St. Marys Journal Argus
It’s certainly not uncommon these days for a grandfather to utter the following after spending 2 ½ weeks over the summer with his 17 year-old grand-daughter: “Whenever she could get Internet, she was Facebooking and Twittering everybody.”
Lakeside resident Richard Hryniw, however, was beaming with pride as he uttered those words last week, as he sat beside his grand-daughter Mariah Byers at a St. Marys coffeeshop. That’s because, when she did find access to the Internet during the recent stint with her grandparents (Richard’s wife Joan was also on the trip), Mariah was sending messages home – across the Atlantic – about her volunteer mission with humanitarian aid group Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW).
This week, Byers started Grade 12 at St. Michael Catholic Secondary School in Stratford. Ever since she was young, at least once a year, the Hryniws – with whom Mariah has lived along with her brother Garrick and her mom for several years – took off on an excursion with SCAW, distributing so-called “bed kits” that were put together in the recipient country using money ($35 Canadian per bed kit) raised in Canada. It’s an Etobicoke-based organization, started by the late Murray Dryden (father of famed goaltender Ken Dryden) for which the Hryniws have served in leadership roles for decades.
“I don’t think I completely, fully understood what they did when I was a kid,” Mariah commented. “It wasn’t really until I was in Grade 7 or 8 that I started to grasp it.”
The Hryniws had told both their grandchildren that, when they turned 16, they would be invited on an overseas trip. Garrick, who’s now 20, went to Nicaragua in 2010.
“When I was 15, I started bothering them with ‘where are we going?’ and ‘when are we leaving?’,” Mariah recalled.
A bed kit includes, at the very least, what the child would normally sleep on, along with bedding and whatever the child would wear to sleep in. There’s also usually a set of clothing. “Wherever possible, we try to have that extra set of clothing in school colours,” Richard explained. Because, in many countries, schooling is provided free of charge, but if the children don’t have a school uniform, they aren’t allowed to attend.
“In this project in Tanzania, the person there designed a bag to carry all of the items, but which can also be used as a school bag.” Also in Tanzania the bed kit included a “khenga,” a piece of cloth used as a wrap-around for both men and women, as well as for a towel.
And, typically, the kits – which are currently distributed by SCAW through partnerships in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Togo, Nicaragua, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Philippines — also include mosquito netting.
For Mariah’s trip, there were six on the Canadian contingent of the team, and it ended up being kind of a family affair, as well as having a more youthful energy than the typical SCAW delegation. Richard and Joan shared the load as team leaders, and a man from Toronto was there as an apprentice leader, who will head up a future distribution trip. Along to help was the man’s 23 year-old son, as well as Byers and a 30-something niece of the Hryniws, also from Toronto.
“We’ve been trying to get younger people going,” Richard smiled. “We usually average people who are in their 50s or 60s, and I think the kids over there thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Mariah’s youthful energy had her, initially, yearning more for travel than for getting down to work. “Going over, I was more excited about the excursions and only semi-excited for the distribution,” she admitted. And those excursions – made at the participants’ own expense, and on off-days from the eight work-filled distribution days scheduled for the recent Tanzania trip – met her expectations, with highlights including a land tortoise sanctuary off the coast of Zanzibar, and a safari in the famed Mikumi National Park.
“But once we got over there and going through distributions, I ended up loving them just as much,” she said.
This trip was stationed at Dar es Salaam, and they travelled out from there each morning. They tried to arrive at the site between 8-9 a.m., and get started with the distributions by 10 a.m. so they could be wrapped up by 2:30 p.m. “The average wake-up for me was around 6 a.m.”
Bed kits are distributed to children between ages 6-12. “It is gradually getting better in most countries, but the death rate for younger children is so high that it’s kind of a harsh reality that they may not survive to age six,” Richard said, by way of explaining the age range. “Meanwhile, in many of these countries, at age 14 or 15, they could be getting married.”
Mariah’s job most times was marking the thumbs of children who had already received a bed kit. “I got to really connect with the kids a lot . . . They would laugh at me a lot because I’d try and say words in Swahili and my pronunciation would be off.” But they also really wanted to try out their English on her. Many were at the level in school where they were just beginning to learn English, which is the main language of commerce, after being raised earlier in life with Swahili in the home.
She also got to conduct some of the feedback interviews that SCAW likes to do, mainly with parents but also with some of the children. “Some people would just want to say ‘thank you, thank you’ for everything, while others would be completely harsh and tell you, ‘this is great but this probably won’t get used as much’.”
She found that there was a lot of talk about malaria, and that made her realize the importance of including mosquito netting in the bed kits. “90 per cent of the time, that was the response to the question about the biggest health concern in the home.”
Those who know Richard and Joan Hryniw well are aware that the hardworking duo has been saying for years that they plan on cutting back on their commitments to SCAW’s overseas work. But, given their devotion to the organization’s work, it’s tough to see them giving up on those roles just yet.
Now, with Mariah having returned from Tanzania with great enthusiasm for SCAW, it seems likely another generation could someday be just as vital to the organization’s work.
“I’m hoping, in the next couple of years, to do it again,” Mariah said. “I’m hoping to go back to Tanzania at some point, but I’m also hoping to go somewhere different first, and then come back.”
Wherever she ends up travelling, she’ll likely keep friends and family up-to-date through social media – as long as she can find Internet access.