A trip that brought a local man across the globe has turned into a change in the way he and his wife live at home.
Scott Grimwood of Penhold travelled with seven friends from his church to South Africa in 2007. The team had raised $13,000 to help the Seed of Hope, an organization that provides an after school drop-in centre for children, an HIV testing facility and a hospice in the township of Bhekulwandle, an area 20 minutes outside of the city of Durban.
He and his wife Jo-Ann have since adopted a lifestyle of looking for small ways to bring lasting change in the far-away community.
“There is so much that can be done,” says Scott who recalls that when he first arrived in the township what stood out to him were all the needs.
He went to paint and repair facilities, taught English in the after school program, and visited homes in the community. Seeing how AIDS wreaked havoc on many of the families especially impacted him who noticed how a whole generation seemed to be missing because of the disease.
Scott and the team also witnessed that a little money can go a long ways toward helping people in the area. After four days of work at the centre, the repairs and painting were complete.
Once they had purchased all the items the Seed of Hope had requested they buy with the monies raised, the team still had $9,000 left over. “We gave the employees an extra pay cheque and gave money for the hospice.”
A run down building across the street also caught Scott’s eye. On a small plot of dirt with no fence, the facility served as a day care centre for about 70 kids.
When he returned to Canada, Scott got word of just how difficult the situation had become. Twenty-eight children were kept in an eight by eight ft. room while 40 others were kept in another. With no electricity or fans and with temperatures outside reaching more than 30C, the place was sweltering.
Stray dogs roam the streets in the area and because there was no fence, it was not safe for the kids to play outside, so they were cooped up each day in the small building. “Somebody had to do something about it.”
So he and Jo-Ann got to work.
“We did simple little things that make a difference,” says Jo-Ann. Through their contact at Seed of Hope they learned how much it would cost to hire a local contractor to build a fence for the day care. The couple then started to fundraise, selling recipe cards for a South African pudding and wristbands.
They also organized a mini trade show and sold poinsettias. “We just sent $1,600 and covered the cost of the fence.”
In looking back at the experience, Scott says that while he was in the township a “light switch went on.” North Americans, he says, have needs and wants mixed up. “Over there they need a meal, they need anti-retroviral drugs. We don’t need a colour TV.”
Their connection with the Seed of Hope remains strong. The couple have helped to start a pen-pal program between children at the Seed of Hope and their small church in Caroline. They’ve also sent floor hockey sticks to teach the South African children hockey and given books so the children can practice reading in English.
These days, the couple also make a conscious effort to make small sacrifices. Instead of going out for dinner, they put money they would spend on a meal into a jar. At the end of a few months they count up the money they would have spent on themselves and give it away to worthwhile projects.
“We’re certainly not wealthy,” says Jo-Ann. “Every year we do one or two things to make sure we keep giving.”
Seeing changes in children’s lives also continues to motivate the Grimwoods.
“Where once I saw broken windows, grass up to my knees, buildings in disrepair and kids I felt sorry for,” says Scott, “I now see hope.”