Emma Soames visiting a school in Peru
One of the greatest pleasures of my work for Saga over the last decade has been as a trustee of the Saga Charitable Trust. As many readers will know, being a trustee of a charity can bring with it many problems. I have served time on several charitable boards where the job was one of crisis management, dealing with one problem after another. These issues seem to always be in association either with people or fundraising.
But the Saga Charitable Trust is nothing but a joy to be associated with. It is run by the redoubtable Janice Lee who is motivated by a driving desire to help the less fortunate coupled with years of experience of the Saga Group and an attention to detail which is vital to a well administered charity. All our project leaders love dealing with her and she is always greeted with whoops of joy wherever I have travelled with her.
Financially, the Saga Charitable Trust is blessed by operating under the wing of the Saga Group, who take care of all the UK overheads and administration costs incurred by the Trust. And we are fortunate enough to have Andrew Goodsell, the Executive Chairman of Saga, as chairman of the Board of Trustees; his direct involvement makes a big difference to the standing and smooth running of the charity. The underlying financial health of the SCT is boosted by the enthusiastic fundraising drives which are undertaken both by Saga staff and the great generosity of our customers. As well as being driven by a desire to help others and to thank a local community for a wonderful holiday, it is a great reassurance for all our donors to know that every penny of their donation goes to the projects themselves and not to running a fancy UK office.
The projects that the charity adopts are scattered across areas of the developing world where Saga Holidays and our cruise ships take guests. So we have projects in Peru and Sri Lanka, Nepal, South Africa and more. We cover a variety of different activities from childcare and schooling to farming and water projects. We have built libraries and latrines and there are thousands of children across the world who are now computer literate thanks to the IT programmes we have helped to set up within many schools. I am always on the lookout for imaginative new ways that we can help poor communities to help themselves. I then pass these ‘brilliant’ ideas to Janice Lee who has the job of checking out their feasibility. Many fail our stringent tests of suitability and sustainability, which are central to our mission and have protected the Trust from being taken advantage of by opportunistic entrepreneurs or corrupt local officials out in the field – sadly a fact of life when operating in some countries. It is a great advantage that due to the nature of Saga Holidays’ business we have local agents everywhere our guests visit, and it is part of the agents’ role to monitor and support our projects and make sure that all monies are properly accounted for.
I have had the privilege of visiting some of our projects across the world. I have opened libraries in Sri Lanka and planted trees outside Mombasa. I have made speeches of thanks and been interviewed by local newspapers in our efforts to promote the work of the Trust. It is always a thrill to see the projects in action: to see the water gushing out of the ground in barren areas, to see a school library in action in a wildly remote area where education is extraordinarily basic, or to see children who would otherwise not get a main meal being properly fed and cared for.
Without doubt, the most ambitious and successful programmes that we support have been founded by Saga guests. In Bhattidanda, Nepal there is a school educating some 200 children, which is the baby of two Saga Holiday’s guests. It is such a privilege to be able to help make their inspiration a reality and create a lasting and sustainable legacy – to make a real difference in places where the need is so great.