A lasting friendship from WYD

By  Andrew Santos, The Catholic Register
  • April 3, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - Over the past six years, Robert Kalisz and the Friends of Togo WYD committee have made significant steps in helping people in the tiny African nation of Togo to live a better life.

Since 2002, Friends of Togo WYD has been able to ship money and containers of supplies overseas, help with the renovation and construction of a well and school and sponsor a six-year-old boy who needed life-saving surgery.

Friends of Togo WYD was one of the fruits of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. Of 210 pilgrims who stayed at Toronto’s Prince of Peace Catholic School were nine pilgrims, including three priests, from Togo in West Africa. As WYD was drawing to a close, Kalisz, founder and chairperson of the Friends of Togo, felt the need to continue the relationship with these new friends from Togo.

What struck Kalisz the most about the Togolese was the humility and peace the pilgrims possessed.

“They were quite humble people,” said Kalisz. “They had told me, ‘We’ve been abandoned by the entire world.’ Those are alarming and disheartening words to hear. I believe that God had a hand to play in all of this. My heart was yearning to help in some way and I stepped out and did just that.”

Shortly after WYD ended Friends of Togo WYD was born.

Ethlyn Shim, long-time parishioner at Prince of Peace parish and leader of its prayer group, was thrilled to help support this project.

“When (Kalisz) first introduced this initiative to us, we wanted to hop on board as much as we could,” said Shim. “As a result, we continue taking up monthly collections in our meetings which have supported the Friends of Togo organization.”

In July 2007, with more than $86,000 spent, construction on a new school in the village of Keve was finally complete. Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School, an eight-room schoolhouse with washrooms, opened. Enough money was raised to assist more than 300 students with tuition fees for one full year.

“We are taking up the mission that Jesus led; to reach out to our Catholic brothers and sisters no matter what the situation be,” said Kalisz.

Another project was a campaign to bring six-year-old Kokou Christophe Azoukpo to Toronto in November 2006 for life-saving brain surgery and facial reconstruction at the Hospital for Sick Children. A total of $51,000 was donated to the hospital to cover the medical costs.

“The project with Kokou reached out to all staff and students,” said Kalisz. “Each person was touched by his story and there was an overwhelming outpouring of emotion. The students showered Kokou with love and affection. It was a wonderful moment to say the least.”

As for the future, there are plans to construct a hog farm in the village of Avati. Several animals have already been purchased for the village.

In addition, a well was reconstructed.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, who was executive director for WYD 2002, was ecstatic about the group’s ongoing efforts.

“I congratulate the entire Prince of Peace community for helping to keep the flame of World Youth Day alive. It is evident that the fruits that step from World Youth Day continue to be poured out throughout this initiative,” he said.

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