Behind the Suit: Corus staffers give hands-on help to African village

A lot of people talk about giving back to the community, but the staff at Toronto's Corus Entertainment went one step further, travelling to Africa to pitch in and help a small village and its educational system.

The idea for the effort came out of a boardroom discussion where various Corus Kids employees discussed the need to expand their experiences as professionals in the kids industry. It grew to become a volunteer teaching and building mission that involved nine Corus staff members making the transcontinental trip, with five of their children in tow, last November.

Working with Globe Aware, a US/Canadian non-profit volunteer trip agency, Corus set up an in-house project that not only facilitated fundraising and travel, but also connected Canadian kids directly with African kids. "It was a personal journey, not a Corus trip," says Corus Kids VP of programming and production Jocelyn Hamilton. "We all decided to do this as humans giving back, and Corus was great in allowing us to do it in a way that was a team-driven."

After a year of pre-planning that included raising almost US$20,000, as well as coordinating travel plans and school/work schedules for 14 people, the entourage made the journey to the small village of Kpedze Todze in Ghana, situated at the end of a red-dirt path on a lush tropical hillside.

"The first day in the village was emotional," says Hamilton, who brought her son, Harrison. "The whole town walked up the dirt road in formation singing and drumming to welcome us and show us their gratitude...It was an unbelievable sight and something I'll never forget."

The group carried out a variety of tasks that included teaching in the primary schools, constructing 30 desks for five different schools in the area, and making way for a school that was later built by students from the School of Architecture at Toronto's Ryerson University.

Other staffers whose kids made the trip were director of content at Treehouse and Discovery Kids Canada Jamie Piekarz and her son and daughter (Piper and Jackson) and Bakugan supervising producer Pat Burns and her daughter, Katie. The kids, in fact, made a special contribution of their own that included setting up an e-pal exchange between two schools in Toronto and 50 children in Kpedze Todze. Acting as ambassadors for their classes, the Canadian kids got to meet their e-pals and personally deliver a five-pound package of school supplies and gifts, and the video greeting the Canuck e-pals had each made for their African counterparts. The kids in Ghana also sent packages back to Canada that included handmade gifts, letters and poems for their e-pals.

In order to continue with kids' exchange, Corus staff on-hand realized the village's handful of ancient computers that sat unused and unconnected to the internet needed fixing. Using some of the funds raised, the volunteers upgraded the computer lab and created the community's first internet caf with internet access for a year.

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