Founded by the diminutive and quietly reserved but determined Tasmin Keshavjee in 2007, Wings of Grace International sets up rainwater harvesting projects on islands and remote villages worldwide, which struggle with clean drinking water.
I was blessed to meet Tasmin at a friend's gathering a few years ago. I was so inspired by her courage, faith, and humbleness I couldn't resist an interview to increase awareness of the work they are doing.
What was the catalyst for you to set up Wings of Grace International?
While working in Manda Island, (off the coast of Kenya), I saw first-hand the challenge of lack of fresh water for the villagers.
You do a lot of work on remote islands. Why is this?
Islands tend to be forgotten by the countries they belong to or are near. Logistically they’re harder and more expensive to furnish with the basic necessities, so they’re more easily ignored.
Islands are also easier for a single female to tackle rather than an area where the boundaries have no visible end.
In 2009 you were accused by the chiefs on Manda Island that you had poisoned the food you were distributing in another project. What other challenges have you personally faced? How did you overcome these?
The most intense challenge was in Kenya, 2013-2014.
Being a single female, ex-Muslim turned Christian in a Muslim dominated region, and with a western mentality that refuses to be spoken to like a dog, and refuses corruption, got me in a bit of trouble.
I spent a night in the local jail (with a very hard floor!) and 13 months in court with a corrupt magistrate.
It was clear when the immigration officers took my passport, that a bribe would have made every difference. But I’ve got a stubborn streak when it comes to things like that. One of the officers was overheard to have said in Swahili, ‘We’ve tried and tried but you’re stubborn and refuse to give us even a bit, so we’ll make your life hard’.
As in every other situation in my life, I had to lean in to and trust my God to deliver me. As always, He did, and I was acquitted of all 4 bogus criminal charges that the village sub-chief and magistrate put against me, without paying a penny of a bribe, and without using a (corrupt) lawyer to stand for me.
You obviously have a strong faith, what does this mean in concrete terms for your charity?
It means that I don’t look to Wings of Grace International to provide for my needs. This allows me to maximize our efforts to help as many people as possible in the field.
I also refuse categorically to dishonor God and corrupt a country by giving bribes, and instead allow Him to take me through whatever I have to go through to get to the end of the challenge.
I love that you are firm in your commitment that your personal costs, airfares etc are paid for by you. Why is this so important to you?
When we first started, the Red Cross was in the news about how much was spent in administration fees and how little was getting to the field.
It is important to ensure we are financially transparent and that the money people give for rainwater harvesting tanks for the poor know it is being used for exactly that.
I know how to travel on a very small budget and believe that God could provide separately. I have to admit to this choice being crippling at times, but my conscience is very peaceful.
Where does most of your funding come from?
In the area of fundraising, I still struggle a bit.
At first, funding came from the Swiss Catholic community where I lived. We have also had support from others who feel a connection with our work. A professional cyclist I met on a train coming home from Kenya raised a total of $26,000 Swiss francs (approx. USD $42,50) with two dinners he and his wife hosted.
On the other hand, I remember setting up a crowd funding campaign to try and raise money for our work one time, and getting a whopping 80€’s (USD $86) at the end of 3 months!
What do you see is or are the biggest obstacle(s) to world harmony?
Greed, selfishness, dishonesty.
I guess it can be summed up by saying that it’s a lack of love for one another. If we were walking with the next person’s best interest in heart and mind, I believe we’d live in a much more gracious world.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Corruption – it’s the invisible poison that’s quietly killing countries all over the world in one way or another. I’ve seen up close how resource-rich 3rd world countries have starving masses because of corrupt and greedy authorities. I’ve seen countries which were formerly strong and prosperous, become weak because of corruption in their authorities.
I so wish biblical values were held in more honor in this world. I see that as it’s quietly whittled away from societies all over the world, we see the world becoming less and less joyful to live in.
There’s still so much work to do in so many areas of the world...
Since its inception, Wings of Grace International have completed more than 7 projects with more than 730 water tanks installed. If you would like to support them, donations can be made via their website.