Norma Nashed is the brains and energy behind a charity helping vulnerable children around the world. Born in Palestine, Nashed grew up poor in Jordan amid many challenges. She went on to work for the founder of Jordanian Airlines, hobnobbing with the country’s king and queen – but gave up a career and salary to give everything to her charity.
Question: You started Restore a Child as a charity that would help provide children around the world with their basic needs. What inspired you to organize the foundation?
Answer: I started my ministry when I was fighting cancer in 1999, under the name Reaching Kids International, then RHK. In 2010 we changed our name to Restore a Child and registered our own non-profit 501 (c)(3) humanitarian organization in the State of Maryland.
In 1998 when I first got cancer my life was empty – I wanted my life to be one of meaning and significance. So I left my job at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, where I had worked for 12 years, and started a ministry to help suffering, starving and sick children, with a focus on orphans.
Leaving my job allowed me time to reflect on what is important in life. Studying the Scripture for several hours each day helped me find truths about “defending orphans” that I was not aware of. I found that there are more than 150 million orphan children in the world, and five million children die every year due to hunger, or close to 14,000 every day. In the 21st century this is unacceptable. I realized I had a job to do to save children.
That was 14 years ago and I still work in a small den in my apartment without pay, and only minimal medical insurance. (For 10 years, even while battling cancer, I had no insurance.)
God is the Provider and He promised to take care of me. Sacrificing my life gave me purpose, meaning and significance – I wouldn’t exchange that for anything this world might offer.
Question: You work in 15 countries, and have a particular focus on helping orphans. Can you tell us about one of your orphanage projects right now?
Answer: This year we are focused on our newest project in Haiti, in partnership with Upward Bound Ministries. We are building a model village that includes a Restore a Child Academy, an academic and vocational training school and several homes for orphan girls.
In addition to securing land for building the school, we have secured another plot of agricultural land with fruit trees next to the model village where we are already growing produce for a sustainable food supply.
A Southern Adventist University professor is overseeing the building project, which is beginning now. We are looking for individual and corporate sponsors to help with the construction of this model village.
Education is key to for children to succeed in life, so we prioritize education. We have already built a school for the Masai children in Tanzania. We also specifically support thousands of students in Bolivia, Chad, Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, South Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We have 35 students who are at university studying medicine, mathematics, nursing, teaching and ministry.
They all say: We want to give back once we graduate. One is already working as a nurse in Indonesia, another is a teacher in the Congo.
Question: You had a difficult background yourself, I understand. I'm sure that gives you a lot of empathy with the children you serve. Can you tell us a little bit about your early years?
Answer: My family moved from Palestine (the West Bank) to Jordan, and nine of us lived in one small room in a community of Palestinian refugees. My mother became a penniless widow at age 35 and blind at age 40.
She used to sew for people to make a living, but that income stopped when she became blind. My mother was my role model and my best friend. She died two years ago and I miss her.
When my father died, an American missionary family, Dr. Robert Darnell and his wife Mary, took me into their home like their own daughter and gave me a chance in life. The ripple effect of one investment in a little refugee girl is now impacting the lives of thousands of children around the world.
When I was 10 years old I had to walk six miles every day to and from school with my 11-year-old sister. There were days when we had almost nothing to eat, and sometimes just dry bread with herbal tea for breakfast. My story is a long and sad one, but now I have peace because of this work.
Yes, I see myself in these children and I want to help them from the bottom of my heart.
Question: How is Restore a Child funded? Do you have salaried employees? How do you ensure the money is well spent?
Answer: The first few years I used my own savings and then my family and a few friends helped. Later it became necessary for me to start fundraising. So I designed my own simple flyers and brochures and sent them to friends. I was interviewed on television and several newspaper and magazine articles appeared featuring the charity. Awareness of Restore a Child increased. Restore a Child depends on donations from individuals and small grants from a couple of foundations.
In 2012 we hired a part-time employee to help me.
I must admit being that raised poor and living in developing countries made me aware of the need to be wise and alert when choosing partners for projects abroad. So we work with trusted missionaries and friends, and we partner with already established orphanages and schools to be cost-effective and use all resources to the maximum benefit of children.
Question: Do you travel a lot for Restore a Child?
Answer: Yes, I do travel and need to travel more to see the children and check on them. The children are the reason for this ministry and I can’t stay away from them. I love children and will do anything to alleviate their suffering.
But due to the economic crisis and decreased funding, I feel the need to stay here at the moment and do more fundraising and promotion.
Question: How do you decide what projects to support?
Answer: I started with my own country where I know people who are capable of coordinating and monitoring the work.
Our chairman and members of the Board of Directors travel extensively with their jobs. They help to select projects and trusted people to work with, as well as provide financial reports and photos. That saves the organization a lot of money and time.
The need is so great that there are many, many worthy projects. There is corruption everywhere in the world, but God has provided the right people to work with.
Question: Do you specifically look for projects that are self-sustaining? Is this part of your philosophy when it comes to charity?
Answer: We look for projects that are struggling and help them on the road to sustainability. This is one reason why we are so big on agriculture because the projects can grow their own food. We also dig wells for water – not only for drinking and sanitation, but for irrigation.
A United Nations report in 2009 stated that the solution to hunger is agriculture. Restore a Child realized that a long time ago because agriculture is a path to sustainability. But purchasing land, developing agriculture and digging wells – which we have done in several countries – requires a huge amount of funding.
It is my hope that more people will be a part of this ministry that God has ordained. God is called “Father of the fatherless” and he commanded us to defend and care for orphans. This is not an option for followers of Christ.
Question: You worked in the airline industry for many years. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how your experience impacts your current work with Restore a Child?
Answer: I went to work for Jordanian Airlines when I left Beirut, Lebanon to go back to my country of Jordan. I worked for Ali Ghandour, advisor to the late King Hussein of Jordan, and the founder of Jordanian Airlines.
I felt like my life shifted from the pit to the palace as I was invited by the royal court to attend functions the king and queen of Jordan also attended. The late King Hussein came many times to see my boss and had to go through my office, so I had a chance to talk to the king and later mix with other member of the royal family. I even invited the ex-queen of Jordan to dinner in my home, and she came!
I learned a lot from Ali Ghandour. When I later moved to Egypt, I attended training courses and became the sales promotion manager for the airline in Egypt. Through that job I learned the essentials establishing an organization.
Working with my boss during the years he was strengthening the newly-organized airline, (then called ALIA-Royal Jordanian Airlines) and interacting with Civil Aviation, I gained incredible experience that equipped me with the knowledge of how to run a successful organization.
Question: What about the competition? Aren't there many other charities helping children around the world? And aren't there many other organizations competing for funding? How is Restore a Child unique?
Answer: It’s true there are a lot of charities out there competing for funds in the name of children. But Restore a Child is unique in that as president I do not draw any salary or benefits. I even donated all my retirement funds and savings, in addition to working long hours – sometimes 18-20 hours a day – to run the organization. What organization have you heard of where the president or CEO works that hard for 14 years without pay?
I believe this is a big factor in our growth. When donors invest in Restore a Child, they can be assured their funds don’t go mostly to cover salaries and overhead.
Question: Do you provide opportunities for volunteers? I understand you have some agreements with Southern and Washington Adventist University to provide students with volunteer experiences?
Answer: It is very hard to find people from the church who want to volunteer. But Southern and WAU have helped us with a few volunteers and they are committed to sending more students. We would love to have more volunteers, especially to help with our office work here, but we can take only those volunteers who are committed and willing to take this work seriously.
Our biggest asset is our volunteers from the United Nations Online Volunteers (UNOV). We have used more than 100 UNOV in the last few years. Right now we have five web developers working on our website, four graphic designers,12 Spanish translators, two Korean translators, three video animators, and more. It is very gratifying to know how many people from the secular world believe in humanitarian work. We still need creative writers and scriptwriters to fill some of our needs.
Question: So young people are important to Restore a Child?
Answer: Very. In fact, we have a new initiative for young people we’d love for Spectrum to announce here. It’s called “do” for Defend Orphans, found in Isaiah 1:17, Psalms 82, and several other passages of scripture.
We’re inviting young people to take ownership. This is their opportunity to “do” something. We are eager to hear their fresh ideas on how to get their friends and peers involved and how to spread the word and take action.
October has been designated World Hunger Month by the United Nations. We hope that people will plan events and fundraisers around this in October 2013.
One thing young people can do is to participate in the "do" Fast, 24-hour fast for solidarity with starving children, getting a taste of what hunger is like – and donate the amount they would have spent on three meals that day.
Question: What do you feel is the biggest success of Restore a Child so far? Biggest disappointment?
Answer: The biggest success is making a difference in the lives of over 4,000 children worldwide. We are helping them move from a life of hopelessness to a life of promise and a future.
Restore a Child is attracting serious donors who trust our integrity, accountability and transparency. That’s how we keep growing. We find support from inside and outside the church, both at the leadership level and individual level.
Our donors come from diverse religious affiliations, as do our volunteers. One of our biggest donors is a Jewish man, Dr. Mitchell Davis from Washington D.C., who has given us over $250,000 after he saw the coverage on FOX 5NEWS TV when my home burned while I was in Ethiopia checking on the home we built for orphans in that country. Dr. Davis has also committed to pay for my dental care.
Several families from the Middle East have anonymously given more than half a million dollars to support me and the ministry.
Some of our volunteers are Muslims and Hindus and Budhists from China, South Korea, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, South Africa and South America.
The "do" movement is a dynamic force for good. Young people are looking to contribute and make a difference. They want to see people practicing what they preach.
Please don’t ask me about the biggest disappointment – I can’t talk about it without getting emotional. It hurts me to even think about it. The devil works hard to discourage and disappoint me, but God is sustaining me and I cannot quit. It is very sad how those who claim to be Christians can try to hurt a ministry for orphans. But God has promised to “restore what the locusts have eaten” and we have seen and experienced tremendous blessings.