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I’m so blessed, getting to spend my life redistributing wealth – a chat with Steve Argent

April 21, 2010

A little while ago on a meandering Saturday, I found myself at Fitzroy’s Rose Street Market, and among the copious amounts of handmade/indie stuff for sale, a sock monkey caught my eye.

I adore the  imperfect and the wonky, and this one, black as soot, with a cheeky twinkle in his pearly eyes and a wicked tight vest (no pants); I just knew he was for me. I soon realized that he’d come all the way from Africa, and  need I say more? He’s mine.

The stall where he and his cousins were displayed belonged to an organization called OrphFund, an independent non-profit working to help some of the world’s poorest children through self-sustaining, long term projects. I’d never heard of them but I went home and read up and I liked what I saw. OrphFund have about 360 kids in their care and send an additional 500 to school in Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Kenya, with upcoming projects in Uganda, Haiti, Zambia and Ghana.

I decided to email Steve Argent who started it in 2006, and he invited me to his office – which, coincidentally, happens to be their stall at the Rose Street Market! Hence I ended up coming back this Saturday, and spent a good two hours chatting to Steve who turned out to be both committed and super-friendly.

Me: I read that you goal was to establish the most effective, honest and unique charity out there, which, to be honest, I found a bit worrying – aren’t they all effective and honest?

Steve: I worked seven years for charities, big ones – Oxfam, UNICEF – training fundraisers. But the higher up I got, the more I realized they were just big business and didn’t do as much as they could have, and I thought now is the time to set up my own, and do it right. I’d bought a house in the UK and I decided to sell it and use the profit as the platform from which to work, so I didn’t have to have a job.

I used to travel a bit and whenever I did I would go and visit orphanages and play with the kids, just for fun. I decided I wanted to set up an organization where people could see the change their money made, where they could trust that the money goes to where it should go to and not to executives flying Business Class – I just felt that I wanted to restore a bit of faith. People want to help, but they’ve lost faith in big charities.

Me: What’s different with OrphFund, though? Why would people have more faith in a small charity than in the big ones?

Steve: Becasue we’re so small and can only afford to  help so many kids our research is super thorough – I personally go out and interview hundreds of kids to make sure we’ll help the ones that need it the most, and to decide if and where we’re going to set up an orphanage. I oversee every dollar spent…we do the work the big ones should be doing – we go out to the rubbish tips and get the kids; they just drive past in their big Land-Cruisers, and then go back to their fancy offices in South Yarra.

Me: But how do you choose whom to help? In Africa, the need must be endless?

Steve: Yes, there is an insane amount of need, you have to ask a lot of questions. Sometimes an orphan or a street child can actually be better off than a child in an abusive family.

Me: And do you build both orphanages and schools?

Steve: We build a village within a village: School, accommodation, clean water, garden, solar power if we can afford i; training centres with computers, tailoring studios and metal workshops where the kids can learn skills to help them build a better life when they leave the orphanage. In Sierra Leone we also run a small local guest house where the older 17-18 year old boys live, a bit more independently, and they help run it.

One thing I want to do is setting up a bank account for every kid so that when they’re 18 they get like 200 dollars to buy a bike or set up a small shop or something. It isn’t happening yet, but I’m planning on doing that.

Me: Do you ever feel locked-in by your decision to start OrphFund? Cause you can’t quit, you’re kind of set for life now?

Steve: Yes, I’m locked in. I’m realizing that, but this is what I want to keep doing, I want to keep going out to the villages still when I’m and old man. I love it. I love the community. I’m so blessed, getting to spend my life redistributing wealth. However, I’ve started looking at how to set it up so that it can keep going if something happens to me. It’s hard though, since it’s all volunteer run.

Me: How does that work – do you get a lot of people wanting to volunteer?

Steve: We invite people to come and help build and set up the orphanages – you’re asked to raise 3 grand plus buy your own air fare. We will find you a place to stay in the village and you’ll have our local team there to help you through your stay. The program can be as flexible as you need it to be – in September this year we are organizing a team of volunteers to head to our Kager Children’s Village in Kenya. It currently supports 86 children, but the project is in its infancy with a great need to create gardens, a small farm, showers, new classrooms and some bright licks of paint. If you go a s a volunteer, what you do is going to change a community forever – your actions will have massive impact.

Me: And where do the spunky sockmonekys come from?

Steve: They are made by a woman in Kenya, Caroline. She approached us and wanted us to help out with her four kids – one husband had died and the second had vanished, and with a disability from birth it was hard for her to find work to provide for her children. She couldn’t walk, and making rope was the only work she could do, but it didn’t generate enough income.

We’d brought a book on soft toys and sock monkeys with us, and trained her to make them. Now we pay her the equivalent of a teacher’s wage and she sends us 8 or 10 sockmonkeys a month. They are great because they are made from woollen socks, of which there is a surplus in Africa – they come in all the AID containers and nobody uses them, and she stuffs them with scraps and offcuts that she gets from the local tailors, and gives each one a personal expression. She’s amazing and people just love them!


Like the sound of that?…For a sockmonkey or a chat to Steve, head down to Rose Street Market one of these saturdays; if you’re not in our neck of the woods check out

And if the idea of building a school somewhere in Uganda/Haiti/Zambia/Ghana appeals to you, OrphFund is holding a meeting next week, inviting anyone to come along – Friday 30th April 5.30 for a 6pm start at Esco Art Bar, 386 Brunswick St, Fitzroy.

(Portrait of Steve Argent by Anne-Sophie Cardinal. Photo of kids taken in Cambodia and portrtait of Caroline with her sockanimals taken in Kenya, both by Steve Argent)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2010 6:38 pm

    Great article, great guy, great NGO, great monkey ! :)
    Long live Orphfund and all its projects!

  2. April 22, 2010 2:45 am

    Well done on all your efforts. It is pleasing to read about all the big and small contributions being made by these very dedicated and humble individuals.
    Good luck with all the projects.

  3. April 30, 2010 9:30 pm

    Hey Benjamin,
    yes I agree, it is so inspiring and important too, to remind each other that we can make change on an individual level.
    Thanks for reading and all the best.


  1. Sock Monkey Blog! « Orphfund's Blog

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