Support from her West Coast clientele allowed local restaurateur Shamie Adeken to spend her holiday season rebuilding a school in Guyana.
Adeken was raised in Belvedere, Guyana where one school educates students from kindergarten to Grade 12.
She moved to Canada with her husband around 1990 but visited Belvedere in 2008 and became concerned about the condition the school was in.
When she attended Belvedere 30 years ago she had 1,200 classmates but by 2008 enrollment had plummeted to about 160 students, partly because the schoolhouse was broken down She vowed she would return to Belvedere with funds to help fix the school and returned to Ucluelet locked in on raising funds, spending 2013 initiating various fundraising opportunities for locals to get behind through her Ucluelet restaurant 4-Spice.
The community supported her efforts to the tune of $2,800.
“It’s a good feeling to know that you come into a community and they trust and believe in you and they love you and they help you to accomplish something,” she said.
About $300 went to a relief fund for victims of Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines in November and the remaining $2,500 was converted into about 350,000 Guyanese dollars and invested directly into Belvedere’s school.
“To go back and do something for these kids, it’s amazing,” Shamie said. “They were excited, it was emotional for me.”
Her goal was to build a new restroom facility but Shamie arrived to find a new on already built by villagers to replace the old and dangerous restroom.
The money was refocused towards fixing a significantly broken down portion of the schoolhouse itself.
That was important to both encourage and allow kids to stay in school, Shamie said. The project took just two weeks thanks to the volunteer hours from local parents.
“They did amazing work,” Shamie said.
One professional builder was hired; he worked at a fraction of his usual cost because of his appreciation for the project.
Shamie helped Belvedere’s students and teachers generate local fundraising ideas.
“They appreciated it,” she said. “We gave them ideas and we gave them encouragement and that was my main goal, to convince kids not to give up on school.”
Shamie knows firsthand the frustration that comes with not having an education.
When she was 13, her father became ill, causing her to leave school.
“I didn’t get a chance or an opportunity to go back to school,” she said. “When I came to Canada it was hard for me, it was tough for me to find a job, it was tough for people to respect me, it was hard without an education.”
She has since completed high school and university.
“I know what it feels like to have an education and what it’s like not to have one,” she said.
Over Christmas in Guyana, Shamie was introduced to Soma, a 6-year-old girl living with a serious heart condition that requires expensive surgery and treatment. “We went and we saw her and she took my hand and she put it here (pointing to her heart) and this child’s heart is like a chainsaw, that’s how you can feel it,” she said.
Shamie and her husband donated $500 to Soma’s family and the couple plans to provide opportunities for West Coasters to support Soma’s family through fundraisers this summer. Shamie has also set her fundraising sights on building a basketball court at the front of the Belvedere school “so the kids can stay in school and have something to do and stay out of trouble.”
She will share a thank-you card from children at a Guyana nursery with the local students who inspired her.
A Ukee kindergarten class brought Shamie a heartwarming send-off in December, singing her a song.
“They encouraged me,” she said. “They brought us a Christmas wreath to say we appreciate what you’re doing so I have to take this card to them.”
Shamie said she also received huge support from the Ucluelet Sunshine Club and she plans to keep all her local supporters updated on the fruits of their support.
“I want to say thank-you to everyone that helped support us in this fundraising, without them it would not have been possible and we really do appreciate it,” she said.