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Dying Navy Veteran leaves lasting Hope for Ugandan Children

Five years ago as navy veteran Harvey Friesen was dying of lung cancer he asked that his imminent funeral be used as an opportunity to raise money to help African children stricken with HIV/AIDS.

And next month his two sons, their wives and four of his grandchildren will travel to northern Uganda to open a vocational training centre for youth bearing his name in the town of Boroboro.

The Harvey Friesen Home of Hope is an example of how families with a bit of determination and willingness to help others can make things happen.

"We've raised about $17,000 since the funeral from family and friends," said Harvey's son, Chris Friesen, referring to the adults in the family.

"But the children have raised $3,000 themselves to build a playground at the centre," he said.

"It shows the power young children have to take on a charity and do something really significant for others," said Friesen, who is director of settlement ser-vices with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

His 10-year-old twins - Lucas and Maya - and their cousins Madeline, 11, and Liam, 9, have raised the money in a variety of ways. The twins sent out emails to all their family, friends and teammates on various sports teams.

"We just told people what we were doing and most of the people sent us some-thing," said Maya.

"One person gave $500." Since the twins were six they have raised funds for cancer research, the SPCA and Canucks Place. They have asked their friends to donate to a cause instead of buying them presents.

"When our grandpa died of cancer we raised money for cancer research instead of getting gifts from our friends. Our family gives us small gifts so we were okay with doing that," she said.

"They're normal kids and they like presents and par-ties just like other kids, but today we have a tendency to go overboard. Sure there's some gratification getting another stuffed toy but in the end it's just stuff that's going to end up in the land-fill," said Friesen.

"I hope it will inspire other kids to do the same for whatever cause interests them. They really do have a lot of power," he said.

When the tsunami hit the east coast of Japan last year Liam raised $700 for the Red Cross by making Plasticine pendants which he baked in the oven at home and sold for $5 apiece at school.

Liam is still making and selling the charms, along with origami boxes which he sells for $3, this time to raise money for the play-ground in Boroboro.

The playground will cost $1,300 to install, leaving a surplus to buy soccer balls, bicycles and maybe a computer or two for the Home of Hope.

"Bicycles are especially sought after because they are really a lifeline for HIV/ AIDS sufferers. Bikes can be fitted with a trailer that can carry a stretcher which makes them a bike ambulance to transport patients. Bikes can be used to distribute medicine to people who are homebound with illness. They have multiple uses for people in the front line of the battle to survive and resist the HIV/AIDS pandemic," said Friesen.

On June 2 the Friesens will hold a bike-a-thon for families at Trout Lake in Burnaby. Participants will cycle to English Bay to raise money to buy bikes for people in East Africa for the Canadian African Partner-ship on AIDS (CAPAIDS), a Canadian-registered charity which Friesen set up 10 years ago.

"CAPAIDS is there to sup-port grassroots organizations that aren't really on the radar of the large aid organizations. It's about how you use small sums of money and strategically invest it with local partners to help the community," he said.

Similar bike-a-thons will be held that day in Ottawa and Toronto as organizers attempt to raise $40,000.

Friesen and his wife Manuela both worked in East Africa in the early 1990s for aid organizations.

Friesen was with the U.K.-based Windle Charitable Trust working with student refugees helping them get to Canada, the United States or Britain to pursue post-secondary education.

It was while he was working in Kenya that his father visited him and fell in love with the region.

"Of all the places in the world he visited, I think he loved East Africa the most," Friesen said.


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