Helen Taylor Thompson founded the organisation in 2000 as a response to the growing numbers of people being diagnosed with HIV in Africa and Asia.
Helen was instrumental in re-opening the Mildmay hospital in London in 1988. It soon became Europe’s first hospice for people with AIDS, where Princess Diana famously shook hands with patients in an attempt to break the stigma around the disease.
Helen’s work with Mildmay took her to Africa, where she recalls:
“I met a lady who was tilling the ground with several children round her. She told me her husband was dead, and she was dying and her youngest child was also dead. However her three elder children were free from AIDS, but she was so worried as to what would happen when she died, as there was no one to care for them. All her family were dead as were her neighbours. She then pointed to a broken-down building and told me that that was her church and they would have cared for her children, but they too were all dead. “Please go back to the UK and tell them about us”
In 1999, Helen recruited her friend and colleague Steve Clarke who was inspired by the idea of providing lessons on disease prevention and health. On the M40 at the Oxford service station, Steve discussed with a friend, Andrew Ashe (now known as the founder of onebillion.org), about the best ways to teach someone in a remote village who had never been to school. DVDs were just emerging as a new technology and, though DVD players were incredibly expensive at the time that seemed the best way to reach people in areas were computer networks didn’t reach. DVDs could be produced in the user’s own language and translated into other languages, cheap to replicate, robust, and easy to use in regions where there was little knowledge of technology, and so The Starfish Initiative, which became Thare Machi Education, was born.
Steve Clarke continued to be deeply involved with Thare Machi for the next 19 years, up to his retirement.
2000 – February
Thare Machi The Starfish Intiative was registered as a charity.
Thare Machi means “starfish” in the Marathi language of India, inspired by the story of a boy rescuing stranded starfish on a beach. We may not be able to make a difference to every person but we can each make a small difference to someone.
We commissioned the first four DVDs in English, with some also in Hindi and Assamese.
The first DVD player was donated to us which, at the time, was worth £4,000. These days players with built-in screens can be bought for less than £50.
Cinema-style units were made from converted cargo containers, to serve as temporary classrooms. They were fitted with DVD players. The containers could be moved from place to place.
We were donated a purpose built trailer by Reynold Peterson which Steve Clarke used to tow the classroom around.
We launched the whole project at Fishmongers Hall, London Bridge, with a demonstration classroom on show.
We then commissioned two container classrooms, equipped with eight DVD workstation benches.
These were dispatched to India for high profile launches in Delhi and Guwahati in Assam and we began work with our first local partners, showing our lessons about HIV and AIDS.
The Delhi launch was hosted by our user group, Action India, and attended by the Minister of Health for India (along with his bodyguards and machine guns!).
The Assam launch was attended by the Chief Minister of State for Assam and was hosted by the Assam Tea Company.
Some years later the chief tea buyer for Taylors of Harrogate (totally unknown to us) was wandering around a tea plantation in Assam and came across out container in full sing with women busily learning how to avoid getting AIDS. He was so impressed he called us up on his return to UK offering a donation of £2,000.
2003 – April
Reception and official launch at 10, Downing Street.
Founder, Helen Taylor Thompson was invited by our Patron Cherie Blair to 10 Downing Street to meet with business people and celebrities, including Chelsea Clinton and actress Nina Wadia (who subsequently also became a Patron).
Thare Machi’s first African container classroom was installed at the Jane Furse Memorial Hospital in Limpopo, South Africa.
Helen Taylor Thompson was awarded an OBE.
2007 – September
Our name was changed from Thare Machi The Starfish Initiative to Thare Machi Education (TME).
By now, there were 20 DVD topics in English, on issues from tooth care and basic hygiene to HIV and landmines, many of which had been translated into regional languages for 11 different countries, including India, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and China – with more in demand.
We met Corinne Sandenbergh (a native South African) in a UK café. Corinne is the director of STOP, a non-profit working to counter Human Trafficking. She challenged us to apply our DVD model to a lesson outline she supplied that would alert potential victims to the dangers of being trafficked.
This led to the development of the ‘Human Trafficking’ lesson.
Our Human Trafficking lesson was launched in South Africa by our Patron, Cherie Blair, at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Pretoria, courtesy of the Right Hon Paul Boateng who is also a Patron of our organisation.
This event was a catalyst for the creation of the National Freedom Network, a nationwide group of agencies in South Africa that was created by a team of volunteers and led by Justine Demmer of the National Freedom Network.
The key message in the DVD is “YOU ARE NOT FOR SALE”. It raises awareness of the risk of trafficking, gives key information on what you can do if you suspect traffickers are operating in your area, such as what questions to ask, and also gives information on who you can call for more help and advice.
The HIV DVDs were added to the curriculum of all schools in Gauteng Province of South Africa – with 2 million children watching the lessons.
We also launched the “non-interactive” version of the DVDs which can play in a waiting room or other setting where it is not easy to control a DVD player.
TME worked with the Department of Health Science at Leicester University to create a lesson to educate Gujarati and Hindi speakers in the UK about the myths and facts of using insulin too manage type 2 diabetes
2012 – May
Goldman Sachs volunteer Day
In May, thanks to our Associate James Blackham, 10 volunteers from Goldman Sachs created 20 new DVDs in one day. This was the third year of this collaboration where for the first hour we trained them in the techniques of laying down a new language audio track on one of our English language templates. This is a task which requires care and accuracy and which is helped by good computer and mouse skills. About 8 of the 10 volunteers worked in the IT department of GS so we knew we had a fighting chance of achieving our goal.
Thare Machi (Isle of Man) was registered as a charity.
To mark World AIDS Day (1 December) our online lessons were launched. We’d been trying to solve the challenge of getting the lessons online for several years, but the problem was finally solved by Graham Butt, a teacher from Leamington Spa. At launch there were 44 lessons (our HIV titles) available online, there are now over 900 lessons accessible via a smartphone or computer for the first time.
With browser technology constantly changing and updating, we are hoping to launch a more stable platform for the lessons soon.
Research funded by the Isle of Man International Development Committee in Rwanda demonstrated the impact of the lessons in reducing childhood diseases.
The IDC funded a study looking at how effective our DVD discs are by comparing health outcomes in two districts –one where the DVDs had been used and an adjacent one where they had not. This demonstrated highly significant results with a 26% reduction in the numbers of children presenting with intestinal worms, as well as a 10% reduction in cases of diarrhoea. What is perhaps most striking is that worm infestation is not mentioned in the Basic Hygiene DVD shown during the research. So a reduction in worm infestation is a proxy better hygiene as a result of viewing the DVD.
The dramatic results of the intervention led to a request from the Rwandan government to train health workers throughout the country in the use of the DVDs as well as the supply of DVDs to show in the clinics.
In March, TME responded to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa with the Chief Medical Officer of Sierra Leone distributing copies of our “Basic Hygiene” lesson to local co-ordinators. Later in the year we produced a more detailed lesson, actor and comedian Hal Cruttended provided the voice over.
Our Avoiding Ebola lesson was recorded and produced, following the Ebola outbreak in Africa, with celebrity Hal Cruttenden doing the voice.
By just a few weeks after the launch of the DVD, over 500 copies had been ordered.
In 2014 we also managed to have our first lessons fully produced in Africa, after team member Yann Hausammann visited Kenya to train local volunteers in recording and authoring.
Our network expanded further and our outreach included grassroots groups in Sierra Leone and DR Congo, due to introductions by Chris Crowstaff – through her work at the time as founder of an award-winning NGO. An example of the value of networking and collaboration!
August 1st: The start of a three year project, funded by the Isle of Man government, in which Rwandan health workers were trained by our local user group there, One Light Rwanda, to use the DVDs, after the Ministry of Health saw the results of our research the previous year.
The funding contributed to the supply and duplication of 37,000 individual DVD discs. Most of these were duplicated within Rwanda at a cost of 30p/copy. From our experiences elsewhere we estimate that during its life a DVD might be shown on average to 200 people. This is a conservative estimate as, although some may immediately get scratched and not be shown to anyone, others are shown to over 80 people at a time so five showings to that number immediately doubles the estimated audience for one disc. If those 37,000 discs are each shown to 200 people that equates to nearly 7.5 million viewings.
2015 was also the start of a two year project, part-funded by The Beacon Trust, with the Goodwill Social Work Centre in Madurai, India.
Between 2015 and 2017 the Goodwill Social Work Centre carried out an extensive project in Madurai to distribute the DVDs as widely as possible, and during that time an amazing two million viewings of DVDs were recorded, and local health co-ordinators reported reductions in Dengue fever.
The programme included the promotion of healthy living, using the DVD lessons for village women with the direct involvement of Social Workers in organising programmes.
Husband and wife team, Andrew Sampson and Chris Crowstaff revamped our website, as volunteers, when they noticed that our website was down.
September – 20 years since the untimely death of Princess Diana.
Memorial held at Mildmay Hospital, at which Helen Taylor Thompson gave a moving tribute.
The World Health Organisation reports that globally cases of malaria were slightly up in 2017, but not in Rwanda where there were 430,000 fewer cases. Although there is no evidence to support our contribution, it is notable that Avoiding Malaria was one fo the DVDs distributed throughout Rwanda in the local language of Kinyarwanda.
The first translations of our lessons into languages for Afghanistan were made.
International Women’ Day: Helen Taylor Thompson chosen as one of the BBC’s ‘100 Women’ – 100 influential and inspirational women around the world.
July 31st: Completion of the project started in 2015, in which our local user group trained Rwandan health workers to use the DVDs.
We reached 90,000 beneficiaries reached in Burundi, with our user group the Association for Solidarity, Health and Social Assistance (ASASS)
TME won the “Not-for-profit excellence” award at the 2018 Leamington Business Awards.
30 years since Mildmay Hospital opened as the first dedicated HIV hospice. Helen Taylor Thompson attended celebratory event.
2019 – January
TME joined the Helen Taylor Thompson Foundation.
We now have 33 different lesson scripts, each of which is available in up to 65 languages.
Our lessons have been seen by millions of people in countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and South America.