December 02, 2011
Doing Good Makes Great Things Happen
by Karyn Reagan
The Tahitian Noni International community has eagerly joined the cycle of generosity, spreading hope and help throughout the world.
When scientist John Wadsworth was first introduced by a friend to the unique fruit known as noni he was intrigued by the friend’s claim of the potential health benefits it could provide. A strange-looking, bitter-tasting greenish fruit that resembled a potato with bumps and smelled like moldy cheese, it had been sent to him from its faraway home in French Polynesia for the purpose of becoming a test subject. After his initial tests, and those that followed over the next three years with his food scientist partner, Stephen Story, noni was revealed to benefit not only the immune system and promote a healthy heart, but also to boost energy and support overall health.
“[Wadsworth] knew deep inside himself that this discovery was going to bless the lives of millions of people worldwide,” says Andre Peterson, Director of Public Relations for Tahitian Noni International (TNI).
Aside from the feelings of health enjoyed by its users, Tahitian Noni was the first in a line of companies offering a superfruit beverage, thus becoming a new and attractive source of financial benefits to those who succeed as independent product consultants. But there is also another category of individuals benefiting from the efforts of Wadsworth, Story and their colleagues—the harvesters of the noni fruit, their families, and the people of French Polynesia.
“[Wadsworth] knew deep inside himself that this discovery was going to bless the lives of millions of people worldwide.”—Andre Peterson, Director of Public Relations
When plans were made to utilize the harvest of total strangers across the globe, great consideration was given to the economic impact that would be made on the farmers of the crop. “There are approximately 180 French Polynesian islands and noni is harvested from 70 to 80 of them,” Peterson says. “TNI has made a huge impact on Tahiti in many ways. We don’t pollute the islands through the growing and harvesting process, we pay the harvesters well and we maintain an open relationship with the government of that country.” Before the arrival of Wadsworth and his team, noni was not a hot commodity. But in a land where black pearls and tourism were the main sources of income, TNI has made such an impact through their purchase of noni that it is now the No. 1 agricultural export in all of French Polynesia.
TNI has provided a positive, sustainable, corporate and socially responsible program resulting in the improvement of the lives of those who provide noni. “Some of them are able to purchase a vehicle for the first time with the income they have earned,” Peterson says. “And we just want to do more to enhance their lives.”
Some of the islands that provide noni actually have no docks for ships to pick up the product. “Local harvesters literally swim the fruit out to the ships in 55 gallon drums,” Peterson explains. “It’s easy to understand why we want to give back to these hard-working people.”
The moniker for the TNI charitable activities is Do Something Good. It is the umbrella under which all philanthropic efforts of TNI are organized and includes various activities benefiting the Tahitian people as well as humanitarian outreach in the United States and around the world.
In an effort to continue goodwill with the nation providing their product source, TNI keeps close tabs on some of the basic needs of the Tahitian people. “We employ country managers who oversee the philanthropic activities and keep us appraised of the local needs,” Peterson says.
A Life-Changing Journey
Local children of French Polynesia hold books purchased for them through donations by Tahitian Noni International.
But before the health advantages were known and this financial benefit to the Tahitians was established, Wadsworth had yet to discover how well noni worked. The prominent claim he wanted to test was that the fruit eased the symptoms of diabetes. His initial investigation revealed no change in his first test subject’s symptoms, quickly dissipating his early intrigue regarding the noni. That could easily have been the end of the story. But then one of Wadsworth’s neighbors knocked on his door hoping to procure some of the miracle solution for her malady. To his surprise she returned a couple of weeks later asking if he had any more of this amazing fruit. Although it had not healed her cold/flu symptoms, her arthritis pain had disappeared and she was a believer.
“Local harvesters literally swim the fruit out to the ships in 55 gallon drums. It’s easy to understand why we want to give back to these hard-working people.”
According to Peterson, Wadsworth and Story decided to further test the benefits of noni based on this incident. But before they raised their hopes, they wanted to be sure there was enough of the noni fruit available to create and sustain a marketable product. So Wadsworth made the long journey to Tahiti from the United States. Upon arrival, he was informed that the best place to find the fruit was on one of the Marquesas Islands. After twice confirming that fact through translators, Wadsworth climbed into a prop plane for the rather uncomfortable four-hour flight across 1,000 miles. If that wasn’t enough, he was then told that the best source of noni was another four hours away by Jeep. The bumpy ride was grueling and Wadsworth arrived at his destination exhausted but hopeful to find the fruit.
After settling into his extremely humble accommodations—minus electricity and running water—one of the translators sheepishly informed the weary Wadsworth of his discovery that the locals don’t call the acclaimed fruit noni, but nono. Much to his dismay, in the Marquesas, noni actually means “large mosquito.” He was welcome to take as many of the mosquitoes as he’d like!
Although his hosts were most accommodating, Wadsworth was ready to end this fruitless trip and go home. But, that too would pose a slight problem. The prop plane did not return to the small island for another four days.
Wadsworth made the most of the situation by spending his time exploring the island and all it had to offer. On the third day of his wait, he crested the top of a mountain, and got out of the Jeep. As he looked down from that mountaintop it was like seeing a miracle, as he beheld not just a few, but a valley full of noni trees.
Providing Learning Tools
Older local students read in their library, which has been outfitted with new books through TNI.
Fast-forward a few years, and Tahitian Noni continues to give back to the people who have given this superfruit to the company and to the world. As part of Do Something Good, when country managers Edouard and Danielle Tuairau were asked what would most benefit the people of Tahiti and surrounding islands, their first answer was to provide textbooks or curriculum for the schoolchildren and library books for the school libraries. “Through Do Something Good, we donated the money for several schools to provide what the teachers and students needed to acquire some of the basic tools for learning,” Peterson says.
“Through Do Something Good, we donated the money for several schools to provide what the teachers and students needed to acquire some of the basic tools for learning.”
Do Something Good was also able to set up computer labs in 10 schools, donating approximately 200 computers since the program’s inception. “It has been a big deal for these students who had never had access to computers,” Peterson says. The following thank-you letters, written by students, speak of the impact made by the donation of computers to a junior high school on the island of Rurutu:
—“We thank you for your presents for the Rurutu Junior High. It’s not every day we get such an opportunity. You’ve offered us free computers and we are so very grateful for that. Thanks to you, we students are able to work at the library with adequate materials. We used to run out of material, and you’ve helped us.”
—“Thank you for your donations, which were so generous. We are very grateful because it’s the very first time a company has done such a thing for us.”
Another need is provision of scholarships for the students of the islands to attend high school. “When we first started the scholarship program, our desire was to provide finances for students to attend college,” Peterson says. “The process required the students to fill out an application, but not one young person applied! We discovered the reason was not a lack of desire, but a lack of high school education.” Many young people on the islands are prohibited from attending due to cost and distance. Few of the islands have high schools, and it sometimes costs over $1,000 per year to attend on a neighboring island. Families must find and pay for housing, meals and tuition for their child during the school year; consequently, very few young people receive a high school education. Currently the program is available to TNI-certified noni harvesters and their children, and is ensuring at least another 10 teens per year are able to further their education; the company hopes many more will follow, providing a wider contribution to the area’s future.
Basic Needs Met
Children play in boxes from their new toys.
Upon further investigation, the Tuairaus discovered some needs at an orphanage close to the largest TNI warehouse on the island of Papeete. “The money we donated was able to provide quilts, other bedding, food, toiletries and Noni Fruit Chews for the children,” Peterson says.
After reaching out to one orphanage, the Tuairaus were made aware of a second one with similar needs. In addition to the provision of basic needs, both orphanages have now received playground equipment for the kids’ enjoyment.
As part of TNI’s incentive trip program offering a Tahitian life experience, over 6,000 Independent Product Consultants (IPCs) have been able to visit Tahiti, and many of those have been able to visit the orphanages and meet the kids living there. “At one point we flew half of the children from one orphanage to Orlando, Fla., to sing at our annual conference followed by a trip to Disney World,” Peterson says. “Later we took the other half of the children to our conference in Paris, followed by a trip to Disney Paris.” It was an emotional experience for the consultants and other attendees to see the lives they are touching through their giving. “Some wanted to adopt the children,” Peterson says. Unfortunately, the Tahitian government would not allow that. Tahitian orphanages are often used by parents as a temporary source of help when they are in dire financial straits. Parental rights are not usually rescinded.
The Generosity Continues
Through Do Something Good, TNI has also been able to give substantially to humanitarian aid efforts through organizations such as the Red Cross, Feed the Children and Feeding America. When disaster strikes, organizations that provide quick relief receive financial assistance from Do Something Good. TNI makes it easy for individuals to give by providing a donation button on their websites.
With representation in more than 70 countries throughout the world, there is often a group or groups of IPCs in a disaster-stricken area motivated to help in practical ways. Immediately following a tsunami in Indonesia, TNI employees purchased water and food to help their neighbors. Japanese IPCs were also desirous to help their friends and neighbors following the devastating earthquake/tsunami that struck their country. And the same scenario played out in Chile following an earthquake there.
Funds have been raised for Feeding America, the leading hunger-relief charity in the United States, through a campaign on Facebook. For every “like” on the Feeding America Facebook page, TNI donated money to the organization.
As part of their incentive program, TNI offers their employees and consultants opportunities to participate in humanitarian projects at their Pearl Camps, Vision Retreats, and sometimes even at Christmas parties, where they focus on international aid. The attendees work on projects, such as assembling packs of items designated to meet specific needs. Examples of the packs include school supplies, newborn items and cleaning supplies. The packs are then donated to the LDS Humanitarian Services and the Catholic Relief Group. Both groups are among the first on the ground in response to disasters.
Giving back is more than a nice idea for the employees and consultants at Tahitian Noni—it is a passion that has played out in many ways, affecting many lives. Every year they look forward to discovering new ways to enhance the lives of those on the islands of Polynesia and around the world, motivated by the idea that the future is ripe with opportunities to do something good.