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From Sweden, with love

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TALI FEINBERG

Ex-Capetonian Aviva-Liora La Torre Ek (nee Moses) is 32 years old and lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with her husband and two children. She moved there from South Africa in 2015, and works as a language teacher. She used to work in media liaison at the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

La Torre Ek says she was motivated to start a fundraiser, “As I had been having sleepless nights about the situation at home for weeks. The thought of children starving on a daily basis was just too much for me as a mother and a human being. It was unbearable. So I finally sprang into action.

“On a Thursday afternoon [7 May], I posted a fundraiser on Facebook, explaining what was going on at home, and that I wanted to support organisations that are able to actually feed people. I set out with the goal of raising 1 000 Swedish Kroner (SEK), as I calculated that I would be able to feed five families of four for half a month. To be able to make a difference, even for just a few people, would be something.”

She chose to channel the donations to the Angel Network. “I had been looking for an organisation to donate to, and I saw the Angel Network’s posts on Facebook. I thought that the food-aid parcels it was offering together with All About Food was a fantastic idea. It was a cause that I really wanted to support.”

Her single post on Facebook quickly became something much bigger. “Within the first 15 minutes, I had obtained that 1 000 SEK. By the next morning, I had more than R10 000. Seventy two hours later, I had R17 500. I was completely floored,” she says.

“I decided to post a video to see if I could get to a target of R30 000. That way, I would be able to feed about 65 families. I contacted friends in Sweden and all around the world who all shared my post on their Facebook pages, and the response was astounding. Within one hour of posting the video, I had reached the target of R30 000. I just couldn’t believe it.

“By the time I closed the fundraiser the next day, six days after I started, I had raised R54 000. The gratitude I feel for all the incredible people around the world can’t be expressed adequately. They have saved lives and fed families for almost three weeks. Thanks to them, I’m able to send the Angel Network enough money to buy 20 blankets for the needy and feed 114 families. That’s 456 people! I couldn’t have imagined this would be possible. I’m profoundly humbled,” she says.

For a fundraiser first supported by friends and family, the reach has been phenomenal. “One of the most extraordinary things was that out of the 110 donors, half were people I don’t know,” says La Torre Ek. “They came from all around Sweden and as far as Argentina, Singapore, and Azerbaijan!”

A large portion of the donation came from Swedes. Asked why she thinks they donated so generously to people so far away, she says, “Swedes are extraordinarily giving, specifically when it comes to causes where children are concerned.”

Others helped spread the word. For example, “One of my friends had been growing seedlings, and she posted on Facebook that if anyone wanted one of her exotic seedlings, they could make a donation to my cause. One woman donated 1 000 SEK! The Swedish Union of Jewish Students donated almost R10 000 as it identified with my cause. I feel so humbled, as this wasn’t even a Swedish fundraiser. It really gives meaning to tikkun olam [healing the world].

“There aren’t enough words to describe how something like this makes you feel,” she says. “I want people to see that anybody can make a difference, no matter where they are in the world. There is a bounty of compassion. This really shone through. People who had little still wanted to donate because they know that every little bit counts. I’m so thankful for every individual who contributed.”

La Torre Ek has a passion for fundraising, and is studying the subject through the University of California. “I have a real love of philanthropy. I want to dedicate my life to it,” she says.

Turning to Sweden’s unique management of the coronavirus crisis, La Torre Ek says: “It’s a very interesting set-up here. The Swedish health agency issued a set of recommendations for Swedish society to follow, including social distancing and minimal contact with the elderly, no congregating in big groups, and so on. There has never been a lockdown here, and primary and nursery schools have remained open. High schools and universities moved to distance learning.

“The government has made it a priority to keep the healthcare system stable and functioning, to keep the economy stable, and to keep schools open so that healthcare professionals and all essential workers can still do their jobs. So far, society is functioning, and people follow the rules. Will this strategy work compared to the lockdowns? Everything has its positives and negatives. We will be able to tell only with time.”

She concludes: “I’m only one of many doing their part to help those who can’t help themselves right now. I believe in the spirit of ‘ubuntu’, and it’s important for people to understand that you can make a difference, regardless of how old you are, where you are, or how much or little you have. Each individual contributes to raising hope in society.”

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