Monique Aiken was about to have Christmas dinner with her family when something happened that not only changed her life, but may soon change the lives of countless others.
"My nephew, as we went around the room and we said what we're thankful for for the year, which is our family tradition, said that he was grateful for his parents and the fact that he had a roof over his head and food to eat and many children around the world don't have that. And they're homeless and he felt really sad for those children. He's nine years old. As he said that, I just began to cry."
The Houston resident got on her computer and started doing research, looking for an organization she could get involved in. Eventually, she found one. It's called 200 orphanages World Wide and it's based in Minnesota. She learned about plans to build an orphanage in Cameroon, but the organizers are in need of money. Aiken decided to help out.
"I think that the most important thing is to leave the world in a better place than how you entered it, and I think that this is among the ways that my having been present will improve the life of somebody else."
It's going to take about $50 thousand dollars to build the orphanage. They're hoping to get a big chunk of that tomorrow at a fundraiser at the L'Alliance Francaise.
"Fifty thousand dollars is not really that much money when you think about it. That forty children's lives will be changed, and that's all it takes. On a per child basis, that's really not a lot of money."
Jan Hanson is the executive director of 200 Orphanages World Wide, the agency helping with the fundraising. Hanson says she decided to dedicate her life to helping others four years ago, after volunteering at an orphanage in Peru.
"Once you travel to another country and see the poverty that is so extreme, where children have no shoes and children just have dirty clothes...I mean babies, babies. That just changes you. And we may have that here, but we have some safety nets here than can catch those children."
Aiken has a career in business and could simply write a check to help out. But she plans to go to Cameroon to personally see the people she's helping.
"So that they see your face and they say 'you helped me.' Not that I gave it to a large organization and you don't know where pennies on your dollar go to towards administrative support or whatever. You can see the difference that you've made and their lives are transformed it personally."
There are people who might ask "why not help people in need here in Houston instead of some other country?" Aiken says she doesn't believe a life here is more valuable than anywhere else, but says she'll help out here as well, if the opportunity presents itself.
More information about 200 Orphanages World Wide is available on their website, 200orphanagesworldwide.org.