As posted on Inside Halton, April 13, 2015.
By Janis Ramsay
The Barrie resident has been to India four times in the past five years to volunteer with charity organization Sleeping Children Around the World.
During his latest month-long venture with wife Monika, which wrapped up March 5, he helped deliver 6,100 bed kits to impoverished children.
“It goes back to my parents in the mid-80s,” Sergeant said.
Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW) co-founder Murray Dryden had been on TV talking about the organization and, after watching it, Sergeant’s mom called Dryden at his Etobicoke home.
She volunteered to be the organization’s secretary, but just before Christmas that year, was offered the chance to go to South America to see the work herself.
“Over the years, my parents ended up doing about 17 trips through SCAW,” Sergeant said. “She had seen these children and I heard all of the conditions about the families — how they had nothing.”
In the army at the time, he would talk about his parents’ journeys.
“I never had the opportunity to travel with them, but in 1997, my wife Monika had the chance to go to Uganda with them on one of the distributions,” he said.
In 2007, the couple went on their first SCAW trip together to the Philippines.
Three years later, Sergeant retired from the Canadian Forces, but worked as a reservist for 15 months.
The couple has travelled to India every year since 2011, with Sergeant serving as team leader during the past three missions.
He’s made several friends over there.
“One individual got a bed kit 24 years ago in Mumbai and we now hire him to take us around on tours,” Sergeant said.
That boy ran away from home because his father beat him and his siblings, and he and his sister were found living in a railway station by a Jesuit priest, who ended up taking them to an orphanage.
“We were invited back to that gentleman’s house for a meal. It was absolutely amazing,” Sergeant said. “He had an apartment with his mom, sister and niece living there.”
Sergeant stayed in touch with the man through email, always using upper-case letters.
“He can’t read the small letters. He knows all the capital letters — he’s basically self-taught and now helps at this orphanage where he grew up.”
Sergeant said it’s nice to see the children smile when he hands out bed kits.
“They don’t smile much, until they’ve got that bed kit in their hand and they walk out the gate and go back to their parents,” he said. “Their parents say ‘bless you’. It’s the only thing they can give you because they don’t have anything else.”
Since its creation, SCAW has donated more than 900,000 bed kits to children in 33 different countries.
Sergeant appreciates the fact that 100 per cent of donations go toward buying the kits, which includes a wool blanket, plastic mat and kitchenware, such as a plate and mug or cup.
“There’s zero administrative overhead. We pay for our own trips out of our own pockets, without the benefit of a tax receipt,” Sergeant said.
Among the things he has learned through the trips is just how much Canadians have and how much we take for granted.
“We have so many safety nets here, between food banks, welfare payments and so many charities that do help people in Canada. Over there, there are so few safety nets and charities,” he said.
“You can do so many things, but it always seems so limited. People say it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people in India,” Sergeant said. “If you have enough drops in the bucket, eventually it fills up and if you have enough buckets, it becomes a pond.”