Hit Piece on the Little People


Occasionally, just like backing out a 1965 Chrysler Imperial from the garage and taking it for a spin, I got to pull out my old detective hat and follow the leads in a curious case.

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Normally I don’t “name drop” and talk about the people I know in this town but you’ve got to understand that I’ve been living here a while. The other day I got a phone call, alerting me to this hit piece in Ziar de Cluj on the charitable organization The Little People.

If you’ve never heard of this organization, they are a non-profit charity that works with and helps children with cancer. It’s not a medical organization but a support organization. The person who called me about this horrific article was Shajjad Rizvi, the guy who runs this charity with his wife. Nonetheless it is precisely because I do know them that I had to refute this terrible article.

The charity was founded by Katie Rizvi, a woman born in Hungary and Shajjad Rizvi, her husband, a British citizen. As hard as it is to believe, the charity is sort of their “side job” as they do other (unrelated) things to make money and raise their family. Almost all of the Little People’s work is done by an army of volunteers, trained and supervised by a skeletal paid staff.

I’m no doctor but I used to work in a large hospital that had a children’s cancer ward (back in the USA). Let me tell you something, seeing a bunch of sick children who are far too young to have done anything to “deserve” cancer is quite heartbreaking. The Little People are engaged solely in providing emotional and therapeutic support for young people with cancer and have fairly earned their reputation and renown for the good work they’ve done.

The article is quite long so I’m only going to translate a few passages.

The Little People’s website is simplistic and has little information about their activities or their organization. Isn’t that amazing? The biggest foundation with the most experience and recognition haven’t published a financial report to justify how they spend their money.

If you go to their website, it looks like children made it, with lots of pictures and big fonts. Nothing relevant.

This is sadly hilarious, sad because the Ziar de Cluj author is slamming them for a crappy website with “photos and big fonts” and hilarious because this author is clearly unaware that they are a support organization for children.

You know who likes big fonts and photos? Kids do. Besides, later in the article Shajjad mentions that LP’s Facebook page is much more popular and used than their static webpage.

You know who loves Facebook? Oh hell, everyone I know in Romania uses Facebook! Including one of the authors of this article.

At our insistence, Little People published a report on their website of their financial activities for the last four years. Again, we repeat, they did it at the insistence of journalists and not to inform their donors. Unfortunately, it’s not a real financial report, just a list of numbers with photographs.

I’m curious what a “real” financial report looks like since non-profit organizations in Romania are not required to fill out something like a single document “how we spend all our money” kind of financial statement.

In the five-page report, Little People showed that they offer daily services to children with cancer in six different hospitals. Last year, Little People launched the magazine “Moxie” that tells the stories of young cancer survivors.

You really should look at their magazine “Moxie” (or “Guts” or “Courage” or however you want to translate it) because it shares the inspirational pictures and stories of children who survived cancer so that kids who are sick in the hospital can be encouraged to “do it too” and make it through as well.

On another part of the report there are photographs of the Christmas Gala on which the foundation spent a tidy sum. The non-profit organization also reported spending money on renovating a neonatal ward in a hospital and 300,000 euros for medical equipment.

Again, the Little People are a support organization. You know what cheers up children who fucking survived cancer and can celebrate Christmas with their families? A nice party. And all the donors are invited to come celebrate as well.

Now here come some numbers:

From their report for 2012, they received 1.11 million lei. From company or individual donations they received 934,474 lei, from tax donations (the 2% program) they received 88,573 lei, from their donation boxes they received 74,354 lei and from their “You Too Can Do It” campaign they raised 18,801 lei.

The charity however spent more money than it received in donations. In 2012, Little People spent approximately 1.6 million lei.

So they’re spending 500,000 lei (about 120,000 euros) over what they receive in donations and this somehow proves they’re shady and corrupt? Me no understand.

Out of this total sum (1.6 million lei), 57% of the money was spent directly on beneficiaries, that is to say less than 900,000 lei. Money was spent to renovate a play room in Bucharest, buying medical equipment and medicines, funding six support centers in children’s cancer hospitals in the country and for “regional and national volunteer training sessions”.

I’m not exactly sure how 57% going “directly to beneficiaries” is implied as being an acceptable way to spend their money while funding support centers and buying medical equipment is “not” acceptable.

Last year Little People spent over 220,000 lei on salaries for their nine employees (eight specialists in hospitals and one administrative employee).

They then go on to quote Shajjad as saying that his own wife, who is the head of the organization, receives no money even though she works for this charity full-time. I know these people personally and so I can confirm that it is true. Do you get it? She works full-time for no money!

And 220,000 lei divided by 9 is about 27,500 lei per person (a year) or about 23 million “old lei” salary per month. Uh, that’s a completely normal salary for these parts, converting to 516 euros/437 pounds/705 US dollars a month.

And let’s not forget that more than half the work that the Little People does is with volunteers. If you want to know why websites are slapdash or why there are so few employees, it’s because they rely heavily on volunteers. More on that below.

But as for money, I also happen to know where Shajjad and his wife get their money and it isn’t from the Little People. If you only knew how hard they worked on their businesses (which have nothing to do with medicine, children or cancer) you’d be crying.

So let’s review what we got so far.

1) Little People’s website sucks – admitted to be true and their Facebook page is where the action is anyway

2) They didn’t publish a report until we asked – okay sorry they didn’t do it before but now you got one. Nonetheless you can go see all the things they do in hospitals (and including now one in the Republic of Moldova) for yourself any time you like.

3) The head of the organization doesn’t get paid and their tiny staff makes normal salaries and they spend more than they make in donations but somehow this is wrong.

4) Detailing in five-page report how they spent their money is “not transparent” enough but there’s still no allegation of any wrongdoing.

Then we get to the meat of the scandal:

One of Ziar de Cluj’s sources, who prefers to remain anonymous because they are a big sponsor told us:

“After working with them I can tell you that I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth. They have connections everywhere and top-notch PR.

I got a phone call from someone very important who asked me for financial help for a specific project, which sounded great. But I began to have doubts when I started finding a lot of suspicious things, which I won’t get into now. What is for certain is that even as of today I’ve never received a report about how they spent the money I donated. There’s something wrong going on there and we’re going to stay away from them in the future. They impress you with their talk of children sick with cancer but they act like some cynical business people.

Again I’m about to laugh myself silly because these “cynical business people” don’t make one fucking dime for themselves out of the Little People. Really. I swear to God there’s no hidden chalet in Switzerland, no yacht off the coast of Morocco, no luxury cars, no mansions, no nothing. They make all of their personal income through completely legitimate and transparent means, most of it hard work and entrepreneurial effort, not some bloated salary from their charity or embezzling funds.

Secondly, on top of that, the comment that “they have connections everywhere” is hilarious because the word used in Romanian is pile, and Shajjad has called me numerous times precisely so I could give him advice on how to get better pile because his pile suck for the most part. I’ve got better “pile” than he does because I’m a ruthless son of a bitch while he and his wife are kind-hearted people who work with charitable organizations (including the Special Olympics).

It’s actually kind of funny because when it comes to British (and occasionally American) “connections” then yes, Shajjad does well with them and some of their support (including the “important people”) and money comes from this direction. But in terms of Romanian connections on a political level, the Little People is almost a total failure.

I could tell you lots of stories of how Romanians with political power have been working to block the Little People’s activities and thrown up roadblocks and obstacles precisely because the top people at Little People (including the founding couple) are not native Romanian speakers and don’t “get” how you have to network in this country.

And it’s precisely because the Little People are run by “foreigners” (who by the way have lived here full-time for over 15 years and raised their family here) that they both 1) don’t know how to grease the skids in Romanian power politics and 2) are so honest and trustworthy that the entire community respects them and gives them donations.

I’ve told Shajjad a million times that he sucks at PR because he’s still naive enough to believe that telling people that sick children need help (and donations) is enough. He doesn’t realize that kissing asses and trading political favors is how to do things in this country. Christ, he even refuses to put sick children on any of their literature (or FB/website) and instead focuses only on the happy, positive stories, poor fool.

And I’m going to guess that 90% of the Little People’s work is done by volunteers, which sounds easy but when you’re talking about dealing with children, actually becomes quite a task. Every single volunteer is carefully screened and trained before ever working with the children. And then the Little People spend their time teaching other organizations such as hospices how to train and screen volunteers. Running a team of volunteers is damned hard work.

Essentially the Little People are under fire for not publishing “transparent” enough financial records, which admittedly is something important to do. But that’s it. That’s the entire crux of this article. No wrongdoing. No volunteers doing inappropriate things. No embezzling of money. No boondoggles. No profiteering going on. No corruption. No nepotism. No “insider contracts” with friends. Not one goddamn thing out of place except a lack of more detailed financial reports.

Instead you’ve got an amazing fundraising machine with vast support in the community that takes all of that cash to pay for medicine, medical equipment, train volunteers, provide therapy, renovate play rooms, encourage children and help them survive a very terrible illness. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of (Romanian!) children out there who will all be quite happy to tell you what the Little People did for them, none of which (of course) were interviewed for this article.

Fucking hell.

Sorry Ioana Oros and Elza Almasi but you dropped the ball on this one. Since these two are otherwise adequate journalists, I have only but to assume that it was this pissed off “anonymous source” that prompted this article to be written, all because he’s Romanian and didn’t like the way these uppity self-righteous foreigners running the Little People didn’t properly lick his asshole like he felt he deserved.

WELCOME TO ROMANIA!

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Sair Jay says:

    How disgusting… Yes, please do post the website and tell us how we can donate. of course, I could always go Goagal, too ;)

    Some people (the pissed off source and those lousy-bought journalists) should be heartily ashamed of themselves.

    Keep going, LP!! Jos palaria!! We need more like you – the children need more like you, and the Romanian media definitely need more lie you to teach that one CAN give from the borrom of one’s heart without expecting financial reward in return. Some things ARE more enriching than money. Sheesh…

    Like

    1. Sair Jay says:

      Sorry – typos everywhere: * liKe * boTTom

      Like

  2. John Holm says:

    Sam, I do not know you but I sincerely appreciate the depth and sincerity of this post. I have had the unique opportunity to work with The Little People since 2007 and consider both Shajjad and Katie dear friends. As an American who spent many years working with both the for profit and nonprofit community in Romania and understand the context of the system of which they operate in, I can say without a doubt that LPA is the most transparent and inherently valuable organizations throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

    Thank you Sam for your contribution and thank you LPA for being an outlier of hope and inspiration many times clouded by a system of corruption and negativity. Keep on doing what you do and the countless lives which you have positively affected thank you.

    Like

  3. Rusu Oana says:

    Thank you so much for seeing the truth. I love my job in Little People and i totally believe what we do is life changing. Is so heartbreaking to see that article! Why is so hard for some people to be proud about what we do? And why is so hard to acknowledge all the effort that is put in? We are working hard to be able to meet the needs of more than 95% of kids sick of cancer, to be everyday in the hospitals, to have more than 100 selected and trained volunteers, to have 4 daily posts on FB, to participate at national and international conferences, to give HOPE to the parents, to keep up no matter what! But we do it with maximum enthusiasm because we know every single day we are saving lives!

    Like

  4. Jeff Kelso says:

    How can I donate to this charity? Also, what is the URL of their web site? Thanks.

    Like

  5. s says:

    Spot on Sam – I would add they totally twisted what i said – smut headlining for the sake of reader traffic – so the news outlet can sell space to some dimwitted – wannabe politician at the expense of the services we provide in 9 hospitals in 2 countries daily….. can you image a school without teachers…. we employ the people that provide hands on help in the hospitals and train countless volunteers to do effective work….in hospitals

    This year Little People won Romania 5 civil society awards (a Ro Record) and we are the 1st Romanian ORG to win the Erste Award – (we are not into awards -we help people ) but you don’t win these type of awards unless you are doing something worth while… a good indicator of excellence – the Temerarii magazine they slam (winner of Romanian Civil Society Award) – stories from former cancer patients to encourage current patients…. wow — that i don’t get!!! I even gave them a copy to read… and they demean it….. heartless people!

    Website…. I did the site …. so we don’t spend cash….. call me an indian but is it a crime to save on cash…. recently we had a new website being built ….. the firm could not deliver… ( I and J – chaps if you reading pls confirm) – thankfully they returned our downpayment – the 2012 report was gonna go on the new site .2011 – to 2008 all on site…. pls view….! … sought a new quote on a site last week …. cost’s 2-3000 euros ….. Cluj firm…. great portfolio – but 2 to 3,000 euros – again i’m far too indian to part with such cash when Facebook does such a good job at communicating our work…..and for free!!!! BLESS….. also the reporters certainly failed to mention all the other details i talked about…..

    don’t trust these people – all smiles and shit – but they will turn on you like whim…. IF THEY SEE a FAST BUCK or a good headline….

    I would say our success has pissed of a number of people – especially in the NGO world ( Not Good Organisations) just read the comments from the other NGOs ….. it is sad they jump on the band wagon… but the NGO world in Romania is a dirty dirty place….

    the smart people in Cluj …. press / business / even local government I have spoken to all regard this outlet as the shit sheet of cluj…. shocking……. and now they are giving it away for free …. I guess no fool would pay for this “shite…. except of course the people who advertise within it…..like Gold Corp…

    a video that bears my name – and pissed off a few ….. it’s how i spend my sundays

    thanks for the support – once i get back to Cluj I will write a rebuttal – but to be honest you did such a good job – cheers Shajjad

    Like

  6. andrew says:

    Working with adults as a volunteer is already freaking difficult, especially since there is so much need that is expressed and you can do very little. Sometimes I have to explain for hours that I do this without any pay to the very people I’m helping. There’s this messed up mentality among Romanians that everyone tries to enrich himself by any means and that no one would go out of his way to help other people. And I can even live with it when it comes from the uneducated hungry people living on the street that I’m trying to help but when it comes from well off people it’s absolutely infuriating. And I can’t imagine how hard it would be to work with children.

    Like

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you sam – I would add that they completely twisted what i said in the interview – the other ORGs mentioned in the interview – both told me they had no idea their interviews would be used against us… I’m certain they would have retracted their statements if they had know! This year Little People won 5 Romanian Civil society awards (Romanian Record) – and the 1st Romanian ORG to win the Erste Award ( only 3 other ORGs from across Central and Eastern Europe have won it) we don’t care about awards – (we care about helping people) but they are an indicator of what we are doing provides real value…. As it stands Little People reach more children on a daily basis than any other ORG – 9 hospitals 2 countries – we have recently been asked to provide the same services in 3 other countries – how many Romanian ORGs export their services? or ORGs based in Cluj – Cluj is a great city – with great people but some people simply want a quick headline to gain readership traffic to sell advertising space to some dimwitted wannabe politician – or so the “100% shit sheet” can be printed with funding from the Gold Corp – talk about stabbing Cluj and Romania in the back …. tossers!

    I will write my own rebuttal – once i get back to Cluj …. thank you for seeing it for what it is and saying something… u a star!

    Like

  8. Anonymous says:

    Uhm…a compelling pies you made here but honestly, it’s the same as blowing in the wind. This article should be published in the same garbage newspaper that made the allegations, i.e. Ziar de Cluj.ro, otherwise this is as nothing has been written. And all the slander will remain unpunished.
    I suggest either “Little People” to use your article as a “drept la replica” or just some of us to raise money, buy advertizing space and publish it there. Hahahahaha. Whaddayasay?

    Like

  9. Nadia Laribi says:

    I am outraged at this vile attack against Little People. It is already very difficult to engage volunteers in Romania without having negative and unscrupulous people discouraging them by writing false reports. I salute all the Little People volunteers for their wonderful work. And thanks Sam for giving this guy the inimitable ”piece of your mind”.

    Like

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