A Good Home, Achieving A Dream, Inspiration, Kamala-Jean Gopie, Schooling

Kamala-Jean’s Amazing Story

Imagine you’re visiting an open-air market in Cape Town, South Africa, talking to a bright, impoverished young vendor, not knowing your life is about to change.

The young man has the improbable name of ‘Happy’. 

Your actions will also change his life and that of his whole community, but as you return to your comfortable home in Toronto, Canada, no-one has any idea of what’s about to unfold.

~~

Meet my dear friend Kamala-Jean Gopie.

We first met when she was a teacher and community leader.  As a television journalist with Canada’s public broadcaster, CBC, I interviewed her. Later, we worked together as community volunteers and became friends.

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean CU

I know this woman’s heart. She gives without expecting recognition.  And that’s partly why I’m recognizing her here.

I’ve known Kamala-Jean’s kindness firsthand. In one of my worst summers since the car accident, this elegant, dignified woman drove a long distance to my home, repeatedly, to visit, comfort me — and weed my garden. 

Blog Photo - Garden Tall flowers in front

But her works go far beyond one person.  She’s not rich, yet she has provided scholarships to needy students, contributed to Canadian arts, educational and community organizations — big and small — and helped many.

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean Gopie with award

But nothing she’s done has surprised me – and perhaps even her – as much as this one.

~~

Kamala-Jean lingered to chat with the young vendor. She’d won her auction bid for a trip to South Africa and was now visiting Cape Town.

She asked him questions. He described his role as family breadwinner, and his dream of becoming a teacher. But he hadn’t completed high school. He was here selling goods to support his family back home in Malawi – a four-day bus ride away.

“When he said he had 6 siblings at home and his father was dead, and if he only had his Grade 12, he could help his family out of poverty, it just moved me.”

Kamala-Jean gave him her email address and asked him to contact her.

She asked her cousin, director-general for the Centre for Disease Control in South Africa, to find out more. He confirmed Happy’s story about the school. Kamala-Jean decided to fund Happy’s return to Malawi and his schooling.

Then, last June, she visited Happy and his family at their rural home in Malosa, bringing books and other supplies and singing with the children.

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean and Happy and Family

“The family lives in three small houses with no real furniture, electricity or plumbing.  There is no kitchen or bathroom.  They sleep on straw mats on the ground.”

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean and Kids first trip

She learned there was no school for young children nearby.

~~

Back home in Toronto, she spoke with Diana Burke, head of Canadian charity People Bridge. Diana encouraged her.

“I wrote to Happy and asked: ‘What would it cost to build a school?’ Happy said, ‘I’ll talk to the chief.’

“The chief was very supportive. Then Happy told me: ‘My family will donate one hectare of land.’ “

Happy’s family was giving what it could. 

~~

Things moved quickly in both Canada and Malawi. People Bridge started a fund for the school, with Kamala-Jean and friends donating. Within days, trees were felled and building started.

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean school being built walls going up

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean schoolhouse almost ready2

“It took 5 weeks. The school was completed by the first week of September and I travelled there and opened the school on September 18th.”

“What on earth made you do this wonderful, crazy thing?” I asked her.

“I didn’t know it was going to be wonderful and crazy. I had no notion. I just spoke to this young man who seemed honest and wholesome. His honesty was palpable. 

“When I was leaving the market, I gave him $10. He put his hands together in prayer and said ‘Oh, Ma’am. God bless you.’ I had to turn away. I was so moved. But I never knew things would end up where they did.”

COMING SOON: Pt 2. A WHOLE COMMUNITY IS CHANGED

 

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A Good Home, Afternoon Tea, Architecture and Design, Canadian Women, Following your dreams, Unique Businesses

Serendipitous Old Stuff

It’s no secret: I love small towns and villages. Love their main streets, small stores and annual events.

Blog Photo - Warkworth Credit VisitTrenthills.ca

Warkworth, a charming Northumberland County village that’s famous for its many artists and cultural events, is one of my favourites. There’s always something going on in this village 90 minutes east of Toronto  — arts shows, the Lilac Festival, the Long Lunch (below), the Maple Syrup Festival, the Perfect Pie Contest, and others.

Blog Photo - Warkworth Long Table

Blog Photo - Lilac Festival in Warkworth

Our friends who live there often spoke of “Justine”, who ran a painted-furniture business. Recently, they decided it was time for us to visit Justine’s business and meet her in person. So off we went.

Blog Photo - SOS Sign

Justine Vikse’s place isn’t just a painted-furniture store. “Serendipitous Old Stuff Lounge” is an unusual business, inspired by a place Justine “wandered into” while visiting New York state.

Blog Photo - SOS Justine MCU

“I was indeed looking to purchase a building to house my already established painted furniture/design business Serendipitous Old Stuff”, she says.  “Ironically, I drove by the business’ new home everyday, but never entertained its purchase because I always thought of it as a restaurant. I came back from that trip newly- inspired, and consulted a realtor friend to begin the process.”  

And this is Justine’s place on Old Hastings Road today. Enter through the front door and to your left is a lounge and bar:

Blog Photo - SOS Lounge Wide shot

Blog Photo - SOS Bike on top of bar

Step to your right and you’ll find a gift shop and tea store:

Blog Photo - SOS Gift and Tea section

Blog Photo - SOS Tea containers on shelves.JPG

Beyond these spaces is the room where we had a delicious lunch:

Blog Photo - SOS Dining table and chairs

Justine refers to her overall business as “the Lounge”.  She calls it a comfortable gathering place with an unconventional aesthetic. “I wanted the Lounge to be like a canvas for art. Light, airy, elegant, and it had to smell good.”

Blog Photo - SOS Seating area 2

“It’s also homey.  I get to showcase my antiques, painted furniture, and gift items in an environment where patrons/friends can feel as though they’re in a living room of sorts, and get together over a pint, or a glass of wine, and perhaps a great Charcuterie platter.”

In every space, many pieces are for sale.

Blog Photo - SOS Green cabinet

Blog Photo - SOS wall lamp

Blog Photo - SOS Black cat on counter

“When I initially started out in design and refinishing, I didn’t have a lot of money to allocate towards high-end antiques.  I had to be intensely creative.

“I realized that I could pick vintage pieces that were relegated by the homeowner for the ‘ dump’ or auction and I could acquire them fairly cheaply.

Blog Photo - SOS Cigar man

“I studied and honed the art of transformation. Poured myself into art books, read up on techniques, and through trial and error, learned what was appreciated by the discerning eye, and what was not.”

That knowledge came in handy when Justine renovated the new space. Her contractor Wayne Shaw did all the plumbing, electrical and flooring.  She did the rest.

Blog Photo - SOS Justine and Wayne

“I did all the physical artistic labour involved in actualizing the space. Extraordinarily long hours of blood, sweat and tears were extended, but as exhaustive as it was, it was a labour of love.”

Her daughters help in the business.

“The blessing of this biz for me as a woman, is being fortunate enough to have my girls all within reach, and vice versa.

blog-photo-sos-young-lady-at-counter.jpg

“It’s wonderful to know that they can step into the back door at any point during the day, and we can converse about what’s transpired throughout their day, and that two of them actively help me out with working here as servers.”

Justine dreamed of creating a cozy and elegant place for her patrons. With the many artistic touches and personal involvement, she believes she’s achieved her dream.

Photos by Hamlin Grange

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Good Home, Building a School in Jamaica, Business, Philanthropy

GIVING BACK, BUILDING FORWARD

Giving back — A commitment to philanthropy — runs deep and wide in our extended family. They inspire me, these relatives – the Josephs among them.

~~

The Josephs have done well since immigrating to Canada, but they’ve never forgotten their beginnings in Jamaica. Ameen and Glenor Josephs started the Kisko company in Jamaica, making and selling frozen pop in long plastic tubes.

They moved company and family to Canada decades ago, and now Kisko Freezies, the largest in the sector, sells frozen juice and pop products in both North American and international markets.  

When Ameen died several years ago, son Mark became president, and continued the company’s philanthropic tradition.

Kisko Team at Kinloss Trelawny

Late last year, Kisko provided money to expand and furnish a school in a poor area of Jamaica. Mark, family and staff also went there to help build it, in partnership with Food For The Poor Canada, a charitable organization that has built dozens of schools in Jamaica, and Helping Hands Jamaica.

The Kisko team members helped build the school in Kinloss, Trelawny, over several days. As you’ll see in their comments below, and in the video, it was a joyful and memorable trip:

Reggie:  “I assisted with putting up the uprights for the roof and building. I was very excited to go back to Jamaica and help to build a school for the Kinloss community. I would do it again.”

Conrad:  “I helped to offload the building materials from the container.  It was a very good experience to be able to help. I would do it again.”

Jennifer: “I helped with the painting.  I was grateful for the opportunity to be able to go back to Jamaica and be able to do this for the children and the community. It was a very moving experience for me to see the smiling faces of the children.”

Here’s video as the school is being built. You may have to turn up the audio a few times, but this story is well worth watching. Congrats to all involved! You inspire us with your good works.