Carol's Back Story
I grew up in Dalston, a 10 minute drive north of Barrie, Ontario—a place where there are more cattle than people. To say I lived an extremely sheltered childhood would be entirely accurate.
While in high school, I was given the immense honour of being chosen the Rotary Exchange Student to represent the City of Barrie for a year. It was an incredible experience — an experience that shaped who I am today. I lived, for 12 months, in Aguascalientes, Mexico, met hundreds of people (including exchange students from all over the globe), learned a new language… and saw poverty for the first time. Perhaps the most important lesson was realising just how fortunate I am because I was born in Canada. My gratitude runs deep.
In 2002, I was invited to a wedding and it just happened to be in Kenya! While there, we went on safari, and one day the driver took us on a bit of a detour. We visited a Maasai compound. If you're not familiar with the Maasai warriors, they are a semi-nomadic tribe who build their huts from cow dung. As I stood beside the chief in the centre of the circular enclosed area, I was shocked. I was shocked by what I did see, and shocked by what I didn't see. No electricity. No water. No comforts. I mean, their homes were made of dried poop! It was clear that my idea of basic living conditions was skewed.
Upon my return to Canada, I couldn't stop thinking about the extreme poverty I'd witnessed and I wanted to do something to make a difference. Unfortunately, the circumstances in my personal life didn't allow for it right then, but I stored my secret wish in my heart just waiting for the day when I could jump into action.
Fast forward. A teacher friend of mine, Linda, had gone to Ghana and we had conversations about what we had seen during our travels. While saving up for her next plane ticket, there were a few of us collecting gently used books for use at the school she was going to revisit.
In August of 2009, I received an email that marked a life-changing moment. Linda wrote to tell me that she'd been able to deliver the books to the local school and that the reception was rather unbelievable. The students were jumping up and down, the teachers were beside themselves, and the headmaster was so thrilled that he planned a three hour celebration that included parents, the elders, the Queen Mother, and the chief! All this fuss over 600 used books.
As much as that was touching, it was the rest of the email that changed my life! Three paragraphs. Three short paragraphs that went something like this:
Carol, it's great that we gave all of these books, but they have nowhere to put them. They really need a library.
I've been able to spend time in the classrooms… what few ‘rooms' there are. The teachers are overwhelmed. They have no teaching materials, the students have no supplies, there are far too many kids in each class, and they need assistance delivering the curriculum. Getting some Ontario-trained teachers here to model best practices would be such a help.
And this is the worst part. Carol, there are kids who show up on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday they aren't in class. And it's not because they want to skip. It's because they are in some farmer's field, working… working to make money, so they can buy some food… so they don't starve.
As I read that last paragraph, the tears were flowing freely, dripping off my chin. I could envision it all. I sat there, feeling heartbroken, feeling so entirely privileged in comparison… and then it happened. Goosebumps started at my wrists, worked their way up my arms, up the back of my neck and tingled their way through my scalp! THIS WAS IT! This was what my life journey had been leading me toward, from the time I was 18 and realised my luck in being born in Canada, to seeing extreme poverty in Mexico and Africa and wanting to do something—to actually having the opportunity to really MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
Right then and there I decided to play fairy godmother to make those three wishes come true!
By December, just four months later, I had raised enough funds raised to build our library, found eight Ontario teachers willing to spend their next summer in Dekpor, and I, myself, chose to sponsor the very first student.
The rest, as they say, is history! Each step forward has come with challenges, but we make a formidable team! I run the Canada-side of things, and Linda and her husband, Abraham, do the Ghana side. We're hard-working, highly motivated, passionate volunteers and with your help, we're making an amazing difference!
I'm fueled by gratitude!