It seems like New York may finally be warming up. With temperatures in the 50s, it feels like spring is just around the corner and March 9 was no different. On top of the city, towering stories above, the Hudson Terrace was filled with the sounds of a soft, soothing guitar as guests enjoyed A Night on the Nile, the first annual Lend a Hand Uganda USA Fundraising Gala.
Founder Harriet Zaffoni floated around the room, looking sleek and refined in an all-black ensemble, greeting guests and taking last-minute event planning phone calls. Zaffoni created Lend a Hand Uganda USA when she realized just how much help was needed in Uganda. She is also the owner of Harkiss Designs, which offers handmade products from East Africa, and ensures that a percentage of every sale goes straight to LAHU-USA. Of the many guests, Celebrity Ambassador Betsey Johnson was in attendance, sporting her trademark Platinum blonde do and a long, form-fitting leopard dress. She energetically laughed and mingled with guests, while posing for pictures on the red carpet.
Even though the event was certainly busy, Zaffoni was kind enough to sit with us and chat about life, her love for Uganda, and so much more.
Kimberly Fisher: You were born and raised in Uganda. What are some of your favorite memories of growing up there?
Harriet Zaffoni: There was so much love, caring and sharing within my family, and between my family and the community. Everyone knew each other. My grandfather was a man of means. He was a tailor for members of the royal family of Buganda. My grandparents’ position predisposed my grandmother to bring in and feed impoverished and abandoned children. It was always merrymaking at our home with those children. Those memories are forever implanted within me.
KF: What made you decide to start Lend a Hand Uganda-USA?
HZ: Each year I would go home to Uganda, [and] I was touched by the hunger and impoverishment—not only among the children but also among adults. The community empathy, connectivity and activities that I had experienced while growing up were all gone. It seemed that everyone was for himself or herself. I gave thought to how I could help re-create the community that I grew up in. It seemed difficult until, one day, I met three young men who had just graduated from college and decided to try to provide chances to the unfortunate children in their community. After visiting their office and confirming that they meant what they said they wanted to accomplish, I decided to become a donor using my own little money. A year later, I realized that I could do more with my friends and colleagues here in the United States. Thus, I founded Lend a Hand Uganda–USA.
KF: You seem to be the modern day career woman. What does a typical day look like for you?
HZ: My day begins at 6 a.m. with checking emails and texts from Africa, where in addition to Lend-a-Hand [dealings], I review the progress of activities of the women and a few men who produce my fashion and home accessory collection for Harkiss Designs. I begin attending to the business strategies around 9 a.m. by reviewing the activities of the previous day. I meet later on with collaborators and consultants and attend to pertinent business emails. I wind up the day by discussing new developments and the activities of Lend a Hand Uganda via telephone or email with others and mainly with Amy Noelle, the Director of Operations, Lend a Hand Uganda–USA.
KF: What inspires you?
HZ: I am inspired by the memories I mentioned earlier, to provide opportunities to those who are not as fortunate as some of us. The passion for enabling individuals to sustain themselves while lifting all boats in their communities is what informed the founding of Harkiss Designs and then [the] coupling [of] it with Lend a Hand. Helping people achieve their goals and sharing their achievements with the rest of the community is as inspirational as it is cohesive and satisfying. As for LAHU, it is my belief that every child has a right to enjoy [a] childhood as I did and to have choices in life.
KF: Where do you see LAHU in 10 years?
HZ: We currently have 128 children placed within 47 families. My goal is to help find homes and communities for 100 children every year in the next 10 years. I would also like to inspire others to do the same since we have so many children in need all over the world.