Burnaby man's 'family' spans the globe

During his working years, Robert Edwards travelled for business. When he retired, he backpacked to see the world. Now increasingly, he takes off to see his growing extended "family."

The Burnaby resident is an active supporter of World Vision Canada and its efforts to give better lives to children in developing nations. He also sponsors 12 children (and counting).

Edwards, 72, is off to Peru at the end of the month to visit his newest sponsor child, a girl named Kareli who is just shy of two years old.

He's got a daughter and grandson of his own who, with wife Marietta, are supportive of his constant travel bug. Edwards has even written several books about his experiences on the road, which he sells online with proceeds going to World Vision.

It was on one of his trips to Cambodia more than 20 years ago that he saw the need and wanted to make a difference.

"There were a lot of street children, I started feeding them in a restaurant," he recalled. "After three or four days, of course, there were a lot more children. The word got out."

When he left, he tried to arrange for the restaurant to continue feeding the children at his expense, but a couple months later he saw it wasn't going to happen.

That's when he realized he couldn't accomplish what he wanted to do all on his own. He soon learned that apart from local connections he could trust, he would have to deal with supplies being hijacked or sold on the black market.

So he turned to World Vision.

The charity provides children under its program with food, health care, clothes and education. Every three months its staff pays its program operators a visit to make sure the kids are getting the care they should.

On one of his visits, when he met four of his sponsored children, he watched as the kids were taught the importance of washing their hands to prevent illness.

"It warms my heart World Vision is looking after children that wouldn't have a chance otherwise," Edwards said.

The children receive an education which helps many get respectable jobs. It makes a huge difference as they live in countries where kids are often exploited and pushed into prostitution. Many become teachers and return to help their communities.

Edwards even once met a man in an airport who told him he had benefited from World Vision while growing up in Kenya. Today, he's a successful family man with a career in the mining industry.

As for his upcoming trip to a small community in Peru, he's looking forward to it despite the fact it will require almost 24 hours of travel time.

Sponsored children and their parents write to their sponsors, and World Vision provides translations. Already Kareli's mother has sent a note and her daughter's  handprint.

"I have to admit I'm as excited as if she was my little granddaughter," Edwards said.

Along with meeting Kareli, he plans to meet with World Vision staff and visit three of its projects in the area.

He marvelled at life in developing countries and how hard people work just to survive, sometimes walking several kilometres a day just to get water.

One of the reasons Edwards visits the World Vision projects is to connect with the people being helped, and let them know there are Canadians who care.

"I want to let them know there is a light at the end of the tunnel."

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