Thursday, March 15, 2012

Education at heart of global partnership

As posted on the Western News website, March 15, 2012
By Paul Mayne

Photos courtesy of Don Barclay
Richard Ivey School of Business professor emeritus Don Barclay received the full attention of the children of Agbelouve, a small village in Togo (West Africa) on a visit in April 2011.

When Don Barclay met up with his brother, Bob, for a few beers last April, the outcome was quite remarkable. Not only did the two share stories of their recent trip to Togo in West Africa, where Barclay aided his brother in distributing 5,000 beds kids with Sleeping Children Around the World, they decided to make an even bigger impact in an area close to Barclay’s heart – education.

“When I retired I decided I would try and give back locally, provincially and globally,” said Barclay, who retired from the Richard Ivey School of Business in 2008 after 23 years. “I went over with my brother with the intention of being supportive of him and Sleeping Children, with perhaps it being my global initiative.”

But as the bed kits were being handed out in the schoolyard of the small village of Agbelouve, the delight of hundreds of children was muted by what Barclay saw.

“When we were at these villages it became very clear the schools were a mess,” said Barclay, who took a tour with the impassioned principal of the school. “A couple (buildings) were fairly okay, but one was thatch roofed and wide open. During rainy season, the school can’t use it and have to jam all the kids into the other buildings, or they even stay home.”

What happened next was “an easy decision to make.”

Along with his brother and friends Anne Langlois Carette and Simon Carette, both physicians and professors at University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, Barclay established Support. Education. Togo. (SET) with aims to improve the entire idea of education in Togo.

Not just through the much needed school construction and repair, SET has also arranged for scholarships, books and supplies, teacher salaries and, when needed, partnering with other groups to create water and sanitation facilities.

“More pragmatically, education is directly associated with breaking the cycle of poverty and with life enhancement,” Barclay added. “Education leads to improved health, higher income, thoughtful family planning, and greater opportunity to guide the development of a country.”

Less than a year after partnering in Togo with Action Enfance et D√©veloppment (AED), a registered charity based in the capital city of Lom√©, two projects have been completed – a new school in Agbelouve and a repairs to a school in Agalepedo. A third project is planned to begin this May in Asso, filling a need for three classrooms and a principal’s office/secure storage area for a school of 468 children.

A new 2,881 square-foot, three-classroom school in Togo costs approximately $35,500.

“It’s not just about building schools; it’s about education. We’re not going into a community to build a school and leave,” Barclay said. “We will only go into communities where the principal, village chief and parents association are on board. It has to be a community effort to keep this going.
“Anything we can do to support education, we’ll do. It’s all about the kids. These kids have such a great attitude and sense of gratitude that it’s easy to do it from that standpoint. The adults in the village are just so dedicated to their kids and will help in any way that will, in turn, help their kids.”

Photos courtesy of Don Barclay
The before and after pictures of the local school show the change being made by Support. Education. Togo., a non-profit organziation created by Barclay and three others to improve the entire idea of education in Togo.

Villagers provide manual labour and as much material for the projects as they can.

Barclay said while the first year has seen close to $100,000 in completed projects – initially funded though the four founding members – SET will be busy this year seeking support for upcoming projects in West Africa. And with 100 per cent of donor funds going to projects, and not one cent for administration costs, Barclay hopes fundraising will be successful.

“If they don’t have a book, that cost 10 cents, they can’t go to school. And the money is not there for them to buy such a book,” Barclay said. “The core purpose is to support young girls and boys who have no possibility of attending school, to ensure that they receive a good education, and to improve their health and lives.”

Barclay’s brother will be returning to West Africa in May, as part of Sleeping Children Around the World, and will see first-hand the difference SET has made in such a short time. Barclay said he’d love to make a return trip to Togo in the near future, but, for now, is happy to know change is being made.

“This may sound hokey, but I feel completely blessed to be able to give back,” he said. “It’s always a great day when you can.”