The Eric L. Brandenburg
Children's Fund

Eric L. Brandenburg

After our book Living on a Dollar a Day was released, we established this fund at the urging of one of our Board members. We discovered that some of the children we were encountering throughout our travels were living in such dire circumstances that absent our intervention, they would likely either live a life in extreme poverty or simply die. As to these children, this fund commits to an individualized plan of long-term support, and in doing so, pays for all their basic needs and education in order to ensure that they leave poverty and obtain a chance at a decent life. Currently, 13 total children have been served by this program and all are living in India or Ghana, or are attending university in the United States.

Meet The Children

Karishma

Karishma, 1999

Karishma was the first child we decided to help through this program. When we found her she was four years old and living with her family in a hole in the ground covered with a tarp on the side of a road in Northern India. Her mother had migrated from Nepal but could find only limited work as a road construction worker making about eighteen cents an hour. TFI helped get this family of five a home and put this child in private school. In 2018, she graduated from college and is now a teacher at a primary school near where she grew up.

Karishma, 2018

Solomon

Solomon, 2014

Upon the release of our book Living on a Dollar a Day, we were asked to return to Ghana to help the kids we photographed living on an e-waste dumpsite. One child we hoped to find was named Philimon, but he was nowhere to be found. Instead, we discovered a boy named Solomon who worked every day at the dumpsite in order to earn the pennies he needed for his education. Inspired by his love for learning, we took Solomon out of this slum and sent him to boarding school where he could advance much further in life. As expected, he became an Honor student.


Solomon graduated from High School in 2023. Although he was a very good student, his Math grade from the Regional exams was not high enough for the Engineering College he wanted to attend, so we’re giving him the option to retake the exam this summer. He is studying for that now and staying with a classmate’s family. We are paying for a tutor and giving a small amount to the family for letting Solomon stay with them.

Recently we have been speaking with a friend of ours in Ghana who is an engineer, and he confirms that the rest of his grades are good enough to get into an Engineering program. We have connected Solomon to this young man to act as a Mentor to advise him. There are different types of schools for Engineering, some based on academics and some based on practical applications, like Mechanical Engineering. Solomon is interested in that area. In addition to the formal Degree, he can take Certificate programs in related fields to give him the most options for work.

 

Solomon, 2019

Fatima

Fatima, 2011

At eight years old we found Fatima, with several other children, attempting to survive on the e-waste dumpsite in the city of Accra in Ghana, West Africa. We were there chronicling stories from around the world for our book Living on a Dollar a Day. The bucket that Fatima rests on her head was used to hold tiny bits of metal which she gathered off the ground to sell for pennies in order to simply get through another day. All the while, she was breathing in toxic smoke that would surely kill her if she was not removed from this environment. Thanks to our Children’s Fund, Fatima did well at boarding school.

Fatima graduated from High School in 2023, and the final grades from the Regional exams came out in December, but her Science grade got canceled because there was some internal problem with the exam, so she has to retake that exam this summer since it is a Core class and she needs it for college applications. She is studying for it now and staying in a dorm so we are paying for a tutor and her housing and meals. We have been speaking with a friend of ours in Ghana who is a doctor, and he confirms that the rest of her grades are good enough to get into Nursing School so that is encouraging.

The way the programs are there, she can get a Diploma / Certificate (2 years) or a Degree (4 years) for a highest level nurse. Ghana has a lot of nursing schools, and their best nurses actually get work outside the country. There are government schools and private schools, so we won’t know the tuition until she gets accepted to one. Also, depending on how she performs, we won’t know if it’s best for her to get the Certificate or stay for the Degree. We will continue this research and talk to our friend there. We also have a student who will graduate in Nursing this year in Liberia who Jerry and his wife Beth have been supporting. She has offered to be a Mentor to Fati and advise her in her education.

Our immediate plan is that she retakes the exam in August, and we will see if she can make applications to Nursing Schools then or if she has to wait for the final grade before she can apply which won’t be until December. That means she would not be able to start Nursing School until 2025.

Fatima, 2019

Asana

Asana, 2011

Asana was found living in squalor. Seen here to the left in the pink pants, she was wearing the only clothes she had and slept each night in a shack with a group of girls and young women so that together they might protect themselves from being attacked and possibly raped or killed. She was about ten years old at the time, and we could not leave her trapped in a life with no future.

Asana graduated High School in 2022, and her grades were not good enough for college. She wanted to re-test, and we said she could, but as a backup, she had to enroll in a vocational program of her choosing. She chose baking. We paid for tutors and dorm housing, and she re-sat for the Regional exams in the Summer of 2023 but did not improve enough academically. However, she did well in the baking courses and enjoyed it. 

We agreed to put her through a full baking course as her final education. This was the largest expense last year because it was essentially like a culinary college and every week she needed to buy baking supplies. The program took about nine months, and she just graduated and has a Certificate. Last month she started an apprenticeship program at a hotel where she is baking in their restaurant. The apprenticeship is unpaid and lasts for three months, so we are providing dorm housing, transportation, and money for groceries. After the apprenticeship, she will need to find a job, and we hope she will be settled by the end of this year. Also since she is nearly independent now, we are talking to her about opening a bank account, and we will help her to find permanent work.

Asana, 2019

Ayesha

Ayesha, 2011

Ayesha is seen here lost in the garbage that at the time surrounded her life. She was the oldest of the girls we removed from this dumpsite in 2015. Twelve years old and quite depressed, she was struggling with the life the world had dealt her. In short, she had come to Accra from an impoverished village in northern Ghana with hopes of improving her life, but with no help from anyone, she was left without options other than a life of necessity. Today, thanks to the fund, Ayesha is trained as a baker and will soon be able to support herself.

Ayesha was the oldest student and was too far behind her schooling for an academic education. She was also too young at the time for some vocational training, but she tried. Unfortunately, she ended up leaving school, but we persuaded her to take baking classes. She finished her course but didn’t take to the apprenticeship she was placed in, and in the end, decided to leave our program and went back to her northern village to live with her mother. She now has a young son who just turned 4 years old, and she sells food she makes in the local market. In 2022, after a visit with her, TFI bought her a small stove and gave her funds to buy some initial cooking supplies so she could start her own business.

She is better than when we found her for she now has a Certificate from a baking school and has the skills and tools to make a living. With that, she is supporting herself, her mother, and her son.

Ayesha, 2018

Elvis

Elvis, 2015

We found Elvis at a boarding school where we had placed the three young girls from the dump site. School administrators excluded him from classes because his mother could no longer pay his tuition. He was living there at the whim of other students who would bring him food as he slept on the floor in the corner of a dormitory, often hiding from the administrators. We paid his tuition, found his mother, and have continued to support his education. Today this talented and bright young man is hoping to become a commercial artist.

After Elvis graduated High School in 2022, he had to leave Ghana and return to Nigeria where he is a citizen. He has been living at home with his mother and sister. It was in talking with Elvis at home that we learned that he wants to make art his career. There were still restrictions around Covid that prevented us from doing much, but Tom thought the best way Elvis could share his work would be to try to come to the US for art education as he is largely self-taught.

We started the process of figuring out what Elvis needs to do to come to the US. We had him take computer classes and English classes to improve these skills. We bought him a phone and a laptop. We researched US colleges that have a program in Studio Arts for International students. He applied and got into a California State school in Southern California, but in the end the US State Dept. would not issue him a Student Visa to start school in Fall 2023.

We decided to try again, but this time for schools in Canada where we hope the Visa situation is friendlier. That is where we are now. Elvis has been accepted to a college in Alberta, Ottawa, and we are now pulling together everything he needs for the Visa application. Because he has been living at home and taking informal classes, the expenses for him have largely been for the college and Visa applications. However, if he does actually get to go to Canada, his expenses will be high because he will need tuition, housing, meals, art supplies, and some allowance for personal items for at least a two-year Diploma / Certificate in Studio Arts.

Elvis, 2019

Sangeeta

Sangeeta, 2010

Sangeeta was found in a beggar’s encampment in Northern India. At the age of two, she only weighed nine pounds. This was because her mother had decided to starve her for the purpose of using a starving child to gain more sympathy from passersby as she begged on the street. She used whatever money she could acquire to feed her other children. After we found Sangeeta, we saw to it that she received medical care and later placed her in a boarding school where she is now thriving. Sangeeta, along with Fatima above, was featured in our film Living on a Dollar a Day

Sangeeta 2014

Dennis, Rhoda, and Jennifer

Dennis, Rhoda, and Jennifer, 2020

Dennis, Rhoda, and Jennifer are the three children of Darry, our local guide in Ghana. Darry has worked with us since 2015 and has been helping us monitor and care for the four students who were taken from the e-waste dumpsite in Accra and the one student found at the boarding school where we placed them. All this while his own children have needed help, as well. TFI’s Jennifer went to visit the students shortly after we placed them in boarding school and has worked closely with Darry to manage their care. Without Darry’s help on the ground, we could not help all these children succeed.

In 2023, these are the ages and grades for Darry’s children:
Dennis: Age 13, 7th Grade
Rhoda: Age 11, 4th Grade
Jennifer: Age 6, 1st Grade

Darry’s kids attend Firm Academy which is the school where our students, Fatima, Solomon Elvis, and Asana, attended and graduated. They are very good students, and TFI has been paying their education expenses as part of our compensation to Darry. We agreed to do so through Primary school, which is through Grade 8. The most recent cost of their schooling is $700 per term for all three, which includes tuition, exams, materials, tutoring, meals, and PTA dues. There are three terms every year. An unexpected cost since last year has been that the school stopped their busing program, so we’ve been paying for transportation for them for each term, which costs $800 per term for all three. I don’t know if the school will eventually resume their program. Darry lives about 40 minutes by taxi from the school. However, they live at home so they do not pay Boarding fees, but the transportation cost has raised the total cost of their education.

Dennis, Rhoda, and Jennifer, 2022

Our Newest Children's Fund Students!

Thulasi Priya Ramesh

Thulasi Priya Ramesh, the first recipient of our new Priyanka Singh Scholarship, is pictured here with Diane Brandenburg, principal donor of our Children’s Fund and supporter of the work of the Shanti Bhavan school in India. Thulasi was born in Southern India to an impoverished family and began attending Shanti Bhavan at age four. Fast forward 16 years, and Thulasi now attends the College of Idaho, after graduating from Shanti Bhavan with all A’s. Our Children’s Fund started supporting her education here in the United States in the spring of 2021. Since graduating in 2023, Thulasi got a marketing job in Boise and has broken the cycle of poverty.

Kusuma Kumar

Kusuma Kumar is the latest recipient of our Priyanka Singh Scholarship. Born in a small village in India, Kusuma attended the Shanti Bhavan school, which aims to help students leave the life they were born into and someday be able to help others escape from the extreme poverty. Kusuma enrolled at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2021, and the Children’s Fund began supporting her education there shortly after. Kusuma hopes to major in Computer Science, and upon graduating her dream is to work with artificial intelligence to bridge technical gaps in India’s farming communities and give back to her community.

Priyanka Singh

Gone But Not Forgotten

We knew Priyanka from age five until shortly after her 17th birthday when she was found dead in her home under very suspicious circumstances. In our minds, it is easy for us to piece together a collage of scenes of her as a barefoot child walking to school in her new uniform or playing behind her home among the wild pigs and the garbage they fed on, and as she grew, how her face would continue to light up when she talked about maybe someday coming to America. She was ambitious, often telling us how she wanted to grow up and to one day become an airline pilot. We would tell her that being a pilot is not an easy task and that she would have to work hard on her math and science skills and continue to practice her English. She would always say, “Yes, sir”. Sir was the first word she ever learned in English. Always smiling, always optimistic, and always happy although she had so little. She was a gift to all of us at our foundation, one that will never be forgotten. For one we knew for all too short a time, all of us at our foundation miss her dearly.