May 22, 2023
In case you're wondering, it doesn't escape me how fortunate I am to do what I do and see the world the way I do. I've been saying it for a while now, and I'll say it again: I have the dream job, except for the occasional mental breakdown or overwhelming emotional guilt I experience when confronted with the real hardships and poverty that lies just beyond our sheltered bubble. Lately, I've noticed that this disparity also reflects or mirrors my own life and reality.
Back home in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, our family foundation has become a little more front facing and noticeable, and I believe for good reason. We are stepping up and embracing our responsibility, striving to improve our community (and beyond) each day through our strategic philanthropic giving and various initiatives. I find myself involved in photo-ops, events, and featured in literature (probably like this one in which I have been coerced or voluntold to write). However, for every local story, giant cheque presentation, and magical moment our foundation creates back home, countless others are happening through our various humanitarian projects overseas.
As I write this note for you today, I'm packing up the last of my belongings into my suitcase. I've been on the road for the better part of two months now, visiting some of our foundation's projects in rural Cambodia and Africa. Just a few weeks ago, I was so excited about this trip that I couldn't sleep. Now, I find myself torn about having to leave. The reality of the impoverished, developing world that we are so shielded from back home has become vivid these past few weeks. As much as I long to return home and to see my loved ones, a part of me wants to stay and witness the evolution of our projects and catch a glimpse of what "progress" or "success" looks like in the poorest regions of the poorest countries in the world.
Even after all these years, and all my international trips and experiences, I'm still astonished by the contrast, or rather the dichotomy, of what success looks like as you venture further from home. Much like how television channels change as you drift westward, the impact of our giving, and the results they yield, look vastly different depending on where you stand and what exactly you’re looking at (or trying to address). Back home, we celebrate by gathering around a large cheque or in front of a building to visually depict success and/or collaboration. Today, I stand beside a group of children who’ve walked 5km to school, many of whom are barefoot and as poor as you can imagine. We pose, smile, and take playful selfies together. I can’t wipe the grin from my face from meeting these beautiful children, they are equally as excited about seeing a cell phone for the first time in their lives.
Their pilgrimage today, in large part, is because our school here in Chipata, Africa provides a fortified "porridge" that is likely to be the only meal they'll eat today. Simply by coming and attending school, they are fed. While I can't help but perceive this reality as "sad", the locals meet it with extreme optimism. You see, the porridge serves as a beacon and significantly increases school attendance, sometimes by as much as 90%, providing an alternative to these children working farms, foraging for scraps, or much more grim realities to pass the day and earn a dollar. It’s a small step but could be the change necessary in this region to offer these children an education, and, inherently, a chance at a better life.
It's these small, intricate victories that contribute to change in this part of the world. It's a far cry from the kind of change we're accustomed to seeing back home, but it is indeed progress – or so I’m told. And if my recent experiences have taught me anything, it's that we must hold on to that progress and maintain hope to keep the world moving forward, as difficult, and intricate as it appears to be. I could write for hours about these experiences and the impact they have on me and the world around me, but I should pack up my gear and catch my next flight – Haiti awaits. The life of the travelling philanthropist goes on, after all, this is generosity on the go.
Keith Z. Brewster
CEO – Stober Foundation
To learn more about The Stober Foundation, please visit their website at www.stoberfoundation.org or follow their philanthropic journey on social media