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MWI touched by Russell children’s effort to reunite Filipino families

A young brother and sister in Russell started fundraising to help raise money for airline 
tickets to help reunite new residents, formerly of the Philippines, with their children

The room was spellbound as 13-year-old Ayla Hamilton told her story to the Manitoba Women’s Institute convention here earlier this month.

She and younger brother Van, now eight, had come home from Mother’s Day brunch at the Russell Inn last spring with heavy hearts.

She explained how their mother Rheanne, who works at the hotel, knew many of the staff there. Because they were emigrés from the Philippines, they had left behind children they couldn’t yet afford to bring to Canada. Rheanne told Ayla and Van how she’d watched her co-workers trying to keep their composure as they watched families around them spending the day together. Some hadn’t seen their own children in as much as two years.

“When we got home my mom started crying and said she couldn’t imagine how hard it was for her friends,” Ayla said. “So after that, she thought we were upstairs playing but we were thinking of an idea.”

Their “idea” will mean a joyous spring reunion this year for several families in Russell and it has set the bar high for how a small town welcomes newcomers.

The young Hamiltons began a Kids Helping Kids fundraiser, taken up by local children and youth in Russell. They began door knocking with handwritten letters, and asking for donations. They made speeches at school, local churches, the theatre group in Binscarth, and at the Manitoba Women’s Institute’s local chapter in Russell. Van started a lemonade stand — and then a whole bunch of other kids did as well. Adults held garage sales and church dinners.

So far they’ve raised $13,000, said Hamilton. “And out of 23 kids that we have to bring over, nine of them will be brought over this year from all the generous donations. It’s really taken off. It’s gone very far.”

So touched by their story, MWI women at their convention the next morning quietly passed the hat and collected another $1,000.

“That will provide funds for one more child to come to Canada,” said Russell resident Joan Clement, who this month was sworn to serve the next two years as the MWI president.

Future president?

MWI might have heard “one of your future presidents speaking,” said Strinivasan or “Strini” Reddy, retired educator and former president of the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents. Reddy, well known in Manitoba for his child advocacy work, was keynote speaker for the conference. He had just given a rousing speech himself about how critical it is that communities start to pay more attention to the needs of children. “A village should make sure that every child is welcome and cared for by a supportive family and a caring community,” Reddy said.

He shared his own tale of helping to start a summer enrichment program in Winnipeg back in 2004 for inner-city children, so that, instead of spending their days bored and potentially getting into trouble, they could upgrade their math and literacy skills, go on field trips and spend their days having fun in safe and positive environments.

Reddy said the whole community needs to play a bigger role in giving all children the best opportunity to grow into good citizens. He said his message for MWI and all rural organizations is to get involved with and support things that support children. Association with kids also makes adults realize just what’s possible when you believe in something, such as what the children had done in Russell.

“They decided this wasn’t fair. Children have this sense of social justice,” Reddy said. “What a great example for us adults when children do this.”

Clement said she hopes other MWI locals will find many other opportunities to support children and children’s programs in their communities.

It’s exciting to see a young generation coming up that wants to be involved in both local and global action, said Clement, adding that young people will define the future of organizations like their own too.

She said she would like to see the institute’s members each begin to very conscientiously and deliberately mentor a younger person to foster the values of their organization within a new generation.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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