Gord Johns hasn’t forgotten to pack a charitable heart for his travels abroad.
The executive director of the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce likes to bring a little joy to spread around.
Heâ€™s currently collecting a suitcase of small packable items for an upcoming trip to Cuba, little items like good shoes, softball mitts and soft houncing balls for the kids, guitar strings, even serviceable used prescription eyeglasses â€“ stuff Canadians may take for granted, but which can be out of reach for the average Cuban.
â€œWhen you get outside the tourist areas, you see the true needs of Cuba,â€ he said, citing numbers showing while Cubans have things like a roof and healthcare, wages of $1 a day keep people from having much.
The helping response from the community has been â€œoverwhelming,â€ he said.
â€œItâ€™s amazing to see the power and spirit of people wanting to connect, share and help people they donâ€™t even know a world away â€¦ There will be a little piece of Tofino in Havana by the time theyâ€™re done,â€ Johns said.
The appreciation in return is gratifying in a country that is culturally rich and where sharing is a way of life and a simple rubber ball may be played with by a whole neighbourhood.
â€œItâ€™s ingrained in them to share,â€ Johns said.
For his Christmas in Guyana, he carried some West Coast comfort to Ucluetian ex-pat Anna Randall.
Coun. Cathy Thicke of Tofino knew Randall was in Georgetown, Guyana, sorting out visa requirements for her mission work in Surinam, so she quickly put together a care package with the help of Kim Tomiyama Shaw of Chocolate Tofino.
Johns and his partner, Canadian Consul for Guyana Jennifer McSporran, invited Randall to lunch, and presented the West Coaster with goodies from home.
And Randall got to spend some time in air conditioning â€“ a bonus, but a gift in its own right.
The visit and goodwill from home made her Christmas, she was heard to say.
Johns said it made his holiday, too.
â€œAnnaâ€™s so far away, on the other side of the world, and sheâ€™s doing this on a shoestring in remote Surinam, where sheâ€™s living in the jungle and doing some incredible work,â€ he said. â€œSeeing her and hearing her stories of what she was doing was really a gift for me â€¦ I got to be a conduit, which is a lot of my life practice and work â€“ to just fill in the gaps. It was pretty cool to do that,â€ Johns said. â€œI got to be Santa, really.â€
Johns revisited Buxton Youth Developers, the grass-roots charity that is turning a shoestring budget of $6,000 Canadian a year into hope and education for 200 youth from one of the most desperately underprivileged parts of Guyana.
He was able to bring news of support from the West Coast, where people like Ricardo Manmohan of Leadership Vancouver Island, and Melanie Leggett, have pulled together with businesses like Jamieâ€™s and Crystal Cove to gather resources, including two months operating cost for the school.
McSporran donated a photocopier to the school, and Johns was able to connect the dots with a delegation from the European Union, which could consider a grant application that would help the school expand to offer things like trades training.
â€œThey were overwhelmed, just to see people in another country cared about what they were doing,â€ Johns said.
For other West Coasters who have plans to visit sunny, exotic locations that may have some Third World conditions in some spots not too far off the beaten track, Johns recommends travelling with an open heart and something tangible to share.
â€œItâ€™s rewarding to contribute and give a little back as part of the reward of being there,â€ he said.