Bedford Park area resident Sara Dunkley knows teens and youth in Canada are lucky to have an easily accessible education system.
Through her organization, the Beautiful World Canada Foundation, she aims to bring those same benefits to those in countries where that type of education can be out of reach for many.
Beautiful World Canada offers scholarships for high school and college or university in Sierra Leone, South Africa and Uganda, covering not only the cost of tuition but also subsidizing books, uniforms, personal supplies, accommodations and other expenses related to education.
“Here in Canada, high school is free and people who want to go to college or university can apply for scholarships,” Dunkley said. “That’s not something they have in these countries.”
Dunkley noted there are a variety of factors preventing teens from pursuing their education in Sierra Leone, South Africa and Uganda. A large number of youth there have been orphaned due to AIDS and many more are refugees who have fled strife in countries such as Rwanda and Sudan.
She acknowledged that helping out in Sierra Leone posed a greater challenge than the other two countries, but noted the need there was great.
“There was a 10-year civil war in Sierra Leone so there were very few schools open for the better part of a decade,” she said.
Beautiful World Canada also provides opportunities for girls – over 90 per cent of the young people supported are female – that might not have been there otherwise.
“I did a lot of research on the educational state of Africa and the education rate for girls was so much lower than it was for boys,” she said. “There’s a real gender gap there. If a family is going to send one child to school, they’ll favour their son over their daughter.”
Dunkley selected Sierra Leone, South Africa and Uganda as the three initial countries to receive funding because they had stable education systems and already had on-the-ground organizations with which she could partner to ensure the funding was making a real impact.
“I needed countries that had experience working with Canadian charities,” she said.
Three-quarters of the students granted scholarships by Beautiful World Canada are high school students, though the organization is dedicated to ensuring they pursue their education as long as they choose.
“Our goal is to have them finish high school with the marks they need to go on to study at a post-secondary school,” Dunkley said.
While the organization started up just last year, earning charitable status late in 2012, it has already provided funding for 120 students. Dunkley said she hopes to double that number this year and has set an ambitious long-term goal of making education accessible to 10 million children around the world.
Dunkley, who has worked as an entrepreneur in the billboard industry for 10 years, said her charitable organization has become virtually a full-time job.
“I’m an entrepreneur 15 per cent of the time and 85 per cent of my time is spent on philanthropy now,” she said. “But one of the things I’ve always wanted to do on a daily basis is help other people.”
The mother of two, who has a third child on the way, moved to the Bedford Park area because it was the ideal place to raise a family.
“There are nice parks, great schools and lots of places to go,” she said. “You can walk to so many places around here, it’s amazing.”
Beautiful World Canada is hosting a fundraising event featuring guest speaker Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, founder of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project, at the Liberty Grand Thursday, Feb. 28. For details on the event or Beautiful World Canada, visit www.beautifulworldcanada.org