Music and dance are a universal language.
So too is volunteerism. For Listowel’s Crystal Jedrzejewski, all three have the power to bring together the residents of two very distant continents.
On June 13 at Listowel District Secondary School, Jedrzejewski, with the help of several local dance studios, will celebrate that sense of global community by raising funds for the Salem Orphanage Home in Kisumu, Kenya.
“It’s basically a way for our community to get together and inspire each other so that we can make a difference. … It’s a way for those in our community to help those in another community,” she said, noting that dance and volunteerism are both personal passions of hers: Combining the two came naturally.
Jedrzejewski first learned about the project in Kisumu after doing some research about potential locations where she and a friend might offer their services. The two ultimately decided on Salem Orphanage Home and spent May 2008 volunteering with the organization.
Supporting and aiding the community of the largest city of Nyanza Province through its orphanage, primary and secondary school, church and community outreach program, the non-profit organization is grassroots defined. It was established by Pheobe and John Onyango, who grew up in poverty in the same community, in 1992. The Onyangos formed the organization in an effort to provide the community’s youth, many of whom were orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS, with better futures.
The facility helps both children and other members of the Kisumu community through schooling and outreach and by providing a home for those children who don’t have one.
The orphanage usually houses some 100 youths, sponsors children from the slums to go to school, and aids community members with medicine, treatment and awareness of HIV/AIDS.
Battling through economic difficulties in a country where government funding is scarce, and where available cash often goes toward the upkeep of roads crucial to the tourist industry (an invaluable source of national income) before supporting much needed social programs, the Oyangos cast their nets further, searching for help from beyond their own community. But in recent years, the already strained cash flow coming from abroad took an even harder hit and many supporting charities cut short their contributions. As a result, the orphanage downsized, and now houses just 65 children and sponsors just 100 to go to school; the community clinic has been closed completely.
“The stress of poverty … trying to make extra money to feed extra mouths is just very unbearable. Whereas here in Canada we have different social services that we’re able to go to, to get at least some help, where over there the government doesn’t have enough money to be spending on social services,” said Jedrzejewski.
Still in contact with the Onyangos, Jedrzejewski this year raised some $4,000 through garage sales, hot dog vending and selling “Be The Change” T-shirts (by Me to We – Free the Children). Those monies will go to the orphanage, as well as helping to pay for teachers and other education costs.
Jedrzejewski, with the help of the Rotary Club of St. Catharines, hopes to beef up that contribution by hosting the dance performance next month. Studios from Listowel, Wingham and Elmira (Encore Dance Studios), along with a few vocalists from Elmira, Listowel and St. Catharines, will be performing.
Jedrzejewski plans on attending teacher’s college in September and won’t be heading back to Kenya for some time. However, impressed and impacted by the resilient people she met and having learned some valuable life lessons in Kisumu, Jedrzejewski is eager to return in the future.
“I realized how many luxuries I’ve grown up with, simple things like deodorant, being able to open a fridge, realizing something’s going to be in there, running water,” she said.
“To actually experience what people actually go through instead of just reading about it is a whole different story.”
The dance performance takes place on June 13 at Listowel High School. The first of two will run from 2 to 4 p.m.; the second from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $5 and can be obtained at Keil and Dadson Insurance in Listowel or by calling Jedrzejewski at (519) 291-5702.
Once they purchase their tickets, spectators can enter a free door prize. Information tables collecting donations, individual sponsorships, and Be the Change T-shirts for sale will also be on hand.