Neil George, 20, raised $25,000 over five years to help fight HIV/AIDS in Ghana, culminating in a trip to the West African country in June.
George said the trip altered his perspective.
“It definitely gives you a better outlook on life and you can really look at things and appreciate them for what they are,” he said.
George’s mother, Doreen, said she was surprised when her son said he wanted to raise money, but showed through five years of perseverance how serious he was by throwing fundraisers, dinners, shows and flower sales.
“He came to me and he said, ‘I want to raise $10,000 for AIDS in Africa.’ As a mom, I looked at him and said, ‘That’s great, son, you’ll do a wonderful job,’ but inside I’m thinking, ‘$10,000 that’s a lot of money! Are you crazy?'” laughed his mother.
George’s trip taught him about the destitution in the Ghanaian orphanage, but also about hope.
“Every morning when you showed up to the orphanage, you’d have about 20 or 30 kids and they run up to you with their hands in the air … It’s special, it’s really special,” he said.
George was inspired by his pastor, Ian Fraser at St. Columba Chruch in Pointe Claire’s Valois district, who had taken his own trip to Africa.
“I’m proud of what he’s done. I’m proud that he discovered something that is greater than life in the West Island,” said Fraser. “When Neil talks about his trip to Ghana, his eyes light up — his whole being lights up,”
George is determined to return to Ghana, despite his mother’s fears.
“I think he’s taught me that it’s a good thing to let them do what they need to do, even as a mom when it scares you,” she said.
George said he has embraces the lessons he’s learned.
“You’re there to help these people, but they’re so gracious about what you’re giving them. And it’s really just an amazing feeling inside,” he said.
“I wanted to give back, and to be able to say, ‘This is what I did.'”