When Cameron Kennedy travelled to Afghanistan with A Better World Canada (ABW) founder Eric Rajah in 2007, he had no idea that the many notes he took would eventually come to formulate the foundation of a book.
Kennedy’s collection of notes, first-hand encounters and various interviews with organization founders and community members paints a vivid picture of the 25-year legacy that is A Better World Canada (ABW).
The book is titled Journey of Hope, Celebrating 25 Years of A Better World Canada. It explores in depth the past, present and future of the organization, with a focus on projects in Afghanistan and Kenya where a majority of the ABW projects remain.
“Since I’d started writing about A Better World, I thought it was a very interesting organization. Its approach to international development was certainly nothing that I had seen before. If there was a book to be written about it, I wanted to be the one to do it,” Kennedy said.
“I knew I wanted to do a sort of a round-up of the history of the organization, as well as take a look at the future of the organization and see where it was going to go. A Better World does most of its projects in Kenya so it was decided early on that we would focus heavily on Kenya and Afghanistan.”
In 2007, Kennedy travelled with Rajah to Afghanistan to check up on some of the projects that had been ongoing in the area. Again in 2011 Kennedy travelled to Afghanistan and in 2013 he took a trip to Kenya.
During these trips, Kennedy visited many sites where ABW had been involved, either working on projects to completion or removing themselves after a period of time, depending on the situation.
Kennedy said in the time between 2007 and 2011, ABW had shifted its focus to almost entirely educational-based projects. A Better World worked closely with Azalea Lehndorff’s 100 Schools Project to support girls’ education in Afghanistan.
While in Afghanistan, Kennedy was very impressed and impacted by Lehndorff’s work ethic and the work that she was doing in partnership with A Better World Canada.
“In Afghanistan, I was impressed by Azalea’s ability to get things done – she’s very motivated and has a way of being able to persuade people to get things done. The fact that they were able to build these schools in a country that was still at war with itself was pretty remarkable. There was a big drive for education and the people wanted to be educated, especially the girls who weren’t allowed to be educated under the Taliban,” he said.
Kennedy’s experiences in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2011 proved to be extremely helpful in writing the book because it allowed him to see first-hand the impact on the community, as well as where support was still lacking. These experiences, along with his 2013 trip to Kenya, helped to guide the honesty in the book about what was working with ABW and which projects were not.
“I guess one of the images that stuck out for me was from 2007 and we visited one of the schools where ABW had provided some desks in 2004. We visited some of the classrooms and the kids were in biology class but had no teacher,” he said.
“I think that was a common problem in a lot of the schools. Even if the infrastructure was there, and people had a place to go to school, whether they had a qualified teacher or not was a whole other story.”
Kennedy said that from the very beginning he wanted the book to be as honest as possible and include both the triumphs and failures of ABW. Travelling with Rajah was a way for Kennedy to bring authenticity to his book and to immerse him in all that A Better World was.
“Eric has never been one to shy away from the failures, which is refreshing as a journalist. You’re so used to talking to people who are trying to minimize or whitewash what went wrong and Eric’s always been very honest about the things that worked and the things that didn’t,” Kennedy said.
“I tried to balance the good and the bad. I think there are certain sections of the book where a lot more could have been written that I didn’t include because it was sort of happening as the book was being written and if I had kept writing I would never have gotten done.”
Going along with many of the project themes that ABW orchestrates, Kennedy has asked that all proceeds from his book go to fund the Tulwap Early Childhood Development Centre (a pre-school) near Kericho, Kenya.
He said this was important because he witnessed the grave differences between the opportunities and experiences his own children have in school versus those in countries like Afghanistan and Kenya. He wants the children benefitting from these projects to benefit at the highest level.
“(The pre-school in Kenya) is what kept me motivated. I knew that if this book got done, some students would benefit. They’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars so far. As a result, more than 90 pre-school students will have classrooms and supplies and be able to put art on the walls.”
He hopes the book inspires people to get involved in their own way, and to recognize the success and impact of A Better World. The book is available through blurb.ca or by contacting A Better World at 403-782-1140.