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Giving back

'A very transformative experience' Add to ...

The Donor: John Nicola

The Gift: $100,000 and climbing

The Cause: Bulembu Foundation

The Reason: To help an African village become self-sustaining

About four years ago, John Nicola sat down for a chat with Volker Wagner. Mr. Wagner had just become a client at Mr. Nicola's Vancouver-based wealth management firm.

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Their discussion soon veered to a project Mr. Wagner, a Vancouver businessman, had launched in Africa. He had just bought an abandoned mining village in Swaziland for $1-million and he was working with local non-profit groups to rebuild the community and help care for a growing number of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

"He was very passionate," Mr. Nicola recalled. "He showed me the story and his plan to take care of 2,000 orphans by 2020 and make the village self-sustaining."

Mr. Nicola and his wife, Claire, had just set up a private foundation and they had been looking for a cause to support. They jumped at the chance to support Bulembu and began contributing $1,300 a month to help 10 orphans. They gradually became move involved and last year travelled to the village with their family.

"It was a very transformative experience for us and our kids as well," he said. "What's amazing about these young kids is when you think about some of their terrible backgrounds, they are so positive and they work very hard."

Thanks to the foundation the village has a school for about 250 children, a lumber mill, dairy herd, honey operation, bakery and a small bottled water business. About 1,200 people live in the area and many work in the various businesses.

Mr. Nicola has become more involved since the trip. His firm, Nicola Wealth Management, is a sponsor of two Bulembu fundraising concerts this weekend in B.C., featuring the Canadian Tenors, and six of his employees recently raised $17,000 from a bike ride. So far Mr. Nicola has raised about $100,000 for the foundation and he hopes to raise even more money and help supply the community with old textbooks and computers.

"Its one thing to make a gift simply by writing a cheque," he said. "It's quite another to actually be involved in the organization and meet the people who are running it and meet the beneficiaries of the actual giving as well."

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