Category Archives: Inspiration

Redemption Of Two Abused Boys

Shayne & Jennifer with Curtis & Dallas, April 2006.
Shayne & Jennifer with Curtis & Dallas, April 2006.

Having observed first hand the way abused children often turn out as adults, I’ve come to consider their redemption as virtually miraculous. This was certainly my conclusion after Jennifer told Linda and me the story of Dallas and Kurtis, the young sons of Shayne, her second husband. I feel her account might be of interest and benefit to others.

Shayne was a trucker,” she began. “He wasn’t home enough to look after the boys and their 2 half- sisters, so they were living with their mother Cassia. There was a lot of alcohol in the home and Cassia’s boyfriend was abusive to her.”

Jennifer’s face grew serious as she continued. “Cassia moved her family into a house with 16 people. Then she moved out on her own again, accompanied by the boyfriend. The boys’ family life was chaotic and we suspected they were being abused. We thought the boyfriend might be a crack addict. I decided we couldn’t just stand by and watch their lives being destroyed.”

There was conviction in her voice and I sensed her keenly honed understanding of right and wrong. “We got permission to take the boys to our home for 3 weeks. This became a pattern for some time. Their bodies were usually bruised when they came. We always took them to be examined by a doctor when they arrived and before we returned them. The boys feared repercussions if they talked about their home life so they kept quiet about that.”

During one visit, Shayne became troubled by something Cassia was planning for the boys. He threatened to not return them. A few days later, Cassia and a friend arrived from Prince George with a court order for their return. They waited down the street while the police went to enforce the order. The boys cried. Kurtis sat on the step and said, “I’m not going back!” “It was a terrible day for the boys and for us. We were powerless to prevent it.”

When the boys were 5 and 6, Cassia agreed to let them live with Jennifer and Shayne for one year. Three weeks after arriving, they began to divulge the mental, emotional and physical abuse they had endured. “Things were bad with Dallas,” Jennifer recalls, “he was diagnosed with FAS and ADHD. Being older, he had seen and experienced more.”

Both boys were enrolled in counselling, with a good deal of play therapy. In their own way, each arrived at a unique understanding. One day the counsellor invited Jennifer into the play room and pointed to a play house. Opening the doors to the little house, she said, “Kurtis removed all the furniture and people. He even tore out the carpets.” The counsellor explained that when he had completed gutting the house he shut the doors and said, “I’m moving out. I’m done.” He was leaving his old life and memories behind.

About 7 months after the boys moved in with Jennifer and Shayne, Dallas asked them and also Jenae, Jennifer’s daughter, to sit in the living room. Then he quite formally addressed them all. “Cassia isn’t our Mom anymore,” he pronounced. From now on we’ll call her Cassia. Jennifer is our Mom.”

After the agreed upon year, Cassia didn’t show up in court to contest an application to give Shayne full custody and Jennifer guardianship over the boys. Since then Dallas has many times asked to see these papers, wanting assurance he and Kurtis would not be returned.

Cassia has never even asked about them in our occasional telephone conversations,” Jennifer said. “Recently she did request to speak with them. Dallas absolutely refused. Kurtis reluctantly agreed, but only by phone.” As the day for Cassia’s call approached, he wanted Jennifer to tell her he had changed his mind. Wanting him to grow strong, Jennifer told him, “I can’t protect you anymore. You’ll have to tell her yourself.” Cassia didn’t call.

Shayne, Dallas, Jennifer & Curtis in 2016
Shayne, Dallas, Jennifer & Curtis in 2016

Dallas is now 18 and has completed his first year in a construction electrical program. He is apprenticing with an electrical contractor. Kurtis is 17 and enrolled in an architectural drafting course.

Dallas summed up their experience recently. “If you hadn’t rescued us, we’d have lived in foster homes and on the streets. I’d be in jail.”

The redemption of Dallas and Kurtis came only with Jennifer and Shayne’s love, patience, and unwavering commitment. It is indeed a miracle.

Living To Be Remembered

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Tramping through the high brown grass of the Hedley cemetery with Linda last week, I wondered how the people interred there are being remembered. Did they do something to positively benefit their family and community, even their country? Or did they live only for their own selfish purposes?

In “The Walk”, Paul Evans suggests that “in each of us is something that, for better or worse, wants the world to know we existed.” We have a longing not to be forgotten. We want our life to have meant something, to leave an indelible mark.

It was while working with young offenders in Hedley that I became aware of what I feel is a universal desire. I asked a number of these often intransigent youths if they wanted to do something important with their life. Almost invariably they weighed the question thoughtfully for a long moment. With only one exception, they all said “Yes, I do.”

For some individuals, the need to be remembered becomes an obsession, driving everything they do. Donald Trump is a prime example. The Trump name is emblazoned on his towers. Maybe the inspiration for this comes from the Biblical Tower of Babel. Its creators also feared they would be forgotten.

There are less expensive, less pretentious means of creating a significant legacy. Mother Teresa didn’t need a tower She inspired millions by simply caring for people who could give nothing in return, except their eternal gratitude. By doing something she considered important, she created a legacy of great value to a global audience.

I am impressed by individuals who give with no expectation or even a possibility of recognition or reward. My friend Simon, a high roller former heroin addict and trafficker, had years of jail time in his past. In the final year of his life, he was reduced to delivering pizzas. Sometimes late in the night there were undelivered pizzas at closing time. Simon asked for these and searched the dark streets and alleys for hungry homeless people. He received no reward except the inner knowledge that finally he was doing something for others.

People create legacies in a variety of ways. Bob and Diane Sterne and other citizens of Coalmont have enriched their community by lovingly restoring the nearby Granite Creek Cemetery. Each year the Princeton Traditional Music Festival, spearheaded by Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat, brings together the Similkameen community in a joyous celebration of music and dance. Jennifer Douglass and Andy English have devoted many hours to historical research, thereby inspiring support for the restoration of the Hedley cenotaph. The Keremeos Community Church blesses local people by operating a soup kitchen each Monday and Thursday. The soup is both nutritious and delicious. Lee McFadyen of Cawston was the first to establish an organic farm in the Similkameen Valley. She is committed to preserving a healthy environment for future generations.

In “A Leader’s Legacy,” James M Kouzes provides an important clue as to how we can be remembered for doing something important. He says, “when we are gone people will not remember us for what we did for ourselves. They’ll remember us for what we did for them.” He adds that “it’s the quality of our relationships that most determines if our legacy will be ephemeral or long lasting.”

In the mid 1980’s a 14 year old boy of indigenous descent was placed in the care of our organization in Hedley. One day, in the midst of some personal turmoil he was experiencing, I invited him to have coffee with me at the Nickle Plate Restaurant. During our conversation I asked if he wanted to do something important with his life. He was somewhat young to understand but when I explained, he quietly said, “yes.” At the end of his time in Hedley he was put on a Greyhound bus for the return to his home. I went to see him off, expecting we might shake hands. As I walked to the rear of the bus where he was already seated, he rose to his feet. Stepping toward me, he threw his thin arms around me. It was a warm embrace I will always treasure. Possibly I had given him a new understanding of who he was and could become.

Paul M Kouzes believes that “by asking ourselves how we want to be remembered, we plant the seeds for living our lives as if they matter.”

Tulips Galore!

I’ve long been impressed by Terry Friesen’s gifting with a camera. Below are a couple of photos he took at the Yarrow Tulip Festival. For more of Terry’s photography, you can visit his website at

https://www.flickr.com/photos/131268075@N06/

Up Tulips by Terry Friesen

Storm Clouds by Terry Friesen

Poundmaker, A Role Model For Today’s Politicians

This painting of Chief Poundmaker was created by Richard Lindemere, grandfather of Hedley's Bill Day
This painting of Chief Poundmaker was created by Richard Lindemere, grandfather of Hedley’s Bill Day

In this 150th year of Canadian nationhood, our politicians could benefit from an examination of the life of Poundmaker, the Saskatchewan Cree chief. He lived during a time when his people were in great distress and turmoil. White settlers were invading the prairies and pushing his people off their land. The immense buffalo herds on which they depended for their livelihood were being hunted relentlessly. Government treaties were forcing them onto reserves and restricting their movements.

Born in 1842, Poundmaker was the son of a Stoney father and a mixed blood mother. His uncle was an influential chief of the Eagle Hills Cree. Later he was adopted by Crowfoot, chief of the Blackfeet, and lived there for a time before returning to his people.

Painting of Chief Crowfoot by Richard Lindemere
Painting of Chief Crowfoot by Richard Lindemere

He was endowed with leadership ability and probably learned a lot from Crowfoot. Robert Jefferson, farm instructor on the Poundmaker Reserve said later, “his bearing was eminently dignified and his speech so well adapted to the occasion as to impress every hearer with his earnestness and his views.”

In 1876 the Indians of Central Saskatchewan negotiated a treaty with the government of Canada. As a member of the negotiating team, Poundmaker sought to obtain the most beneficial deal for his people. His discerning mind questioned the intent of the government and he expressed his concern. He wanted the government to provide his people with instruction in farming and assistance after the buffalo were gone, in exchange for their land. The government did not promise this and he said, “I cannot understand how I shall be able to clothe my children and feed them as long as the sun shines and the water runs.”

He was made a chief and in 1879 he accepted a reserve. He moved there with 182 followers.

For a time the government did provide food, but in 1883 the rations were reduced. It was rumoured that the rations would soon be eliminated entirely and the people left to starve.

The winter of 1883-84 was extremely severe and Indian agents complained that many people would not live until spring if the government didn’t provide more provisions. The government ignored these pleas and Poundmaker’s young men became restless. Young Crees and Stoneys, as well as Metis, began assembling on the Poundmaker reserve. They set up a warriors lodge in the centre of the camp and thereby, in accordance with tradition, took over decision making. Approximately 1000 people gathered and participated in a Thirst Dance.

The government sent a column of 325 men to arrest a band member. Poundmaker declined to give the man up, and offered himself instead. This was refused and government forces attacked Poundmaker’s camp at Cut Knife Hill. After a 7 hour battle they retreated in disarray. The warriors wanted to pursue them and could have dealt them a serious blow. Poundmaker was still greatly respected by the young men and when he counseled against further bloodshed, they listened.

At the same time, the Metis were in armed opposition to the government. When a group of them captured a government supply train Poundmaker intervened, ensuring they were protected and well treated.

After Louis Riel was defeated at Batoche in 1885, many of Poundmaker’s men wanted to continue the fight but he understood the futility of this. At a gathering of the band, he said, “ I know we are all brave. If we keep on fighting the whites, we can embarrass them, but we will be overcome by their numbers, and nothing tells us that our children will survive. I would sooner give myself up and run the risk of being hanged, than see my tribe and children shot through my fault.”

He and some followers gave themselves up and were immediately arrested. Poundmaker was put on trial for treason. The men he had saved from the Metis testified he had treated them generously and with compassion. Even so, he was sentenced to 3 years in Stony Mountain prison. Due to fear of a full blown revolt if he died in prison, he was released early. In ill health, he departed broken and dispirited, feeling betrayed by the government. While visiting Chief Crowfoot, he died while participating in a dance.

Poundmaker was a man of great honour and dignity. He was guided by a selfless desire to secure a good life for his people. Our nation would benefit if more politicians observed his honourable example.

Inspired By Hardy Cyclists

Cyclists At Manning Park
Cyclists At Manning Park

On the drive home from the Coast yesterday, we passed a lone cyclist struggling up a long incline. I thought of stopping and asking about his motivation, but I realized he wouldn’t want to lose his momentum. I really do admire and respect these seemingly intrepid souls who test their physical endurance and inner will by challenging British Columbia’s mountains. Sometimes I think I’d like to join them but I realize I’d need to train for at least a year and even then would walk up some of those climbs.

It’s that time of year. We’ll be seeing hardy cyclists again, in increasing numbers, making the arduous climbs. Then applying brakes on the long descents.

When we arrived at the the Manning Park Lodge, 3 young, very fit cyclists were taking a break. I asked one how far they had come and where they were going. “We came from Hope this morning,” he said. “It took about 3 hours. We’ll be getting back on the bikes shortly and returning.”

I was amazed. He wasn’t breathing hard and didn’t appear weary. He exuded enthusiasm and a physical zip I haven’t experienced for decades. I noted that there did not appear to be an ounce of fat on these young men. Obviously they are in the prime of life and enjoying their health and youth.

I could have been envious of these cyclists but I decided instead to be happy for them.

He Is Risen!

The Empty Tomb (pinterest photo)
The Empty Tomb
(pinterest photo)

In his 30th year, Jesus of Nazareth began propounding religious and social ideas that confounded and antagonized the Jewish religious elites of his time. He arrived on the scene during the reign of Caesar Augustus, and lived into the rule of Tiberius. Without an army or political party, his message brought more significant, lasting change than all the powerful Roman emperors combined. In the 33rd year of his life, the Jewish religious authorities succeeded in persuading Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to crucify him. According to accounts by Biblical writers like the former tax collector Matthew, he was resurrected on the third day and spoke with his disciples. It is this death on a cross and miraculous resurrection that will be celebrated by Christians around the globe this Easter.

The Roman empire had been cobbled together by 2 ambitious but uneasy partners, Caesar Augustus and Mark Anthony. Throughout its existence, the empire was held together by a web of intrigue, assassinations, political marriages, betrayals, poisonings, and war. Women were valued primarily for forging alliances. In Rome there were numerous temples to various gods, and men of nobility, including emperors, wished to be identified as near gods. Conquered nations usually suffered under a huge burden of taxation. Disobedience was often dealt with by crucifixion, beheading, poisoning or drowning.

In this septic atmosphere of mistrust and scheming, the Jewish religious leaders had managed to acquire a measure of political power. Their authority was lodged in the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. The council consisted primarily of 2 parties, the Sadducees, which at this time held the majority of seats, and the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed there would be a resurrection of the dead but the Sadducees did not. On other points of lesser importance they did agree and had developed an all encompassing system of religious rules which the people found virtually impossible to follow. The religious rulers could bar people from the temple if they didn’t comply. Since Jewish culture centered on religious traditions and especially on the temple, there was fear of being shut out.

It was not an auspicious time for the appearance of a man who claimed to be the Son of God. The Sadducees and Pharisees quickly became suspicious because he contradicted much of their teaching. They held to the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” philosophy. “Love your neighbour,” they said, “and hate your enemy.” Jesus urged the people to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” The chief priests and teachers of the law deemed his teaching to be heretical and sent spies to question him and report to them.

Jesus warned against the corruptness and false piety of the religious leaders. “They like to walk around in flowing robes,” he said, “and be greeted in the market places and have the most important seats in the synagogues. For a show they make lengthy prayers.”

Equally galling were the miracles. When he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, they accused him of breaking the law and began plotting to kill him.

Evidently the people were desperate for greater substance than the rules and platitudes offered by the pious, corrupt religious leaders. Crowds gathered around him, sensing his authenticity

and liking his positive message of forgiveness and hope. This fervent adulation aroused fear and jealousy in the Sadducees and Pharisees. When he brought Lazarus back from the dead, a member of the Sanhedrin said, “if we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away our place and our nation.”

Late one night, Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 disciples betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane. At dawn the religious leaders brought him before Pontius Pilate, demanding he be crucified. Jesus had warned his disciples this would happen.

Reluctantly, Pilate sentenced him and he was crucified between 2 criminals. One joined the scoffing. The other said, “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

Several writers in the Biblical New Testament report that Jesus died on the cross, was placed in a tomb, and was resurrected 3 days later. This Easter, Christians around the globe will again greet each other with “He is risen!”

Alexa In Basketball

Alexa (far left) with 3 basketball teammates
Alexa (far left) with 3 basketball teammates

Our granddaughter Alexa is an apt example of what can happen when we find the courage and will to step out of our comfort zone and attempt something seemingly out of our reach. Two years ago, in grade 8, she tried out for the junior girls basketball team at her school. Possibly she was inspired by her brother Brandon who was a star centre on the boys team. She frequently scrimmaged with him in their back yard.

At first Alexa’s timidity and anxiety on the court were palpable. She didn’t want to be a starter in games. When she was given the ball and had an opportunity to shoot, she looked for a team mate to whom she could pass.

Evidently the 2 coaches, a husband and wife team not employed by the school, recognized potential in her, were patient, and gave her plenty of personal attention. Alexa certainly did her part. Her commitment surprised all of us. She got up early for open gym before school. She participated fully in P.E. activities and stayed after school many days for team practice. In addition to this, she still scrimmaged with Brandon. Also, last year the coaches arranged for a contingent of players to play in Mt. Vernon, Washington State one night a week. That was a huge commitment, both for her and her mother,Vivian, our daughter.

This demanding schedule of practises and games, plus conditioning like running stairs, developed her body and mind. We became aware of an innate determination. Physically she developed endurance and agility.

A couple of weeks ago Linda and I drove to the Coast to watch Alexa’s team, the Bobcats, play in the Provincial tournament. The girls had grown in skill and belief. They had also come together as a team. Their conditioning became apparent when they were expected to play 2 full length games on the same day. Watching them streaking like sleek greyhounds from one end of the court to the other and then back, I envied their energy and endurance. The demanding physical preparation had stripped their bodies of all fat. They were young, fit, skilled, and committed.

We observed a new version of Alexa. The coaches had appointed her earlier in the season

to be team captain. The reason for this quickly became apparent. She had developed an astonishing work ethic. She harassed the opposing team verbally and could easily be heard from the bleachers. Her shooting and guarding had improved greatly. Her feisty attitude was inspiring, even to people in the stands.

The once timid girl has now been asked to play on the senior team next season. She and her mother are again driving to Mt. Vernon once a week and Alexa is practising with the team. Her new coaches are even more serious and demanding. They expect their team to win top honours in the Provincial Tournament next year. Basketball is taken seriously at this school. Alexa certainly has the commitment and drive to again contribute to a winning season.

Basketball, A Preparation For Life

Mascot for "The Demolishers"
Mascot for “The Demolishers”

There are times in life, as in a game of basketball, when the outcome is determined not only by the skills we have acquired, but also by the character and habits we have developed. I was reminded of this last week in a game between Langley’s Brookswood Bobcats and a team I will refer to only as the “Demolishers”. This game was of interest to me because my 6 ft. 5 grandson Brandon was playing centre for Brookswood.

Brandon began playing basketball in grade 8, at that time a tall, gangly kid with lots of energy but little finesse. Observing him in their backyard dribbling, feinting and shooting, his dedication and work ethic impressed me. At times I scrimmaged with him but my grandfatherly body couldn’t match his height, long arms, agile movements and increasing skill. Before long I retired from the backyard court and cheered him on from the comfort of the second story patio.

Now in grade 12, Brandon is finishing his last season of high school basket ball. Unfortunately, none of the Bobcat teams he’s played on over 5 years have been hugely successful. Several of the players he grew up with on the team were scarcely over 5 feet. Opposing players towered over them. In spite of the great height disadvantage however, the boys battled on, bringing enormous energy and commitment to each game. They developed the inner strength to play with amazing determination even when losing, which was frequently the case.

Mentally basketball hasn’t been as high a priority for Brandon this year. He has a pretty girlfriend and a part-time job. Although his passion for the game has diminished, his loyalty to the team has not. Their tallest player, he has many times thwarted the shots of opponents. He can also score. Aware of the team’s dependence on him, he has continued to play with the same vigour.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the Bobcats squeaked into the Fraser Valley Tournament. Knowing he was nearing the end of his high school basketball career, Linda and I made the trip to Langley to watch him play. Because the Bobcats were ranked low, we realized they’d immediately be matched against a strong, higher ranked team. We were dismayed to learn this would be the Demolishers, a team with a reputation for rough play.

All games in the tournament were scheduled to take place in the Demolishers home gym. Upon entering the gym, it was evident to us Demolisher fans intended to make noise a significant factor. Watching the Demolishers go through their warm up routine, I became conscious of how much bigger these boys were than the Bobcats. Their swagger suggested a high level of hutzpah. They had manhandled Brandon and his team 2 times in the regular season. Brandon had come home with an abundance of bruises from those games. The Demolishers were confident.

At their end of the gym, the Bobcats were going through warm up drills with quiet determination. In the previous match ups, the referees had allowed the Demolishers to push the Bobcats around almost at will, calling few penalties on them. If that happened again it would be a basketball version of dirty hand to hand combat. Life isn’t always fair, and basketball referees aren’t either.

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Expecting Demolisher fans would again attempt to distract his team with noise, one of the coaches had brought 2 garbage cans for fans to bang on. The mother of one of the Bobcats came with a shopping bag filled with noise makers. The coach had also announced in school he would bring $200 to pay the entry fee for students.

 

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When the play began, it quickly became evident the Bobcats would refuse to be intimidated by their bigger opponents. They surprised the Demolishers with their feisty defense and the scrappy manner in which the point guard drove in to the basket and scored. When the Demolishers tested reffing, a couple of penalties made it clear the refs would not tolerate their rough brand of play. This deprived them of their bullying advantage and permitted the Bobcats to play more creatively, less concerned they might be injured.

The Bobcats pressed relentlessly, determined to beat this team which had bruised their bodies and egos. In the end, their work ethic and inner strength enabled them to overcome a team that relied on intimidation. In basketball, as in life, character can still determine the outcome.

Basketball banner for Brandon's team at Provincials

George And Christina, Still Valentines

George & Christina, with a couple of Christina's creations.
George & Christina, with a couple of Christina’s creations.

For me a relationship that has been tested by the storms of life holds a more riveting fascination than young, often transitory romance. Aware of the cloud overshadowing the marriage of George and Christina Thiessen, and with Valentines Day approaching, I wanted to hear their story. Last week they invited Linda and me to their spacious heritage home in Hedley.

For reasons that will be revealed, George did most of the talking. “We met in Reno,” he began. “Christina was a passenger on the bus I was driving for Maverick Tours. The Tour Guide asked me what I like to do in Reno. I told her I’d probably go dancing. I just needed a partner. She introduced me to Christina, and that evening Christina was my dancing partner.”

She told me later she had not expected to hear from me again, after we returned to B.C.”

George had been married twice. His first wife had borne 3 children, then died at a young age. The second wife had become a demanding, unruly alcoholic and the marriage had been a crushing failure.

Upon meeting Christina, George realized she possessed the depth of character he had been longing for. Smitten by her pretty, smiling face and evident kindness, he called her.

In time they moved in together. “Christina wouldn’t marry me though,” George said. “She had also been hurt in previous relationships and didn’t want to commit again.”

George continued to drive the tour bus, at times away for 11 days, with only a 1 day break between trips. Christina was working at the Surrey Memorial Hospital, cleaning operating rooms. George’s driving schedule and their history of hurtful relationships might have made this a rocky union. Fortunately George’s stability appealed to Christina and reassured her.

When I lost my 17 year old son in a bike/automobile accident, it was a difficult time,” he said. “Christina stood by me. Then my daughter passed away and again Christina was at my side, supporting me.”

They saw an ad for a spacious home in Hedley and called the realtor. Entranced by the house and the large yard, they bought it. The house needed serious updating so George studied magazines, bought tools and set to work.

George & Christina, in front of their Hedley home, Oct. 2015
George & Christina, in front of their Hedley home, Oct. 2015

He began experiencing severe sciatic pain and Graham Gore, pastor of the Hedley Grace Church, drove him to Kelowna for surgery. After recovering, George and Christina attended the church on a Sunday morning to thank the congregation for their support. Liking the people and the atmosphere, they continued to attend. On May 30, 2009 Graham married them in a small ceremony on their park like grounds.

About 2 years later the aforementioned cloud appeared on the horizon, scarcely noticeable at first. “Tests were done and we were told Christina had a slow progressing form of dementia,” George said, a note of deep sadness in his voice.

The diagnosis changed their lives. “Christina was always very talented in crafting,” George said. “One year she made 30 teddy bears to give away as Christmas gifts. She inspired me to take up woodworking.”

He pushed back his chair. “Come,” he said, “we’ll show you some of our creations. He led us upstairs to 3 rooms where we were greatly impressed by an array of Christina’s stuffed animals lolling on chairs and George’s intricate wood creations displayed on the walls. A beguiling aura of genius pervaded these rooms.

George with one of his wood creations.
George with one of his wood creations.

The dementia has caused this creative activity to cease. Their lives have become constricted. They still attend the church but participate only briefly in the coffee time afterwards. “Christina becomes anxious in groups.”

George paused. “Sometimes when I’m doing yardwork she wanders off and I don’t notice Fortunately, if she stays on the route we walk, she can find her way back. Usually when people see her alone, I get phone calls. People want to help.”

Christina playing the keyboard.
Christina playing the keyboard.

Not all is lost. Christina played the key board for us and her rendition of the Blue Danube Waltz was delicate and pleasing. Also, we had observed that while George was talking about the dementia, she sensed his distress and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. When they go out, she requests his assistance in selecting appropriate combinations of clothes. Although her comprehension is limited, she is able to engage in simple exchanges.

I love Christina and I’m committed to her,” George said. “I won’t place her in a home. We’re in this together to the end.” They’re still Valentines.

Ayrelea In India

Ayrelea Nimchuk
Ayrelea Nimchuk

We would likely not be surprised if a 15 year old girl decided to spend at least a portion of her summer earnings on designer clothes, jewelry and cosmetics. Quite possibly Ayrelea Nimchuk of Hedley was also tempted by these allurements. I was amazed to learn that she chose instead to pay for a trip to India where she volunteered for about 3 weeks at a school for underprivileged boys.

Sitting in our sun room she said, “I heard Dan and Olga McCormick talking about going to a boys school in India. I asked when they were leaving and said I’d like to go with them.”After several discussions and some research, her parents agreed. Ayrelea saved her income from working at the Hedley Museum to pay almost $3000 for the trip. The Hedley Seniors’ Centre gave her $200 and the Hedley Grace Church contributed $500 for a chicken dinner for the approximately 500 boys at the school.

Prem Sewa is a free boarding school for boys from poor homes,” she said. “They can start at age 5 and go to grade 12. Parents are eager to have their sons attend. They know there is no future for them without an education. In their home these boys often received only one meal a day. At the school they get 3 meals. She smiled and said, “the plates are really big and the boys go back for second and third helpings. They eat it all.”

In addition to Dan and Olga, there were 3 other recruits from Keremeos. “ We played football (soccer) with them. It’s a big game there. Also, they love volley ball. Their ball is very hard but they really smack it. They are good players.”

Ayrelea in India (3)

Another smile. “They all wanted us to take pictures of them. They’d say ‘one photo’, but they meant many. They’d look at the picture and burst out laughing.”

According to the school’s website, it’s purpose is “to give children from poor homes, orphans and semi-orphans, a chance to study in schools and institutions, which otherwise would be closed to them.” There is a computer lab, a wood workshop, a mechanics shop and land to grow crops. If a boy demonstrates special promise, Frank Juelich the founder, will personally pay for him to attend college.

Ayrelea in India, rolling dough to make chapattis.
Ayrelea in India, rolling dough to make chapattis.

The school, which has a sister school for girls about 650 kilometers away, actually was not begun intentionally. As a young man Frank Juelich traveled in India and wanted to learn a local language. He found 3 young men with a desire to learn English and they began studying together and helping each other. One of these men knew a boy who needed an education and asked if they could help him. Soon there were 40 boys attending sessions.

Frank became aware of the pressing need for educational opportunities among the very poor. He returned to Canada, raised $42,000 and purchased 17.75 acres in a rural area.

Now the school has a small medical clinic with a nurse on duty. A doctor comes in once a week. They also have an ambulance. The boys bathe 2 times each day and learn about hygiene. Since the inception of the school, dormitories and other facilities have been constructed. A settlement has grown up around the facility, and approximately 150 children are day students at the school.

The language of instruction is Marathi, with English also required.“We sat with them in the English classes and helped them,” Ayrelea said. “When we went to the market, we took along a few of the boys who were more advanced in English to translate for us.”

I was impressed to learn that most of the staff are graduates of the school, including the Director and also the President. Frank Juelich, now elderly, is continuing as a consultant. He wants to die in India.

Ayrelea returned with many vivid memories. Cows, pigs and chickens wandering unmolested, cow dung used to fill joints in walls. Markets with a rich array of offerings. Also, she loved the peanut butter. For her the experience reinforced a desire to be involved in humanitarian work somewhere.

Ayrelea dressed in her salwar kameez.
Ayrelea dressed in her salwar kameez.

She’s a pretty young lady and really doesn’t need the designer clothes and jewelry. Her decision has provided her with rich experiences and memories, and it brought smiles to the faces of the boys in India.