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The Donors: Norma and Ben Fear

The Gift: Creating the NorBen Student Sponsorship Program

The Reason: To finance education for students in Uganda

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When Norma and Ben Fear retired many years ago, they did not plan a normal retirement.

"We decided long ago that we weren't just going to sit and enjoy ourselves," Mr. Fear recalled from the couple's home in Guelph, Ont. "We had to earn our keep on this Earth."

Mr. Fear, a former pharmacist, and Ms. Fear, a teacher, stopped working in the mid-1990s and headed to Guyana and Grenada to do volunteer work. In 1999, they joined friends on a two-month trip to Uganda to help build a school. That led to work with a local youth group on three more buildings, for educational training and a daycare.

The Fears soon discovered that many people in the youth group struggled to afford school and the couple decided to do something. They began funding a scholarship program, starting with two students and eventually growing into the NorBen Student Sponsorship Program, supporting more than 50 young people. Soon family and friends, including the congregation of Harcourt Memorial United Church in Guelph, started donating money but most of the funding came from the Fears' investments. "We are probably some of the few people who made money on Nortel," Mr. Fear joked. "All our married lives we've invested whatever spare cash we had."

Many of the sponsored students have gone on to university, with three pursuing postgraduate studies. Others have become teachers or work in tourism, forestry and other sectors. The Fears, both in their late 80s, plan to keep the program going for a couple of years, until the youngest students have finished their studies. Then some of the graduates plan to take it over and run a smaller version.

Ms. Fear said she still marvels at how far all of the students have come, given their difficult backgrounds. All it took was a school, three meals a day and some electric light to study by. "We're very proud of them," she added.



pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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