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Eric Rajah named in Top 50 Champions for Change

This week, Lacombe’s Eric Rajah, cofounder of the charity A Better World, was named one of the top 50 nominees for CBC’s Champions of Change.

This is important for two reasons. If offers Rajah an opportunity to highlight the work being done to improve conditions in impoverished communities around the world. Secondly, if selected by CBC viewers as a finalist, he has a shot at part of $100,000 in donations for his charity. CBC will broadcast an interview with Rajah this week and post it to its website.

“I hope this will bring honour to the thousands of volunteers who give of their time so generously, donors who unselfishly share their financial resources; and recognize our communities of Lacombe, Red Deer and Central Alberta where it all began,” Rajah said in an email this week from Kenya where he is working on several projects.

Twenty years ago, driven by the desire to improve conditions in Third World countries, Rajah co-founded the charity A Better World. Growing up in Sri Lanka Rajah knows first-hand the bonds of poverty. Help from two Alberta missionaries allowed his family to immigrate to Canada when he was 16. He vowed he would help others as he had been helped.

And help he has. Since its humble beginnings, the charity has completed an impressive list of projects in many of the world’s poorest countries, including Afghanistan, Sudan, Haiti, Rwanda, Myanmar and India. Those efforts have spread good will and awareness of the dire need, spurring more people to help.

Rajah’s mission has touched a chord for Central Albertans. Many have opened their hearts and wallets and travelled to countries to volunteer their labour to help build water systems, to drill wells, and to build rehabilitation centres, schools and orphanages. Last year, the work of the charity helped to build a bridge between two towns in Kenya, and helped to build a pipeline that supplied clean drinking water to 30,000 people in the Sudan.

More than 1,800 volunteers have laboured for A Better World projects. Some will work alongside Rajah overseas. Others raise needed funds at home through a variety of methods including bottle drives. In the last 10 years alone, Central Albertans alone have donated $11.5 million to fuel the charity’s work.

Rajah is now in Kenya with a group of 44 volunteers that includes many Central Albertans. Advocate reporter Laura Tester is travelling with that group to tell the stories about how Red Deer area people are helping to improve the conditions in the country under the stewardship of Rajah and A Better World.

Rajah says he has learned that money alone cannot solve the world’s problems. Rajah believes in building partnerships with people in the poor countries so that when volunteers leave those who remain will have a sense of ownership. He believes those being helped must be invested in the work and work alongside volunteers to build and sustain the projects. A Better World is offering a hand up, not a hand out.

Rajah also believes in being accountable to the people who have committed their money and time to these projects. Rajah’s mission, commitment and sense of accountability resonates with many volunteers who have returned again and again to help.

On Monday, the CBC will announce its final 10 Champions of Change. If Rajah is one of them, he has a chance to earn donations for his charity. CBC viewers can vote for their two favourite champions. More than $100,000 in donations will go toward the winner’s charities from Manulife Financial.

Rajah has definitely championed change for many of the worlds’ poorest communities. Even if he is not among the CBC’s final 10, Rajah will be happy. More people will know about his mission. And he knows this awareness will bring more donations and more volunteers who want to improve the lives of those much less fortunate than themselves.

Carolyn Martindale is the Advocate’s city editor.

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