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The Santa Clara Weekly - February 10, 2010
By Carolyn Schuk

Dian Alyan is a woman who gets things done.

When the 2004 Asian Tsunami devastated her birthplace and killed many of her friends and relatives, the Outreach Director for the Santa Clara-based Muslim Community Association (MCA) and mother of two pre-schoolers responded by founding the GiveLight Foundation to care for children orphaned by wars and natural disasters. Exactly one year later, GiveLight opened its first orphanage, Lake House, in Aceh, Indonesia.

Since then, the non-profit has supported more than 300 children in five countries – Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh – and opened a second orphanage in Pakistan. A GiveLight program in Kashmir underwrites the education of 130 girls, providing the money that makes it possible for their families to send them to school.

Now Alyan is looking for ways to make a lasting difference for Haitian children who lost families and homes in January's devastating earthquake. Alyan knows what that magnitude of loss feels like. "I remember the pain I went through after the tsunami," she says, "And [now as then] I knew that I had to do something.

"Right now we are raising funds for short-term relief, partnering with UNICEF," she continues. "They've been on the ground for 40 years and focused on children." So far, GiveLight has raised $5,000 for UNICEF's Haiti relief. Now Alyan is preparing to take the next step: a permanent presence for GiveLight in Haiti.

GiveLight's programs aren't cookie-cutter, Alyan emphasizes, and instead are designed around local culture and needs. "The question is, How do we take what we did in Ache and take it somewhere else? We want to keep children in familiar surroundings. We have to do due diligence and reach out to local Haitian community."

That due diligence starts with a core team focused on Haiti made up of longtime GiveLight volunteers such as PayPal VP Matthew Mengerink, a GiveLight advisor and supporter since the organization's beginning.

"One of our team is going to Haiti in the spring and will identify potential partners," Alyan explains. "We want to find someone who has a personal connection, who has local contacts, and who understands the culture, and the [Haitian] government."

Although Alyan doesn't say it directly, she's clear-eyed about the dual challenges of developing an organization on the ground at the same time guarding against Haiti's pervasive corruption. (Haiti ties Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, and Guinea for the dubious position of the world's eighth most corrupt nation, according to Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index)."Anyone we partner [must be] an organization we can trust one hundred percent," she says, stressing "one hundred."

While Alyan dreams big dreams, her road to achieving them is paved with small, careful steps and management skills she developed as a Procter & Gamble brand manager – in the early 1990s she launched Pantene shampoo, described by the Advertising Educational Foundation as "the most successful global launch in beauty care history."

When GiveLight started in Ache, the organization could only support the children through high school. "Now, we've secured college scholarships for all eight kids who will graduate this year," Alyan says. Which goes to show, when you show tangible and specific results, people want to continue helping. Once you define a successful model, people are drawn to it."

For more information about GiveLight, visit www.givelight.org, call (408) 702-7545 or email info@givelight.org. Dian Alyan and other GiveLight founders talk about the organization and its work in this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=at_vGQ-iAbI. Carolyn Schuk can be reached at cschuk@earthlink.net.