When Sooke resident and retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces Mario Desjardins first travelled to the northern regions of the Philippines, he was struck by the abject poverty that he saw in that mountainous region of the country.
“This was over 20 years ago, and they didn’t even have any electricity back then. They do now, but they only got electricity about 16 years ago. They are very poor and they need our help,” Desjardins said.
When he met his wife Jackie 20 years ago, Desjardins learned she had been a long-time sponsor of an organization called the International Transformation of Man, a B.C.-based charitable organization primarily concerned with helping Third World children get access to basic education. Much of the organization’s work is done in the very region that Desjardins had visited years earlier.
Desjardins quickly became involved in his wife’s efforts on behalf of the charity and, over the ensuing years, the couple has sponsored five children though IAT.
Remy Baito, an IAT staffer who came to Sooke in an effort to recruit more sponsors for the program in the Greater Victoria area, explained the difference the Desjardins sponsorship has made.
“The first child they sponsored graduated from high school, which is very rare in that region, especially for a girl, and went on to study social work and is now working in the area as a social worker. The second child they sponsored managed to graduate as well. It’s not a lot of money here, but there it can change a life there,” said Baito.
Sponsorships through the IAT differ from the work of some other non-governmental organizations in that the $475 per year goes directly to help a specific child chosen by the organization. The sponsored child corresponds with the sponsor through letters and cards and sponsors are invited to come to the Philippines to visit the child in person.
It’s an offer the Desjardins and their family of three have accepted several times.
“They are so poor, but so welcoming and friendly. We took our children with us and they were really strongly affected. It makes it all worthwhile when you see the difference we can make,” said Mario Desjardins.
A problem is that many of IAT’s donors are getting older and Baito has come to Sooke in an effort to promote the charity with the goal of enlisting more sponsors, particularly young people who would like to support the NGOs work.
“We always have to try to get new sponsors if we want to continue the work. We have five sponsors in Sooke right now and that’s five children whose lives are changed. We would love to get more,” Baito explained.
“We have a pile of applications for help this high,” she added, gesturing with her hand to indicate a pile a metre high.
Another project of the IAT, related to the sponsorship project, is a program called Gift for Peace. It’s a project developed in response to the tribal warfare that still plagues the region and sometimes makes it impossible for children to leave their homes to go to school.
“The program is very simple when you look at it. We come in and get the people to talk to one another instead of shooting, and then we buy a pig that one clan will gift to the other,” explained Baito. “It seems simple, but it can end the fighting in an area and make it safer for the children.”
A fund raising and information evening for the IAT is planned for Dec. 1 at the Sacred Heart Church (4040 Nelthorpe St. in Victoria). The evening will feature traditional Philippine food, dances, and a silent auction in support of IAT. Information on the sponsorship program will also be available.
Tickets for the evening are $25 and are available by contacting Jackie Desjardins at 778-350-4496 or by email at email@example.com.