Canmore’s Elizabeth Lewis was honoured this past weekend for her humanitarian work in Africa with the Seeds of Enrichment foundation, which she founded. Lewis was at a white hat ceremony at Canada Olympic Park on Saturday (Oct. 1) held by Canadian Business Chicks to honour that organization’s Women of Inspiration in nine categories. The awards were created with a vision to gather a community of professional and entrepreneurial women who have a passion for what they do. Among a list of 40 women nominated for awards, Lewis was the finalist in the Difference Maker category as the founder of Seeds of Enrichment. The organization works in Uganda, where Lewis has made connections in the country’s northeast region to deliver educational, health and horticulture or agricultural projects. That means Lewis has helped families in that country by digging three water wells to deliver safe drinking water to upwards of 1,500 people, bought 128 sheep and goats, planted 440 pineapple and 1,120 mango trees and provided training and support for those looking after the trees. Lewis has said the projects Seeds of Enrichment pursues offers people a hand up, not a hand out. So when pineapple or mango trees are planted to help support a village, the training on how to harvest the plants and care for them is important to ensure those plants provide a benefit into the future. Lewis has been travelling and doing humanitarian work since she was a teenager, and in 2014 Seeds of Enrichment became a registered nonprofit organization. Go to www.seedsofenrichment.ca or the group’s Facebook page for more information.
A local humanitarian has been recognized for her work in continuing to create income-generating projects in Africa.
Elizabeth Lewis, founder of the Seeds of Enrichment humanitarian organization, received the Difference Maker Award at the Women of Inspiration 2016 Awards ceremony in Calgary on Oct. 1.
The White Hat ceremony took place at the WinSport Centre, in Calgary where women were recognized for their contributions in leadership, health and wellness, culture and business.
Lewis was notified that she was nominated, however, she did not know that she had been selected as the award recipient.
“They called my name and my heart jumped a beat and I got super nervous,” said Lewis. “I went up on stage and my hair is wild with my African braids that I’ve got going on, so the white Calgary cowboy hat that they tried to put on my head didn’t fit so everyone got a good laugh out of that.”
Lewis has initiated income-generating projects in multiple villages in Africa. Her projects have ranged from raising money to purchase mosquito nets to large-scale projects such as mango farms, drilling water wells, and raising livestock. In 2014, Seeds of Enrichement became an official charity.
This summer, Lewis aided in drilling the third water well and initiated an income-generating sheep project for 30 families, in which they will breed the sheep and sell the offspring.
In July of 2017, Seeds of Enrichment will be drilling a fourth water well in a Ugandan village.
The Difference Maker Award is the first time Lewis has been formally recognized for her humanitarian work.
“It was a phenomenal event just being with so many inspirational and amazing women,” said Lewis. “It was an incredible experience for sure.”
The annual Seeds of Enrichment Christmas Market is on Dec. 17 at the Canmore Miners’ Union Hall.
Elizabeth Lewis never set out to start a charity, but after she got her passport when she was 16 she never stopped aiding those who needed help.
Born and raised in Canmore, Lewis said her eyes were opened when she went to visit countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Guatemala. However, it was not a beach holiday; she experienced how the poorest people in the country lived. She wanted to help whoever she could wherever they were in the world, so, when she was 18-years-old she sponsored two children from Uganda through a charity organization. Curious to see how her donations were improving their life, like it was promised, she went to meet them and said she found out “the money wasn’t going where it was supposed to go.”
“It was kind of devastating. I was young and naive and I thought I was saving the world and then you realize no, I’m just helping people get really rich while the poor stay really poor,” she said.
Instead of getting discouraged, she decided to start helping the children on her own. She paid for their education and lived with a family of five children who were AIDS orphans.
While she was in Uganda, she started networking and was connected with an orphanage where she saw one of the children had malaria and none of them had mosquito nets. When she got back to Canmore she did some fundraising. Two Grade 5 classes at Lawrence Grassi school donated their allowance money and they bought mosquito nets for 400 children.
She subsequently helped more people until she needed some assistance organizing projects such as goat, pineapple and mango farms on a larger scale. In 2014 her organization, Seeds of Enrichment, became an official charity.
“It’s been really rewarding because she’s been able to do bigger projects as a result of having more people involved,” said Donna West, who is a board member of the Seeds of Enrichment.
West started out with the organization as the secretary for the board, and now sits on the board. She heard about the adventures of Lewis as a teenager because she is friends with her aunt.
“I saw a young girl who took school supplies, and even sometimes used stuff, to third world countries and now I see a young lady who this past summer raised the money and oversaw two water wells being drilled for two communities,” West said.
One of the most successful and self-sustaining projects the organization undertakes is a goat farming opportunity which Lewis created in Africa. The project was inspired by a visit to the village and seeing families take in children whose parents had died. “When you’re already poor and you take in another mouth to feed and educate and clothe, that’s a big heart” she said.
She spoke with her friend who is a social worker and determined an income-generating project would be helpful for those families to support the children they had taken in.
Each family received a male and female goat for breeding and they all received training on how to manage, breed, sell the goats.
“This year, one year later, I’ve been back and the goats have given birth and now they are pregnant again the second time around” Lewis said.
She said everyone, including the villagers, is very excited for the goat farming program and it is “a fully self-running project. We just initiated it and gave them the tools to succeed in it,” Lewis said.
The Seeds of Enrichment board is made of volunteers and she does not get paid. Lewis pays for all of her trips with her own money.
West says she can tell that Lewis is doing humanitarian work “from her heart” and sees the charity growing over the years.
The next fundraiser is a Christmas fair at the Miner’s Union Hall in December.
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