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Robin Pawliuk with a family in in Guatemala

The Donor: Robin Pawliuk

The Gift: Mayan Families Canada

The Cause: Helping families in Guatemala

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Seven years ago Robin Pawliuk and her family went to Guatemala for a few weeks to volunteer at a clinic.

During the trip, Ms. Pawliuk and her teenaged daughter, Leigh, talked about doing something long term to help people in the impoverished region around Lake Atitlan, about 140 kilometres west of Guatemala City. "We saw the need for what was happening down there and that's when Leigh said, 'We've got to do it,' " recalled Ms. Pawliuk, a teacher in Parksville, B.C., north of Nanaimo.

Shortly after the family returned home, Ms. Pawliuk made a presentation to students and teachers at her school, Springwood Middle School. She talked about the region and how the school could help. "There was just an overwhelming support," she recalled.

Ms. Pawliuk and Leigh soon formed Mayan Families Canada and began raising money and collecting shoes, toiletries, blankets and clothes. They packed everything in suitcases and headed back to Guatemala to distribute the donated goods.

They've been going back every summer since and today Mayan Families raises about $50,000 annually. Along with distributing household items, the charity has sponsored education for 28 students, built five houses and helped build a community centre. This summer 16 people from across Canada will accompany the Pawliuks to Guatemala, each loaded down with donated supplies.

The charity has become a total family endeavour. Ms. Pawliuk's husband, David, and son, Nick, are involved along with Leigh, now 21, who is planning a career in international development.

Ms. Pawliuk said the charity's biggest accomplishment has been engaging students at Springwood and a dozen other schools across Canada who raise money. She recalled one young boy who was reluctant to get involved at first. "He came up to me three weeks later and said 'I never knew that helping somebody else could make you feel so good.' " she said. "That said it all to me."

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