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.
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.
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!