What does it take to change a Dutch television professional into the dynamic force behind Philanthropy Connections? Simple, a lifetime of travel and one seminal trip to Laos in 2004.
Sallo Polak was in high demand as a freelance floor manager, working for many years on several successful Dutch TV programmes. But before that in 1977, at the age of 18, Sallo travelled overland from Amsterdam to India. It was a long, beautiful, vital trip, but the misery that he saw never left him: the stink in the slums, the toddlers playing in open sewers. For the people on the street, birth, life and death all occurred amongst the rats and the garbage. It was the same planet, but a totally different world than he was used to living in. The urge to do something for these people never let go of him.
The turning point came during a trip through Laos in 2004. The poverty and the effect on children there reminded Sallo that there has not been enough change in the region. Their vulnerability was so clear in this especially poor country. They had few chances and faced many hazards. For Sallo doing nothing was no longer an option and he decided to definitively change his life. On his return home he quit his television job and in January 2006 he was on a plane to Bangkok.
Starting out, Sallo worked as a volunteer for a small charity in Thailand for a number of years. He learned a lot about Asia and what is needed; gained new insights and developed his own vision. Slowly Philanthropy Connections coalesced into a viable organisation.
That is its beginnings but what maintains that motivation? For Sallo a large source of inspiration are the unselfish people that he has encountered, those whom are so committed to those in their communities who are far less fortunate than themselves. They are the ones that Philanthropy Connections wants help with their beautiful and necessary work. Because there is so much to do. These are the people who need access to sufficient funds to make enormous changes to those around them.
Why an own foundation?
Sallo: “I had the option to become the coordinator of a home for street children in Chiang Mai. It would have been wonderful work; very directly involved in the care for some fifty incredibly vulnerable kids. Being on the ground and visible results every day. Talk about job satisfaction! But that would have been it: fifty children.
What if I would be able to find them a coordinator? These fifty children would have the assistance they needed and I could explore what I could do for other projects where I could help many more people.
Now every year, hundreds of disabled people in Thailand and beyond get tailor-made wheelchairs thanks to a van we were able to provide. In dirt poor villages in Cambodia preschools are opened for hundreds of children; people are provided with toilets (over 95 so far); village libraries are operating; children receive scholarships so they can continue their education. Burmese orphans living in a refugee camp are provided with a safe haven; isolated disabled and elderly people receive support in all kinds of ways; Burmese children can learn English, increasing their chance of successfully completing their secondary education; victims of floods were given emergency relief. And there are some thirty five more projects where people in need are being supported and cared for.
Currently I spend most of my time in our Chiang Mai office, but with my foundation I have accomplished much more already than I could ever have dreamed of. And we can do much, much more for so many people that desperately need it, and cost-efficiently too. However, we do have costs and we do need money to be able to do so. When you support us, you support them!
I am also extremely grateful to my family, friends, acquaintances and former colleagues. Without their support nothing would had come of my plans. Therefore they are all part of Philanthropy Connections. I hope many more people will join us. We can achieve so much together, this has been proven and it feels really good."