Why and when did you establish this organisation?
Doing charity work has always been one of my dreams but I hadn’t yet figured out how I should do that, and what would be the scope. Although I myself have always had a roof over my head, a supportive family, and all life’s necessities, I knew that I wanted to help those that were not so lucky, and who were in most need of help.
In 2012, Estonian musician Kalmer Neidla lost his home in a fire but thanks to peoples’ generosity it was possible to furnish the family quite quickly with all the essentials they needed after losing everything. After that one-time charitable gesture, Hanno Pevkur, who was the Estonian minister of Social Affairs at the time, wrote in the media that Estonia needs a specially dedicated organisation that could furnish people with emergency essentials in critical times of need.
My good colleague (and the other founder of the NGO) Raido Jaan, decided to do something about it. We put our ideas on paper, and began looking for like-minded people to make our plans a reality. When Raido Jaan came to me with his idea, I didn’t hesitate for long, because I had already been waiting for a chance like that. In 2013, we established our charitable organisation to assist people in difficulties. We mainly offer second-hand clothes to fire victims, large families, single parents, elderly with special needs, and to other people in need.
How many people are there in your organisation?
Currently we have two founders / members of the board, and we employ three people. We also have six volunteers who are contributing their time almost daily. In addition, we have about a dozen of volunteers who help us out from time to time. Everyone contributes as much as they can. And, of course, we are always happy to see new people joining us because the more there are the more we can accomplish!
How do you finance your activities?
In order to support our activities we opened a nice little charity shop in Tallinn. All receipts from sales and donations are used to pay for the rental and utility fees of our shop and the sorting centre, as well as our employees’ salaries, and transport fees for the care packages – yes, we pay for shipment of essentials to those in need. In addition, we sell beautiful scarves with Estonian national patterns that are also very practical.
Last year, we submitted a project to the 2017 NGO support programme run by the National Foundation of Civil Society, and received a capacity-building grant. The project aims to improve our organisational capacity, and will hopefully help us become more self-sufficient.
What has been your biggest lesson?
We have learned that unfortunately you can’t trust everyone who asks for help. In the beginning, we sent out several care packages in good faith, and later found that the same items were being sold online. What is more, our package was delivered to that family by a volunteer who included some additional items on their own behalf. That incident affected us quite seriously and left a lingering feeling of disappointment. Unfortunately, there are people like that out there, and we must take care to be sure of whom we support, even though our hearts tell us to support everyone who reaches out for help.
For me personally, the biggest lesson has been that one must dream big because dreams do come true. During its rather short existence, our organisation has made significant strides, and that motto has been very beneficial.
What is the most exciting thing you are currently working on?
Our work at Aarete Laegas is exciting around the clock but recently we had an inspiring meeting with the people form the Foundation Hea Hoog. They focus on people with special needs, and we plan to start collaborating with them, for example, by engaging people with special needs at our centre. In addition, we continue to implement the organisational capacity-building project that received support last year. There is a multitude of ideas to choose from, and I genuinely couldn’t be happier!
What could other NGOs learn from you?
We are a small organisation but we don’t let that stop us. We think big, and everything we do comes from the heart.
What about your own organisation, is there still room for development?
Since our volumes have increased significantly from the start, there are some fundamental processes that need improving, e.g. sorting activities. The volumes of items that are sent to us keep growing exponentially, and we need to find more efficient systems, and think about automating some processes.
If you were given 3 million euros to spend in one year, no strings attached, what would you use it for?
Currently, our centre does not have good access, and young mothers are forced to carry heavy carts up the stairs. This amount of money would enable us to find a new place, with excellent accessibility, and more room to make even bigger dreams come true. In a bigger place, we could improve our efficiency, and perhaps even branch out to other parts of Estonia where people need our help, and are expecting us – that would enable us to move closer to those in need, and bring comfort to even more people.