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New West charity transforming lives in impoverished communities

Giving Gala: Ubuntu Hope is working to improve lives from Ghana to Kenya to New Westminster

A New West-based charity is working to improve the lives of folks in impoverished communities abroad – and right here at home.

Ubuntu Hope Charity has a mission is to relieve poverty by providing access to food, clean water, health and education through sustainable solutions. Its international projects have included building a maternity clinic, providing clean water, supporting sustainable agriculture development and health services for communities in Ghana and providing an ongoing food program at a children’s orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya.

Here at home, the charity is working with the Douglas College Foundation to create a bursary for Douglas College nursing students who want to partake in a field service learning experience but may not be able to afford it. It’s also working to support inclusive education at New Westminster Secondary School by creating a bursary for an inclusive education (diverse learner) student.

Tonya Roy, a registered nurse and an instructor in Douglas College’s Bachelor of Science nursing faculty, is the founder and director of the Ubuntu Hope charity.

“I just really have just a love of global health, International nursing,” said the New West resident.

Ubuntu Hope Charity is hard at work on plans for the first gala fundraiser.

The Ubuntu Hope Giving Gala is taking place in the grand commons at New Westminster Secondary School on Saturday, Oct. 14.

“We are having the fundraising gala so that we can continue with the projects we're currently working on and to expand,” Roy said. “We'd love to potentially expand to other African countries, or even just increase our capacity for different projects.”

The fundraiser includes food, a silent auction, an African market, speakers, dancing and a cash bar. Tickets are $75.

Roy said the semi-formal event is intended to be a celebration of unity, love and hope – embodying the spirit of Ubuntu, which is the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.

“It's going to be a lot of fun,” she said.

Global health

Roy’s experience includes maternity, high-acuity and forensic nursing. Early in her nursing career, before having a family of her own, she was a “traveller nurse” and worked in maternity in the tiny town of in San Andreas in California.

In 2016, 2017 and 2018, she went to the Dominican Republic, setting up mobile medical clinics in backyards and churches in the mountain region, places where impoverished residents had no access to health care.

Subsequent endeavours included starting a food and vegetable program at an orphanage in Kenya, and expanding and making repairs to a medical clinic in Ghana so women can have a clean, safe and private space to deliver their babies.

Roy, who began teaching in Douglas College in 2005, said she and her teaching partner Leisha Vandermey have long had a vision of setting up a field school abroad, a place where nursing students could apply their classroom skills in a real-world setting. In February 2020, they travelled to Ghana (on their own dime) with an international company that arranges volunteer experiences and in 2022 they returned and stayed with folks they’d met on their trip two years earlier.

“We spent our days at the medical clinic and we went to all of these schools, and we actually were seeing communities that needed water,” she recalled. “And that's how I built the maternity clinic. Because we saw all the deficits.”

Their dream of launching a field school experience became a reality in May 2023, when the duo took a group of 13 Douglas College nursing students to Ghana. It was everything Roy had hoped it would be for the students – and more.

“It was transformative,” she said. “The leadership classes that they were taking, they became the relational theory classes; they were able to see the change, and really understand all of the social determinants of health that we talk about in nursing; they were able to experience it all.”

During their 17 days in Ghana, the nursing students integrated themselves into the community: they visited child-care centres; they went into remote villages and did wound care on people who had been untreated for years; they worked with teachers and helped teach in local schools; they helped with sports programs. Nursing students went into schools and handed out food – seeing firsthand why some of the young girls have anemia and why some kids fall asleep or don’t have the energy to play.

“Leisha and I were in tears all the time,” Roy said. “As an educator, to be able to see growth in the moment, in such an impactful way – you know, them bringing their practice to life – there’s no word for it.”

Returning to Ghana in May 2023 with the nursing students was rewarding in that it saw the introduction of the field school. Seeing the maternity clinic in action was something Roy will never forget.

“I was able to deliver three babies in the maternity clinic that we built. That was so fantastic,” Roy recalled. “It was pretty emotional moment; I'm delivering the babies there with the students.”

In addition to nursing students, Roy and Vandermey both brought their 17-year-old sons to Ghana; they did sports programs with the kids.

Roy said it was “indescribable” seeing her son Jaxson volunteering with the kids. Jaxson, who has played minor and junior lacrosse for the Salmonbellies for years, set up lacrosse clinics for the kids in Ghana, using lacrosse sticks that had been donated in New West.

“The kids just loved it,” she said. “They had never seen a stick before, they had never heard of lacrosse. It was so popular, and he was such a hit, that they've actually created a program for him for when he goes back next year, so that he will be able to go to more schools … Just really amazing.”

Jaxson is part of the reason Roy founded the Ubuntu Hope Charity. He had previously accompanied his mom to Kenya in 2019, when they volunteered at an orphanage teaching English.

“That's kind of how my charity came about,” she explained. “After that trip, he's like, ‘We need to do something more.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you're right. What do you want to do?’”

That discussion led to the creation of a food program in Kenya, which ultimately led to the creation of the charity.

“It’s still ongoing,” she added. “We provide fruits and vegetables to the orphanage twice a week.”