A charity that started with the intention to help families in Africa has expanded to help even more Alberta families during the pandemic.
Wings of Hope for Africa — a Calgary-based charity dedicated to family welfare and ending poverty in Burundi, Rwanda, East Africa and here in Alberta — has more than doubled the number of local families it helps since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The donations dropped a lot, but that didn’t stop us from making a difference for some families in Alberta,” said Aline Gahiza, the founder of the charity.
Gahiza said they’ve supported 1,850 families in Calgary by giving them food hampers and gift cards to Superstore.
“We have about 200 families on our list that need monthly help,” she said. “We are a small, dedicated volunteer group who just want to make a difference in people’s lives.”
The Hope for Kids Canada program — a project that assists low-income families and single parents of school-age kids in Calgary by giving them grocery gift cards — demonstrates the compassion she has for the country she’s called home for more than ten years.
Inspiration to create change
When Gahiza became a mother, she couldn’t help but think of the many parents in Africa who could not provide for their children. Her compassion led to her creating Wings of Hope for Africa.
Gahiza herself came to Canada from Burundi in 2005 as a refugee. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) ranks Burundi as one of the world’s poorest countries, with 65 per cent of the population living in poverty and 50 per cent of the population chronically experiencing food insecurity.
“People back home, the things they go through when they don’t have medication or food to feed their children…that’s how I started Wings of Hope for Africa, by thinking of the mothers who do not have anything to give their children,” Gahiza said.
Providing the tools for a brighter future
Breaking the cycle of poverty begins with education, she explained, and despite primary school being free in Burundi, many families cannot afford uniforms or other basic school necessities, forcing the children to stay home and help with household chores. This fact is reflected in the low rate of children that complete their lower secondary education — only 32 per cent, according to WFP.
But in 2012, the charity began its Back to School program that provides school uniforms, backpacks, shoes and books, ensuring vulnerable children receive an education. So far, it has helped 200 children attend school.
The charity also helps families generate income through agricultural tools, like a community garden. Gahiza said two gardens are in place, one in Kivumu, Rwanda — supporting 140 families every year — and one in Buterere, Burundi — supporting 70 families per year.
“This is a self-perpetuating project,” Gahiza explained in an email. “Participants grow the crops and divide the harvest into three parts.”
Sixty per cent of the crops are sold at the market, the families keep 20 per cent, and the remaining 20 per cent are kept as seeds in the garden for the next year’s participants, she said.
Gahiza said a survey revealed that families had only one meal a day prior to the garden, and fatigue and stomach issues were common. Now, families have increased their intake to two meals a day, and follow-up interviews showed increased energy levels and reduced stomach issues and a positive psychological effect.
“Our project in Kivumu was a success,” Gahiza said. “All families worked diligently on the site, and the participants were grateful for the opportunity.”
Informing people about healthcare and disease prevention is another arm of the charity. Educating families about malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases is an important topic considering the CDC classified it as an epidemic in Burundi. According to the Wings of Hope for Africa website, malaria is the leading cause of childhood mortality in Burundi, with 48 per cent of children under the age of five dying of the disease before 2011. The charity has also donated mosquito nets to help combat the problem.