Karen Leonard has resided in Essendon, Australia, all of her life. For the past thirty years she has successfully run a small business in Essendon, The Karen Leonard Music School.
A dedicated traveler since the age of eighteen, Karen has visited many countries. In 2000 while backpacking through Vietnam, Karen met a young street kid and they had an instant connection. He introduced Karen to his world, his fellow street kid friends and their families. It wasn't long before Karen was supporting several street kids by encouraging them back to school and paying their education costs. After returning home from this first trip deeply affected by the plight of these people, Karen made a commitment that she would return to Vietnam and support him and a few others.
At Karen's annual friends and family Christmas Eve Party later that year, she suggested to everyone that instead of buying the usual obligatory Christmas present that everyone put into a hat the amount of money they would normally spend on a present and, on her return trip to Vietnam, she would help a poor family improve their life with this money. The idea was wholeheartedly embraced and so it began. As word got around friends and family donated more money to help children and families in Vietnam. Initially Karen's help and assistance in Vietnam was rather "ad hoc".
Whilst Karen had no problem receiving donations from people that trusted her and that she knew, it became uncomfortable when friends of friends that Karen didn't know began to give her money to take to Vietnam. It was then that Karen decided that what she was doing needed to be set up formally in order to be accountable to all of these people. Lifestart Foundation was registered as an Incorporated Association. No. A0045550E on April 7th 2004 in Victoria, Australia.
Prior to her first trip to Vietnam Karen had never harboured any ideas at all that would have suggested that this is what she would be doing with the rest of her life. Indeed, she had probably envisaged being semi-retired by now, taking it easy and enjoying the fruits of her labour in relative comfort!
Karen now has no plans for any type of retirement and, in fact, has never worked harder than she is doing at this present time. She views her thirty years of teaching music to the privileged and running a small business as an extremely long apprenticeship for the work she is now devoting the rest of her life to.
November 29th 2013
Lifestart Foundation works with incredibly strong and inspirational people every day. While Western culture is progressively breaking down the barriers and celebrating the achievements and abilities of people living with disabilities, there remains a prominent stigma within Vietnamese culture. There are many organizations working with children with disabilities, but few providing relief and opportunities for adults. In the Quang Nam Province, reliable employment and income can be very difficult to attain, and this is only furthered for those living with physical or intellectual disabilities. For many of our beneficiaries, their physical disability heavily hindered their ability to obtain and education, furthering their marginalization within their community. Despite this, and despite the hand of cards that they have been dealt their whole life, our beneficiaries give us hope every day... read more
November 18th 2013
HAPPY HOLIDAYS! December is just around the corner, which means that in mere weeks, families and friends will fall into the welcomed routines of their respective holidays. The holiday season can provide wonderful things; it can bring loved ones together, often closing distances of impressive lengths so that everyone can gather to celebrate together. It can provide strength and faith for individuals, or bring back warm memories of holidays in the past and give way for reflection of the past year. At this time of year, it is nice to take inve... read more
November 17th 2013
The saying it "Never rains but it pours " is certainly true for us in Hoi An at the moment. I spent last weekend bunkered down in my room writing a blog, waiting for Super Typhoon Haiyan to hit the Central coast of Vietnam, quietly praying and hoping that it didn't. We were extremely fortunate that Typhoon Haiyan miraculously veered east and missed us. All in Hoi An were very grateful as they were just getting on top of Typhoon Nari that had hit Central Vietnam a few weeks previously. I think we were all looking forward to an uneventful weekend but that wasn't to be. I was woken in the early hours of Saturday morning by my youngest son Sinh telephoning me, he said "' Open the door mum the floods have come!" So with ... read more
November 11th 2013
Well wishes, prayers and protection and compassion from Quan the Am have been answered for Central Vietnam. Typhoon Haiyan miraculously moved east away from Central Vietnam and proceeded north making land at Hai Phong in northern Vietnam. After the 2009 Typhoon that hit Central Vietnam a 67 meter tall statue of Quan the Am was built on the Son Tra Peninsula in Danang to protect the residents of this region. Regardless of your beliefs it is obvious to us all that we were protected from devastation this time. We are all very relieved here in Hoi An but of course are very worried for our northern neighbours who are in the midst of this now. Central Vietnam is only just starting to get on top of things physically and financially from the most recent Typhoon Nari ... read more
November 9th 2013
Bunkered down in my room in Hoi An waiting for the Super Typhoon Haiyan to hit our beautiful little town of Hoi An is an eerie and somewhat scary feeling, definitely the "calm before the storm". I can't help but feel lucky though as I am sure I will be ok and of course there are so many who will not be ok at all... I have what supplies I think I need, candles and matches for when the power goes out, some basic food items but if the power goes out I have just realized that I can't boil the water for my 2 minute noodles. I have never eaten them dry but there is always a first for everything. (a very small problem in the scheme of things though) I also have a few ... read more
October 8th 2013
Every now and then the universe sends us an amazing human being in the form of a volunteer. Of late, this is happening on a very regular basis. We are so fortunate! The Lifestart Foundation organization is truly thankful for these very special people who quite often put their lives on hold, take a huge leap of faith and come over to Vietnam to help us in whatever way is needed. One of these amazing volunteers is Emma from New Zealand. Emma is a highly skilled Physiotherapist and Acupuncturist who is one of the most positive people you are ever likely to meet. She has endless energy and a heart the size of a water buffalo. Emma is a partner three very successful Physiotherapy practices in New Zealand, so it's not like she was ... read more
October 2nd 2013
Ly is an incredibly talented artisan that has worked with the Lifestart Foundation since 2009. You can read our first blog about Ly's story here. Ly lives with her extended family on Cam Kim Island, and comes into Hoi An to make and sell her products at theurl=http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g298082-d2034120-Reviews-Lifestart_Foundation_Workshop-Hoi_An_Quang_Nam_Province.html Lifestart Foundation Workshop. Ly’s story is one of sad beginnings, but things are looking up for this mother of two. Ly was born into an unstable family, and her mother sadly abandoned her at a very young age. Fortunately, a family on the island adopted Ly and raised her as their own. As is common in most families in the Quang Nam province, poverty provided little opportunities for Ly and her family member... read more
August 29th 2013
The Lifestart Foundation believes that every child should have the opportunity to complete an education and for over ten years has been actively assisting students in Hoi An and its surrounding regions. Scholarships are available to children who are at risk of not being able to continue with their education because of financial difficulties. Scholarships include the provision of school fees, extra classes, books, stationery, uniforms and transport where needed. In 2010, a Seven Year Educational Scholarship program was launched to give exceptionally bright but extremely disadvantaged children with limited financial resources the chance to fulfill their dream of completing an education. The provision of scholarships fund the completion of education for children from Year 6 to Year 12. Further sponsorship is sought by the organisation at the completion of Year 12 for children to attend ... read more
June 20th 2013
Thank you to everyone who wrote a letter of support for my youngest adopted son Sinh's visitor visa application to come to Australia for my mum's 90th birthday in September. I must say it was an impressive collection of letters of support from around the world! Thank you also to the Australian Government for understanding that his application was bona fide and for granting Sinh his visa! We are all very excited and can't wait to welcome him to Melbourne so he can spend time with his Australian family. It will also be fantastic for him to experience our life here and our fabulous art and food culture in Melbourne. If you missed the most recent blog about Sinh here is the link and here is the link to a url=../../Asia/Vietnam/South-Central-Coast/Quang-Nam/Hoi-An/blog-94891.... read more
June 11th 2013
One of the very important projects of the Lifestart Foundation in Vietnam is the education of children. At the core of this project are the 7-year Education Scholarships covering years 6 to 12 in Secondary school. The children are around 12 years old when they are awarded this "life changing" Lifestart Foundation scholarship. The 7 Year Education Scholarship cost covers all school fees, books, stationery and uniforms, plus the cost of “additional classes”. Without the opportunity to attend additional classes, both at school and under private tuition, most children will probably not make it past year 9. Paying for government school fees alone will not enable these students to progress to Year 12 with high enough marks to enter University. Furthermore, coming from such poor families, without ... read more