DUBLIN, Ohio — In the wake of natural disasters and war, many children are left orphaned and alone. Founded in 2004, the GiveLight Foundation works to give such children a new home, family and opportunity for a better life. Their initial goal of a house for 50 orphans in Indonesia quickly expanded to homes for 1,000 orphans in more than 11 countries. They have built five homes with plans for two more homes on the horizon. And, they offer funding and support in many countries including Turkey, Palestine, Mexico, Jordan, Pakistan and Nepal. From advanced schooling to creating a second family for orphaned children, the GiveLight Foundation is committed to giving light and love to as many children as possible around the globe.
The Origin of GiveLight Foundation
The 2004 Indonesian tsunami was the deadliest in recorded history, taking a staggering 230,000 lives in a matter of hours. From the rubble came an idea: the GiveLight Foundation. Dian Alyan, the founder and CEO of GiveLight, lost a major portion of her family to this tsunami. This tragedy left many children parentless with nowhere to live and no one to call family. Alyan decided to create GiveLight to give these children shelter and, more importantly, a home.
In a recent interview with The Borgen Project, Alyan sorrowfully explained that she “[I] was a new mother at that time so watching the children and hearing the news that there are 30,000 orphans in my area alone, it’s just unbearable. And every time I held my baby, I was reminded by all this, the mothers and fathers that are gone and these children who are left behind without anyone in the world.” She continued, “I know of a boy who had lost his entire family, like 15 people, and he was the only survivor. So it’s just heart-wrenching.” She left her stable and successful job in a corporate environment to start this organization from the ground up, working to give these kids back a fraction of what they had lost.
When asked how she dealt with the emotional aftermath of the tsunami, Alyan explained that she believed God had given her a purpose. She pours her heart and soul into her organization because she views it as her way of turning her grief and helplessness into power and strength for those affected.
The First Home
Alyan wanted desperately to help the orphans by providing a home where they would have support and access to education. Initially, she did not know where to begin or how to make her idea actionable. Many obstacles stood in her path: she was living in California and would have to create the entire Indonesia orphanage from an ocean away, her corporate background had not prepared her for dealing with kids, she needed funding and she needed volunteers.
Her uncle, who had spent his life caring for orphans, donated the land that the first home was to be built on. Seven months later, the gates of the house in the lake town of Aceh, Indonesia opened. The opening day of this house was also the anniversary of the tsunami, bringing the story full circle. Since then, the GiveLight Foundation has taken care of and educated hundreds of children and 15 of them have now completed university studies. Four orphans in their program have also married and all of the children who have left the house give back to GiveLight through volunteering or donating.
The Importance of Education
When asked how much emphasis they put on education, Alyan told The Borgen Project that education is vital, “there’s no negotiation for education, that is the main reason why we built the home is to educate them. Feeding them is one thing, but that’s not enough.” She explained that the children should never feel as if they have fewer opportunities than those with parents. That is why GiveLight sends them to school and after school activities, covers college expenses and gives them vocational training. This month, they began a new scholarship initiative that provides the funds for an education in the form of an interest-free loan that will be paid back to the GiveLight Foundation in small increments over time.
In the beginning GiveLight had to decide whether or not to build the children a private school in addition to the orphanage. Ultimately deciding against it, Alyan explained that it would close the children off from society and add even more expenses and work to GiveLight’s mountain of projects. Instead of building a school, they saved the money to build other homes and sent the children to the local public school.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, GiveLight pioneered a new learning device for the children in all of their homes called Project Inspire. They contacted volunteer tutors from all over the world to virtually teach the children everything from math to yoga. This organization gives volunteers the power to influence an entire generation of orphans with nothing but a stable internet connection, a computer and the will to inspire. While Project Inspire currently focuses solely on orphans in GiveLight homes, Alyan has set her sights on refugee camps. She has been working on partnerships to provide refugees with the technology necessary to access tutoring so that they too can experience Project Inspire.
GiveLight works to not only help their orphans but also the surrounding impoverished area. Their home in Bangladesh is in a very remote area and the neighborhood children do not have access to schooling. Instead of only teaching the orphanage children, GiveLight created a public school and opened it up to everyone who needed it. For a fee of $5 a month, tuition that helps kids take school seriously, they are able to gain the education they need. They have had volunteers from Harvard, MIT and other reputable schools teach their children.
In August 2021, GiveLight made a great deal of progress with a multitude of projects. In Capetown, South Africa they have secured donated land and started working with architects from Johannesburg on a brand new orphanage. This orphanage will house 60 children from Capetown. In addition, they have begun an initiative to create another orphanage on the border of Turkey and Syria for 50 girls, many of whom are Syrian refugees. These houses will mark the seventh and eighth houses that the GiveLight Foundation has built for orphans around the world. They are also creating new scholarship opportunities to help their children obtain an education despite their financial situation.
Find Your Purpose
Everyone is looking for a purpose. Without Alyan’s drive to help orphans, GiveLight would never exist. As she put it, “No one is going to come to us and say ‘this is yours’. You have to find it. As human beings, we have to find a way to make sure we don’t just live for ourselves but in the service of others.” There are countless issues in the world that can be remedied if someone has the courage to take risks and try.
Through their unrelenting efforts, GiveLight continues to better the lives of children around the world. The tsunami may have been a dark time in history but it has given way to light through GiveLight’s work.
– Mariam Abaza