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Barbara Dunsworth makes Christmas cards with children at the Children's Centre in Managua.

The donors: Ed and Barbara Dunsworth

The gift: Creating Pathway to Progress Nicaragua

The reason: To finance child education programs in Nicaragua

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A few years ago, Ed Dunsworth figured his career and his life were set. He'd spent more than 20 years as a lawyer in Halifax, specializing in personal injury cases, while his wife Barbara stayed at home and raised their three children.

On a whim he decided to check out a group that was headed to Nicaragua to build some houses with Habitat for Humanity. "I went to a meeting and I never thought that I would ever go," Mr. Dunsworth recalled. "I thought my wife would say no."

In fact, Ms. Dunsworth encouraged him to go and he spent 12 days in 1997 in the northern part of the country working on the housing project. "That was my real first face-to-face experience with poverty and I was really blown right off my feet," Mr. Dunsworth said. When he returned, Ms. Dunsworth "took one look at me and said, 'What happened, you're different.' "

Within a few months, the entire family had left for South America, first to Argentina and Chile with Habitat for Humanity and later to Nicaragua with Hand in Hand Ministries. While in Managua, the Dunsworths volunteered at some schools and were shocked by the lack of resources. In 2005, they decided to start Pathway to Progress, a charity that helps underprivileged children attend school by giving them scholarships, school supplies, transportation and other resources. They started with three children and now help 75, from 6-year-olds to teenagers.

"We are trying to give poor children a chance at an education," said Ms. Dunsworth. "We wanted to do something that was significant." She added that the charity receives support from a volunteer fundraising group in Halifax which hopes to pull in $50,000 this year.

The Dunsworths have been in Nicaragua for more than six years and have no interest in returning to Canada (they now have grandchildren in Belize and Halifax).

"People thought we were crazy at the time when we were leaving Canada, but we've gotten a lot more out of this than we have ever put into it," said Mr. Dunsworth. "It has just been a wonderful experience."

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