One of my favourite parts about this blog, is connecting with people who use their skills or talents to help others. Eric Walters is a prime example of such a person.
Eric was born in Toronto, Canada in 1957. He went on to become a social worker and then in 1992 earned his teaching degree. It was his experiences as a teacher that first drew him into writing.
In 1993 when Eric was teaching a Grade 5 class, he realized many of his students were what he calls “reluctant readers and writers”. In an effort to instil them with a love or at least a willingness to read and write, Eric wrote his first novel, Stand Your Ground. The story was set in the school where Eric taught and many of the characters were named after his students. He hoped by making the story personal and relatable to his students, they would be encouraged to read it.
He was right! His plan was a success and thus began Eric’s career as a writer.
In 2006, Eric transitioned from full-time teacher to full-time writer. To date, he has published 111 novels and picture books. He has won more than 100 awards for his writing, and in 2015 he received the Order of Canada for his contributions to literacy and social justice.
Eric’s novels are available throughout the world: New Zealand, Australia, India and Nepal. He is what some might call a workaholic—although Eric would say, “that when you love what you’re doing it’s never really work.” In addition to finding time to write, Eric manages to do approximately 500 presentations in schools and libraries each year. So far, he has presented to more than 1,800,000 students across North America and internationally in Japan, Kenya and Germany.
Most people would find it difficult to maintain this schedule, but Eric found a way to fit in even more.
In 2007, Eric and his son travelled to Kenya to visit with the family of a close Kenyan, Canadian friend. This trip lead to a chance meeting with a young orphan boy – Mutuku – in the marketplace of Kikima, Kenya. Eric discovered that Mutuku was one of more than 500 orphans spread across the Mbooni district in rural Kenya.
Kenya has the fourth largest HIV epidemic in the world. The disease has devastated the population, leaving behind approximately 1.1 million orphans; far too many to live in the existing number of orphanages. Thus, many orphans are homeless and forced to live in the streets.
Eric wanted to help Mutuku and discovered the best way would be to pay for the boy to be taken in by an orphanage.
Once Mutuku was settled into a proper orphanage, Eric wanted to help more orphans. And he did exactly that!
Eric, along with his wife and friends, Ruth and Henry Kyatha, founded the Creation of Hope in 2008.
Hope currently supports close to 200 orphans as well as indirectly helping hundreds of other impoverished children throughout the area.
Support is provided in the following ways:
- Food Distribution.
Many of the orphaned children within the program still live with their guardian families like their aunts, uncles or grandparents. Food distribution allows children to remain in their homestead with their loved ones and ensures they and their family are receiving food. Whenever possible, Creation of Hope tries to keep children within their own homestead as to not take them away from their community, school and family. Monthly distributions of food give families the opportunity to function independently.
- Water Projects.
Providing food is necessary to avoid starvation. However, providing a source of water, could prevent the risk of starvation from arising at all.
Creation of Hope has formed partnerships with communities to create water projects. The charity provides many of the supplies and outside expertise, and the community provides supplies such as sand and gravel, as well as labour. The projects are overseen by a local committee.
This partnership means that community members are not only invested in the project but are intimately involved with how to maintain the project. If there are problems that evolve, they have the expertise and the ownership to fix it. In addition, labourers are paid a fair wage for their contributions.
- The Rolling Hills Residence
In 2019, Creation of Hope built The Rolling Hills Residence. It is now home to 79 orphans. These are children who have lost both parents and also have no one within the community who is able to provide support.
There are four separate dormitory rooms in the residence – younger boys, older boys, younger girls and older girls – and a large dining hall, study and gathering area. Additionally, the residence has a large kitchen which has one of the very few ovens in the entire region. They produce cakes, breads, and muffins which are sold to local stores and schools to provide additional income for the project.
Another unique feature is a community conference room which can be rented out, or used by Hope staff.
All materials to build the residence, wherever possible, came from community sources. This includes locally manufactured bricks, quarried stone, fabricated metals, furniture made in Kikima, and local trees with a replant program to avoid deforestation.
During the almost three years of residence construction, Hope was one of the largest local employers. Hope continues to value and utilize local resources, materials and labour to benefit the community and its people.
Creation of Hope sees itself as more than a charity. It is an opportunity; a way to invest in the future of these children, their community, and ideally Kenya as a whole. The program is run “on the ground.” Decisions are made by a local board of directors. While Eric and his wife are members of the board, they are only two voices on a committee of twelve. The community has embraced the program, and in some years, almost half of the funds come from Kenyan sources.
When I asked Eric about his foundation, he was very humble and made a point of talking about the contributions of others. But when he spoke about the children and their successes, his voice shined with pride.
Currently, they are 79 children residing in the main building, receiving food, shelter and education. There are a further 64 children/young adults in high school, college and university, also supported by Hope.
Since the project began, 44 people from the Hope project have graduated from post-secondary education and have gone on to become teachers, hair dressers, carpenters, electricians, auto mechanics, business people, a research assistant, an IT specialist, and a banker.
One of the most gratifying parts of this foundation must be watching the graduates return to the residence and take on roles of mentoring and tutoring the other children. The graduates give back to the program that gave them a chance to fulfill their dreams and ambitions. Eric says the charity will financially support the children for as long as they need.
The first child in the program, Mutuku, was also one of the first graduates. He received a business diploma from a college, but went back to his ‘calling.’ Mutuku has created an academy and church, where he is the director and pastor. His inspirational story of being abandoned, orphaned and living in a garbage dump to where he is now and what he has achieved, lifts many spirits.
Eric and his wife, Anita are major contributor to the charity. They personally donate their own money in addition to Eric securing donations from the hundreds of schools he visits each year. However, the pandemic has prevented Eric from visiting schools and thus donations have fallen.
Unfortunately, like so many charities, Creation of Hope has suffered due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. There has been a drop in donations from schools, and several other donors and sponsors have also had to back out due to their own financial hardships.
Eric is working hard to secure more sponsors and donors. The children are counting on him and he is committed to helping them.
He is grateful for the on-going support from sponsors in Canada and the United States. In particular, he would like to thank the people in the writing community for their continued dedication to help these children. People such as: Teresa Toten, Natasha Deen, Lorna Nicholson, Deb Ellis, Valerie Sherrard, Carol Matas, Margriet Ruurs, as well as regular contributions from Martha Martin and Marina Cohen. Eric would also like to thank Amy Black of Penguin Random House and Andrew Wooldridge of Orca Book Publishers for their sponsorships. Plus, a special note of appreciation to Penguin Random House and their on-going donations related to Eric’s novel, Walking Home.
If you would like to learn more about Eric’s books, Creation of Hope and how you can help, please visit his website at http://www.ericwalters.net/