After a winter some have seen as akin to a natural disaster, Winnipeg's reputation has taken a beating, to put it lightly. However, I, now more than ever, am proud to be a citizen in this freezing cold, yet excessively hot and seemingly always mosquito-filled city.
Do our current road conditions increase road rage at least 25 per cent? Possibly. Could we win the title for Most Frugal People Out There? Yes. Do we incessantly complain about the weather? Absolutely. Is there a sense of community and generosity, both local and international, unlike anywhere else in the world? In my mind, there is no doubt about it.
In March last year, I had the opportunity to tag along with my old high school teacher and a group of grades 11 and 12 students on a trip to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. We were graciously hosted at Stansberry Orphanage. Stansberry has been home to orphaned and abandoned children since 1954. Sitting on a beautiful seven-acre piece of land in the middle of the city, it provides a safe place to live, learn and play for 30 children. In addition, there is Garderia Moises, a daycare for more than 170 children and a before-and-after-school program for more than 100 children.
In Bolivia, children go to school for only half a day. Many go home to an empty house because both of their parents work. The children are provided with homework and tutoring, as a lot of their parents did not have the opportunity to go to school and can't offer much help.
Recently, Bolivian President Evo Morales raised the minimum wage 20 per cent. Although this initiative is meant to raise the standard of living for Bolivian workers, it has also put significant financial stress on many small organizations such as Stansberry.
Enter Charles Paetkau. Born and raised in Canada, Charles and his wife, Cindy, along with their children, made the decision many years ago to move to Bolivia to act as directors of Stansberry for 14 years. Since then, they have moved back to Winnipeg but still hold Stansberry very close to their hearts.
Upon realizing the financial trouble that lies ahead for the orphanage, Charles decided to do something about it. Combining his love of cycling, his passion for Stansberry and the world's obsession with the World Cup, he hatched a plan: Cycling to the World Cup, a fundraising bike tour. On June 10, a group of eight cyclists, a support vehicle and driver will set out to cycle from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to Sao Paulo, Brazil. The distance is 2,200 kilometres and our aim is to do it in 14 days. For those who don't like math, that is averaging 150 kilometres a day in the kind of heat we only dream of experiencing here this summer.
Winnipeggers have already been responding with their amazing, boundless compassion and generosity toward our fundraising efforts. I work one shift a week at Cousin's Deli, and for the past month have had a small sign by my tip jar stating my tips and wages earned will go toward Stansberry. People have been overwhelmingly kind, and so far we have already raised over $1,500! And it doesn't stop there. On Thursday, May 29, there will be a benefit for Stansberry at the Windsor Hotel. Amazing musical acts such as French Press, Brian James and Attica Riots are volunteering their musical talent to the cause. Local artists, businesses and bands have donated art, gift certificates and schwag for a silent auction. My loving network of family and friends has offered me endless support and confidence in my endeavour.
So although we live in a city that is often the punch line of a joke, the sense of philanthropy cultivated here is nothing to laugh at. Knowing I live in a city that, after experiencing the worst winter in a century, still exudes empathy and benevolence for a group of people living thousands of kilometres away fills me with the greatest sense of pride imaginable.
Winnipeg -- I adore you. Don't ever change.
For more information, see http://cycletotheworldcup.blogspot.ca/