Phil Haley, 31, is Marketing Director at Tribe of Lambs, a social enterprise selling handcrafted jewellery to help orphaned Aids victims in India. Anthea Ayache talks to him.
India has the third largest HIV epidemic in the world. Around 170,000 children under the age of 15 are suffering from the disease. Due to lack of awareness many of these HIV-infected children lose their parents either from death or abandonment. Tribe of Lambs partners with Indian orphanages and homes that provide care and an education to those children infected or affected by the HIV virus. It raises funds by selling its jewellery online, at pop-up stores, music and yoga festivals and markets.
1. What made you get involved with Tribe of Lambs?
In 2014 I travelled to India to meet a friend, Bobbi Paidel, who had started a crowdfunding project, Tribe of Lambs, to help orphaned kids. I found it so inspiring that Bobbi, 32, just took this on. She had gone to travel around India to do yoga and meditate, not necessarily to help anyone. But she saw what was happening and decided she needed to do something. I had to get involved – I couldn’t not join!
2. Why the focus on HIV children?
HIV is just such a huge issue. India has the third biggest epidemic globally of HIV, and nobody really acknowledges it. HIV+ children are not allowed in government-run orphanages, and most of the time private hospitals because of the fear of ‘infecting other patients’. The doctors and nurses know this, of course, wouldn’t happen, but the stigma is so strong that other patients wouldn’t visit the hospital if they thought that HIV+ children were also treated there. It’s infuriating, and deeply upsetting when we’re trying to get one of the kids some medical attention. The government does gives out free medication for it, but if you’re an orphan, or if you’re family’s too poor and too sick to get the medication, or to go to a clinic, you’re just on your own. So, we knew that this was an area where we could make a difference.
3. You have some gorgeous pieces. Who creates them? Do either of you have a background in design?
Bobbi used to work in fashion, so she has an eye for current trends. But neither of us have designed jewellery before. So, that’s why we rely heavily on our jewellery manufacturers in India. We design everything ourselves and we tweak them together with our manufacturers until we get a perfect sample.
4. Why did you chose jewellery?
We decided to go with jewellery as India is known for its silver work, and creating beautiful designs. We decided that we would start and end our journey in India. It’s a way to give back to local talent, while helping out the marginalised youth.
5. Is all your jewellery ethically made?
Yes. We have two factories, one in Jaipur, and one in Pushkar. We work with our partner company, Robins, who make the jewellery using sterling silver, which is sourced ethically. We’ve inspected our factories; there’s no child labour, there’s no overwork, the employees have set hours, they have set pay rates and are paid a decent wage, they all have holiday.
5. How many kids have you helped so far?
Overall, it’s more than 500 children. In our initial years, when we were working with one-off orphanages or projects that needed help, anyone that needed us really, we would think: ‘This orphanage can’t afford to pay their bills, or rent. Let’s pay it. Let’s just help, help, help.’
6. And now you just focus on one orphanage?
Yes, we work with one main orphanage called Rays, in Jaipur, and they currently have 52 children, aged between three and 17 years old and they’re all HIV+. They are either orphans, or their families are too sick to take care of them. We fund programmes and projects with the orphanages where we set up. Most of it is focused around education – that gives the children a future, a chance at achieving something for themselves. If they do well and go out into the world that’s 52 people that could help out other people.
7. How often do you visit the orphanage and your designers?
Bobbi is based on Canada and I’m in London. Once a year we both fly to India to redesign our jewellery, and to work with our manufacturers, our producers, and to see the kids. We would like to increase that, but right now we can only go annually and stay for around three months.
The goal is to have Tribe of Lambs turning over enough profit so that we can work on the project full-time. We might have to move to India when we make that switch.
8. Do you both have other jobs?
Yes, Bobbi is currently working as a waitress in Canada. I did that too when I was living in Canada up until Christmas 2016. If you’re a waiter in Canada your shifts are really short, so that was great, because we could both work nine to five on Tribe of Lambs, and then go work in a restaurant from 6pm until midnight. Back in London, I’m freelancing at a digital creative agency that creates campaigns for charity, so it kind of fits in with what I’m doing for Tribe of Lambs.
9. What’s next?
We want to raise money to build a new orphanage, so that we can double the capacity. There are two homes already – one for the girls, and one for the boys. We’re aiming to build a new massive home so we can take in 50 more kids off the street but we need around £500,000 (AED2,600,000) to achieve that.
10. Would you like to expand across India?
At the moment we’re looking for new orphanages in Jaipur, which is where our current orphanage is, but we’re also looking for projects in Calcutta, in East India, because it’s a huge city with a big HIV problem. Really we would like to set up the same programme with multiple orphanages all over India. Obviously, money is tight. We’re not a huge organisation – we make enough to cover our commitments and we have funds available for our previous projects, in case their rent goes up or they receive 10 more kids, but going forward our focus is HIV.
For more information visit tribeoflambs.com