They are children who have no home of their own, let alone cherished material possessions. When the wife of their prime minister came to visit recently, they were thrilled when she gifted each one the equivalent of about $12 Cdn.
On Wednesday, those children handed over half of their new windfall to the Paul Brandt Build It Forward Foundation, specifying that they wanted the money to go to victims of the Alberta floods. Together with donations from orphanage staff, the final tally came in at $900 — impressive from children of any socioeconomic background.
These children, though, are the neediest of the world’s needy. They live in a place called Place of Rescue Orphanage, a Cambodian sanctuary for children and adult AIDS patients and other unfortunates.
While such an act of generosity is jaw-dropping — the poorest of the poor giving to citizens in one of the wealthiest cities in the world — it doesn’t surprise someone like Brandt.
“You go there thinking you’re helping them, to make their lives better,” says Brandt, who visited the orphanage in 2004 and 2009, one of those visits with Samaritan’s Purse. “Then they give to us what’s a month’s salary to them. It’s pretty neat, pretty neat.”
Besides, they learned the art of giving from one of the best in the world: when I speak with Brandt, he’s just wrapped up a day of visiting flood victims at Siksika First Nation; the day before, he visited Nanton and the Turner Valley area.
“I’ve just been letting them know that people aren’t forgetting about them,” he says. “I was crying with people … you just want to be there for them.”
Orphaned children giving money to Alberta flood victims also doesn’t surprise Blaine Sylvester, director of the Calgary-based Canadian Foundation Place of Rescue, who had the honour of wiring the money Wednesday afternoon to Brandt’s foundation.
“They consider themselves very fortunate, because their lives are better than the kids they see on the streets,” says Sylvester, who adds that they have never forgotten Brandt’s visits to the orphanage. “The children may live in spartan conditions and sleep 10 to a house with a house mother, but they’re safe, they’re secure and they’re loved.”
In addition to their love for our homegrown country music star, some of those kids have a personal connection to the city itself. A couple of years ago, a group of them came to Calgary and presented dance performances in various venues around the city.
“One of those places was Bowness Park,” says Sylvester, whose mother-in-law Marie Ens founded the orphanage in 2003. “When they were told that the park had been flooded, they wanted to help.”
Sylvester, who has made 10 visits to the orphanage over the years, is preparing to go there again next week, taking 48 Calgary volunteers with him.
“We will be hosting an English camp for the kids,” he says.
Over the past week, Calgary and its environs have seen the worst of Mother Nature, the best of human nature.
Whole armies of smiling volunteers have descended on destroyed neighbourhoods, lending a hand to lift a crowbar or haul away a rotted two-by-four, their busy hands offering both practical and spiritual relief to those who have lost so much.
On Wednesday alone, I was witness to the generosity of people from all walks of life: former Flame Jim Peplinski offered up trucks free of charge from his leasing company to be used to haul debris to the dump; famed entrepreneur and philanthropist Brett Wilson didn’t cancel his fundraising annual Garden Party, instead choosing to add flood relief to his recipient list; and the Calgary Foundation announced the creation of the Flood Recovery and Rebuilding Fund, which has already received a donation of $100,000 by Suncor Energy and pledges to match all future donations up to an additional $150,000.
Then there are those stalwart helpers of the needy, the Calgary Food Bank and Calgary Meals on Wheels, announcing a temporary collaboration to provide a steady stream of nourishing meals to area evacuation centres, as well as volunteers and homeowners in the hard-hit areas.
But children in an orphanage, living in an impoverished country on the other side of the planet? If this does not fill your heart to the brim, then I am afraid you might not have one at all.
Brandt echoes my sentiment.
“When you hear about this kind of thing, from orphaned kids, it’s humbling,” says Brandt.
“It is an incredibly heartwarming, wonderful thing to see.”
For more on Place of Rescue, including donation information, visit its website at http://www.placeofrescue.com