Founding Story

We were founded in 2009 out of dedication to each other and our shared goal of contributing to more global equality.

Carli Kooper founded the Heliconia Scholarship Foundation in the Netherlands in 2009, together with Mili Chana in Indonesia. Their special friendship and dedication to growing together is the basis of our wider Heliconia Community and ensures the success and durability of our mission.

Read Carli's personal founding story below!

Founding Heliconia

This charity was founded after a special trip through Asia in 2007. I had just graduated from high school and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel out of Europe for the first time. During this trip I did volunteer work for several educational projects, because I hoped to learn more about the different cultures and people in this way. I found what I was looking for and had wonderful experiences teaching English to children for projects in Thailand, India and Indonesia.

With Mili Chana, one of the youngsters from Dorkas shelter in Jakarta, I stayed in touch. We were of the same age and immediately bonded in a special way. After returning to the Netherlands, I went to university, but Mili did not have that opportunity. Then the idea was born to start the Heliconia Scholarship Foundation (formerly known as Stichting Heliconia), which we founded officially in March 2009. We now both graduated from a good university!

Our friendship and charity grew stronger over the years. I am grateful for our many wonderful experiences together and proud that we are able to offer evermore young adults a scholarship. I look forward to seeing our organisation flourish far into the future!

It was not always easy, running a charity at our young age, but we have all matured and I am grateful for the many insights that Heliconia has brought me. I believe in openness, because we can only learn when we are willing to acknowledge and research both our challenges and our successes. Both contribute equally to our personal development and a meaningful life. Therefore, you can read about my main struggles and accomplishments below!

My challenges

My greatest personal challenge in relation to the Heliconia Scholarship Foundation was that founding this project arose not just from enthusiasm, but also from feelings of guilt and a fighting spirit. These kickstarted us into the world, but soon turned out to be destructive to my personal health and wellbeing, and of course, also to my surroundings. They were the main reason why it took me ten years of running this charity, before I was able to find a healthy and enjoyable work flow.

My response to global injustice
As a child, I was never aware of global inequality, violence against humans, animals and nature or other forms of injustice. I grew up in a loving, middle class family in the Netherlands and went to a Waldorf or Steiner school. The Anthroposophical philosophy behind my primary education was all about developing skills in a holistic way: through interaction between head, hearts and hands. It was a safe, inviting environment, in which I learned to connect with my own body and feelings, others and nature. I was unaware of the outside world, until I reached the age of ten and watched the news for the first time. The topic featured was about child labour in India. I saw children of my own age crawling out of deep holes in the ground, mining for minerals. Children even younger than me turning bricks on their bare knees in the burning sun. They wore rags, didn't go to school and had little to eat. I was shocked. My whole body contracted now that I knew that other children in the world were living like this. I had nightmares for weeks and decided that I had to make a change. So, I wrote a poem, asking humanity for equality and world peace. I decided that I had to recite it at least once a day, without exception, even if I was tired. However, I soon started to realise that this small form of contribution (or self-sacrifice, when I actually wasn't in the mood to recite) was not going to save the world at all. I had to do more.

When I travelled in my gap year, I was thus determined to teach English. I realised that I was privileged to have finished high school and travel, and wanted to share my knowledge with others. At the project in India, I met the children that I'd seen in the news many years back. They were rescued former child labourers, with background stories more tragic and degrading than I'd ever heard of before, and I had done my research. Especially this experience in India made a deep impact on me, making me feel outraged by the extent of injustice that people were able to inflict on each other. It fuelled my decision to study in Cultural Anthropology and International Development Studies, in an attempt to understand the issue of global inequality and find a solution to fix it.

The Heliconia Scholarship Foundation was founded in this time. It was a period in my life in which I 'allowed' myself the fun of traveling and a festive student life, while at the same time taking on the huge challenge of providing life-changing scholarships to others. On the one hand, I felt that I could proudly use my vigour and entrepreneurial skills for the first time. On the other hand, it was a responsibility that was almost too big for me to carry. Me and Mili were, after all, just 20 years old when we started.

Personal neglect
The first years of Heliconia we worked hard to form our working methods, write the policy plan, have our first website build and promote ourselves to raise our first donations. It worked, and we were soon able to provide our first scholarships. However, because I felt so guilty about my privileged position in the world, I was willing to sacrifice my own health and wellbeing for the charity. Studying full time, having a side job and running the foundation at the same time often made me feel stressed and overwhelmed. Mili, on her turn, felt privileged to have received a full scholarship and was therefore also under pressure to combine studying and the selection and guidance of other students. My personal fighting spirit thus also put pressure on others. Being so young, I also had little work experience, which sometimes made me insecure and in doubt of my course of action. My own unclarity resulted into attracting quite a few other board members in the Netherlands who lacked motivation and skills, making me feel overloaded and constantly in argument.

Despite the fact that we were providing more scholarships and that Mili and I loved working together, I kept on feeling that Heliconia wasn't right yet and that we were working above our carrying capacity. I knew that I had to change my attitude towards the project. I had to stop seeing it as a burden, install a board with likeminded people and arrange financial compensation for our work. Or I had to let it go and hand it over to others. I first choose the latter, because I had just graduated, needed to build a life for myself and hoped that the foundation would sort itself. Of course, it didn't. I still regret that I left Mili with a malfunctioning board. It didn't only cause stress to myself and the remaining board members, but also to her and our students.

More lessons to learn
In 2018, I had finally found my place in life, a new home and solid basis to live from. So I took Heliconia back, installed a new board, this time with my closest friends as board members. I'd realised that working together voluntarily for charity is only possible when all share the same outlook on life. Mili and I had been working together so fruitfully, precisely because of our friendship and the ease and familiarity with which we connected. The Heliconia Community would now be based entirely on personal dedication to each other, joy and friendship. It was the best decision that I ever made for Heliconia.

However, I had not healed my issues with guilt yet. So in 2018, when we needed to restructure the administration, I took it on me with a ravishing dedication that made me work endless hours behind the computer for months, without taking proper breaks or even allowing myself leisure time in the weekends. I just wanted to get it done so badly and to finally make Heliconia right. It resulted into a serious burn-out. Right after the task was finished, my brain stopped functioning entirely, causing numbing headaches, buzzing ears and intense muscle cramps, that forced me to drop everything, look inward and surrender. It took me three years to regain my health and it was the most painful, yet also deeply transforming period in my life. I finally learned that giving is wonderful, yet only in balance when my own cup is full and overflowing.

A healthy mindset at last
In December 2019, I was ready to pick up my work again, yet this time from a different mindset. Naomi became our first fulltime employee instead of a parttime volunteer, which was a great relief. All Heliconia staff members had been working voluntarily for so long, that it had drained us all and thereby also decreased our carrying capacity. With Naomi, things changed because we finally had someone on the ground who truly had all the time and energy available to carry out our many tasks. For Mili we introduced a fee per hour and I officially left the board in 2021. I could therefore become the operational manager, with a compensation for the parttime hours that I work for our charity. I was always against NGOs where staff earns salaries, yet I understand now that all work needs compensation. Because I can't contribute to solving global inequality when I have an empty stomach myself! Then I would only transfer the issue from others to myself. This is also what I want to inspire now: that I'm naturally giving, when I'm well taken care of myself. Personal safety and abundance make space for enthusiasm and intrinsic motivation. And they are the best fuels to spark our lives and projects with! They are the pillars of the Heliconia Scholarship Foundation now, as you can read in the next section.

my successes

My greatest success in relation to the Heliconia Scholarship Foundation is that eventually, I learned to heal my own insecurities. Shifting my motivation for running this project from guilt to enthusiasm, we have now managed to build a supporting community. My fighting spirit has been replaced by an inviting energy, that encourages all our members to feel safe in expressing their own feelings and opinions. Our organisation is based on friendship and dedication to each other, in all our needs. The Heliconia Community is a place where all members can learn and grow, in their own, unique ways.

The deep companionship that I have with the board members and Mili and Naomi in Indonesia, give a greater meaning to our work. We have shared so many special and joyous life experiences together. Regardless of our different cultural and personal backgrounds, we have always been understanding and dedicated to each other. I advocate now, that love, enthusiasm and personal commitment to each other are the bedrocks of any success. Obtaining a diploma or raising funds for scholarships, gain so much more meaning when they're inspired by these values. I never thought that it was possible to build an organisation entirely on personal value and meaning, for all involved. But it is, and I believe it is also the way forward! It prevents exploitation of people and nature, for the financial gain of just a few, and ensures safety and meaning for the community as a whole instead.

Personal research and development: the greatest tool to any success
Over the years, I have learned that my personal relationship with myself determines all my other relationships, experiences and endeavours in life. When I'm e.g. convinced that I am guilty and therefore obliged to work hard at the expense of my own wellbeing, I will automatically assume and encourage others to do so too. This creates an unhealthy atmosphere, for me and my surroundings. I can also belief the opposite, and trust and inspire that all humans, including myself, may be guided by their own, natural flow. It's therefore essential that I constantly research myself and my outlooks on life. When I'm aware of my motivations and why I feel, think and act in a certain way, I can change the convictions that are not serving and celebrate and expand the ones that do!

A great success in relation to the foundation is that I've learned to value the project, not just for its practical meaning in providing scholarships, but also for its many spiritual lessons. They have formed me into the person that I am today, for which I am grateful. Thanks to personal research, my struggles have transformed into new, positive and effective mindsets, that serve me, the entire Heliconia Community and all my other endeavours!

Valuing my heart-based, feminine way of working
One of my other successes is that I feel that I can truly be emotionally involved and feminine in my work. I used to believe that 'professionality' automatically implies formality, meaning appropriate personal distance between me and colleagues and keeping work and private life separate. My experience in other jobs is that sharing feelings is not truly welcome and that completing work tasks goes before personal flow and needs. Within Heliconia, we live the opposite. Our personal connection goes before anything else. Therefore, I assumed for a long time that I was not 'professional' or credible in my work. It felt as if we were just a group of friends having a good time together! However, over the years I started to realise that I value this heart-based way of working above anything else. It ensures that everyone is welcome to share their entire beings. Not just their professional skills, output and successes, but also their tears, tiredness and frustration. We are sentient beings above anything else, and a safe community ensures that all our insights, feelings and needs are addressed, nourished and celebrated.

Moreover, I consider this the new form of professionality! Focussing on output above personal growth and wellbeing, is a form of oppression and violence. It keeps people small, unsafe, and unable to connect to their deeper life's purpose and gifts. That actually decreases professionality, because it prevents people from flourishing into their full potential, whatever that might be!

Output that is not inspired by intrinsic motivation and love, is often destructive, not only to the labourer, but also to nature, animals and other humans. Our world needs a paradigm shift, in which output, just for the sake of output or financial profit, is not considered an achievement anymore. Because all is eventually meaningless, when it's not inspired by our hearts. And our hearts know what is right, because they are connected to the greater good. When listening to our hearts and following our natural work flow (also if it means that we don't deliver 'work' for a while!), we ensure that our output in the world is in balance and contributes to the long-term wellbeing of our entire planet.

Equality and friendship prevent hierarchy and outdated images of development work
As founder of the Heliconia Scholarship Foundation, I learned that personal connection leads to more equality, which in turn contributes to more effective cooperation. When I was studying for Anthropology specialising in International Development, I did a lot of research into development work and small NGOs (see Policy Plan and Statutes for some of my essays). They taught me that in development work, the main pitfall is that project initiators tend to belief that they know from their own, personal experience what the needs are of the people that they want to support. This is often not true. For me as a white woman from an upper middle class family in one of the richest countries in the world, I can't possible know the specific daily challenges that e.g. youngsters studying at an Indonesian university face. Just to mention something: I never imagined that having a side job next to studying is complicated, not just because of the study pressure, but because traffic in Jakarta is always jammed. This causes students to spend many hours commuting. Class schedules can also be unpredictable, because lecturers are also often delayed in traffic, postponing classes to later hours. If Heliconia would base its policy on my own experiences as a Dutch student, I would maybe consider having a side job normal and also expect our students to have one, which would be unrealistic in practice.

This is just one of the many examples that show that in order to help each other, we first need to understand each other. Policy makers need to let go of the outdated idea that underprivileged people in development countries don't know what is right for themselves. Instead, open communication and lots of research contribute to a clear, realistic needs analysis. For this, I belief that true equality is essential. NGOs (and businesses in general) tend to have hierarchies, in which the money facilitating party places itself above the receiving and executing party on the ground. This is wrong. The fact that I happen to have the social background and skills to raise funds, does not mean that I am better, more knowledgeable or powerful than our cooperation partners, graduates or students. Instead, I feel that I can only thrive myself, when I know that the people around me also thrive, and don't compromise on their own opinions, boundaries, needs and inner-wisdom. Only true equality enables free expression and safe discussions, in which everyone is heard.

Within our organisation, it feels amazing that we have chosen each other, not just for our professional skills but also for our personalities. Our familiarity and friendship enables us to share not only about work topics, but also about the details of our personal lives. Precisely because our cultural backgrounds are so different, we can wonder and laugh, broaden our cultural horizons and enrich each other's awareness. We are a community and support each other in our personal developments. Also when we disagree on topics, or if one of us wants to leave Heliconia and move on, we support each other and trust that we will find a way. That is what true friendship is about. I can't imagine now, working together or spending time, in any other way than this.

Embracing global citizenship as the new form of human interconnectivity
My former conviction that I'm obliged to fix global inequality by working hard on my own, has transformed into a new world view. I now realize that I am not alone, in either fixing issues or celebrating successes, but instead connected to a greater, worldwide structure of individuals, groups, social institutions, cultures, histories, etc. Instead of feeling either outraged, depressed or dissociated in relation to the many worldwide issues, I can now see them as the natural result of our history and time. I can feel more compassion now, for the place where we are currently at, also because I realise evermore that humanity has been in constant movement and development, throughout the ages. I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors. When I look back, I see my grandparents living in an Indonesia that was still colonized by the Dutch. Thankfully, we have grown out of such forms of oppression (at least officially)! Global inequality is slowly but gradually being addressed. And I should not deny or reject the social context and space that I live in, or I will remain in conflict with reality and my surroundings my entire life.

Instead, I now feel that I do want to connect, to all that humanity is. Thanks to the internet, this is also possible. We can see into each other's lives and get to know each other more easily than ever. This enables us to make contact with other humans that we would otherwise not be able to meet. Heliconia is also the result of globalisation and works because we can be in touch every day, despite the distance. I now feel a willingness, to truly open up to the world, even if it means that I'm confronted with poverty, inequality and violence, that are not part of my personal daily life. I can now face these issues with more compassion, and don't feel that I have to be destructive to myself anymore in an attempt to fix them. Instead, I can contribute, by first of all accepting my place in the global network. From that spot, I can take on my own part, with enthusiasm. For me that means that I aim to be a healthy and enjoyable operational manager for Heliconia. And in my daily life, I try to make conscious, well-informed life decisions, that are kind to myself and others. Every step in that, no matter how big or small, is equally valuable and moves humanity forward, because I influence others and others influence me. We are all connected by the internet and our global economy and thus make an impact on each others' lives. Knowing this offers amazing opportunities!

The more we realize that we are all connected, and therefore dependent on each other for the health and wellbeing of ourselves, our families, societies and our planet as a whole, the more we can start caring. It enables us to truly reach out to each other, to give support and be supported. This is my final, greatest success in relation to the Heliconia Scholarship Foundation. That I feel deeply caring and deeply cared for. Connected, not just to my own heart, but also to the hearts of our Heliconia members, of other people, to the heart of our entire universe. There is only Love there.

Let us learn to celebrate life as one global, interconnected community.
We are one world together!