Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 13, 2004
Zyps turned words into action
Recent honour leaves couple with mixed emotions
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Through their children's eyes 30 years ago, Hank and Tillie Zyp saw an unjust world filled with starvation and child labour enforced by trigger-happy political regimes. They saw rampant disease and extreme poverty. They witnessed scars on the backs of children from heinous taskmasters.
Their daughters, Theresa and Michelle, came home and told their parents stories from the Lebanese, African, Central and South American refugees who had become the girls' friends.
The Zyp family began dinner-table discussions that led Hank and Tillie to gather some 20 of their friends in their Devon-area basement, who affirmed that if anything could be done, they would try to help.
Hank was a teacher at St. Joseph High School and, in 1975, with Tillie and fellow teacher Jim Salzyn, they formed a non-government organization (NGO) called St. Joseph's Save the Children Club, after listening to a speaker from India talk about her life. Students learned about extreme living conditions in Central and South America. The organization was renamed Rainbow of Hope for Children in 2000.
They began speaking out at a time when anyone with a social conscience was dismissed as a "tree hugger."
With their friends, the Zyps also founded Change for Children, identifying the primary victims of injustice while suggesting the need for change with financial help.
"People labelled us as pinko and communists," Tillie said.
Today, the Zyps can be called heroes because from those tiny meetings and after scraping together $3,000 from bake sales, bottle drives and bingos, Change for Children (with Rainbow of Hope) has become one of Canada's largest NGOs, providing financial aid for numerous development and social justice projects in the Third World.
Healthy drinking water, medical supply stations, agricultural production and village schools from Mexico to Chile, from Africa to the Philippines, have benefitted the lives of thousands of impoverished people because the Zyps and their friends dreamed it could be done.
The Alberta government's Wild Rose Foundation recently chose the Zyps as recipients of the 2004 Stars of the Millennium volunteer award and induction into the province's volunteer wall of fame.
Tillie does not feel vindicated by the recognition because Change for Children was never meant to serve themselves. "We really have a lot of mixed emotions because who are the people who made it possible for us to get this award?" Tillie asked in an interview.
"It is the refugees and the street people; the voiceless ones; the rejected ones. We have worked with development overseas and with Edmonton's inner city. We got started because of their need, and because of our need to want to help them. And not just with our voices, but with our actions.
"They were our motivators. We got out of it much more than we gave. We got love."
The partnerships CFC has established with people and NGOs in the developing world, helping them to become self-sustaining, is something everyone should experience, Tillie said.
"When you reach out a helping hand to someone, you don't do it thinking about how much you'll get out of it. You do it because you care. It's difficult sometimes because you think everyone should do it; that life should be that way."
Fundraising continued as CFC's volunteer base and development projects expanded. The Zyps approached the provincial government for a grant. Ray Verge, former executive director of the Alberta Agency for International Development, not only matched their $3,000, but challenged the organization to increase that to $30,000. CFC doubled that amount. Funding from the Canadian International Development Agency came later.
"Hank was into everything. He had tremendous energy before his health began to fail," Verge said.
A WCR columnist for more than 10 years, Hank suffered a stroke on April 24, 2002. He sustained brain damage affecting his right side and his speech.
"I got to know the Zyps one day when they appeared in my office telling me what they had in mind. I did everything I could to make things better for them," Verge said.
"They were brought up good Catholics. They bent over backwards to work with priests and nuns all over the world."
"Hank used to return after visits to Latin America … absolutely heartbroken,"
- Tillie Zyp
The Zyps were astounded that the poor did not want charity, but demanded justice. From their basement, they considered projects, thanked donors and published CFC's newsletter, Bridge of Hope.
Eventually government grants enabled the hiring of three staff members. Because of CFC's educational service to the school system, Edmonton Catholic Schools agreed to provide an empty classroom in St. Michael's School in 1986 for use as office space.
Retired Senator Jean Forest was a newly-elected school board trustee when she met Hank. She was immediately impressed by his poise and knowledge. She later learned Hank immigrated to Canada from Holland with no money and little education. He was a self-made man with a heart of gold.
"This is wonderful. I am so happy for them," said Forest.
"I met Hank at St. Joe's in 1968. I thought he was a tremendous teacher not just for the curriculum, but for teaching the children about life," she said.
"I met Tillie later and when they started CFC, I really followed them through that. It is a charity I still support. Not only with his teachings in school and the columns he wrote, Hank has always been for the under-privileged. It took a lot of courage for him to speak out on the subjects he did."
Forest called the Zyps "tremendous role models" because they started CFC in their basement with little more than a telephone for resources. She said the board thought their organization was "something worthwhile" and provided a classroom.
The Zyps were unrelenting in raising awareness of social injustice in countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua.
"Hank used to return after visits to Latin America, using his own vacation time, absolutely heartbroken," Tillie said. "Children would run to him if only for a scrap of bread. But he always remarked about their kindness. Love poured from them."
"Tillie has been wonderful. I just think they are the greatest couple," Forest said.
Change for Children operates with an annual budget around $500,000 - a third of which is provided by government grants.
Anyone wishing to contact Change for Children and Rainbow of Hope, can call (780) 448-1505.
"Hank was into everything. He had tremendous energy before his health began to fail."
- Ray Verge
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