It was a beautiful sunny day in Thailand. My partner and I took a walk in the morning on the beach. We just finished breakfast and went back to the bungalow to begin packing because we were planning to leave in two hours. In a matter of seconds life changed for us and for millions of people. There was no warning. I looked up and heard people screaming. In seconds, the bungalow completely crashed. There was glass everywhere and we were trying to hold on for dear life. In that moment it didn’t matter how strong we were. It didn’t matter if I was a good swimmer. The power of nature was too strong for anyone.

I must have had angels looking after me because there was really no chance that I could have survived. My pelvis was broken in four places and I almost drowned many many times so I thought for sure that I wouldn’t be saved. After holding onto a palm tree for eight hours I was found by a Thai man who risked his life to save the lives of strangers. Another wave could have come any minute yet he chose through his unconditional love to try to save others.

From this experience the most painful part was not the physical pain. It was emotional pain from hearing children screaming for help when I was holding onto a palm tree. Because there was debris around me and I was trapped I couldn’t go and help them. After half an hour I couldn’t hear their voices anymore which meant that they couldn’t hold on any longer. In that moment I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t help them. Now I that I have survived I have the choice to help children who survive natural disasters but are often forgotten.

That experience is what keeps me and the Happy Hearts Fund team driven. It is what made me decide that I had to do something. When I could walk again I went back to Thailand to see what the biggest need in the country was and what could have the biggest impact. It was during that trip that – for the first time in my life – I could see what happens after first responders leave. I could see that when they leave – all support leaves, and communities remain devastated. I have seen this occur in all of the countries where Happy Hearts Fund now works. This lack of support after first response means that children are without safe schools for four, six, or even more years. Six years is an entire primary school education. The ripple effects on these children’s lives and the lives of their community and future generations is tremendous.

To solve this problem I founded the non-profit Happy Hearts Fund. We are dedicated to rebuilding safe, resilient schools and to restoring hope and opportunity in the lives of children after natural disasters. I’ve found that if instead of only supporting communities during first response we create a sustained response throughout their recovery by rebuilding schools the ripple effects on children’s emotional healing, their potential job opportunities, and the overall hopefulness of the community is incredible. These schools also revitalize the economy and help future generations in the community. On so many levels they gives the community a much needed energy boost and economic boost.


Petra Nemcova


Ellie Manko Libby

Director of Development

Olga Ruggiero

Executive Director 

Chelsea Burrell

Director of Communications & Technology 

Madeline Serena

Director of Programs

Lara Coghlan

Operations Manager


Leylya Agliullina

Office Manager

Josh Klinski

Grant Writer

Emeka Ngwube

Video Production


David Hryck

Chair of Happy Hearts Fund & Partner at Reed Smith LLP

Petra Nemcova

Founder of Happy Hearts Fund

Philippe Kjellgren

Founder of Kiwi Collection Inc.

Yulianna Anikieieva

Deutsche Oil & Gas

Kathleen Kelley


Sophie Lasry

Avenue Capital


Amir Dossal

Founder and Chairman
Global Partnerships Forum

John Forté

Artist and Philanthropist

Russell Simmons

Chairman and CEO
Rush Communications

Benno C. Schmidt, Jr.

Former President of Yale University
Co-founder, CEO & Chairman of Edison Schools
Chairman, City University of New York

Carlos Muriel


Simon de Pury

Phillips de Pury & Company

Lynn Powers

President and CEO
Gaiam, Inc.

John Sykes

President | Entertainment Enterprises
Clear Channel Media



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