When Heather Harries started her kindness exchange initiative Stop+Help back in March, it was with no other motivation than to extend a helping hand to those who’d been most affected by the pandemic. A no-cash programme, it saw tens of thousands of Good Samaritans sponsor the groceries of families who were struggling to make ends meet. That effort has now snowballed — and what started as a selfless community initiative is now in the final stages of becoming a full-fledged charity with a focus on children’s welfare.
The former education consultant spoke to WKND about their brand-new mission statement that aims to cover everything from food and education for every child to legal identity support, baby registries, and mental health solutions. “My vision has always been to help children,” says Heather. “I believe we have a duty of care to provide children with everything they need to be successful in their lives. Everything we want to do with Stop+Help now is to enable them to have success later in life.”
While the grocery kindness exchange will continue, ensuring that “no child or family goes hungry”, the team behind Stop+Help — which is still being driven wholly on a volunteer basis — will now also focus on broader issues affecting youngsters, including aiding the registration of children born into difficult situations, and supporting youngsters and families who face mental health issues compounded by their circumstances.
The latter is one that Heather is particularly excited about. “With Covid-19, people have been facing a lot of mental health issues. Now, if you come from the West, it’s more common to address these issues. But as you go East, it’s a subject that not many are willing to talk about.” That is changing now in the UAE, with authorities more keen to change the conversation around mental health, she says.
The Dubai resident reveals that they will be teaming up with mental health professionals and advocates — including Chris Haill who survived a suicide attempt earlier this year after police intervened — to support those in distress. “We’re hoping to have a qualified call centre soon, but for now, we’re hoping to be the easy phone call that can connect people at risk to the support they need.”
The environment will also be a beneficiary in the mission, as the group looks to repurpose educational supplies, baby items, gadgets and shoes for those in need, keeping them out of landfills and offering them to those who can give them a second life instead.
Yet another venture is a surprisingly thoughtful one — a birthday celebration registry is also in the works. Unmarked celebrations can be among the most painful times suffered by families in need, with parents feeling they have failed their children, said a statement released by the group. Through this registry, kindness givers can now register to be matched with a birthday girl or boy in order to gift them with cake, balloons and simple presents to celebrate their day.
“It’s amazing how many families want to be part of this one, and are happy to be matched with children in need whose birthdays fall on the same day as that of their own kids,” says Heather. “It’s a way for them to teach their kids humanity and kindness, so they’re very happy to send a cake or some toys for children whose own families may not be able to afford a celebration on the occasion.”
Those in need will need to register with the group, who will verify their identities and circumstances.
With the initiative gaining serious momentum, the British expat constantly finds herself wowed by “how kind” the community has been so far. “It’s a project that’s getting global focus now, as I even got a call from a lady in the US who wanted to replicate our model there. I think everyone wants to be kind,” says Heather. “We’re just enabling them with the help of what is actually a very simple concept. We’ve basically made ‘being nice’ easy.”
This development comes ahead of a high-stakes Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) scheduled for this Friday
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