SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The manager from a school in Central America recently made the long trip to Yellowknife just to give thanks to resident Heather Leslie for helping build a school in the developing country of Belize.
NNSL photo/graphic

Francis Wilson, left, manager of the Holy Cross Anglican School in Belize, meets with Heather Leslie in Yellowknife late last month to thank her for her volunteer work. - Adrian Lysenko/NNSL photo

Francis Wilson, manager of the Holy Cross Anglican School in Belize, and her husband Vernon, the school's director, arrived in the city last week. They met with Leslie on June 26 to offer praise for her and other Yellowknifers who have sent the school donations.

"Heather was the first volunteer at Holy Cross Anglican School," said Francis.

"The day we opened the doors nurse Heather was there."

Leslie, a public health nurse with the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority, decided to go to Belize four years ago after hearing about other volunteers' experiences in neighbouring Honduras.

"I had a year off and wanted to do volunteer work, wanted to use my nursing, and I wanted to have an involvement with my church," said Leslie.

"I was looking for an opportunity to donate my time and make a small difference and not to start something that couldn't be continued."

Leslie spent some time in Belize City and then met Francis through an organization called the South American Mission Society.

"This crazy lady had a bee in her bonnet and wanted to do some volunteer work," said Francis who had the idea of building the school in a swamp near San Pedro - according to Wilson the most improvised part of the country.

In July 2006, Leslie was one of the volunteers who helped with general labour in the construction of the school but was also in charge of sanitation and helped identify a couple cases of Tuberculosis.

"Half these (people) had never seen toilet paper before," said Francis.

"She got us on the right track and made us aware that our children were very malnourished."

Leslie also encouraged Francis to start a school feeding program providing breakfast and lunch for children at the cost of $1.63 a day per student.

Leslie admitted that it took her time to adjust to the area.

"There's a phenomenon called culture shock which occurs at some point in your visit overseas," said Leslie.

"You don't know when it's going to occur and it was the humble cockroach that brought on my culture shock."

Since her time in the Central American country, Leslie and her husband Rick have been fundraising approximately $4,000 a year from collecting recyclables in Yellowknife and donating the money to the feeding program.

Francis commended other work done by volunteers from Holy Trinity Anglican Church who helped donate money.

"I really wanted to come up here because, as a community, Yellowknife has probably been the most supportive community that has been involved with Holy Cross," said Francis.

"If it wasn't for Heather that school would have closed down on the second day."

The school has just celebrated its third year of graduation and has more than 500 students are currently attending.

Northern News Services