The tools available to us now and in the age of social media mean that anyone, (even ‘just one person’) with enough passion and drive can build an amazing community. And with that community behind them, can have a huge impact.
Over the next few months we’re going to profile a series of soloists – people just like you – who have harnessed the power of community to create awareness and make big things happen in the world.
Today, we’re talking with Sarah Rosborg from Castle Design.
The ‘birth story’ of any solo business is always interesting and the story of how Castle Design came into being is that and more. Not the least because it was born from a hospital bed.
Before we talk about that hospital bed, however, we first need to take a trip to Kenya.
Africa had long been part of Sarah Rosborg’s consciousness growing up – she used to watch her mum make things to send to Africa and consequently always had an urge to go there. Sarah’s mum knew this and when the opportunity arose to connect Sarah with someone who was moving to Kenya to start a home, she actually hesitated in telling her as she knew that once Sarah went there ‘that would be it’.
Sarah’s mum was right. Once she went there, Sarah’s heart was stolen. She fell in love with the people and country and had a deep sadness for what she saw there.
It was after that first trip to Kenya that Sarah found herself visiting some friends in LA ahead of starting a job on a cruise line. And it was while driving in the hot desert between Vegas and LA that the accident happened. The car Sarah was travelling in took a corner too fast and flipped and rolled several times. On the fifth roll Sarah was thrown from the back window and suffered horrific injuries. She broke her femur, hip, pelvis, foot and sacroiliac joint, tore ligaments and was covered in road rash. It was incredible that she survived given the car landed right next to her after its final flip.
But survive she did. And in true Sarah-style, she chose to make herself useful from her hospital bed:
“After returning home to Australia from the car accident I was doing full-time rehab to recover. I was stuck in bed for months and continued to think of the children and people I met in Kenya. I wanted to help the home I’d spent time at over there by doing some promotions for them so I taught myself basic web and graphic design to get a website up and running for them. I found one sponsor here, another there, did a fundraiser and got a few articles in the local paper … and it just went from there. Before I knew it, I’d created a full-time role for myself running the Australian headquarters of this charity. When I started working with them they had three orphans and were living in a rental house. By the time I left they had over 100 children, a school, a restaurant and a fully established sponsorship program to continue the funding for the home.”
In the end Sarah had to leave that particular charity behind as the size of the role had started to take a toll on her health. As she was keen to start a family she trained someone to take over from her and once that was done, she used the skills she developed in that hospital bed to start Castle Design. That was in 2011. Today, Castle Design boasts three part-time staff members, a waiting list for new website builds and Sarah is proud mum of a daughter, Lovisa.
And that’s where most stories like this would end.
Except Sarah’s connection to, and love for, Kenya did not disappear when she started Castle Design.
Sarah met Anne Marie from Rafiki Mwema when she was working with that first charity in Kenya.
“Anne Marie was doing therapy with some of the abused orphans that were in our home. I watched her and her staff work and was beyond impressed.”
What is Rafiki Mwema? It’s a safe house in Kenya born from the need to support very young girls who have been sexually abused. It helps these little girls make sense of the horrors that have happened to them, allows them access to any medical treatment they need, supports them through the court system, and, where possible, works with their families for a safe return to home.
By 2013 Anne Marie and her husband had put every cent they had into Rafiki Mwema but, without any outside support, were faced with the prospect of closing the doors on the house.
Sarah Rosborg says:
“The thought of the doors closing was too much for my brain to handle especially since I had a little girl of my own and knew the stories of every one of those girls. The thought of them going anywhere but Rafiki Mwema (and most likely back to being abused) was excruciating.
So I put a call out to my friends, family and Castle Design community to donate items for an online auction. I wanted to raise $10K to keep the house open for at least two more months. The support I received was amazing and after a lot of hard work $17K was raised. I was thrilled with this result but the three months of operational costs that money covered passed quickly and I was worried out of my brain. I spoke with some of my good friends and mentioned I was considering starting an Australian branch of Rafiki Mwema – a place where we could set up a sponsorship program for our girls and raise funds and awareness for the work we were doing. They said they would help however they could and with that bend of my rubber arm WE DID IT.
It went gang busters from there: we had sponsors for all of the girls in around three months and we gained a wonderful, caring community on Facebook with lots of offers to help from all around the world. We’ve established Rafiki Mwema Australia to be fully supporting the girls’ home in Kenya and all that comes with it. They are safe and have no risk of closing down.”
To date Rafiki Mwema has helped 54 girls return to a safe home. Funds raised have not only kept the house open, they’ve also paid for things like a video link in local court rooms (because, unbelievably, these little girls are able to be questioned by their abusers in court – the video links allows them to be questioned without having to be there in person) and an all-terrain vehicle which allows Rafiki Mwema to both access and help girls who live in even the most remote areas and monitor their progress and welfare once they’ve returned home.
Once again, this would be a lovely place to end this story … but there is more.
The Rafiki Mwema house sleeps 25. Last month, they found themselves beyond capacity at a point where three pre-school aged girls desperately needed their care. The abuse they’d experienced was inexplicable but there was literally no room to house them. The only solution was to rent a second house – one which would allow a ‘two-tier’ system to operate: one for the girls that are in immediate danger and need, and one for those who have gone through therapy and healing but for whom it is not safe to return home.
But … how to pay for this second house?
Sarah put the call out to the Rafiki Mwema community on a Friday and, unbelievably, by the following Monday they’d raised the $25,000 they needed to fund that second house. “It still seems like a dream! I can’t believe that happened!?” she says.
And this achievement really sums up what we’re trying to convey with the Power of One series here on Flying Solo.
Many of us despair and think because we’re ‘just one person’ we can’t make a big impact on this world. Yet people like Sarah continue to blow this theory right out of the water; not by doing everything themselves, but by building and galvanising communities.
And the true beauty of these communities is this: they don’t just amplify the power of the founder, they amplify the power of each of its members too, no matter how small their individual contribution is.