By LAURA TESTER
There’s something special about leaving a legacy and celebrating a birthday too in East Africa.
Last October, A Better World Canada hosted a special Legacy Circle trip to Kenya and Rwanda in honour of its most dedicated philanthropists. Together, these passionate individuals and groups have invested more than $12 million in making the world a better place since ABW began in 1990.
It was a great time for Red Deer’s Gord Bontje and about 20 other long-term supporters journeying through Kenya and Rwanda. He celebrated his 60th birthday at a “bush dinner” in the Maasai Mara and attended two school capital project openings sponsored by him and his family.
Bontje had already decided to give $500,000 to ABW to mark his milestone.
The large donation will be spent through 2017-2018 for projects in Kenya, Afghanistan, and Rwanda. Through his philanthropic efforts over 18 years, numerous children are learning in greatly improved conditions and teacher retainment in rural areas has grown, too. Medical needs, including surgeries for the disabled, will also be supported.
He and his wife Kathy and Laebon Homes, of which he is founding partner, have been key supporters of ABW.
“I think the intent of making donations is to try and make the world a little better for people in developing countries,” added Bontje.
During the trip, Bontje officially opened new classrooms and an administration building at Gilgil Primary School as well as new classrooms and teachers’ housing within Sekenani Primary School, a newly sponsored school for ABW within the Maasai Mara.
“This is the work of A Better World. There’s a whole lot of people who implement and monitor projects, who conceive them to begin with — and the ABW model has each community contributing to the project and to make sure they’re managed when they’re complete. That’s the key to them being meaningful and stand the test of time. They get stronger and better.”
Hazel Michiel (pictured at the top of this page, left) works at the same homebuilding company in Red Deer County that Bontje helped found. When she was invited to go on the Legacy trip, she said she felt honoured to stand alongside some of ABW’s major donors.
“I know I’ll never be able to contribute as much as Gord does, but I do my part,” said Michiel, who lives on a farm just east of Bowden, Alta. “Every little bit helps. It doesn’t always have to be monetary.”
Her interest was sparked in 2006 when ABW co-founder Eric Rajah presented in front of staff at Laebon Homes. Since then, Michiel has been keen to help, particularly with children. The latest trip for her produced wonderful memories, including the time a small girl walked up to Michiel at a grand opening to give her a beaded bracelet.
The trip was also enjoyable with several people having birthday celebrations.
“I don’t know if there’s any better way to see Africa than with A Better World,” she added. “I can’t say enough nice things about how it’s organized and how you’re taken care of.”
Michael also said that Rajah is so connected in Kenya and he “absolutely makes everyone feel welcome.”
“He’s an awesome host.”
Part of going on such a trip is to see whether donations are being put to good use.
Marcel Paquin and his staff at Edmonton’s Sierra Contract Flooring, have raised about $200,000 for ABW since 2013.
“I don’t really look at this as a legacy for my family as I do for our corporation,” said Paquin, company owner and president. “We raise a lot of money through our clients and so going on the trip was very important to see that the money was being used properly.”
They’ve been a partner on school projects, plus a water project too. This recent trip allowed him to officially open classrooms at two Kenyan schools they’ve sponsored, Tulwap Primary and Ndanai Primary.
“This (trip) was very confirming to me that Eric is doing a fantastic job at ensuring the safety of the donations,” said Paquin.
Sponsors are given regular updates on projects and how they’re progressing. Photos are sent electronically.
Paquin expects his company will continue to sponsor more projects for years to come.
“The projects they have over there are amazing and are truly needed,” he said.