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  • Paul Van Nest


In August 2001, I received a call from Bradley Sumner, a co-founder of the Kim Phuc Foundation. Readers may recall the front cover of a 1973 issue of Life Magazine that showed a 9-year old Vietnamese girl, badly burned and naked, running from the napalm that was used to bomb her village. Years later, ‘the little girl in the picture’ – Kim Phuc - became a Canadian citizen living in Toronto, and Rotary International had made her a Rotary Peace Ambassador. I was secretary of the Rotary Club of Kingston at the time and Bradley wanted to know if the club would be interested in hosting Kim. Bradley asked: “Who would I speak to?” I responded, “You’re talking to him.”

The three Kingston clubs along with the Rotary clubs in Gananoque and Napanee hosted two presentations in McArthur Hall at Queen’s University on the Remembrance Day weekend of 2001. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. However, the most moving experience was at KCVI on the following Monday morning when about 700 students from grades 11 and 12 heard Kim’s presentation. When she asked for questions, one student stood up and said most appropriately: “We have no questions; we are in awe.”

The $13,000 raised from ticket sales and donations was split equally between the Kim Phuc Foundation and Rotary. Our clubs decided to follow Kim’s lead and help children, the victims of war. At the time, refugee families in need of medical attention were fleeing Sudan and pouring across Kenya’s northern border into the Kakuma Refugee Camp. We worked with Rotarian Dr. Ivan Stewart and Dr. Dan Poenaru from Queen’s University who both had practiced at BethanyKids Hospital near Nairobi.

Our clubs partnered with the Rotary Club of Naivasha to receive matching grants from the Rotary Foundation. Our original $6,500 doubled to $13,000 before CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) matched this, bringing our total donation to $26,000! With surgeries averaging $225 each, we saved the lives of just over 100 children in Kenya over the next two years.

Our support of BethanyKids continued. Under the chairmanship of Rotarian Greg Welch, the Rotary Club of Kingston dedicated $30,000 to purchase an ambulance to transport children from the Kakuma Refugee Camp to the hospital and back.

In 2006, the Kingston club refocused its fundraising efforts to support surgeries for those children struck by spina bifida and cleft lips and palates. Rotarian David Ibbott of Newman’s Men’s Wear rallied his fellow downtown retailers to raise funds through an annual Fashion Show. In seven years, over $60,000 was raised through ticket sales and donations. Again, matching grants from Rotary District 7040 and Rotary International raised the total donation to approximately $100,000 to support surgeries carried out by the BethanyKids Hospital.

It warms our hearts to think that nearly $200,000 was donated to BethanyKids Hospital in Kenya and it all started with a simple phone call and a Rotarian saying “Yes”.

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