Sharing the mission to spread love, positivity, and global compassion, this month’s RISE spotlight is focused on inspirational Alice Pulford, co-founder of charity ‘Love Support Unite’. The Brighter Times chats to her about educating and empowering Malawian communities to break out of the cycle of poverty by becoming self-sufficient, and how important it is to look through a lens of love. We also hear about her exciting collaboration creating African magic with British Drum & Bass band, Rudimental.
Thank you so much for taking time to RISE with The Brighter Times Alice!
In simple terms, what is Love Support Unite?
Love Support Unite is exactly what it says on the tin. We LOVE and nurture our communities both in the UK and Malawi, SUPPORT our beneficiaries and projects in Malawi, and UNITE people through our ethics, ethos and drive towards equality of basic human rights.
How many years has the foundation been running?
Nina (my sister) and I have been running and funding Tilinanu Orphanage in Malawi for the past ten years. We have been running diverse outreach projects with Love Support Unite for the past five, and have been fundraising with Love Specs for the past four.
Before explaining the different aspects to the charities, let’s start at the very beginning. How did LSU come about, and why Malawi?
Approaching the end of School, aged 17, I had very little idea of the direction I wanted to go in. Apart from sport and media, I found school pretty uninteresting and academically challenging, so thought higher education wasn’t for me. I saw an advertisement for volunteering in Africa at a university careers convention. Without a second thought, I signed up!
Nothing like a snap decision!
Off I went to Malawi where I was placed to teach in a school for five months. Very quickly it became apparent that something was seriously wrong. I would walk into a classroom with no teaching experience or training, full with 350 children, and the teacher would leave the classroom. She’d take the only chair from within the room, and sit outside sipping on her Fanta without a care in the world.
So this planted a seed in your head about engineering change?
Yes. After a couple of weeks, I began working with the head and other teachers on an after school club which I called ‘The Teach To Teach Program’. It was created to make teaching easier and most importantly, more effective for the students. The five months I was there really opened my eyes to how ineffective volunteers and ‘aid’ can be without proper structure and direction. I felt totally inspired to create a more meaningful and constructive programme, and it totally captured my heart.
With this new found passion and knowledge, what next?
After Malawi the plan was to travel to India, and finish off with a ski season. During this time however I had really gained an interest in child development. With a new sense of direction, I applied to uni to study a programme in this field. During my first summer holiday I went back to Malawi to visit my friend Spiwe, who introduced me to the most wonderful lady, Mercy, one of the kindest and softest women I’ve ever known. Her heart pounded with wanting to help children, to give them the nurture they all deserve.
Was Mercy already helping the community?
Mercy had already registered ‘Tilinanu’ as a community based organisation in 2002, with the Malawian Government Porridge Fund. This enabled her to start providing food for over 400 children, who used to gather daily on her underdeveloped land in Area 49. She had a bigger vision though of being able to care for, and educate orphans and vulnerable girls.
And was this made possible?
It took very little time with this amazing lady for me to decide to join her, and I used what was left of my grandfather’s inheritance money to help fulfil her dream. ‘Tilinanu’ translates to ‘always with you’. It all felt so fitting as my gramps had recently passed.
We ran out of money pretty quickly though! Throughout the start of this new venture I was always on and off the phone to my sister, Nina. She eventually came and joined forces with us, followed by my Mum Yvonne! After ten weeks of fundraising together, very long days of negotiating with the Malawian building industry, and a lot of love and support form the Leicestershire community - together we had registered Tilinanu as a charity in the UK.
It enabled the doors of an abandoned church, with only 3 walls and no roof to be transformed into a safe and loving home for orphans and vulnerable girls within the Lilongwe District, providing support, education, and emergency famine and care packages in times of need.
Tilinanu became Tilinanu A.H.P, after my gramps. It was at that very moment a big part of us all would stay in Malawi always.
How is it funded all year round?
Love Support Unite covers all administration costs in the UK - enabling Tilinanu to have pretty much no outgoings. Whether someone donates £10 or £10,000 pounds, we can guarantee 100% of that donation goes solely to the girls.
It is. We believe in this day and age it’s hard to find an organisation that enables you to know exactly where your money is going. It’s really important that people have faith in the charity sector. There has been so much bad press that it’s kind of become OK to not give your support to disadvantaged people or situations. We’re trying to change that outlook, enabling people to give, and directly see that the money is going exactly to where we say it is.
So to be clear. Love Support Unite and Tilinanu are two completely separate charities and identities?
Yes, Tilinanu supports orphans and vulnerable girls, only.
So what does Love Support Unite do?
Love Support Unite operates on a 360 degree model, covering all of the components that a human needs. Water, Health Care, Education, Sanitation, and Food Security. LSU delivers sustainable programs through its team of educated and experienced staff in Malawi, and two paid members of staff in the UK. It’s main goal is to help communities break out of the cycle of poverty with a leg-up, rather than a hand-out, using Sustainable Farming.
How is this done exactly?
We give vulnerable families, living on less than $1 per day (that have six or more dependants including orphans & the elderly) a 0% seed loan (not money).
We provide them with the seeds, tools and farming inputs to develop one hectare of land, access to adult literacy teaching, and agriculture business training over two years. The program is designed to make the small family farm self-sustainable through effective management of resources. 100% of the 0% loan is paid back over these two years, and then re-issued to another vulnerable family in the same community, to give them the same opportunity.
And this has worked?
Yes! Families are able to farm their land, grow enough crops to feed the whole family, and then have enough surplus to sell, to be able to buy next years seeds! The families also have enough money left over to pay for their children's school fees!
Incredible, you must feel really proud…
Many parents on the program didn’t even finish primary school, now they’re attending our adult literacy classes, and getting education qualifications and certificates. We’re really proud of them for being so brave and going back into the classroom…some at the age of 30 didn’t even know how to write their own name…
We’re also really proud of being the only charity (that we know of) that has built a sustainable feeding program in a super rural area, that feeds 500 children daily.
Does LSU fund itself purely on a voluntary and donation basis?
Both charities open their arms to volunteers, help, and support in the UK; fundraising, helping with content and strategy, mentoring, coaching and guiding all of the LSU team both here and in Africa.
Only a select number of volunteers go over to Malawi, for two weeks of the year. The majority of the time you don’t work directly with beneficiaries but you have the opportunity to get an insight into our projects and how we make them sustainable. You can work alongside our staff and project managers, gaining experience in public speaking, translating, and having open conversations on how the program can be strengthened.
Do you take volunteers for longer periods of time ever?
Yes, but only if they have expertise and experience in working within the sector of our projects.
We also passionately believe that both charities, our programs, and help, should come from Malawians. Beneficiaries and communities should be inspired by their own, they should be role models, and aid should not come from a foreign hand and face. Charities should be empowering the countries and people that they are working with.
If people want to donate to a specific project, we can guarantee the donation will get there. If donations are made generally it will help the whole foundation operate and all of our projects develop.
We also created a limited company LOVE SPECS, to help raise extra funds!
LOVE SPECS, tell us more about that!
Love Specs are heart-shaped love-tinted diffraction glasses that turn points of light into fractal rainbow hearts! They look really amazing in tunnels and at night.
Where did that gorgeous idea come from?
Nina fell in love with this idea years ago - we would cut out a love heart strip and glue them to reading glasses so that she could wear them in the car on the way back from festivals. The idea to have them made into actual love heart glasses was simply a fundraising strategy.
One of the most difficult parts of fundraising is building awareness, and so creating something physical where individuals are donating and keeping something to remind them of their kind donation works really well.
We really loved it because it was the younger generation buying the specs. (We’ve found most people who give to charity are older, or when something bad has happened.)
At festivals people were buying the specs not even knowing where the money was going to! It makes us really happy we have a young generation of supporters, and ALL proceeds go to Love Support Unite.
If you’re not at festival goer, other than buying them off your website, what else can you do?
You can put on a Love Specs event, have them as wedding favours, stock them in your shop, buy them, or simply wear them wherever you go - be a love pixy for us! You can volunteer at a range of festivals too over the summer if you wanted, selling and representing them.
And they’re environmentally friendly?
Absolutely, they’re made out of recycled plastic currently, our bamboo glasses and monocle are now back in stock too! YAAS! Get your Love Specs here!
Tell me how Rudimental got involved?
They’ve visited us in Malawi twice, with friends, and with Beating Heart. Together, with other artists, they made an amazing song featuring our projects, Love Specs and the girls at the Orphanage! It’s a real feel good track.
(I have listened several times since this interview and IT IS A BANGER!!!)
What’s Beating Heart?
Beating Heart believe in the power of music to create a world without borders. They invite musicians, artists and producers to remix the world's largest single collection of vintage African recordings, which were made by Hugh Tracey between the 1920s and 1970s. Since 2016, Beating Heart have worked closely with The International Library of African Music (ILAM) based in Grahamstown, South Africa, to introduce these sounds to the next generation.
On a side note, Rudimental also worked on Wild Life Festival and purchased 20,000 paper specs to give away, promoting Love Specs and LSU. Since then, Rudimental have been ambassadors for us - sharing content and helping at events with our partners Junkyard Golf. They are all really really good people.
Nice one chaps...
Lastly Alice, any general advice for humanity?
If each and every day, every person did something kind for another person without expecting anything in return - the world would be a better place overnight.
If you can, then do something that is good for humanity and the planet.