CAS senior swimmer Martin Brekke wants to make a splash outside of the pool.
For many in athletics, excelling in their respective sport is the central goal of their senior season, aiming for one last chance to shine. For Brekke, his final semester at NYU represents not only personal athletic achievement, but also an opportunity to pursue charitable endeavours as a means to empower children around the world and impact a community that is greater than himself.
Since its founding in 2009 by Brekke and his family, the Norwegian non-profit organization Kids Action for Kids has carried out a two-fold mission: finance corrective surgeries for children born with the facial deformities of cleft lip and cleft palate, and empower kids to positively transform the lives of other less fortunate kids.
Brekke, who was born in Norway but lived in Thailand for over a decade prior to attending NYU, wanted to give back to the Thai community and found cleft lip and cleft palate to be issues he could address directly. According to KAFK’s medical partner Operation Smile, approximately one in 700 babies in Thailand is born with either a cleft lip or cleft palate. If not corrected at birth, the babies face an onset of breathing, drinking and eating difficulties which often lead to malnutrition and subsequent death.
Beyond their life threatening state, what further hit Brekke emotionally was the social marginalization suffered by children with cleft lip and cleft palate. Brekke recalled a story of a nine-year-old boy whose life was transformed from social outcast to gregarious schoolmate after undergoing a KAFK financed surgery.
“After the surgery, he said everything changed — he got his life back,” Brekke said. “He loved going to school, he had loads of friends and was now on the soccer team. He loved life. He came back to thank us and it was really emotional just to see that a relatively small amount of money could make that kind of a change.”
The relatively small amount of money that made such an impact was $800, which is the approximate amount needed to finance one surgery. These funds were raised by the core of Kids Action for Kid, and the reason behind the name: the kids.
“A lot of kids want to help out, but since they don’t have their own money, they don’t feel like they can do anything,” Brekke said. “We wanted to change that so we started Kids Action for Kids to come up with ways to motivate children to make a change.”
The motivation to enable change stems from the altruistic character of the kids who decide to use their limited means to help the disadvantaged kids serviced by KAFK. Knowing that kids are not in a position to make a direct financial donation, Brekke encourages kids to find what they are passionate about and creatively fundraise for it.
“What the children get out of it is this empowering feeling of ‘I actually can do something,’” Brekke said. “Which I think is kind of rare in kids that they really feel that they’ve done something, not just my parents gave me money so I can pass it along. I created something here. So we wanted to make that a big part of it.”
Members of the NYU community can also assist Brekke and KAFK in furthering their vision by making a donation during the upcoming DIII Week. Between April 2 and 6, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee will partner with KAFK to fundraise a goal of $6,000 for an approximate 15 corrective surgeries with all funds being matched by the organization’s financial partner, Benchachinda Group.
Coordinator of Athletic Training Nikki Webb said this effort is a celebration of the impact the NYU student-athletes make within their communities when removed from their sport.
“We have wanted to celebrate and to bring to the spotlight some of the great things our student-athletes do as active members of their academic and civic communities,” Webb said. “Martin’s organization is just one example of our student-athletes’ achievements.”
SAAC President Rayne Ellis added that the partnership between the SAAC and KAFK not only speaks to the impact made by and within the NYU athletic community but also the university’s mission to be a globally influential institution of higher learning.
“The thing that’s so important about Martin’s involvement with SAAC is that he’s bringing an international organization to our little community,” Ellis said. “I am going to be able to help fix a baby’s smile thousands of miles away because of someone on the swimming team. This is what NYU means when they say we have a global community.”
Those interested in contributing to the cause should visit the campaign called Miles for Smiles GoFundMe page to make a financial contribution of any size. All funds raised will go directly toward KAFK’s 2018 missions in Myanmar and Thailand where 200-240 more lives will be brightened through smiles, in addition to the over 1,100 lives that have already been positively impacted through the work of KAFK.
In celebration of his coming graduation, Brekke’s career at NYU will be commemorated for his sublime character as a scholar, athlete and humanitarian. In addition to continuing his work at KAFK, Brekke will use his joint degree in Computer Science and Economics at Google’s European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.
A version of this article was published in the Monday, March 19 print edition. Contact Warner Radliff at [email protected]