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Aid worker given the gift of hope

The young boy bent over and picked up the tiny, crying newborn.Covered in afterbirth and with the umbilical chord still attached, the child had…

The young boy bent over and picked up the tiny, crying newborn.

Covered in afterbirth and with the umbilical chord still attached, the child had been abandoned in a field.

The boy cradled the baby expertly and set off towards a hut on the other side of the village.

He had had plenty of practice and carried the child just as he did his younger brother.

The 13-year-old boy had taken over his household after his mother had died of AIDS.

Knocking at the door, the boy was greeted by Ray Brosseuk who was in Swaziland doing aid work with his wife and children.

On the drive to the hospital, Brosseuk and his wife Jacky decided to adopt the abandoned girl, but first they would need to get some tests done.

The Canadian government will not allow any child to be adopted from abroad without a clean bill of health.

With 40 per cent of Swaziland’s population infected with HIV/AIDS, things didn’t look promising.

“What are we going to call her?” Brosseuk asked his wife as they waited the two weeks for the results to come back.

“I’ll tell you when I know for sure that we can bring her home,” she replied.

Until then they called her “Baby Hope.”

The Brosseuks created their own non-profit organization, Partners for Others, in 1994.

Based out of Revelstoke, BC, they collect vital goods such as clothing, toys and eyeglasses, pack them away in large containers and ship it off to needy communities around the world.

And wherever the containers go, Brosseuk goes with them.

“In the beginning I vowed to never send a container without handling it all the way,” he said.

That way he can insure that the goods actually get to where they’re going instead of being stalled by customs officers or sold off by corrupt governments.

“In Sri Lanka there are currently 600 containers of aid still trying to clear customs,” he said.

They have been sitting there since the tsunami.

It sometimes takes Brosseuk up to two weeks of jumping bureaucratic hurdles and filling out all the necessary paperwork, but the shipments always get through.

“I sometimes have to pay fees, but it’s all legitimate. I’ve never had to bribe anybody.”

He then organizes transport and distributes the aid to needy communities.

International aid is something that runs in the family.

When Brosseuk was nine years old, his father sold his real-estate business and moved the family to Hawaii to do missionary work and build hospitals and schools.

For the next decade, the family moved around the world, to countries like Fiji, Tonga, and British Honduras (Belize).

Brosseuk grew up in these impoverished communities, learning their languages and studying alongside the local kids.

At 18 he became tired of the nomadic charity work.

“I started whining that I wanted to go home and make some money.”

Becoming relatively self-centered, Brosseuk returned to Canada to make a life for himself, leaving behind his father’s altruism.

He led what most would call a normal life: he got married, had a son and daughter, and started mining in the Yukon.

The turning point came 13 years later when he received an invitation to attend a class reunion in Fiji.

He didn’t want to go, but his wife bought him the ticket anyways.

“It really shook me up,” he said.

“After more than 20 years, the school wasn’t any different. They were still using the same old, dilapidated encyclopedias that I had used.

“I realized that the kids didn’t have the same opportunity I had had.”

Brosseuk decided to do something.

Partners for Others was born.

Most of the organization’s funding comes from the Yukon. It is pulled out of the earth at Brosseuk’s gold mine in Mayo.

Most of the aid is collected by donation.

A lion’s club in Calgary donated 152,000 pairs of eyeglasses that it had collected from across the country.

And 27,200 kilograms of nails are collected each year to help build homes and hospitals.

Whitehorse’s Computers for Schools provides the children with computers.

“They’re better than the computers I have,” said Brosseuk motioning toward his aging laptop playing a slideshow of colourful photos from around the world.

Computers for Schools is a nationwide nonprofit organization, run locally by the Yukon Entrepreneurship society.

The group receives old computers, fixes them up, and donates them to charities.

Most of the donated computers come from the Yukon government.

As the name indicates, the program was originally meant for schools, but the focus has now broadened to include any not-for-profit organization.

They provide computers to daycares, libraries, and aid groups, such as Partners for Others.

Last year, Brosseuk alone received 50 computers and, in two weeks, will get 100 more.

In an increasingly high-tech world, computer literacy is a huge asset for children fighting to get out of poverty.

“Education is the absolute cornerstone,” said Brosseuk who has struggled with his lack of formal education.

“If you can help these kids get educated it has a huge affect on their lives. It helps the country itself.”

A decade after setting up his first Compaq computers in a school in Fiji, he has seen some of the students go on to obtain jobs in business and government.

“Long after I’m gone, those children will be running the country.”

The last donation of computers was taken to Swaziland and set up in an orphanage where one woman took care of 600 children.

AIDS is destroying the country.

More than 70,000 children are without parents and 11 per cent of households are run by children less than 13 years old.

Brosseuk ran electricity into a building next to the orphanage and set up the computers as an internet café.

That way, it acts as a source of income for the children as well as a learning resource, he said.

He organized a group of young, educated locals to monitor the fledgling business, make repairs and seek out other communities that could benefit from a similar program.

He also helped the children plant a garden, bought them some chickens and provided them with a year’s supply of soup mix to help them until they become self-sufficient.

In return, the country gave Brosseuk a daughter.

The family official adopted the healthy baby girl and brought her to Canada.

They named her Keiara Thembi Brosseuk.

Keiara, by mere coincidence, means “little black one” in Gaelic.

Thembi, in the little girl’s native tongue, means hope.