Belfast charity founder carrying hope to Filipino families thanks to a simple school bag
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Belfast charity founder carrying hope to Filipino families thanks to a simple school bag

Dec 02, 2023

The school bags on sale in Northern Ireland are changing lives thousands of miles away in the Philippines

For over a decade, the Belfast charity Ten Foundations has been changing lives in the Philippines thanks to a simple school bag.

At the helm has been its founder, Ian Campbell who takes great pride in offering hope to some of the poorest women in the island country of Southeast Asia.

Since 2012, his Ten Foundations charity has allowed many Filipino women to provide for their families by making school bags for children back here in Northern Ireland, which in turn allows their own children to attend school.

Read more: Belfast's Festival of Asia celebrating culture and food returns next month

The school bags are available to buy online and through the Ten Foundations shops on Belfast's Lisburn Road and at CastleCourt shopping centre as well as a 'pop-up' shop at The Boulevard in Banbridge.

They are made seven thousand miles away in the remote Balayan region of the Philippines by 70 women working as cutters and on industrial sewing machines at the charity's HQ in Bayanihan Village.

After visiting the Philippines and witnessing first-hand the extreme poverty there – particularly amongst women and children – Ian decided to do something to help.

He began by raising money to build orphanages for children in the Philippines, but quickly realised encouraging the institutionalising of children was not getting to the root of the problem and was instead almost aiding in continuing the cycle of poverty.

The biggest issue was that mothers were unable to provide for their children as they didn't have the necessary skills.

So the Ten Foundations Livelihood Programme was born to help women get out of impoverished situations by providing them with the necessary skills and resources to learn how to use an industrial sewing machine.

With this knowledge, they are then able to work and provide for their families in a sustainable manner. Each woman in Ten Foundations is given the tools to help lift herself and her family out of the cycle of poverty, effectively helping to break it.

The Livelihood Programme has grown to include a scholarship programme, skill building and medical missions.

And throughout all this, Ian still found the time to open the first Ten Foundations shop on the Lisburn Road which sells pre-loved clothes and homewares as well as a huge selection of quality school and lunch bags made by the Filipino women in the Livelihood Programme.

With the help of a £10,000 cheque raised by Ashfield Girls' High School in Belfast, Ian bought a plot of land and erected the charity's current building, which accommodates the livelihood programme and also provides some basic accommodation for mothers and children.

In addition to the mums being able to send their children to school, a number of older Filipino children are funded through university with some returning with teaching, business, social work or engineering degrees and using these skills to continue the charity's work on the ground.

Ian told Belfast Live: "I have a background in the building trade and always fancied doing something to help in poorer countries, but never had the opportunity.

"I had been to the Philippines and saw how much poverty existed in this beautiful country among the nicest people in the world. So I thought, 'Alright, let's go and help'."

Ian enlisted the skill of two of his friends – an architect and an engineer – and they decided to build an orphanage in Manila – one of the poorest countries in the Philippines. It wasn't long before they realised just how much money was needed.

Unwilling to give up, they decided to rent a building instead. After a quiz night in Belfast, Ian sent £1,500 raised to Manila and within two weeks they had their first child in the orphanage.

In order to raise more money, Ian and his team started to think about what could be made by women in Manila and sold back here in Northern Ireland. So they came up with the idea of making bags from straws and empty packets of food and drink.

These days former joiner and businessman Ian, 77 and from Glengormley, travels to the Philippines twice a year for a month at a time to oversee the work on the ground.

"We've gone from one sewing machine to 50 machines and the production staff has reached 70 today," he added.

"We expanded things over lockdown and got some grants from the LFT Family Trust in Belfast. This included £20,000 which allowed us to buy 10 new sewing machines and recruit 10 new ladies."

Now over 10 years on, Ten Foundations still has ambitious expansion plans for the future.

"Some of the mothers still live in pretty grim conditions so we've put a deposit on some land and we're going to build between 40 and 50 houses on that site for them," Ian said.

Ten Foundations is the charity partner at next weekend's Festival of Asia, which is returning to Banana Block in East Belfast from 11am to 4pm on Saturday, September 2 with free admission.

There will be over 25 food vendors in attendance on the day as well as live cultural performances and raffle prizes on the day celebrating Asian-owned businesses, local artisans, cultural performances, fun workshops and amazing food.

Event organiser, Nallaine Calvo, from Filipino food outlet KUBO at Trademarket on Belfast's Dublin Road, said: "Ten Foundations will be our charity partner once again and we will be raising money to support them.

"Ian Campbell does amazing work in the Philippines helping poverty stricken families and women by giving them meaningful jobs and improving their livelihoods."

Anyone interested in volunteering, fundraising or finding out more can contact Ian via the Ten Foundations website.

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