If there were a story of humble and unassuming beginnings, it is the story of Asian Aid. It all began with a woman named Maisie Fook, who in 1963 responded to an ad in a magazine inviting people to support children in South Korea. She soon became the sponsor, and three years later the adopted mother, of two delightful orphan children.
In 1966, after returning from Seoul in South Korea with her two adopted children (pictured above), Maisie felt inspired to do more for the orphaned children she had met. With help from husband Dennis, and the Long and Hon families, Maisie registered Asian Aid to get the shipping concessions needed to send warm clothes, patchwork quilts and rugs to South Korea.
With a budget of just two thousand dollars, and no paid staff, Asian Aid was officially established. It was a pure act of faith. Very soon Asian Aid was sponsoring children in three different orphanages in South Korea, and the word about the work began to spread. In 1968, Helen Eager (pictured below) joined as a volunteer, and has been involved in Asian Aid’s work ever since. By May 1975, Asian Aid had $4,098.02 AUD funds on hand, and was working in Korea and Vietnam.
When a need would arise, Maisie and her support staff were quick to respond. In 1977, after Maisie hearing of the enormous need in Bangladesh, Asian Aid began working with the Seventh-day Adventist Welfare Service to establish a food distribution centre in refugee camps. In the years following, Asian Aid remained in Bangladesh where they helped save and establish schools and create sponsorships for children. In Asian Aid’s second decade of existence, operations diversified and the agency took on even more schools in India and Bangladesh. They also began sponsoring Nepali children in Indian schools. During this time, two orphanages – Sunshine Orphanage (1979) and Elim Orphanage (1983) – began to be supported by Asian Aid.
Some of the sponsored children lived in situations of extreme poverty, relying on Asian Aid’s support for many basic needs. As Asian Aid continued to grow, it made an important decision in 1981, to join the Australian Council for Overseas Aid. By 1985, it was reported that $589,683 had been sent to developing countries that year to support about 3,000 children. The Hunter Valley branch was responsible for 40 per cent of this total.
The following excerpt from the newsletter Maisie wrote on October 25, 1984 illustrates the commitment of these women to furthering Asian Aid’s work:
This newsletter is to be extra special. Helen Eager returned to Australia on October 2, after spending seven weeks visiting 60 schools. You will be torn by her diary notes, and when you read about the special needs she saw you will wish you were a millionaire.
By the Annual General Meeting in May 1986, the organisation had seen a steady increase of income reaching $598,116 AUD. This decade for Asian Aid saw much progress and change. By 1987, Asian Aid was sponsoring 3,680 children from India, Bangladesh, Korea, Nepal and Pakistan. However, despite the size and growth, the 1987 Annual Report stated: “The difficulties and instability of having a large organisation entirely dependent on voluntary administration have become more and more evident.”
Despite the challenges in sustaining Asian Aid’s growth, Helen remained steadfast in her dedication to Asian Aid’s work. Helen combined both branches of Asian Aid and kept it operating from the tent the family were living in while they built their home in Bellangry, New South Wales.
In 1989 when Maisie Fook retired from Asian Aid, the organisation had an annual income of $850,000 AUD given by 4,000 supporters. This same year, it was decided at a committee meeting to move the whole operation of Asian Aid Organisation to an office in Wauchope, and Kerryn Patrick became Asian Aid’s first paid employee.
On 26 May 1991, 25 years after its establishment, Asian Aid’s donations exceeded a million dollars for the first time.
Asian Aid turns 30. During this period, Asian Aid expanded its operations to include schools for children with vision and hearing impairments, leper colonies, and mobile health clinics for women in rural Nepal. It also established Zenith Academy in Nepal, and in 2002 became recognised as an independent ministry supportive of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Nima, one of the children at Zenith Academy who was sponsored as an orphan during this period, was able to meet his sponsors in 2013. Read Nima’s story here.
By now, Asian Aid had witnessed many of the children who had been sponsored graduate and gain employment, and were delighted that some of the field workers in Bangladesh had been educated by Asian Aid and had returned to serve other children.
By 2003, Asian Aid was supporting 6,750 students, 1,600 Hungry Fund recipients and had treated 860 women in Nepal. In 2005, Asian Aid’s total revenue was $2,681,130 AUD.
While it was a decade of significant change and progress, with Asian Aid also employing its first Chief Executive Officer Sharon Heise, it was also the decade where Asian Aid paid tribute to founder Maisie Fook, who passed away in 2002.
From humble beginnings sponsoring just two children, today the Asian Aid family around the world sponsors over 7,000 children in schools and plays an important role in providing clean water for villages, basic health care, vocation training and tertiary education for nurses and teachers.
Between 2006 and 2015, Asian Aid continued going from strength to strength. Donations reached $4,000,000 AUD in 2012, and Asian Aid’s work extended into Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. With increased overseas partnerships, additional staff, a dedicated supporter base, and committed Board members, the quality and diversity of work within countries also expanded significantly during this time.
In this exciting chapter of Asian Aid’s story, some highlights include engaging with anti human-trafficking work in Nepal and India, developing a Minimum Standards of Care Program and Child Policy, becoming accredited members of the Australian Council for International Development, expanding our community health and development programs, and re-branding Asian Aid to better reflect our mission and progress. By 2015, Asian Aid had partnered with 10 overseas organisations in six countries, to implement 14 projects and to impact over 44,300 people.
2016 and beyond
50 years old. Remaining true to our values and mission, Asian Aid looks forward to partnering with you to continue creating stories of hope and transformation – and meeting some of the most pressing needs with which we are confronted.
*Asian Aid would like to acknowledge and thank Dr Robyn Priestley for volunteering to collate this information.