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Small gifts make a big difference for students in South Africa

Rickeen Martins, right, was awarded a scholarship by the Siyakhulisa Abantwana Foundation. Lynne Brown, left, is a trustee.

The donor: Alan Russell

The Gift: Creating the Siyakhulisa Abantwana Foundation

The Reason: To help children in South Africa

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When Alan Russell's daughter Anna headed to Durban, South Africa in the early 1980s to work on women's rights issues, he decided to pay her a visit.

Dr. Russell knew little of the country and didn't know what to expect. "I went out to visit her and I found it really fascinating and saddening," he said from his office in Brampton, Ont., where he specializes in pain management.

He was struck by the poverty, lack of educational opportunities, rampant AIDS and malnutrition. When he returned to Canada, Dr. Russell began writing articles about what he saw and the plight of people in South Africa.

Eventually his interest in the country led him to Lynne Brown, a former school teacher in Somerset East, a small city 180 kilometres north of Port Elizabeth. The community has high unemployment, hundreds of AIDS orphans and crushing poverty.

"Lynn said to me, 'Instead of writing, why don't you do something?'" Dr. Russell recalled. In 2008, he and his wife, Lucie, visited Ms. Brown and they began making plans to set up a charity to address local issues.

That led to the creation of the Siyakhulisa Abantwana Foundation, which means "We are nurturing the children."

The charity works on a simple structure. Ms. Brown identifies a local need and Dr. Russell raises money in Canada to find a solution. Most of the financing involves scholarships and the contributions have been as little as $150 to help a student finish the final year of a program or $100 to cover a student's transportation costs. The foundation has also funded school supplies and programs at a foster home.

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"Lynne can ring me and say, 'We've got a problem, somebody can't do this or that.' and we can deal with it instantly," said Dr. Russell, who has raised $30,000 so far with another $10,000 pledged.

"It's psychotherapy from the world we live in," he added. "It's psychotherapy for me in the sense that we are doing a little bit of good."

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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