Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 27, 2000
Neighbours around the world
St. Paul group active in supporting Third World development
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Margaret Michaud and her friends are looking to buy some cows. A small herd of 14 will do.
Michaud and the members of Friends for World Development want to raise enough funds in the next couple years to buy enough cows for a milk co-op in the village of Tezpur in northern India.
This is one of many projects the group has supported in the two years since it was established.
"I remember (Senator) Doug Roche saying one time that if we don't help our neighbours, they will not only be knocking on our doors, but breaking down our doors," said Michaud, president of Friends. "That may sound like a selfish motive for doing this - because we don't want them coming to our doors - but I think there is a greater motive."
And that greater motive, Michaud said, is the fact "they are our neighbours, no matter how far they are. We have to take care of one another, our neighbours and our families.
"Our world has become a global village. Our neighbours are not next door or just a mile away anymore. No matter how far they are, everyone has the same needs."
The needs of families in Tezpur are like that of any family in Alberta. But in Tezpur, even earning a dollar, which would feed and educate a child for one day, is no small feat.
"What little we can do here is a big thing over there," said Michaud, a former teacher. "We can raise a few hundred dollars here and we don't think it's a lot, but it's overwhelming for them."
The purpose of the group is to help set up self-sustaining cottage industries for the villagers.
"This is something they can learn and make a living from," Michaud said. "It's not something we have to continue to send money for all the time."
The first project was to raise funds to buy looms, and sewing and knitting machines. In the past two years, the group has raised enough money for the village to purchase 70 of these looms and machines.
Villagers were taught how to use the machinery and sell their products. Once they are established in their trade, they will pay back the money for the machine, so that another loom or machine can be purchased for another family.
The St. Paul group dates back to the mid-1970s when Michaud's husband George and a few local businessmen and community leaders were inspired by the work of Mother Teresa and a Habitat for Humanity conference.
They rallied the town of St. Paul and built a house, which they raffled off. The proceeds from the house and a matching government grant amounted to almost $1 million.
With that money, the group established the Barbara Ward Institute, later known as the Learner Centre, a place to educate local people about Third World poverty, and donated about $350,000 to a leper colony in India. The rest went to a fund for projects organized by Mother Teresa.
"The institute continued to conscientize the people of St. Paul," Michaud said. "We wanted people to become more aware of what was happening in our world."
During this time, Michaud left much of the fundraising and educating work to her husband, who died in 1989. She later met Devasia Nellikunnel, now director of Welfare Association for Relief and Regional Development (WARRD) in India, who convinced her to form a partnership with his organization.
After much convincing and soul searching, Michaud and six of her neighbours met in April 1997 and formed Friends, which replaced the Learner Centre. WARRD helps to set up and organize the projects in Tezpur.
St. Paul's support for the group has gone beyond Michaud's expectations. Some neighbours have taken it upon themselves to raise funds for the group. A local gathering of ladies who meet weekly for coffee decided to each put a dollar in a can every time they get together.
"I've been here for 30 years, people know me, they trust me. They know what we're doing and who we're raising money for."
The group is also active in fundraising through raffles and special events. They also hold bingos to raise money for the administrative costs, such as stamps and office supplies.
"We're all volunteers," Michaud said. "So the money we raise for the projects, 100 per cent of it goes to the projects."
The organization has brought an energizing spirit to Michaud over the past two years. Everyday brings her new enthusiasm for the projects she helps fund.
"It's not much, but it's big to us," Michaud said. "We see what a little money can do for someone. It's seems little, but it can be someone's livelihood.
"I think this is changing hearts. It's not easy sometimes, but hearts have to be changed to make things better for everyone."
For more information on Friends for World Development call (780) 645-3125 or (780) 645-4314.