Sam Welton says you don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference in someone’s life.
In fact, the Petrolia man says sometimes it what we would consider the small gifts which make the biggest difference.
Welton, who is the former youth pastor at New Life Assembly, is putting that concept into practice daily with Possibilities International.
The group’s field workers – called Dream Agents – are on the look out for people who are struggling to meet basic needs such as going to school, a new pair of shoes, children who will go blind without a $300 operation in Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Haiti, Ukraine, Ghana, Mexico and El Salvador. These needs often are “too small” for larger international aid agencies, says Welton so Possibilities International funds them with donations from “everyday philanthropists” – people who want to make a difference but don’t have a great deal of cash.
Welton started working with the idea of helping people meet basic needs while he was a pastor in Kitchener. By 2005, he knew this was what he was called to do. So he and wife, Vee, left the ministry and set up the humanitarian aid agency.
They moved back to Petrolia, into an apartment renovated by his dad, to serve as their stop between trips for the charity. Welton says while Petrolia is not ideal for travel, it is great to be closer to family and friends made during his time at New Life.
From his home, Welton organizes trips to run health clinics or to show people how most people in the rest of the world live and to get them to think about the small things they can do to improve people’s lives.
“The same way we look at Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey and say ‘those guys, they’re rich’ – the same way we look at them, the people in those countries look at me and say ‘That guy’s rich,’” says Welton
“We take people on humanitarian aid trips so they can experience the difference you can make in people’s lives in a very significant way with very little money,” he says adding this spring a group from Petrolia will be heading to Guatemala.
And there are dozens of opportunities to help. Welton remembers talking to a woman about her sewing business. “All she need was fabric and a sewing machine and it transformed her life…People around the world are smart, they just don’t have the money to get started.”
The group also runs free health care clinics, giving people much needed medical assistance. After they’ve been seen by the medical team, families and children can pick out household items, toys and clothing from a table set up in the clinic. Their last stop is at the pharmacy.
Welton says very often the team will give a family a bag with 20 Tylenol in it. “We in Canada look at that and say ‘that’s no big deal’ but it is a pretty big deal if your husband had a fever and you couldn’t afford it and if you had to buy Tylenol one at a time and now you have 20.”
Welton says it’s all about making life easier for people and in some cases fulfilling a dream. He tells the story of a man who is a day labourer, making about six or seven dollars Canadian in the field all day. He’d picked out a piece of property on a mountain for his family to live on, but he couldn’t afford it. Once Welton’s group found out it would cost just $130 US, it gathered the money and bought it for the family. The next day, when he went up the mountain to see the property, the man had already been there clearing a spot for their home.
Welton says for many it is inspiring to help someone in such a small way but to make such a large difference. And he says it opens people’s eyes to injustice in the world. “I’ve seen grown men breakdown because they are so angry about the injustice they see.
“We think the way we live is normal – it’s not…in these countries people have to fight for everything they get.”
That propels Welton to be an “everyday philanthropist” and challenge others to help often wearing a t-shirt with the slogan iamRu?
Welton hopes his concept of every one begin a philanthropist catches on. “We can do far more together than we can ever do alone,” he says
“If I could get one million people in Canada to give one dollar a year – it’s not going to hurt anyone to give a dollar… if you helping a young girl go to school for $60 bucks or giving a young girl an operation for $400…do you know how long it would it would take you to spend it? You couldn’t do it. At the same time you would help so many people at the grassroots level.”