Thirteen years ago, Magdalen Leung made a promise to a little orphan boy living in a village in South Africa.
Leung, foundation chair of the Rotary Club of Richmond Sunset and a long-term Richmond resident, had been working in the village as a volunteer, helping with the school in Refilwe. As she was about to leave, the students ran out of the classroom to hug her goodbye, but one little boy named Success approached her and asked, “Mrs. Leung, are you gonna come back, or you will never see us again, just like other people did?”
The memory of that question still stings.
“So I made a promise to these kids,” Leung said, choking back tears. “I told them I would return to the village each year as long as you need me.”
Leung has kept that promise. Every year she has returned, bringing supplies and other volunteers with her.
In March 2013, she took a group of Hugh Boyd students to help build a school, work with the orphans and develop a greater appreciation of what it means to be of service to your community.
Since her initial visit, some of the young students have grown into well-educated individuals with a range of opportunities.
“One boy from the village told me if I were not here, he would never have had the chance to learn how to read or write, and he might have ended up as a farmer for the rest of his life,” said Leung.
Even at her most busy times working as a realtor and raising a family, Leung has never thought about quitting volunteerism.
“What I do might be a drop in the ocean, but with more people joining the team, we can make a difference in their lives,” said Leung.
And if one charitable project isn’t enough, for the past five year Leung has been actively involved with Gift of Life Global, which raises money to fund surgeries for children with congenital heart disease in China.
Leung went to China last year to visit An Jing, a seven-year-old girl who needed heart surgery, but was shocked to learn the Rotary was still $5,000 short of what was needed to pay for the operation the girl urgently required.
Leung recalls telling the doctor, “Please go ahead.” She then borrowed some money from her husband, and luckily some friends chipped in for the donation.
Leung returned to the hospital two days later to check on An Jing, and the surgeon introduced her to the girl by explaining, “The lady flew from Canada to China to save your life.”
“The girl asked the surgeon, ‘could you please teach me how to say I love you and thank you in English,’ and then she said these words back to me, ” Leung continued, “just by seeing the happiness in people’s eyes, how could I stop volunteering? ”
Today, Leung is one of 22 members of Rotary Club of Richmond Sunset who volunteers globally.
“The principle of the Rotary Club is fostering world peace and understanding. You will become more tolerant, compassionate, caring, and plain loving towards one another by giving back to society,” said Leung.
Rotary Club of Richmond Sunset will celebrate its 20th anniversary on July 6 at Vancouver Airport Marriott Hotel.