Fred Eckhard was beloved in the United Nations as the spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a position Eckhard left in 2005. An American, he absconded for the Brittany coast in France, where enjoys fruits de mer and his seaside home with his wife, Kathryn, a Scot, who is also a UN veteran.
Though Eckhard has retired from the UN, he has not left behind Africa, where so much of the UN works and where he once served in Namibia during his long UN career. In 2011, he and his son, Jan, founded a “small charity with big hopes,” called Chance for Change, which sponsors the university education and professional training of young women in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. Every penny donated to the charity, it says, goes straight to the scholars it supports — nothing is spent on overhead or salaries.
That is important in Burkina, as it is known, where adult female literacy ranks abysmally low: 21 percent. Donations to the charity pay tuition and allowances for books, supplies, housing and transportation, depending on each student’s needs. Typically, the costs total $2,000 a year for each girl.
When he visits the charity in Burkina to check on the students’ progress, Eckhard posts pithy, informative posts to the charity’s blog and sends emails to supporters, who follow him as he meets with the young women, their families and their teachers. His reports on the students capture the setting, the story and the young women themselves:
Léocadie is in her second year of nursing school in Koudougou, Eckhard wrote of one student. “She’s doing well. She showed us a recent paper on which she received 14/20, which is very good. She still lives with her sister Nathalie, although Nathalie no longer has her apartment in central Koudougou. We didn’t ask why, but they have moved in with an uncle who lives on the outskirts. Léocadie attended a briefing on our new Health Fund. She dropped out of high school when she had a terrific bout of typhoid. We encouraged her not to give up. She didn’t.”
She got accepted at a nursing school and had a good first year, Eckhard added. “We hope that with the help of the Health Fund, she’ll get all her inoculations and stay in school.”
Eckhard also peppers his posts with photos of fine-looking meals (and wine) that he dines on during his Burkina forays.
Like all well-functioning charities, Chance for Change must raise money, so it holds regular fund-raising events in France and is holding one in New York at Arlene’s Grocery, 95 Stanton Street, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan on Sunday, April 27, at 7 p.m. An auction will be held, offering bronze African-inspired statues and earrings by Tuareg jewelers as well as what Eckhard calls “genuine Burkina bottle openers.”
Other artworks feature paintings — like a watercolor of a Brittany beach — a session with a professional photographer and a one-year gym membership. Music will also liven up the evening. For Eckhard friends, it’s an honest evening out.