From humble beginnings to becoming a worldwide volunteer-driven organization, A Better World Canada (ABW), a Lacombe-based charity, has had a ripple effect across the globe.
ABW celebrated their milestone, marking 25 years of humanitarian efforts, this past weekend in Lacombe.
Last Saturday, a humanitarian day was held at both Burman University and the Lacombe Memorial Centre (LMC). The morning started out with a church service celebrating change and featured speakers including Janet Auma, Bernard Opiyo and Charles Muraguri, three of the ABW visitors from Kenya.
The afternoon was an opportunity to recognize the countless volunteers who have helped shape the organization throughout the 25 years of existence.
Later in the day, ABW celebrated the launch of a book, in honour of the milestone. Titled Journey of Hope: Celebrating 25 years of A Better World Canada, the book written by journalist Cameron Kennedy is a reflection of ABW and his journey with the agency.
Many may have heard how ABW came to be, but Co-Founder Eric Rajah provided an account of how the organization has evolved since its beginning in 1990.
Along with Brian Leavitt, Rajah was looking for a way to affect change in the world over 25 years ago.
“We decided we needed to get students at Canadian University College involved and chose to involve them in humanitarian causes,” he said.
Starting with an annual budget of $5,000, the agency has expanded to a budget of around $2 million. The ABW operates by the assistance of countless volunteers, all under the direction of Rajah and two part-time staff members.
With a focus on sustainability and improving lives, the organization partners with communities in other countries to assist in education, health care, water and infrastructure. Each year doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, teachers, trades people and endless volunteers travel from Canada to various communities to provide services and to work with locals to become self-sustainable.
One of the very first countries the organization assisted was Kenya. Over the past 25 years, ABW has undertaken around 60 projects in over 25 countries, including Afghanistan, Bolivia, Somalia, Belize and Thailand.
“We continue to do a lot in Kenya,” said Rajah. “But our concentration right now is in about 12 countries.”
Rajah said he sees the organization continuing to expand in three areas, in particular long-term development in the project countries.
“We are more and more focusing on a community and trying to do more projects that are about community development,” he added. “We are staying in communities for longer periods of time.”
The second area he sees a focus on is youth engagement.
“We would like to develop the young people, the youth, the students and the younger people,” said Rajah. “Basically, training the next generation to be compassionate and give back.”
With this initative to ensure the future of ABW, the youth division of the organization ‘Tomorrow’s EDGE’ was created in 2009. Twelve scholarships were given out this year to students through the program.
The third area ABW would like to focus on is continuing to work on local projects within the Lacombe and Central Alberta region.
“We would like to look at local projects as well and the needs here,” said Rajah. “We do one project each year, but we would like to do a few more.”
Through the Neighbours program, which was started in 2011, ABW chooses one local project within the community, which usually entails making renovations to a home in Central Alberta to meet the needs of a family or individual.
ABW has assisted in modifying a bathroom in the Red Deer home of a paralyzed female to allow her to take baths and have proper bathroom access. A project was also undertaken in Bentley to help a man in a wheelchair have access to his home and to be able to have home dialysis.
“We always look for people in our area who have fallen between the cracks,” he said.
Rajah said even due to its staggering growth and expansion, ABW still plans to remain based in Lacombe.
“There are many generous people here,” he said. “It’s a nice small group of people, where we know each other, they can travel, they can see the project.
“I think that’s the key to our success — we are small enough to engage people who want to be involved and we have room for people to participate.”
Looking around at the many smiling faces last Saturday at the LMC, many of who have volunteered for countless years, participated in a trip or have seen the direct benefits from ABW, you can see the future for the organization is bright.
There is unlimited room for growth, expansion and a chance for many more generations to come to learn about humanitarian causes and to show compassion for others, whether it is here in the local community or beyond, Rajah said.
For Rajah, this is exactly what he saw in the room and what he sees in Lacombe.
“All of this compassion happening is because of the generosity of people,” he said.
“You need to have compassion. You need to believe that you can make a difference and then you need to turn that belief into action. And Lacombe people have certainly done that. They are compassionate, they believe we have a role in the world and they have been willing to turn it into action. That’s the story of A Better World.”