C.H. Rotary Club’s Rebecca Anwar an angel to orphans
It has been 12 years since Rebecca Anwar, of Mt. Airy, first began volunteering at an orphanage in Guyana, South America, but after spending about six weeks there during each of those years, it is still just about having the chance to do something for others.
“That’s why I’m here (on earth),” she said. “I look at it as an obligation of being alive. You have a choice; you can take action, or you cannot.”
As a charter member of the Rotary Club in Chestnut Hill, Anwar has spent more than a month every year for the past 12 years aiding in an orphanage in Guyana, providing both administrative and educational support. For the first six years, she spent her time at the St. John Bosco Orphanage for Boys, while the last six years have been spent at the Hope Children’s Home in Enmore, a small village on the East Coast of South America.
“There are 46 children at Hope Children’s Home, but it started with the idea of having only 20 children,” she said. “It’s a very small place.”
The orphanage is filled with both healthy children and those who are disabled or suffering from such diseases as HIV, cerebral palsy, etc. Anwar initially got involved with the Rotary Club in Ardmore in 1990 because its goals of helping those in need were exactly what she wanted. “I found out that their whole goal is service,” she said of the club. “They don’t expect anything in return.”
Several years later — when she moved her health care consulting company, The Sage Group (from which she has recently retired), to Chestnut Hill — she became a charter member in the town’s Rotary Club.
“The reason I like the Rotary Club is that it suits my personality,” she said. “Rotary International is all over the world, and the goals are to improve the local environment and make the world a better place.”
But it was not until several years after she joined the Rotary Club that Anwar heard about the potential for doing work in Guyana after meeting up with a friend she had met while studying economics at the University of London from 1970 to 1972, where she earned a PhD in sociology and economics. “I was a graduate student in London, and I met a nun from Guyana,” she said. “We maintained contact, and 30 years later, she told me about the orphanages. I said I wanted to help.”
Over the years with Hope Children’s Home, Anwar has witnessed changes that have helped the children of all ages. About four years ago, the orphanage opened its own school to care for children who had previously been sent either to overcrowded public schools or to no schools at all.
“We separate the students by ability, not by age. It started with kindergarten and first graders, and now we are up to fifth and sixth graders. It’s an amazing school, given the fact that there’s such an age range among the students.”
When she is in Guyana, Anwar does everything from performing administrative duties and teaching classes to starting a computer lab for the children. “And we have a music program where I teach recorder. This year I want to start a percussion ensemble with drumsticks and upside-down paint cans.”
In addition, Anwar works out job descriptions for staff members and aids in developing healthy menus for the children, adding fruits and vegetables to their usual diet of rice and beans. Anwar has even had the opportunity to aid a child who was sent to America from Guyana to take advantage of the opportunities here. The boy was sent at age 16 to Philadelphia, where he attended LaSalle College High School and eventually received a full scholarship to Cabrini College in Radnor.
“He just recently graduated with a degree in Spanish and secondary education, and is going back as a volunteer teacher at LaSalle College High School,” said Rebecca. “It’s a great feeling of making a difference in the world. This is a chance he would not have had otherwise.”
When she is not actually in Guyana aiding the orphanage, Anwar works with the Rotary Club to gather donated supplies and other items to send to those in need. One such fundraiser was recently completed with the Rotary Club’s yearly collection of school, kitchen, medical and other supplies to be sent to the orphanage. “The items are donated by members of the club, retirement communities and other places,” Anwar said. “We collect clothing, shoes, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other items. We send over a major shipment at least once a year.”
Anwar also works with the Rotary Club to host several fundraisers throughout the year, including an annual pancake breakfast on the Saturday before Halloween at Solaris Grille for the last 10 years. The pancake breakfasts have raised an average of $2,000. Anwar also works on a Lobster Fest fundraiser, and held a Vintage Cocktail Party where guests dressed in 1920s’ outfits.
“This club has already bought the children new tables, benches, worktables and a refrigerator,” she said. “And there is total accountability (for the donated money) because I make sure all the money goes toward purchasing items the kids need … They trust me because they know I’m going to come back. If you do volunteer in a Third World country, it is important for them to know that you are coming back. For the children, it’s an incredible experience. They need so much attention and love. It is, emotionally, tremendously rewarding.”To contribute to the work in Guyana, send donations to Rotary Club of Chestnut Hill, c/o Rebecca Anwar, 374 East Gowen Ave., Phila., PA 19119.