Rayjon Share Care of Sarnia Celebrates 30 Years
By John Barnfield, Rayjon Co-Founder and President
When Ray Wyrzykowski, Kathleen Panela, Maggy and I first went to Haiti in 1985 on a Poverty Awareness trip, little did we know how this would change our lives. We experienced an overwhelming “richness” and were inspired to tell our stories throughout SW Ontario. The response was amazing… and led Ray and I to take 26 people on what would be Rayjon’s first trip to Haiti in January 1986. Looking back, I see that we have much to celebrate.
Rayjon still organizes Awareness trips to Haiti. Our trip base, though, has expanded to 15 trips per year to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and other developing countries. In total, approximately 250 people a year participate.
Over 20 years ago Rayjon launched an Eyeglass program to collect and process used glasses, and then arrange clinics twice a year in Central America and the Caribbean. Over 30,000 pairs of glasses have been donated and over 17,000 dispensed.
For the last over 25 years, Rayjon has responded to requests from Haiti and the DR to support Community Development initiatives. These have included Education, Health Care and Women-in-Development initiatives. In Education, Rayjon has supported 700 students a year in 3 project areas… that amounts to thousands of students who have received a quality education. Some of the graduates have returned as teachers to their former schools. One aspect of education that is flourishing is the adult literacy program where it is inspiring to see the hundreds of participants gain self-confidence and pride. In Health Care, Rayjon has partnered with communities in a 64-square mile region of rural Haiti and have seen the establishment of the only health program in that area. Measles, once the number one killer of children, has been eradicated. In addition to the rural acute and preventative care facilities, Rayjon runs a one-of-a-kind nutrition centre in Cap-Haitien, Haiti.
Rayjon received significant Canadian Government funding for over 20 years for its rural community development programs in Haiti. However, changes in Canadian Government policy led to the end of this support in 2012. Thanks to the amazing response and contribution of our partners in Haiti we have been able to work with them to keep the schools and health care initiatives going.
Rayjon is proud to say that it has attracted a large number of dedicated volunteers, and with a 99% volunteer-base, can boast of very low overheads.
Over the years, it has been a privilege to work closely with a number of Canadian partners… true friends of Rayjon. In particular, I would like to mention the great contributions we have received from our colleagues in St. Mary’s and the Save a Family Plan organization in London.
So what have we learnt over the 30 years? Looking back, I believe we have learnt many important lessons. In particular:
- The value and importance of relationship building through the many thousands of people with whom we have met and got to know as our second family.
- We have been inspired by the courage and resilience of the people of Haiti, in particular, who have undergone and faced up to so many tragic disasters, e.g. hurricanes, earthquakes and epidemics. They never give up despite all their seemingly overwhelming challenges and possess a great enthusiasm to learn and to better their communities.
- Rayjon’s role should be to help “build capacity” not “build buildings”.
What of our plans for the next 10 years?
We are in the process of asking ourselves “where does Rayjon want to be in 10 years time”? …and although the process is still unfolding…we agree that we need to be involved in three main areas:
- Community Development
- Community Engagement
With Trips, we want to maintain the highest quality of all our various trip-related activities, especially with priority on keeping people safe and healthy.
With our Community Development efforts, we need to continue to focus on relationship building, capacity building and empowering our partners in Haiti and the DR.
Our Community Engagement strategy should be to build upon the energy and enthusiasm of our volunteers and continue with our on-going efforts with fund raising and outreach to schools, church groups and service organizations. We need to focus more energy into engaging youth.
Finally, thank you to all our many donors and volunteers who have supported us in so many generous ways over the years.
It has been an amazing 30 years. I hope and pray the next 10 will be equally rewarding.