Langley’s Desiree Wallace, shown here during a 2012 trip to Peru with Hope International, is hoping to raise $3,500 in July through a coin drive at downtown Langley City businesses. The money will be used by the aid organization to provide clean, safe water for villagers in the Bonke region of Ethopia.

Change for life

A downtown Langley coin drive aims to raise enough money to provide 100 people in Ethiopia with clean water

It’s only small change, but when enough of it is gathered, it can add up to big changes for people who need it the most.

Transforming the lives of families in Africa who lack even the most basic necessities, is the aim of a coin campaign centered in downtown Langley City this month.

It was started at the beginning of July by Desiree Wallace on behalf of Hope International Development Agency.

Wallace, a student in Capilano University’s Global Stewardship program, is working with the New Westminster-based organization for the summer. She has been approaching downtown Langley businesses to ask them to participate in a coin drive, with proceeds helping to fund clean water projects in Ethiopia.

In the Bonke region of the east African nation, villagers draw their water from ponds, rivers, and unprotected springs, most traveling up to an hour to access water, which is often contaminated. This leads to disease, diarrhea, dehydration and trachoma (a contagious bacterial infection of the eye) —  problems which are made worse by drought conditions, according to the Hope International website.

It costs just $35 to provide one person in the region with clean water for life, explained Wallace.

“It can help transform a life, which is pretty amazing.”

Wallace’s goal is to help 100 people by raising $3,500 during the month-long campaign, which invites shoppers to empty their pockets of all those cumbersome coins.

The campaign actually began as a penny drive. With the one cent coins being removed from circulation in Canada, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to ask people to donate them to charity.

Pennies were quickly joined by nickels, dimes and quarters as businesses along the Fraser Highway one-way, and beyond, joined Wallace’s fundraiser.

The coin drive is a Hope International initiative, which Wallace has applied locally, she notes. But it’s what happens with that money once it’s collected that matters.

“Hope is all about self-sufficiency,” said Wallace.

The agency works with grassroots organizations overseas, and all the projects in which it becomes involved are piloted locally, she said.

Although she hasn’t traveled to Africa, Wallace has first-hand experience with overseas humanitarian work through Hope International.

Last year, the Langley Secondary graduate helped raise $10,000 and spent a month with a group in Peru, where the money they brought helped build floating garden rafts.

For much of each year, when the Amazon basin is flooded, agricultural land is left under water, leading to huge food security issues, Wallace explained.

Using the money collected in B.C., villagers built floating gardens which rise and fall with the flood waters, keeping crops high and (relatively) dry.

In the case of the Ethiopian wells, locals will also be in charge of the projects which will bring clean, safe water directly to their communities, saving lives and hours of walking.

On Aug. 1, Wallace plans to host a gathering at the Langley Arts Council’s Artists in Residence gallery for the Langley City businesses that have participated in the month-long campaign.

The event will include live music, refreshments and a screening of the documentary ‘A Thirst for Africa.’

“It’s a very inspiring film. It helps you to understand how transformative the (availability) of water in villages can be,” she said.

Part of the reason for the gathering, she said was to bring the businesses together and thank them for their commitment to the campaign.

“We (also) want to give them an idea where their efforts are going, and use the event as a catalyst for more change,” said Wallace.

For the young Langley woman, that catalyst was her parents, who she describes as unfailingly generous people.

Growing up as the youngest of seven siblings in Langley, Wallace, 20, developed a social conscience early in life.

When she was five, her mother, Rosemary, brought her to help out at Joe’s soup kitchen at St. Joseph’s catholic church.

“I became aware of poverty and how extending compassion and help to people in need can bring about change,” she said.

In high school, she got involved with Free the Children, which takes aim at childhood poverty and exploitation around the world.

She also co-ordinated LSS’s social justice club.

But it was later, as Wallace traveled in South America, that she noticed something extraordinary about the people she met in the remote Peruvian villages.

“They have next to nothing, but you go into their homes and their arms are wide open and welcoming,” she said.

“I thought, ‘why are these people so content with so little?’ At home, we have so much and people aren’t happy.”

“I think our consumerist culture dilutes our humanity,” said Wallace.

“I began thinking  locally — how can we (create) a paradigm shift?”

Enrolling in the global stewardship program put Wallace in contact with plenty of likeminded people.

“I knew I wasn’t alone. Being in the program — everyone is trying to spark that shift in different ways,” she said.

Whether its scarcity, pollution or an over-abundance, water is critical to life

“This (coin) campaign, in particular, brought everything together. Everything I’ve learned is wrapped up in this — water is a huge global and local crisis.”

Wallace expects to continue her studies once she has completed the global stewardship program.

“I see myself as a community organizer,” she said, adding she expects to achieve many of her goals “through the power of arts and culture.

“Music, dance, acting, film, photography — it’s simple, but it can encapsulate issues of life and change.” she said.

“I’m interested in bringing people together through those (avenues).”

Anyone not involved in the coin campaign, who would like to attend the Aug. 1 event, is invited to contact Wallace by email at desireew@hope-international.com.

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