Hundreds gathered at Kelowna International Airport to welcome home Olympic silver medallist Kelsey Serwa. “It felt like I was going out for the medal ceremony again; it brought me to tears,” said the 24-year-old racer.
“The children we saw had so little and we had so much,” he says.
On a fact-finding mission in Ethiopia, Roger, who is the district Rotary Foundation chair and a member of the Rotary Club of Kalamalka (Vernon), was asked by the driver if he wanted to visit the local school.
When he stepped inside and his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he discovered children sitting on long benches—no pens, no books, just one teacher and an old blackboard.
After receiving permission, he and his colleagues gave each student a pencil and scribbler. “You should have seen their faces. It was a look I will never forget. They were so grateful for such a little gesture,” says Roger.
“That trip changed my life.”
Roger continues to be a tireless leader in local and international Rotary projects.
Just the basics
In Canada it’s easy to take the basics for granted. We turn on the tap and expect clean drinking water, hot water for showers, toilets that flush and water for our lawns. We can visit our family doctor, walk-in clinic or hospital emergency room, present our Care Card and be helped by trained physicians and nurses. Well-equipped schools staffed with educated teachers and support staff are typical. We expect libraries to be stocked not only with hard-copy traditional resources but also with state of the art technology. Myriad opportunities for post secondary education and job skills training are considered the norm.
This is not the case in many other areas of the planet. More than 80 per cent of the world’s population lives in developing countries, where water, health care, education and other basics are never a sure thing.
This glaring discrepancy has led many to follow their hearts and take action, often after a life changing motivational experience similar to Roger’s.
My husband and I were disturbed by the discrepancies between our life in Canada and what we witnessed in Tibet and Nepal. Though there are many international NGOs working in there—particularly in the Khumbu (Everest) region—so much more remains to be done.
It got me thinking: Does the generosity Okanaganites show in support of local causes extend past regional boundaries?
Judge for yourself. The stories that follow are a mere sampling of the Okanagan people and projects selflessly dedicated to making a difference globally. The inspirational catalyst, whether solely a matter of religion, strictly a sense of humanity, or both, manNifests in various forms.
Leaving a legacy
For Summerland freelance writer Rick Cogbill, the stimulus was a visit to Mozambique with his daughter (who was working as a nurse for South Africa Ministries) followed by an emergency trip to a cardiac care unit in Alberta. Empathy and a sense of mortality collided.
During the month-long African visit Rick helped local SAM staff repair broken-down vehicles. In rural Mozambique, trades education is hard to find and financially out of reach for most. “Although they were willing workers, they lacked even the most basic skills training necessary for the job. They asked me to come back,” says Rick.
Later, during his hospital stay, he found the book Axioms by Bill Hybels. The chapter entitled What Life Are You Waiting For? caught his attention. “It’s often during those times we begin to think about what it is we’re doing with our lives and more precisely, what are we going to leave behind?”
At that moment, Rick, a licensed automotive mechanic, decided to start Mercy Tech Mission, an organization that provides opportunities for seasoned trades people to go to Third World countries and teach their trade to the locals. “We come as guests to their culture,” says Rick, “and make a point of looking for ways to make our knowledge practical in their situation.”
Hurricanes and tsunamis
Hurricane Mitch hit Nicaragua in 1999. Debbie Bachman travelled there from Vernon with a medical relief team. When she returned home, she put together a team that headed back in 2001 to help build orphanages and medical clinics. Groups working under the auspices of the Nicaragua Fuente de Vida Society continue to go.
Students from Clarence Fulton Secondary School’s Global Education program got on board in 2005 with annual three-week visits.
Half a world away, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Asia was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia was hardest hit, followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.
Peter and Cavelle Dove, Canadians living in Thailand, have been directors of Imagine Thailand since 2002, a ministry of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Colleen Saddler, a member at Westbank’s Emmanuel Church, got involved through Pastor Derek Lee and his wife Iris, who went to Thailand to work with Imagine Thailand in the Thai-Burma border region.
For her first visit Colleen raised funds through private donations and the corporate matching plan of Investors Group—enough to provide water filtration systems for two schools. “The water changed their life at school,” says Colleen. “They can focus on their studies and not get sores caused from river bathing.”
After working as part of a team to run a kids’ camp, she was hooked.Colleen now volunteers as a bookkeeper and administrator for the Lees, who work part-time for Imagine Thailand, fundraising and putting together outreach teams.
On Ouch, owner of Vernon’s Rice Box Asian Takeout, has held three annual Wok-a-Thons to raise funds for the Cambodian Support Group and Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
On’s father Ath, a victim of Cambodia’s murderous Khmer Rouge regime, worked in the fields at gunpoint. As the regime collapsed in 1979, Ath escaped to Thailand, married and had four children. After nine years in a refugee camp, constantly threatened by war-zone dangers, the family was referred to Canada through UN channels, then by Canadian immigration to the Cambodian Support Group. Within two weeks All Saints Anglican Church and community members responded with a sponsorship offer, welcoming the refugees to Vernon.
The annual non-stop-cooking Wok-a-Thon is one family’s way of paying it forward.
Vernon’s Joel Hayhoe, project manager of Bring Your Own Bike, spent his childhood travelling with his parents who founded the Future Vision Ministry (FVM).
“A few years ago while cycling
through the US, I discovered the intimate way cycling can connect us with people and places,” says Joel. “Having travelled throughout Africa with my family and working with FVM Malawi more recently, I decided to put the two together. I use cycling ecotourism as a way to introduce people to Malawi. I volunteered through FVM to establish a bike route through Southern Malawi and trained local people as tour guides and bike mechanics.”
Enderby’s John Baigent was a CUSO volunteer in Ghana in the early 1960s. Then in 1988, while a partner in a Vancouver law firm, he took a sabbatical in Ethiopia, working for the World University Service of Canada. He fell in love with the Ethiopian people, 85 million living in a country the area of BC. “They are a charming, civilized people,” says John. “Orthodox Christians and Muslims get along. People are civil and respect each other and value human friendship. There is no TV. Instead families visit each other in the evenings.”
After moving to the Okanagan 20 years ago, John now divides his time between Enderby and his second home in Ethiopia. He started Partners in the Horn of Africa in 2001, a non-denominational organization focused on infrastructure improvement, health and welfare and women’s poverty in more remote areas of the country often ignored by other NGOs.
Partners in the Horn of Africa requires their African partner, usually an Ethiopian charity or village, to contribute 15 to 20 per cent of the project costs.
On his second trip to Ethiopia, Roger Perry and the Rotary Club of Kalamalka partnered with John to build new schools.
Gordon Huston, president of the North Okanagan Valley Gleaner Society, knew a good idea when he saw one. The original Okanagan Gleaners was founded in Oliver in 1994 to produce food for the hungry of the world. Volunteers take vegetables that would normally be wasted and turn them into dry soup mixes that are sent to places like Africa and North Korea.
The North Okanagan group, modeled after the Oliver project, is based in Lavington, and averages five to six million servings of donated food per year.
Coldstream Christian Church pastor David Hockley and his congregation were looking for an international organization with which they could be meaningfully involved. “We wanted to establish relationships with people, recognizing that we ourselves would not just be serving to feel good about ourselves, but that we would see a genuine symbiotic relationship.”
David explains that a Haitian student intern of theirs went to Haiti to begin a mission called Heart for Home Haiti to address both physical and spiritual needs. The organization has now acquired 12 acres that are being turned into a campus where Haitians will be trained in agriculture, business, technology and other job skills. It also houses a church.
Students and teachers lead the way
Never underestimate the power of youthful enthusiasm fired by passionate educators. Vernon high school teachers Sue Egan and Murray Sasges are examples of what is possible.
A social studies and computer teacher at Vernon Secondary School, Sue Egan was inspired by Craig Keilburger, co-founder of Free The Children and the Me to We program.
“Giving back by global volunteering is a passion of mine. I wanted to combine my love of teaching with that passion,” says Sue. “I believe youth can make a difference and that every child has the right to an education.”
In August 2011 Sue led 20 Vernon Secondary students to the Masai Mara region of Kenya to help build a school classroom as part of a project overseen by Me to We. Students Bailey Limb and James Zarlenga, both in Grade 12, and Eric Byram, Grade 10, were part of the adventure that started with a Me to We day in Vancouver.
What did they learn from travelling 32 hours to help build a school?
“For the present it made me realize what we have in Canada. I don’t leave the water running anymore,” says Bailey. “For the future, I want to get involved with Me To We in Kenya for a period of time.”
James agrees. For him the best part of the trip was working alongside locals. Volunteer work might be in his future. “The experience changed me a lot as a person. The toughest part was leaving. It went too fast. I wanted to get more done,” he says.
“Everything I do will be a little bit different now that my eyes are open to what’s happening in the rest of the world,” says Eric.
Sue feels the students gained a different perspective on life. “The sense of community in Kenya is so powerful. There they look after each other. Here, we often don’t know our neighbours,” she says.
It’s that sense of community that has driven Clarence Fulton Secondary teacher Murray Sasges to offer the Global Education term option to Grade 11 students. “I want to break open the eyes and hearts of students to understand the interconnectedness of the world we live in,” he says.
Global Education’s connection with Fuente de Vida has led to nine years of three-week student work programs. Through Debbie Bachman, Murray found Casa Hogar Orphanage, which houses Nicaraguans left homeless by the 1995 hurricane. Projects include building a chicken barn, cattle corral, milking parlour and a kilometer of concrete fencing to protect fields from wild animals.
What about poverty in Canada?
Some of the organizations featured here are involved in projects to assist those in poverty at home. However, many mention that the poor in Canada are still better off than the poor in developing countries. “There is no backup for these people,” says Roger Perry. “If they don’t earn any money the whole family goes hungry. There is no social network to fall back on.”
As an inner city school principal in Vancouver, I have seen the shameful discrepancies that exist in a city that has some of the poorest urban neighbourhoods in Canada—and some of the wealthiest.
Even so, it is heart wrenching to witness conditions in developing countries. Supported by Sambhav Nepal and trekking company Ace the Himalaya, my husband and I plan to return to a village outside the well-served Khumbu region of Nepal to discover what villagers would like help with. We hope to join the growing number of individuals and organizations that see opportunities for humanity beyond our borders.
To join in the action
Mercy Tech Mission
Nicaragua Fuente de Vida Society
Bring Your Own Bike
The Rice Box
Global Action, Vernon Secondary School
Partners in the Horn of Africa
Global Education, Clarence Fulton Secondary,Vernon
North Okanagan Valley Gleaner Society
Coldstream Christian Church
Rotary Club of Kalamalka, Vernon
~ By Patti Shales Lefkos