“We can’t change South Africa, but by helping to promote basic education, we can hope that the next generation will do a better job of lifting the country out of extreme poverty.”
That’s Brian Hall, talking about his passion for the Global Literacy project led by his Rotary Club in Grand Bend. Through the project books, furniture and materials from decommissioned schools in Southwestern Ontario are loaded into containers and shipped to countries where they are much needed.
Brian is a successful entrepreneur, a community leader, a philanthropist, an adventurer, and a member of the board of Grand Bend Community Foundation. He grew up in Ingersoll and Goderich, but his roots in Grand Bend go deep. “I’m pretty sure I was conceived here,” he says with a grin. His grandfather had a cottage just north of the village, and Brian spent his summers by the lake.
When he finished high school, he jumped on a motorcycle and rode to the west coast. Back home, he started a career in the lumber industry. Then in the early 80s, when interest rates soared past 20 per cent and construction dried up, he changed gears. “Finance was top of mind for everybody,” he says. “People were concerned about how they were going to keep their houses. I thought I could create a business by helping people get a handle on their finances.” He built Waypoint Financial Group, a successful investment and financial planning business, retiring after 34 years.
The Global Literacy project began a decade ago when fellow Rotarian Peter Twynstra got a call from a neighbor who had traveled with him on a tour of South Africa. The woman lived near a country school that was being closed, and she had seen employees throwing perfectly good desks into a dumpster. She thought the furniture could be better used in rural South Africa, where schoolchildren often sit on the ground. Peter, Brian and several other Rotarians took up the challenge.
The project has grown, involving 18 different Rotary Clubs and hundreds of volunteers across the region. Containers have been shipped to seven countries. This September, the 80th container will be filled and shipped.
Brian has been at almost every container loading (his packing expertise is much prized!) and has played a critical role in raising money for the container shipping. A visit to South Africa in 2012 only added fuel to his passion for the work. “It’s when you see the looks on the kids’ faces,” he says. “They are so thirsty for knowledge.”
Brian’s other passion is sailing. He made his first sail for a small rowboat in 1967, and he’s been on the water ever since. In 2007, he and wife Irene Hall sailed from Bayfield, Ontario to the Azores , then on to the Mediterranean. “The big thing it taught us was self-reliance,” says Brian. “When you’re out there, you have to rely on your own abilities and innovations.”
In his practice, Brian often talked to clients about their philanthropic goals. “I tried to encourage them to use their wealth to make a long-term difference for themselves and their families, and to be good stewards of their wealth, so that it would benefit generations to come.” The Foundation, he believes, is well placed to identify changing needs in the community and invest its income wisely. Brian and Irene are also donors to the Foundation.
Oh, and there’s one other thing you should know about Brian: he makes a “pretty decent” cranberry banana waffle, a favorite of his nieces and nephews!