By Cheryl Chan
Source: The Province
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B.C. magnate raises millions to help African village care for 2,000 AIDS orphans
A B.C. man who bought an abandoned mining town in Africa on the word of a king wants to restore the village into a thriving community that would take care of 2,000 AIDS-related orphans.
When Volker Wagner, former CEO of Richmond-based Teldon, met the king of Swaziland in 2001 while doing charity work in the country, he was given a unique challenge.
“The king challenged Volker with creating jobs in his country,” said Scott Campbell of Bulembu International.
“It’s really a response to the call of the king to find an economic solution to the social problems.”
In 2006, Wagner ponied up $1 million of his own money to purchase the 1700-hectare town of Bulembu, a two-hour drive from the capital Mbabana.
The town currently has 1,800 residents, including 250 orphans, who are placed, six each, in homes with a caregiver.
They go to school in a 21-room facility, which opened last year.
New businesses have already started to sprout, including a timber mill, a bakery, a general store, a dairy with 50 head of cattle and the Bulembu Country Lodge, which welcomes tourists.
All profits are invested back into the town.
The goal is to make Bulembu a vibrant self-sustaining community that can stand on its own feet and support 8,000 residents — including 2,000 orphans — by 2020.
Bulembu has received donations from B.C. companies, including the Jim Pattison Group — which donated $1.5 million to build water, sewage and electricity infrastructure — and Nicola Wealth Management, which is holding a fundraising bike ride from Vancouver to Kelowna on Friday.
“We are all moved and inspired by Bulembu,” said employee Paul Gleeson, who will be leading the eight-person team on the 450-kilometre ride.
Gleeson heard about Bulembu from his boss John Nicola, who visited Bulembu last year, and was touched by the struggles of the Swazi people, especially the kids.
“You see these smiling, innocent faces [who] without the likes of Volker and Bulembu won’t really get any opportunities,” he said. “It was quite touching and a really unique program.”
The team has already raised $35,000 but hopes to raise $10,000 more.
Other fundraising efforts are planned in September, including performances by the Canadian Tenors at Kelowna’s Mission Hill and at the Chan Centre in Vancouver.
For more information, visit www.bulembu.org
To follow Gleeson’s bike trek, go to www.rideforbulembu.blogspot.com.