Maple Ridge group off to Rwanda to construct occupational centre

A group of local volunteers is off for a trip of a lifetime to lend a hand on the other side of the world.

Jen Baillie

Jen Baillie

A group of local volunteers is off for a trip of a lifetime to lend a hand on the other side of the world.

Jen Baillie, children’s services programmer for parks and leisure services, is helping to organize the three-week trip to Rwanda through the non-profit Developing World Connections, where volunteers will help construct an occupational centre and work with a primary school.

Baillie said eight people have already signed on for the trip, leaving seven open spots.

While the trip is open to all age groups, Baillie hopes young people take advantage of the opportunity to volunteers overseas.

“Youth will expand their awareness, view the global community, see a different culture and a different way of life,” she said.

Baillie has previously travelled to Rwanda to volunteer, and has led volunteer missions to Peru and Guatemala as well.

“It’s life-changing,” she said.

“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

Much of the group’s work this time in Rwanda will take place in the village of Gashora, home to about 5,000, the majority of whom work as subsistence farmers or small traders. The average Rwandan lives on just $900 annually, notes Baillie.

The volunteers will help construct a new Covaga Innovation Centre, which includes a community garden, kitchen, weaving studios and a boutique for local artisans to sell their wares.

“This is going to be a focal point for the community,” said Baillie.

“We’re building infrastructure and food security.”

The volunteer group also plans to visit the Poverty Reduction, Education. and Family Empowerment in Rwanda School in the village of Ruhengeri.

The school was founded by Maple Ridge’s own Cathy Emmerson, who received the Governor General Award in 2010 for efforts in Rwanda to make education accessible and reduce poverty.

However, with a price tag of $4,000 for each volunteer going on the trip, Baillie said the group has a lot of fundraising to do before the group leaves in October.

“For a young person to afford that it’s very hard,” she said.

The group is holding a car wash at Kirmac Collision in Maple Ridge on Saturday, Sept. 1 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and are planning a pub night fundraiser for later in September.

• For information about volunteering in Rwanda with Developing World Connections, e-mail Baillie at