Travelling for a cause

Collegiate student giving back through charity he founded

University of Winnipeg Collegiate student Roméo Bérard, second from right, is currently travelling throughout Asia to spread the word about his charity, The Shining Leaders Foundation. Supplied

Roméo Bérard II is spending his summer travelling through Asia.

However, unlike most young travellers, the 16-year-old University of Winnipeg Collegiate student is not looking for a summer of parties.

“The goal of the trip is to learn about the problems I read about in books first-hand, (to see) how I can assist in the context of a charity and to establish contacts in each country,” Bérard said in an email from the Philippines.

Bérard plans to travel through 10 countries during his five-and-a-half-month vacation from school.

During that time he will be meeting with different dignitaries, visiting schools to gather context of their needs, and spreading the word about his charity, The Shining Leaders Foundation (TSLF).

TSLF aims to provide better tools of education for children who would not normally have access to them. These tools range from replacing books, desks, chairs and school supplies to constructing classrooms, bathrooms and even entire schools.

But Bérard knew there was more to starting a charity than just raising money.

“I was missing the experience the time and physical exposure to the problems I had been reading about for the last few years,” he said.

So far his trip has been successful by his standards.

Dignitaries have agreed to match the funding of projects in their provinces.

No matter how hard some of these people try to get ahead, they just simply can’t and often end up in worse positions that they originally started in.

Roméo Bérard, founder, the Shining Leaders Foundation

Bérard has seen eight submitted project proposals, and has had two others shipped to Canada.

Before convincing his parents that he should move to Winnipeg to form a larger audience for TSLF, Bérard was going to school at Mennonite Collegiate Institute (MCI) in Gretna, Man. It was there that he got the idea for TSLF from reading books about human rights organizations, especially Craig Kielburger’s Free the Children project.

“Roméo always had a keen interest in world events,” said Tim Wiebe, who taught Bérard Grade 10 Bible at MCI. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that he would translate his interest in world events into forming a charity and trying to make a difference in the world.”

Bérard said that so far, his views on how the world works have changed.

“I have always thought that people can do whatever they want if they try hard enough and aren’t lazy. After being here, I realized that it is in fact not always possible,” he said.

He told a story about a woman he met who had just been granted a U.S. work visa, but had to decline after becoming widowed, and was left with three children. Her oldest daughter is 16 and wants to go to university to become an occupational therapist, but each semester is $1,000, and she only makes $300 a month to provide for her family.

“No matter how hard some of these people try to get ahead, they just simply can’t and often end up in worse positions that they originally started in,” he said.

She asked Bérard for help as a last resort after hearing about TSLF, and he agreed to help, out of his own pocket, on the condition that her daughter applies for a scholarship for second semester.

When he returns home, Bérard plans to make TSLF a registered charity, start a website and blog, and begin fundraising.

Published in Volume 66, Number 27 of The Uniter (May 30, 2012)

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