Lisbeth Johansen, LITTLEBIGHELP, Denmark
Helping more than 1100 vulnerable children and women in West Bengalia, India
Lisbeth founded LittleBigHelp in 2010.
" A little help from you is a big help for others"
LittleBigHelp works to create better opportunities for vulnerable children and women in West Bengal, India. Through 22 different projects, LittleBigHelp provides direct support to more than 1100 vulnerable children and women, and indirectly to more than 1300 vulnerable families.
Hello Lisbeth, Thank you so much for taking the time to share your incredible story full of challenges, struggles, running against walls, gender discrimination, etc …but also LOTS of love, passion, determination and courage in setting up your charity organization LittleBigHelp in the slum quarters of Kolkata, former Calcutta in India.
Lisbeth M: You are born and raised in Denmark and since 2010, you live between India and Denmark. Where is HOME to you?
Lisbeth: I get that question quite often and I feel home is everywhere I feel a warm welcome either from a country or the people there. My mum said to a friend the other day ”Lisbeth can live anywhere” and that is true. A place can easily become a home to me. Funny enough right now I’m listening to some music and at this moment a song starts playing where they sing ”home is where the heart is – been traveling a lifetime to find my way home.” Yes, home is more of an inner feeling than a certain place or country for me.
Lisbeth M: I have read your wonderful book “ Hvad gør du når livet kalder ?“ …in English “ What do you do when life calls?. It is breathtaking reading and takes the reader through all your struggles, both personally and professionally. But the struggles are also a big part of your journey to find yourself and your own happiness.
Please tell us about your life before getting the idea to create your organization and what lead you to India?
Lisbeth: Thanks. I’m happy you enjoyed the book. My life before I went to India on a single ticket in 2006 was very much focused on my career. I was working in London as Nordic Sales Director for a 5-star hotel but lived in Denmark. I also worked as a holistic life coach and had, and still have, my own company. I traveled each week to either London or another country, so I spent a lot of time in airports and meetings. I felt at that time I was longing for a different life but I did not yet know the journey I was going to embark on. If somebody would have told me I would probably have laughed. It was also a time where my friends started to have babies and families and of course a part of me was thinking maybe I should go in that direction – but life took me in a very different place, which I’m deeply grateful for.
Lisbeth M: Tell us about setting up an organization like LittleBigHelp in a country like India?
Lisbeth: Oh my god. Where to begin ☺ I almost wrote a whole book about it. The first feeling that comes up is that it’s REALLY hard work! India is a crazy country in every way and everybody who has been there would say the same haha. India is never just ”a walk in the park” even if you are there as a tourist staying in 5-star hotels. I always say in India you can’t ”hide” you will always be challenged in some way or another. For me India is a mother and she either takes you in her arms or spits you out! That is why people either hate or love India! You will never hear a person say, ”It was ok.” Either the person will have a strong reaction and hate it or fall in love…for me is was the last. To work in India you need a huge amount of patience (which I don’t have haha) but I learned to have more in India otherwise you will go crazy. Everything takes TIME and there is a lot of bureaucracy. And then you need a good local team with people who are effective and honest. And then a good amount of faith and karma!
Lisbeth M: You have different protection and educational projects within the organization? Could you please tell us about them?
Lisbeth: Yes LittleBigHelp works to create better opportunities for vulnerable children and women in West Bengal, India. We work to secure basic child rights such as education and protection, along with women’s empowerment through skill development – every day. We cannot help everybody, but we believe that everybody can help some.
Through 22 different projects, LittleBigHelp provides direct support to more than 1100 vulnerable children and women, and indirectly to more than 1300 vulnerable families.
We run school preparation courses in 9 different slums for about 350 children who would otherwise not be in school. At the same time we work with the locals living in these slum communities creating awareness about their rights and how to access their entitlements.
We run two homes for a total of 55 children extremely vulnerable children. Here the children can start a new life away from the streets with care, comfort, nutrition, and education. Furthermore, they are given a structured everyday life with sports, music, drawing, meditation, and games. The team along with our counselors provides ongoing guidance and counseling to the children to help them cope with past trauma.
Our skills training projects aimed at empowering marginalized women socially and financially. Through the projects the women receive vocational training to equip them with skills to create a source of income.
We provide computer training to 550 youth who live in poor tribal villages, to promote education and increase their chances of finding better-paid jobs in the future.
Lastly we support another NGO, called Bikash, to run their Centre for Special Education. Here approx. 180 children with special needs get a chance to learn and develop.
Lisbeth M: How and where do you find the finances?
Lisbeth: From the beginning I have been very blessed with a strong network and I have always felt very supported by family and friends. The first good amount of money I raised at my first Charity Event back in 2010. I had seen in American movies that they went to ”fundraising dinners”, so I thought why don’t we do that in Denmark too. I raised 125.000 DKK and it was an amazing evening. Last year we raised 2,6 million DKK. Besides the annual gala we have corporate partners and different companies that support us with an annual amount. Then we have private people who donate, members, and smaller events throughout the year.
Lisbeth M: Where do you find the children you place in your children’s home? And how do you select those who need most care?
Lisbeth: Among our 22 projects we have two homes where the children stay full time until they are 18 years old. 21 girls are staying in one home and 35 boys are staying in the other. It is a different story for each child how we got in contact but common to all of them do they come from places or families that are very dangerous and where they are not protected or get their basic needs met.
Lisbeth M: Tell us about the current problems children in India encounter? How many homeless children live in Kalkota? Or in India? How do they generally get through the day?
Lisbeth : For the poor, every day is a struggle, as they fight with issues like child labor, slavery, social exclusion, and lack of education. Due to a lack of education a lot of children get into illegal activities and drug addiction. Sniffing glue is used a lot and you numb yourself – you don’t feel fear, hunger, or anything. It’s a very cheap drug to take but highly addictive. It seems like glue becomes a “very good friend” but a friend that destroys your brain. For the girls, child sexual abuse and trafficking are huge issues with statistics showing 1 woman is raped every 13 minutes; six women are gang-raped every day – and these are only the reported cases! Imagine how many more cases go unreported. It’s difficult to know exactly how many children live on the street as there are no official numbers on this, but estimations say about 400,000 children in India are street children who are complete orphans or disconnected from their families. But more than 18 million children are estimated to work on the street. These children face abuse, exploitation, homelessness, hunger, health issues, etc.
Lisbeth M: You have created educational programs for women to give them the possibility to earn their own money and becoming financially independent from their husbands. What kind of education do you propose? How is this seen amongst the men?
Lisbeth: Our most popular courses are beautician courses and tailoring courses. We have also offered other courses over the years such as street food cooking courses and jewelry making. It’s important for LittleBigHelp to ensure that the courses we offer to the women are high in demand on the market so that they have good chances of earning money once they complete the course. For many women, it's a struggle to convince their families that they should be allowed to attend the free training LittleBigHelp is providing. Due to the patriarchal culture the women must often get the permission of their husband, father, or in-laws before joining the training. In these families it is believed that chores in the home and childcare are a woman's primary task and she may not be allowed to earn money or leave the house to earn money.
We, therefore, focus a lot on home visits to the women’s families to ensure that their families support them in their education and will continue to support them to spend time to earn money for the family.
We have great success with the skills training projects, where about 85 % of all the trained women are now earning money and are full of confidence believing that they are valuable and can create a difference for their children’s future.
Lisbeth M: What were some of the toughest moments or decisions you’ve had to make on your journey? And how did you tackle them?
Lisbeth: When I realized that the people I was working with were not honest with me was one of the toughest times on this journey and I was both scared and sad. I feel I have a lot of inner strength and in times when things get hard and difficult I access that strength somehow and make a plan of how I or we can get out of the situation and make it better. My dad is quite good at tackling difficult situations and he will use his rational mind. That’s one thing that I learned from him even though I’m a lot more emotional. But it’s difficult to solve or tackle a problem or difficult situation if you are stuck in your emotions.
Lisbeth M: What were your biggest doubts and fears when starting your organization and how did you overcome them?
Lisbeth: When I’m clear about my intention and purpose I don’t have big fears and doubts. For me, I overcome my doubts and fear by staying true to my intention and trust I will be supported by existence.
Lisbeth M: What are some core beliefs that have helped you in tough times?
Lisbeth: Trust existence will support me if what I’m doing is aligned with my purpose in life
Lisbeth M: What is the most important think you have learned about yourself in the process of building LittleBigHelp?
Lisbeth: That I’m very courageous and that I can trust myself and my intuition. That I have immense support around me.
Lisbeth M: What were some of the happiest moments on this journey?
Lisbeth: There a so many and I feel I first have to define what a happy moment is for me. A happy moment is where there is flow, joy, and laughter. Flow for me is very important and flow means that when everything is aligned with the purpose, then whatever you do in life will be easy and joyful.
I love so much when we take the children, from the homes we run, on small trips either to the beach or another place. It’s so much fun and it touches me to see the children being free, playing, and just having fun!
Lisbeth M: What inspires you to continue?
Lisbeth: The children undoubtedly! Seeing them getting a better and safer life through our projects always gives me energy and encourages me to continue.
Lisbeth M: Who are the women and men that stood behind you?
Lisbeth: My friends and family and my amazing team and everybody that is supporting LittleBigHelp.
Lisbeth M: At what moment did you feel you had made it….that you had an organization that worked:
Lisbeth: Good question. I never got it before. But what I feel is, the first time I heard people I did not know talk about LittleBigHelp. And that ofAnd that of course, I could write a million stories about the impact we had made in so many lives.
Lisbeth M: What do you attribute your success to?
Lisbeth: It’s my parents who I have learned so much from. From my dad I have learned my business skills and from my mother compassion and caring for others.
Lisbeth M: You also found great pleasure in practicing meditation, yoga, and doing silent retreats along the journey. What did you discover about yourself in this process?
Lisbeth: Everything ☺ but what I will mention here is that I found out that I am a lot more sensitive than I thought. I always used to see myself as a very extrovert person but actually I’m also an introvert which I also discovered about myself through the path of meditation and yoga.
Lisbeth M: How did your carrier affect your family life?
Lisbeth: Not quite sure how to answer this question because I don’t have my own family ☺ And if your next question would be, if the reason why I don’t have a family, husband, and kids because of my journey with LittleBigHelp, my answer will be no. I never really took a decision about having my own kids but I trusted it will happen if it was meant to be and it did not. I feel you can be a mother in many different ways and you don’t need to give birth to a child of your own. I feel my organization LittleBigHelp is my child, now 10 years old. The children in the projects are not mine as they have their own mother even if she is not present in their life. I’m their friend, not a mother and there is an important difference. I’m very happy with my life and my freedom is one of my most important values.
LisbethM: What’s the next step or what are you most excited about right now?
Lisbeth: Right now I’m excited about the summer in Denmark. Swimming in the sea, eating Danish strawberries. Because of COVID-19 everything is different and all my plans have changed so I just try to stay as much as possible in the present moment. When the time comes and we can travel again I’m super excited to go back to India!!
Lisbeth M: Looking back on this journey, would you do it all over again?
Lisbeth: Yes I would ☺ 100 % percent!
And then some quick questions:
Lisbeth M: How do you prepare yourself for the day?
Lisbeth: I start preparing my day the evening before, making sure I get enough hours of sleep. I like to get around 7 hours. The day before, I will have prepared my morning and my intention. Maybe I will do some yoga when I get up or go for a walk. I never have a routine lifestyle because I have many different work tasks and travel a lot, living my life in both Denmark and India. I always have an overview of my day and what I would need to have for food and also some time to breathe in-between meetings etc. I like to wake up slowly listen to soft music and make a nice India chai with lots of spices.
LisbethM: What are some of your favorite things to do on a day off?
Lisbeth: I love to go to a spa and enjoy having time for myself. I like to go for walks in the nature. Meditate and do yoga. Taking a nice nap and watch a good movie.
Lisbeth M: If you should describe your life with just one word, what would that be?
Lisbeth M: Do you have a motto or a saying that guides you?
Lisbeth: ”Live in your heart. Love is all there is” Osho Life begins where fear ends” – Osho ”Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul“ – Osho
Lisbeth M: Who is the most inspiring woman for you?
Lisbeth: I can’t mention one, but for me a woman is inspiring if she lives true to herself and her own heart and purpose in life. I’m always inspired by authenticity generosity, honesty, and kindness, in fact more than achievement in life.
Lisbeth M: What is bringing you the most joy in your life right now?
Lisbeth: Being at peace with my own self and taking good care of me. At the moment I’m not in a relationship and its very good for me to be focusing on my own needs and nourish myself. I easily get lost in the needs of the other person so I’m enjoying a little “honeymoon” with myself -☺
Lisbeth M: What is your absolute favorite book ( except for your own:-)?
Lisbeth: One book that will always stand out for me is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and I read it in a time of my life where I needed that message very much. I don’t think it will have the same impact if I read it today.
Lisbeth M: What are three things you are grateful for?
Lisbeth: My family, Osho my spiritual master, and my mental and physical well being
Lisbeth M: What is your best piece of advice for people who want to live out their dreams?
Lisbeth: Stay true to your dream and don’t let other people interfere. I see people changing their dreams and purpose because of the feedback they get from other people and then they lose their own energy in the dream and purpose. And keep moving towards your dream even if it takes longer than you expected…keep the faith in your heart!
Lisbeth M: You do some incredible work for others, so is there anything we can do to help you?
Lisbeth: I’m always happy if people follow our work on social media:
If you have any contact or good ideas I would love to hear back from you.
My email is: email@example.com
I asked Lisbeth the following questions and we decided to place it as a food note:
Lisbeth M: Can you tell us in more detail about the journey from working to creating LittleBigHelp? Was there a defining moment that made you take the leap?
Lisbeth: Yes I will share a chapter from my book:
“Now book your ticket!” Martin worked as a coach and speaker in Copenhagen specializing in job satisfaction and motivation. We met on the coaching training in London in 2005. As the only two Danish people on the course, we quickly became good friends and developed the kind of friendship where we could be very direct with each other.
After I met the girls from the orphanage, I often spoke with Martin about my dream to move to India. I presented him with many different plans about how I could get things to work out, such as volunteering at the orphanage while earning money and coaching clients by Skype. But it was just talk. Even though my ideas were good ones, they did nothing to remove the obstacles that lay in the way of leaving.
One evening in August, I sat on the sofa at Martin’s home in Vesterbro and presented him with yet another plan. Usually he supported my ideas but this evening he responded very differently. What had been vague talk about dreams and possibilities suddenly became serious. With two sentences he turned the conversation in another direction. “I am tired of seeing the light in your eyes go out when you stop talking about India,” he said. “Now book your ticket!”
His words made me angry. Martin knew how much I wanted to go, but he also knew why I couldn’t just book a ticket. It was not the same as the last two times I had been there. This time it was going to be a one-way trip.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LittleBigHelp/ or
We are always looking for funding and if you wish to support, it would be amazing: Here is the link for online donations:
Thank you so much Lisbeth for sharing your amazing story. I am sure it will serve as great inspiration for other women who dream of changing their lives and make a difference. And for everybody, who just needs the little kick that you got from your friend Martin….NOW GO DO IT!
We wish you all the best for LittleBigHelp and for yourself in the future.