‘If we all stand aside and do nothing, nothing will change’

“The work I do is like a drop in the ocean,” says Alecz whose work is to support the safety of women and their children in Goa. “But little drops of water make the mighty ocean."

Alecz - entrepreneur and NGO founder

Her tip for female entrepreneurs 

‘Always thank people for there donations. Because why would you donate money if you don’t even receive a thank you for it?’

“The work I do is like a drop in the ocean,” says British Alecz Sversepa, whose work is to support the safety of women and their children in South Goa, India. “But little drops of water make the mighty ocean. If we all stand aside and do nothing, nothing will change.”

The covered balcony of her house is packed with suitcases and boxes. “Clothing, books, toys, trinkets, furniture. Anything you can think of, it’s in there,” says Alecz. “All donated for the most important day of the year for me, Sunday next week: my foundation ADITO’s annual fundraiser.”

‘We are a golden partnership’

ADITO is an acronym formed from A Drop In The Ocean. Alecz started her foundation in 2005. ADITO raises money for a shelter for women and their children in Margao, the capital of South Goa. Alecz runs the shelter with an Indian colleague, Auda. “We are a golden partnership: Auda is calm and solid, I’m dynamic.”

‘If someone is sexually assaulted, they can call me’

Impassioned is the word that springs to mind when Alecz – petite, blonde curls, button nose and bright blue eyes – starts talking about her work. She is committed heart and soul to offering protection to women. After our conversation she drives off to the police station, where she has an appointment with one of her best friends and a local police officer. The friend was raped in the middle of the night at the end of last year in an open field. “I am an intermediary between victims and the police. And my telephone number is known to all kinds of other institutions also. If someone is sexually assaulted, they can call me and I’ll jump on my scooter to get there and help. Even in the middle of the night.”

When Alecz was still living in England, she herself had an extremely violent partner. “That was the most awful time of my life. I was in the hospital twice and after six months I left the relationship. But I remained afraid for a long time. Every time I saw a man who looked even a little bit like him, I felt all the blood draining from my face.”

‘We always say: even if you go back, we are here for you’

She feels a deep sense of affinity with the Indian women who knock on the door of their shelter. Almost all, 99%, of these women eventually return to their husbands. “I understand how difficult it is to really shut the door behind you. We always say: even if you go back, we are here for you. We offer a helping hand to the one percent that stays. We teach them skills, such as weaving and sewing, and help them find a job.”

Alecz doesn’t earn any money with her work for ADITO and at the shelter. “There are more than twenty people who do unpaid work for us. As an organisation we try to be as transparent as possible: nearly every rupee we raise goes directly to the protection of women.”

‘I love helping people’

A person also has to eat and Alecz earns her living with the foot clinic she started in 2004: Feet First. “Is that a good combination? I love helping people. And the great thing about working with feet is that you often get results for your customers very quickly. While making the world safer for women is very slow work, one step at a time.”

Alecz talks about feet with the same passion as she talks about protecting women. “Feet are the love of my life and I find all aspects interesting. The structure, the problems they can have, the psychological side. It happens quite often that someone enters my clinic saying, ‘I hate my feet’. It’s my favourite thing when I can show someone like that that her feet are beautiful and she even ends up just wearing a pair of open shoes on hot summer days.”

‘I have a lot of energy’

The combination of these two organisations means that this British woman is working a lot, and hard. “It very seldom occurs that I’m just sitting on a beach doing nothing. For example, in both January and February I worked more than 27 days. Luckily I have a lot of energy and I thrive on full and busy work weeks.”

Because she works unpaid fifty percent of her time, Alecz has to keep a careful eye on her expenses. “Fortunately, I’m good with money. I never eat out. I always cook my own food and I care little for things or new clothes.” And she adds with a laugh: “I bought a lot of the stuff for my house at one of my previous fundraisers.”

‘He believed in me and in what I could do’

She started ADITO just over a year after Feet First. One followed from the other. It went like this: in 2004 she met the man of her life. He was a teacher at the international school in the area. “He believed in me and in what I could do, and he encouraged me to start Feet First.”

Six months after their first date, they got engaged. “I felt light and carefree.” But this carefree period didn’t last. “I made a trip through Kerala with my mother, and when I arrived back home in Goa my fiancé greeted me with a big hug. ‘I missed you so much, Alecz’, he said, and then he fell on to the bed. He was having a stroke, and slipped into a coma. There wasn’t the right care for him here in India. After an intensely difficult year, he was transported to Great Britain and has stayed there.”

‘I eventually broke off the engagement’

“I hated continuing to live in our home in Goa after his brain haemorrhage. It felt like he could walk in the door at any moment. His clothes were still hanging in the closet. His school bag was still in the room. Feet First was a good distraction for me during that year, and I got myself back on track. Unhappily, my fiancé never recovered completely. He no longer could recognise me and spoke in a fantasy language. I eventually broke off the engagement.”

To pay for his medical bills, friends who run a nearby hotel organised a fundraiser. “The event was such a success that they decided to organise a fundraiser every year for charity’, says Alecz. “ADITO has been lucky enough to be that chosen charity almost every year.”

‘We’re securing this piece of land to always be allocated to the protection of women.’

Alecz hopes to raise at least a thousand euros with her upcoming fundraiser. Not a huge amount by western standards, but it will be enough to run the shelter again for another year. And she can thus fulfil a long-cherished wish: buying a plot of land in a secret location where she and Auda will build a shelter for 15 women and their children. With a vegetable garden where the women can grow their own vegetables. “Before buying the land, we set up a trust together with ten other people. In this way we’re securing this piece of land to always be allocated to the protection of women.”

‘I really hate speaking in public’

At the end of our conversation, Alecz walks with me to the front door. When I wish her success for her upcoming fundraiser, she says. “I’m already so nervous. At the end I always give a speech to thank everyone and that’s nerve-wracking for me. I really hate speaking in public. But I think it’s important to thank visitors for coming, and for their donations. Even if people only donate a few euros to ADITO, I always thank them personally. Because why would you donate money if you don’t even receive a thank you for it?”

“The work I’m doing for women’s rights is only a drop in the ocean. But little drops of water make the mighty ocean. If we all stand aside and do nothing, nothing will change.”