Pictured above: Brian Corkum of Calgary gets up close with a giraffe named Stacy at the Giraffe Center outside Nairobi, Kenya.
By LAURA TESTER
It was a trip filled with the beauties of Africa and so many ways to help the less fortunate.
For a group who traveled with A Better World Canada in September, the three weeks in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda were so inspiring.
Brian Corkum of Calgary, Red Deer area couple Ken and Doris Hubbard, Julie Stegmaier, Denise and Larry Herr, all of Lacombe, Alta., joined ABW co-founder Eric Rajah, Mike and Sandi Gouchie of Lacombe, and Gary and Suha Huffaker of Riverside, Calif. on the trip.
For several of them, this was their first chance to see what ABW is doing with sponsored dollars and how Rajah manages the organization with supreme effectiveness.
It took the Herrs, retired professors from Burman University, more than 25 years to take a trip with Rajah, their longtime friend.
Denise was impressed in several ways.
“The trip was a brilliant combination of seeing the beauties of Africa and being inspired by the work that ABW is doing — as it makes it possible for East African people to become more educated and healthier,” said Herr.
She was encouraged to see the school at Ndanai Small Home for the Physically Challenged.
“People are changing their attitudes on what students with handicaps can do. They’re not just sequestered away. It was really heart-warming to see.”
The group also watched Rajah cut the ribbon for a bank of school toilets.
“I had never seen anyone do that before for toilets,” added Herr, chuckling.
ABW officially opened 121 toilets within Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda in 2017.
It’s been a successful project that pays off in so many ways.
“It helps with sanitation and especially for young girls, it helps with privacy,” said Stegmaier.
The toilets also increase overall hygiene and thus prevent the spread of disease, she added.
As a result, children are better able to stay in school.
Stegmaier says she’s “more impressed each time she goes on a trip” because so many people are being helped by a relatively small organization.
“We have a very low overhead so the money that donors give goes to the projects. Everyone pays their own way to go on these trips.”
Stegmaier’s first trip with ABW was in 2009. She had always wanted to go to Kenya. She was so pleased with the trip she immediately contacted Rajah after returning home.
“I sent him an email and said, ‘if you need any help with anything, please don’t hesitate to let me know,’” Stegmaier said. “I think I had a meeting with Eric the next day and I started working here.”
The donor relations co-ordinator was glad to see Tanzania for the first time — a country that ABW has ventured into within the last few years.
She encourages others to take a trip, adding that Rajah focuses on safety first.
“It’s a good way to see Africa in general,” Stegmaier said.
Sightseeing included a balloon trip in Kenya’s Maasai Mara and viewing gorillas in the Rwandan mountains.
Ken Hubbard, a veterinarian for 40 years, has known Rajah since ABW was established in 1990.
“I think we were his first or second donor. I guess a few of us raised enough money for ABW to start a physiotherapy clinic in Kenya.”
The Hubbards were able to see changes within Africa and within ABW itself since their last trip in 2003.
Hubbard was particularly pleased to see women and young people making greater advancements in Africa.
“There’s a lot of hope for the next generation and raising the contributions of women.”
His commitment to A Better World was reaffirmed, too.
“I see the checks and balances — I see a certain level of excellence that A Better World has. There’s a huge amount of accountability on how donors’ dollars are spent.”
Hubbard remembered how ABW early on had to get connections, sorting out the best way to use money and then establish and deliver programs.
“I saw a huge change in how that was done — it was organized and (there was understanding) in how to get help and connect with the community.”
Hubbard said he’ll continue to be an ambassador for ABW and is “very confident” that people won’t be disappointed in getting involved.
“You get inspired by what a person’s dream can do,” said Hubbard regarding Rajah’s commitment.
Anyone who goes on a trip will notice how Rajah is good at using the skills of participants, Herr added.
The couple, both of whom have taught for more than 30 years, were invited by Rajah to visit classes and get some idea of students’ abilities with English.
They rejoiced with the teachers and students over progress that’s been made, including test results.
“One teacher told me, ‘Eric is an answer to prayer,’” Herr said. “It brings tears to my eyes to hear that and makes me inspired to give more.”
She is impressed with how Rajah works on a “manageable challenge” while “always, always” receiving community input. “People have changed attitudes. Governments have changed funding. What an inspiration.”
Brian Corkum, an architect and married father of 11-year-old twins, has known Rajah since he was a child.
Rajah saw the potential of Corkum’s architectural skills in ABW going forward.
“The trip was more of an introduction for me to A Better World and the projects they do and got me involved in getting to know some of the project managers,” said Corkum.
Corkum provided feedback on ABW’s building standards, including how to improve site layouts.
He saw “very primitive” projects and had to realize there were cultural norms to think about, too.
Corkum added the buildings look very similar, including some form of masonry, a metal roof, and fairly open air systems.
“Here we close our buildings up fairly tightly and we have mechanical systems and so on,” he said.
Corkum was also amazed at how Eric engages people, from the hotel staff to community leaders and politicians.
“He is a guy that leaves a trail of gratitude. He connects with so many people on so many levels.”
Rajah also makes sure he understands the needs, often scoping a project for years in advance before seeking sponsorship, according to Corkum.
Rajah is also good at navigating any corruption and instead of being discouraged, he’s “fully engaged and still going hard and strong,” said Corkum.
“All of that was incredibly inspiring,” said Corkum. “He engaged me personally in a way that he didn’t have to. Out of the goodness of his heart would he want me to come on one of these trips.”
Corkum’s parents have been involved with ABW and now he wants to take part too.
“It really inspired me and I think it was very encouraging to see the great work that’s being done,” said Corkum. “I’d like to be involved in it meaningfully for a very long time.”