Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 25, 2003
Oblate roots nourish aid worker
World Job and Food Bank director draws from two forces
By BYRON PRICE
Special to the WCR
Many men and women journey in ecclesiastical circles for years and then leave for one reason or another. And many of these men and women then move on to become a positive leaven in our society.
We, as Church, celebrate our brothers' and sisters' lives in God's vineyard. This is one of their exquisite stories.
Joseph Edison grew up in a fishing village in Sri Lanka in Southeast Asia. Edison was one of 10 children whose father held down three jobs to feed his Catholic family.
At 14, Edison entered the Oblate seminary. He left the seminary shortly after Vatican II at the age of 23. The lessons he learned there would be a primary motivating force that cast him onto the world stage as he reached out to the poor.
Today, Joseph Edison is executive director of the World Job and Food Bank's (WJFB) head office in Calgary. The organization began in 1985 in a small four-by-10 foot room.
Edison tells the story. "That year was the year of the Mexican earthquake. Our small organization raised $3 million in food aid for the relief effort."
Today Edison looks out over his headquarters in downtown Calgary with the same energy as when he started the brown bag lunch program for Calgary's street children which feeds over 400 young people a day.
Hyper Mother Teresa
One close friend described Edison as Mother Teresa in hyper mode.
Edison says: "I try to take the best of my Oblate training and infuse it in my staff and our projects all over the world. Once an Oblate, always an Oblate and I mean that seriously."
WJFB is a Canadian NGO (non-government agency) and has 75 projects all over the world. It has an annual budget of $1 million as well as millions of dollars of in-kind donations, such as medical supplies, which help in places like Iraq.
Edison says: "We must follow God to the very best of our ability. But we must never forget he is the carpenter with the chisel which makes us into an authentic image of him. Jesus' invitation is always a call to be a helping servant to his people."
Of God's help in his organization, Edison says: "God has always sent us wise counsel and good benefactors when we are up against great challenges. I believe my prayer life and being involved in development work at home and abroad has invigorated me to do more in the name of Jesus."
This dedicated man leads a hectic life. Edison is on the phone to the WJFB New York office at the United Nations and as I interview him, I ask him about the letter I see on his desk from Premier Ralph Klein. "Mr. Klein is congratulating WFJB for being the only Canadian NGO approved by the United Nations in 2003," he replies.
Edison's creativity and candid responses when discussing the world's most disadvantaged are refreshing and evocative. Edison explains: "Money is just toilet paper, but when it is used to help the poorest child and woman on the planet it becomes gold."
He does not say this flippantly, and backs it up. A sanitation project in Durita, Indonesia hits at the heart of Edison's philosophy of always seeing the face of Christ in the poor.
In most Third World countries, sanitation and good drinking water are basic to the dignity and survival of the poorest of the poor.
"I am a fortunate man to have had two loves in this life that make me a better Christian person."
- Joseph Edison
Edison tells the Durita story:
"The people used the Ciliwung River as a bathroom, for drinking, cleaning and garbage disposal, so many contracted water born diseases such as diarrhea, intestinal worms, skin fungus scabies, typhus and other skin diseases.
"The WJFB wished to help these people with the basic sanitation -- what we take for granted in the West.
"We built a sanitation facility. It consisted of three toilets, three bath areas and a wash area outside the buildings for cleaning clothes and dishes. There are three other facilities like this one in this area and a thousand families are being helped.
"WJFB program of education regarding no littering in the river has also resulted in a significant reduction in water born diseases. And the early indication from our statistics is that water born diseases are being reduced and God's people will be treated with the basic dignities of life."
Edison embraces the strengths of his Oblate life and his married life and celebrates both.
"The Oblates gave me a life of Christ and a framework for helping the poorest of the poor," he says. "My wife Swati and son Anshul gave me the courage to go on when things looked impossible. I am a fortunate man to have had two loves in this life that make me a better Christian person."