After working as a diplomat for the Nigeria Mission to the United Nations in New York for 16 years, Clare Effiong thought it was time to give back in a different way.
Back in 1999, she founded Esther’s Aid for Needy and Abandoned Children, a nonprofit organization. In 2000, the Nigerian native went to Rwanda without knowing anyone there and was appalled by what she’d seen.
“In Rwanda, if you have one meal [a day], that’s a luxury,” she said.
The name of the organization is inspired by the biblical story of Queen Esther, a Jewish orphan who later became the Queen in Persia. The main goals of the New Rochelle, N.Y.-based organization are education and training, Effiong said.
Since her first visit to Rwanda, she’s helped open a primary school for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. The school, which was initially an all-girls institution, was so well-received that it was soon after opened to boys as well. Effiong has opened a bakery, called Heavenly Bakery, which has employed many natives and helps the local economy. She also established a training program that helps the community members get involved in fields such as catering, sewing, farming and hospitality services.
Although the organization has helped more than 3,000 orphans find places to live and got many adolescent girls out of prostitution, Effiong said she’s now at a standstill. Esther’s Aid has 13 staff members based in Rwanda and volunteers in New York, but it does not have nearly enough money to complete its most recent plan, which includes building classrooms, dormitories, empowerment centers, job training facilities and more on 4.6 acres of land called the Village of Peace. The organization had a groundbreaking for the land, but it does not have the money to do anything with it yet.
“All of this has been so much of a struggle, because it’s hard from the economy to get people to give something—to do something,” she said. “No matter how small, do something sustainable so they don’t go back to the streets.”
Effoing is encouraging people to come out on Oct. 21 to Esther’s Aid’s annual fundraiser dinner, titled “A Taste of Hope.” The dinner will feature Peter Xavier Kelly, a self-taught chef specializing in contemporary American cuisine. The dinner will take place at Riverside Church in Harlem at 6 p.m. Tickets are $250 each.
Despite her struggle, Effiong said she can’t walk away from this work.
“The suffering is enormous. If you walk away from it, it’s like you’re walking away from a generation of helpless people,” she said. “They are the future.”
For more information on Esther’s Aid, visit www.esthersaid.org, call 914-365-1544 or email Esthers.Aid3636@gmail.com.