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.
May 7th 2013
This is a long over due personal update blog about my family in Vietnam. As most of you know I adopted two brothers, Sinh and Tu many years ago. Where have the years gone? Both boys are now married and I am a besotted grand mother to little six month old grand daughter, Dieu Kha (pronounced you car). Life has changed dramatically for both of the boys who spent their formative years growing up in an orphange in Hoi An. Tu is now 29, married to the lovely Phuong who is our Assistant In Country Manager at Lifestart Foundation. Many of you who have visited our workshop and projects in Hoi An will have no doubt met her. Phuong is doing a wonderful job in her important and varied role. Tu and Phuong are happily married ... read more
May 2nd 2013
Due to an unfortunate turn of events two of our volunteers scheduled to start with us in May are unable to do so now. One has had to return to her home country and the other has started a new job. We are in desperate need of someone to come over to Hoi An for a minimum of three months asap. Our current volunteer Sheila from the UK has been volunteering with us for six months and is due to return to the UK early June. We need someone to take over her volunteering schedule and if they arrive in time have a few weeks shadowing Sheila before the hand over. This would be the ideal scenario so as you could see what is involved and have some training with Sheila before she leaves. Sheilas volunteering ... read more
April 29th 2013
I am sure you'll all remember that lovely blog post of Stephanie Hamilton, wonderful photographer from Dubai, who visited Lifestart Foundation a couple of months ago and made a kind donation to support our outreach work at Hoi An Homeless and Disabled Shelter. If you missed her blog here is the link, it is a lovely read with gorgeous photos: url=https://service.mail.com/dereferrer/?target=http%3A%2F%2Fsweetnektar.wordpress.com%2F2013%2F01%2F19%2Flife-is-like-a-box-of-chocolates%2F&lang=enhttp://sweetnektar.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/life-is-like-a-box-of-chocolates/ Stephanie recently designed a range of beautiful cushions and announced that again ALL PROCEEDS shall be... read more
March 25th 2013
Carmen was one of those generous spirited volunteers who you wish would have stayed longer. However she was also one of those fabulous volunteers who came for three months but managed to do six months of work so I am definitely not complaining. Like many of our self funded volunteers Carmen immersed herself into her volunteering and gave it 110%, she didn't treat it like a daily job where you clock on and off. At all times approaching her varied roles with the utmost professionalism and just the right amount of sensitivity. While volunteering for Lifestart Foundation in Hoi An Carmen had a wide range of duties and responsibilities. These included working at the Lifestart Foundation Workshop, greeting customers and guests, giving them information about our project work and promoting the Lifestart Foundation Tour. She helped ... read more
January 22nd 2013
Towards the end of 2012 we commenced outreach work at a Homeless Shelter for aged and disabled youth and adults. The shelter is "home" for approximately 130 residents. They have a bed, albeit bare wood or metal, they are given some food which never looks inviting or nutritious and they have a roof over their head, but not much else. Actually nothing else except each other. This is IT for most of the residents that for one reason or another have found their way to this place or have been placed or left there. Some of the residents are old and frail, many of whom have had strokes or who are profoundly disabled and bedridden. Many residents have very complex disabilities with conditions ranging from Cerebral Palsy, Polio, Agent Orange related disabilities, Down Syndrome and probably ... read more
November 30th 2012
PHYSIOTHERAPIST, ALISON FROM AUSTRALIA LAYS THE FOUNDATIONS The Lifestart Foundation Free Disability Community Centre is now in full swing with patients benefiting from treatment each day. This year we have also commenced two outreach projects which also work with people with very complex disabilities. Both outreach projects are live in centers and through this work we will have the potential to reach a further 130 people in need. The patients live in these centers because they are from very poor families and their families are unable to support them or because they do not have families and were previously homeless. These centers are now their home for the rest of their lives. Both centers are poorly equipped on every level however they are provided with some where to sleep and some food. I have asked our ... read more
April 21st 2012
International volunteering can be lots of fun and also one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of your lifetime, but it's also a little more complicated than just showing up and having a good time. Here is some advice on how to make the most of your volunteer work and an opportunity to do a little self reflection before you commit to an international volunteer assignment to make sure that you are really up for all that it may entail.. For an international volunteering placement to be successful you need to be able to selflessly immerse yourself in a completely new environment that usually brings with it many challenges. International volunteering is not for everyone. Great volunteers need to be generalists, by this I mean that they are happy to hop in and help when ... read more
March 31st 2012
Sahar was nineteen and in her gap year from study in the UK when she came to volunteer for three months with Lifestart Foundation in Hoi An. She is an extraordinary young woman who was born in Iran and after years of traveling with her family they settled in the UK where Sahar is now undertaking a degree in Psychology and Philosophy at Oxford University. She had never been to Vietnam and undertook this volunteer experience on her own. With her engaging personality, maturity beyond her years and independent spirit it took no time at all for her to make friends and to fit in as part of the team. Sahar was a very welcome, conscientious and valuable member of the Lifestart Foundation volunteer team and left a lasting impression on many of us. We hope ... read more
January 31st 2012
If you are thinking of volunteering in Vietnam, - press " Lifestart Foundation's " button. How to feel, from a purely personal aspect, truly satisfied, humbled, and very happy, - and with the added bonus of being totally appreciated by the main players and also the disabled and disadvantaged craft makers you will be helping, as well as the "crew" that operate Lifestart Foundation. How many thank you's, in any language, can you take in, each and every day????? Al and I fell on our feet as far as our accommodation was concerned. With just one email we were offered a palatial room, purpose built to accommodate long-term stayers, - ie., expats, volunteers, and anyone wishing to stay in Hoi An longer than 4 weeks. Beautiful, with all we needed, comes highly recommended by these two ... read more
January 31st 2012
Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar Schoolis in Essendon, Victoria, Australia. It is where my daughter Jade attended school from kindergarten to year 12. In June, 2010 twenty eight Year 9 students and teachers from Lowther Hall visited Lifestart Foundation in Hoi An. The students and teachers held fundraising events prior to coming to Vietnam and the group raised enough money to sponsor a young Vietnamese student in grade six for seven years. Her name is Lua. Lua is the youngest of three children. Her parents are casual labourers with unstable work. They live in a simple one room house with no furniture. They are currently saving to install a toilet, a luxury that they do not have. Lua has always been the top student in her class and hopes one day to become a teacher. H... read more