Estevan has proven to be a big supporter of Young Focus, a children's organization based in the Philippines, and the organization's founders, Paul and Ann van Wijgerdens, were in the Energy City recently to meet with supporters and participate in other activities.
It was a busy week-and-a-half for the couple. They attended different events and visited different attractions. And they appeared at a golf tournament on September 18 – the first time that Paul has ever been golfing.
The tournament was organized by Estevan's Tareina Hunt, who spent six months volunteering with Young Focus in late 2012 and early 2013. Hunt has been the connection between the organization and Estevan.
Hunt quickly became enamoured with Young Focus, and the children she encountered through its programs. And she capitalized on Estevan's generous nature to raise funds for Young Focus' programs and children.
“We couldn't believe that Estevan is such a small place, or a relatively small place, considering how many sponsors in such a small time have come from this one place,” Ann said.
They have also received a lot of donations, she said.
Paul said that about 40 individual children are being sponsored on a monthly basis by Estevan residents, and that it was through the support of people in the Estevan area that Young Focus was able to organize a massive Christmas dinner last year that fed nearly 700 people.
“Funny enough, sometimes I think that this is just the beginning,” said Paul. “As Ann said, it's a small city, but it has just wonderful people. The people are really open and really interested in what we're doing.”
The van Wijgerden's started Young Focus in Holland as a funding agency in the 1990s. Their vision grew to shift Young Focus to the Philippines in 2008. They had worked in the island nation in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“Before we only did fundraising for sponsorship of kids to go to school,” Paul said. “But just sending kids to school is not enough. Those kids in those really poor areas need more than school materials, a notebook or a uniform. There's a lot of coaching that they need as well, and a lot of psychological health.”
Their building is located Tondo, an impoverished, densely populated community in the Filipino capital of Manila. They have programs for children under the age of three, a Child Care Plus initiative for those between the ages of three and six, and Love to Learn, which provides education to children ages seven-and-up who otherwise wouldn't receive schooling.
While there is much work that needs to be done to combat poverty in the Philippines, the van Wijgerdens say it is worth it when they see how they have affected individual lives.
Hunt applauded them for their efforts.
“Paul and Ann are both extremely modest people, and they do make a difference,” said Hunt. “They make a huge difference. And I wouldn't have asked for so much support and help, and I wouldn't be going back, and I wouldn't have spent so much time and care to be there if I didn't see, every day, the changes of the looks in the kids faces from their environment when they're with Young Focus.”
Paul and Ann say they never intended to have humanitarians like Hunt visit their centre in Manila. About 90 per cent of their volunteers are Dutch.
“We've had people come to join us, whether it's been for a few weeks or for nine months, or up to a year,” said Ann. “There have been young people doing internships as part of a college or university course, or (there have been) professional people like Tareina.”
All of their volunteers are unique, they said, but when anybody finishes their stint at Young Focus, they come away with a deep love and respect for the Filipino people and the children.
They've also never had a volunteer like Hunt who raised so much money before or after her arrival, Ann said.
Hunt isn't finished with Young Focus, either. She has started a Canadian arm of the organization, and it already has its own board. She'll return to the Philippines for what is expected to be a two-month stint in December, and several friends will be joining her as well.