Helen Pattinson, Co-founder and Director at Montezuma’s and Trustee for Children on the Edge
Donating chocolate for an Easter egg hunt organised by Chichester-based charity Children on the Edge [COTE] twelve years ago, Helen and Simon Pattinson of Birdham’s famous chocolate company had no idea that it would lead to a very special long-term partnership.
“COTE was founded by my absolute business idol Dame Anita Roddick, so we all did the egg hunt and fell in love with the team and all they do to help marginalised children around the world,” said Helen.
Determined to be fully involved, members of the Montezuma’s team have volunteered at some of the charity’s schemes. Last year, Helen volunteered at a play scheme in a Ugandan slum.
“It was eye-opening emotional, inspiring, uplifting but sole destroying at the same time,” said Helen, also a recently appointed COTE trustee.
“I steeled myself not to project my own kids on to what I was seeing, but there were definitely times that I had to bite hard on my lip.”
Based on the banks of Lake Victoria at the source of the Nile, nothing could have prepared her for the sights and smells slum.
“Based on dark red sandy mud, when it rains the whole slum floods; it’s so basic – medieval – and yet the kids are happy. They know no different.”
Aiming to restore the ingredients of a full childhood by bringing hope, life, colour and fun, Helen supports COTE’s ethos of giving communities the tools to be self-supporting.
Wes, General Operations Manager, who has also visited a project, agrees.
“The children had never even played games like ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf.’ The delight on their faces when I taught them was inspiring. I also completely re-evaluated words such as ‘need.’ It was life changing,” he confessed.
“You check yourself. These kids have nothing. Maybe one child in fifty has a plastic bottle that they have turned into a toy, but they don’t know how to play,” added Helen.
One particular threat in Uganda is the trafficking children for human sacrifice. With slum kids making easy targets, two years ago COTE trained a local team, equipping volunteers with whistles and bikes. If someone unknown to the community is spotted, whistles are blown and volunteers cycle around, ushering children to safety. There hasn’t been a case of child abduction since.
“COTE’s International Director Rachel Bentley goes around on her own to identify urgent need situations. She’s fearless, amazing and humble; she sees no kind of heroism in what she does, but I would beg to differ,” said Helen.
Justifiably proud of Montezuma’s involvement with COTE, Helen reminded me that the company hosts an annual charity week, during which children can get involved in fun things in-store.
“We like the idea of children helping children because it’s great for giving them perspective. For instance, £1.00 feeds a child in Uganda for a week.”
Fun Week at Montezuma’s, East Street, Chichester is from 28 August. www.montezumas.co.uk
To donate, volunteer or for more information about Children on the Edge: www.childrenontheedge.org
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