MP Dan Ruimy got to know George Klassen soon after being elected in the Liberal victory that brought Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to power.
Klassen wanted to hear what Ruimy stood for – particularly, his views on assisted dying.
Ruimy was immediately impressed with this man, who was then going on 80, but was still making trips to Africa to oversee the drilling of water wells for impoverished villages.
“You’re in awe, listening to this guy who has done so much.”
Ruimy made Klassen the subject of a member’s statement in the House of Commons, and Klassen’s work got a big round of applause from the house. Soon Klassen would be there in person, meeting Trudeau and being personally acknowledged for the charity work he has been dedicated to throughout his life.
When Ruimy made that first speech about Klassen. He made a prophetic statement.
“Maybe one day I’ll be out there drilling a well beside you.”
Last month, he did.
Ruimy joined Klassen to see the work being done on three of the 44 wells he has seen drilled in Malawi through his charity agency, Project Wellness, which is based in Maple Ridge.
“I went on my own dime,” he reassured taxpayers. “It wasn’t a government thing. It’s something I wanted to do personally.”
He will always remember how something as basic as fresh water in the village, so they no longer had to lug buckets, sometimes for miles from the nearest stream, brought smiles.
“The look on the faces on children and women and families … they were dancing.” Ruimy said.
“We look at what they don’t have, but they look at what they do have.”
They would line up, with 30 or 40 buckets waiting at a time. Women and children, pumping the water by hand, then carrying the full pails balanced on top of their heads.
Ruimy wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to get a little more technological convenience, like a solar-powered automatic pump. But Klassen set him straight, that simple is best.
“Otherwise, if it breaks, there is nobody to fix it.”
He saw the people express their appreciation to Klassen with gifts.
“Thank you very much for this well, here’s a rooster,” recalled Ruimy.
Klassen would graciously accept, then Ruimy would watch him find a good home for the rooster with someone who needed it more than him.
Ruimy saw the impact the wells have had on their villages. People can grow their own food, even use the water to trade with other villages.
Ruimy also visited orphanages that Klassen has built. There was no dancing.
“On one side, you see the new wells and everyone is happy. Then you see the orphans, and it’s heart heartbreaking
He saw three or four young girls, not yet 10 years old, wearing wraps around their torsos to hold babies on their backs. They were too young to be mothers, so Ruimy could only assume that they were responsible for their younger siblings.
Earlier in December, Ruimy reciprocated, and showed Klassen his world. He brought him to Ottawa.
Klassen started Project Wellness with his late wife Sheila in 2005. Since then, their organization has raised about $220,000 to drill wells.
“I’m a Christian, and the Lord provides,” he said. “We have a lot of church people helping.”
His two daughters are involved in the project. Nadine Sands is the vice-president and Elana Warmerdam the secretary.
Their small organization is able to support three orphan care centres that each house 300 children, and run a school for 750.
Klassen started his professional life as a metallurgist, specializing in stainless steel, and was the speaker at conventions. At 50, free trade killed his business, and he launched into missionary work.
He had already volunteered with Campus Crusade for Christ, then began his own organization called Amazon Evangelism, and he knows that river as well as anyone after 25 years of regularly visiting the area.
His wife, who passed away two years ago, loved those trips to Brazil with her husband.
Then he twice went to Nigeria, where he trained pastors, and learned about the crying need in Malawi.
“Children were eating tree roots, and they were dying,” Klassen said.
“I saw women walking kilometres to go get water, held on their head with a child strapped on their back.
He told them he would drill a water well in their village. He had some experience with water wells in Canada, and thought it couldn’t cost more than $40,000.
On the flight home, he met a man from Australia who was in that very business, and they made a deal right on the plane. The driller said 45 metres would be the deepest they would want to go, and the quote was $3,200. Klassen was delighted.
“I could do that on my visa.”
He didn’t have to. He was having a doctor’s visit, and told his physician about the project. The doctor said he was going to write a prescription, and came back with a cheque for $3,200.
Another woman donated $2,100, and two months later he was back drilling the well.
It was easy to see how much it was appreciated.
“Buckets were lined up from seven in the morning until seven at night.”
It wasn’t always possible to put the well in the centre of a village – they had to go where the water was.
“But we would come back in a year, and the village was moved right around that well.”
Ruimy also took note of the important work Klassen has been doing. He likes to share the stories.
“People like George are an inspiration. He can move mountains. You can’t not sing his praises, because that’s what inspires people.”
Klassen appreciated the trip to Ottawa with his family.
“I had a great time. I got the chance to meet the prime minister. I was so impressed with him – the gentle way he spoke, and he knew us,” Klassen added.
“They gave me a standing ovation.”
The past year has reinvigorated him, and he will carry on for another year of drilling wells in 2019, at the age of 81.
“I’m going to do it as long as I can. I take it a year at a time. I’m in good shape, but I miss my wife terribly.”
She would have enjoyed the Ottawa trip, he said.
“It was the ice cream on the cake, Dan doing this for me and my family.”
The trips with Klassen have made this a holiday season Ruimy will always remember.
“It was a very special Christmas for me.”