Efforts to help a family in Malawi by funding education for the children have earned a Southwick man a place in the final of the Pride of M&S Awards.
Mike Whittaker has worked at M&S Shoreham, in the Holmbush Centre, for four years and has now been nominated for going the extra mile and having an impact on the lives of others.
Since he was introduced to Steria Changalusa in 2006, he has raised around £50,000, with the help of his partner Katie Brownings and friends Zoe and Richard.
Mike said: “I’m overwhelmed to have been nominated for the fundraising award with M&S. It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to raise awareness of the awful situation so many of those most vulnerable in Malawi find themselves in because of HIV.
“When I was introduced to Steria, her family was living in extreme poverty and she was caring for eight children, all impacted by HIV, one of which was left on her doorstep as a baby in a cardboard box.
“She receives the medication the children need from her employer, so our focus has always been to get the children into education and give them a way out of poverty.
“Now, 12 years on, we regularly get updates and report cards from the children’s teachers. It’s wonderful to see them all achieving fantastic results at school and university.
“The younger children can see for themselves the benefit an education can bring. They love going to school so much that they wear their uniforms all the time. Steria sends us the receipts for school fees and uniforms, so that every penny we raise can be accounted for.”
Zoe was introduced to Steria through a government twinning scheme and found out she was looking after seven orphans, mostly sons and daughters of her late siblings, as well as her own child, and all of them are HIV positive.
Steria has access to medication through her job as secretary at the Roads Authority of Malawi but could not afford school fees or uniforms, so Zoe told Mike and Katie, and they decided to help.
Mike explained: “Steria earns 50 dollars a month, which is a decent salary in Malawi, but education is not cheap. The cost of one blazer is more than she earns in a month.
“We decided education represented the best thing we can do to get them out of this life of nothing. Since then, we have kept them all in full-time education and they are all doing really well at school.”
Mike and Katie were able to visit the family in Malawi about eight years ago. At the time, they were living in a mud-built house and cooking on a fire outside but they now have a brick-built house with electricity.
Mike said: “We took a suitcase of clothes and they were overwhelmed with it. It was quite an eye opener. We get letters from the children and some of them are quite touching.”
Mike and Katie hold a big tea party in their garden every summer, with live music, and try to raise at least £1,000.
Katie, head of French at Steyning Grammar School, also organises an annual talent show, SGS Has Talent, and further funds have come from Shoreham and Southwick Rotary Club.
Mike, who also writes bridge software, said: “It’s incredibly rewarding to have been able to make such a huge difference to the children but it would be fantastic if others could get behind me and submit a vote to help me donate a further £1,000 to this inspirational family.”
The annual Pride of M&S Awards recognise all types of accomplishments across 11 categories. Each winner is awarded a £100 gift card and a £1,000 donation to a charity of their choice.
The winner of the fundraising award will be decided by public vote. Visit corporate.marksandspencer.com/pride-of-m-and-s-awards to support Mike Whittaker.
Public voting opened on Monday and winners will be announced at the awards ceremony in London on October 4.