Wall Street Journal
October 3, 2011
By Melanie Grayce West
Supermodel Petra Nemcova set out five years ago to turn a personal tragedy into a hopeful future for children.
Ms. Nemcova was vacationing in Thailand when a tsunami struck in December 2004. After recovering from serious injuries, she returned to the country and was struck by the gap in services between immediate disaster aid by first responders and long-term rebuilding—the period after everyone leaves and a community is left alone to rebuild.
She visited communities without schools and knew instantly that it was an area where she wanted to help. “It’s part of my DNA,” says the 32-year-old New Yorker. “I knew my goal in life was to help children through education.”
Ms. Nemcova founded the Happy Hearts Fund to help rebuild communities affected by natural disasters. Since 2005, the organization has rebuilt 57 schools in countries including Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Peru and Mexico. Within the next year, the organization is committed to building 10 to 15 schools.
“There was a goal to rebuild one school and five years later you have 57 of them. It’s truly remarkable and it expresses how many people care,” says Ms. Nemcova.
Schools are financed through a combination of individual donations and partnerships, and can range in cost based on location, size and type of school. For example, a kindergarten in Indonesia can run about $40,000 and a primary school in Mexico or Peru could cost as much as $300,000.
The organization is now increasing its focus in Haiti. Last month at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, Happy Hearts entered into an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank to build a number of schools in Haiti over the next few years. Work on the first school is a partnership between Happy Hearts, the Inter-American Development Bank and actor Sean Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization, a nonprofit that works in Haiti. Work on the school will begin in four to six weeks, according to Ms. Nemcova.