become the lucky recipient of so selfless yet self-improving an international reach-out? The genesis was this.
Over the years Byrdcliffe-based lawyer Sharon Fletcher has done considerable pro bono work for Global Ministries and Relief (GMR), the founder of which, Dr. Leon van Rooyen, also happens to be the father of Khusi Hona founder, Matthew van Rooyen, both of South Africa. After securing his own finances in entrepreneurial branding and taking obvious inspiration from the philanthropy of his father, a 30 (I was 30 at time of founding 9/15/1981) year old Matthew set out to assist the orphans of his home continent under the rubric of GMR. However, due to chronic political unrest, civil war, and internal struggles inherent to tribalism, this vaulted ambition proved a most difficult “starting place.” Soon advised that I take the model to India where the orphan problem is statistically far worse (31 million orphans in India), Matthew founded Khusi Hona in mid 2012, which has quickly earned him a reputation for charismatic yet extremely efficient leadership in the field. Not surprisingly, Khusi Hona fast came to the attention of Sharon Fletcher, who lost no time in sharing her enthusiasm with David Becker, filmmaker and media arts teacher of the Woodstock Day School who in turn embraced the project and plans to help produce a series of 2-3 minute mini documentaries with the students from the perspective of the orphaned children, students visiting and the staff and directors of the children’s homes. The result was that a core group of Woodstockers — inspired by this young South African’s creative generosity — have placed three of their sons in his care. These young men will travel to the other side of the world to experience and assist children in dire need, exponentially expanding their own consciousness, and encountering an extraordinary career opportunity in the process.
The genius of “crowd-funding” (the most visible and successful example of which remains “Kickstarter”) relies upon specifically solicited funds accomplishing specifically articulated goals (without paying the often exorbident salaries of various “non-profit” specialists.) Case in point: Last year KH collected monies to buy 75 winter thermals for 75 orphans to wear this winter. It has likewise procured funds to purchase (and put in use!) a solar panel which heats water allowing 62 orphans that extremely rare commodity…hot water, in cold Himalayan winters, the daily use of which increases their sense of being loved and truly cared for while decreasing the risk of microbe-based disease.
Asked where Woodstock fits into KH’s fast-unfolding mission, Matthew explains the following: “Woodstock is not the first, but [certainly finds itself] in the forefront of our newly released strategy. We have one official chapter at University of South Florida (USF), we have several more in the works at several other universities including Rutgers and University of Tampa. The Woodstock Day School will be the first such “high school” chapter, as well as the first in New York. We have been organizing and sanctioning field volunteer opportunities in India and Nepal with Khusi Hona since its first year 2012, but Woodstock’s group would be the first volunteer trip sanctioned under Khusi Hona.”
In a cell phone interview held at the end of a recent group brainstorm I asked Jonah Martindale, age 15, what he expected of the trip.