When Eric Rajah immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka at the age of 16, his mother told him that someday, he would have to find a way to give back for the incredible opportunity he was granted.
Twenty-three years ago, he found a way to do that when he founded the A Better World charity here in Lacombe.
Recently, A Better World celebrated its anniversary by hosting a number of events to raise awareness and funds for its many projects across the globe.
While 23 years is an impressive benchmark, the organization’s founder said that the number of years the organization has been running is less important than the lives it has affected in that time.
“I think the benchmark is about the number of people we have engaged here,” said Rajah. “And the differences in the places we have invested in.”
When it first started, A Better World was to be an organization out of the Canadian University College Church designed for the purpose of getting involved with humanitarian causes, said Rajah.
“We thought we needed a way to reach out and be active (in humanitarian causes).”
From there, the organization grew quickly. It became something much bigger than Rajah thought it would, and much faster that he thought it could.
“We never expected to grow and be this big at that time,” said Rajah. “We had a vision but it was much smaller than what it has become now.”
Much of that growth, he said, is in part due to the community of Lacombe embracing the organization and its purpose.
He said that A Better World has seen great support, not only financially, but with people getting personally involved as well. Since its inception, 2,500 people have traveled with A Better World to take part in its projects.
Another key to A Better World’s success is its low overhead, Rajah said.
He explained that the organization only has two paid employees. The rest of the work is done by volunteers, like himself.
“It’s not about money, I have not been paid for 23 years,” he said. He added that his personal connection to A Better World is what feeds his motive rather than working for a paycheck. “If I don’t want to do it, I don’t have to do it,” said Rajah. “I’m doing this because I want to do it. That’s one of the best motivations for anyone.
“In a small town like this, people care enough to reach out,” said Rajah. “I think for a small town we are extremely successful because of the dedication of the people.”
As for the future of A Better World, Rajah said it will rely heavily on getting youth involved today. He added that getting youth involved is of particular concern now that the organization has been running for 23 years.
“When people like us die off , who is capable of managing this?”
Rajah went on to say that a big part of the reason A Better World has a youth division to secure the organization’s future.
He added that getting students involved with the projects and even traveling with A Better World helps mold them into leading roles for the future. “Students today, leaders tomorrow.”
Today, Rajah said A Better World runs an average of 14 projects in seven countries at any given time. Many of these are long-term.
Rajah said that their philosophy is very much rooted in developing a relationship with the community, rather than throwing money at a problem and then moving on to the next project.
Right now, A Better World is working in Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bolivia and Peru.
There are five core areas in which A Better World strives to aid any community that it begins working with, Rajah said.
They are education, health, water, agriculture and micro-finance/income generation.
These issues are ones that are key to helping the communities develop and become able to help themselves.
“We don’t just go and do it,” said Rajah. “We let the local people go and do it.”
Many might say that there is too much needing to be done for A Better World to really make a difference. Rajah agrees that the amount of work needing to be done is overwhelming, but he sees two options – to either throw up one’s hands in defeat or lift up one’s hands and get to work helping someone. What is accomplished may be, as Rajah said, “A drop in the bucket,” but, like the parable of the starfish, it still makes a difference to someone.
“Even though what we are doing is a drop in the bucket, that drop I can see making a big difference.”