This week, Lacombe’s Eric Rajah, the co-founder of the charity A Better World, was named one of its top 50 nominees for CBC’s Champions of Change. This is important to Rajah not for the personal accolade, but because it offers him an opportunity to draw more attention to his mission of improving conditions in impoverished communities around the world.
CBC will broadcast an interview with him where he will tell about the hundreds of volunteers and donors who are making a difference in the world.
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 knew first-hand the bonds of poverty. It was the help of two Alberta missionaries that allowed his family to eventually 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 racked up an impressive list of projects in many of the world’s poorest countries, including Afghanistan, Sudan, Haiti, Rwanda, Myanmar and India. Along the way, 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 of whom 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 through a joint effort, helped to build a pipeline that supplied clean drinking water to 30,000 people in the Sudan. More than 1,800 volunteers have stepped up to work for A Better World projects, some on the ground in far off lands. Others have done fundraising through a variety of methods including bottle drives. In the last 10 years, 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, including many Central Albertans. Advocate reporter Laura Tester is travelling with that group for two weeks to tell the stories about how local people are improving the conditions in the country under the stewardship of Rajah and A Better World.
Rajah believes in building partnerships. One of key partnerships is with people on the ground in the poor countries so that when volunteers leave, those who remain will have a sense of ownership that can sustain. In this way, A Better World is offering a hand up, not a hand out.
Rajah says he has learned that money alone cannot solve the world’s problems. He believes those being helped must be invested in the work and work alongside volunteers to build and sustain the projects. He also believes in being accountable to the people who have committed their money and time to these projects.
And Rajah’s mission, personal commitment and sense of accountability have resonated with many volunteers who have returned again and again to help.
On Monday, the CBC will announce its final 10 Champions of Change. There is no doubt that Rajah has definitely championed change for many of the world’s poorest communities. Even if he is not among the final 10, Rajah will be happy. There will be more people who know about his mission. And he knows from past practice that means there will be more money and more volunteers who want to contribute to improving the lives of those much less fortunate than themselves.
Carolyn Martindale is the Advocate’s city editor.