Courtenay resident Marv McLeod considers his piece of property in the Philippines his Stanley Park, but his park has a school nearby with children desperate to even go to school.
Marv, along with his wife Victoria have been travelling back and forth to the country for more than 20 years, as Victoria, who is from Lemery — a town on one of the larger islands that comprise the country — wanted to find a way to give back.
"Originally I met some people at a school and they came down (to meet us) and asked if we could help. If you don't have money then you can't go to high school and you don't go anywhere," explained McLeod.
The 75-year-old said when he and Victoria were initially looking at property in the Philippines near her parents, they found a location with a school nearby.
"I was introduced to the principal and was told the story of what happens. I told them if I can help, give me advice as to what you need. I came back to Canada and it was quite the eye-opening experience," he noted. "We're kind of in a cocoon. We read about conditions overseas, but you don't really know until you see it."
McLeod decided to begin collecting basic supplies such as dictionaries, paper, pencils, crayons, rulers, computers, typewriters and blankets. He and Victoria scour garage sales and liquidation stores for supplies, and once they have enough, he fills about five or six large boxes, and sends the packages by boat to his house in the Philippines, which generally takes about 60 days to arrive.
He estimates he spends about $2,000 to $3,000 a year to collect and ship the items.
A mechanic by trade, McLeod said he built a two bedroom, two story home for family friends, a gazebo-type house for him and Victoria, and eventually built five additional buildings and a shop in the country.
"I knew I had to be self-sufficient ... I had my world right there. The school became the next project; it had no fence or running water," he noted.
McLeod helped install a water line which piped in water from a nearby mountain, and said while working on the school, he became part of the family.
"They called me lolo which means grandpa in Fillipino. (The kids) all wave at me when I go by. No matter how poor they are, they always have a smile for you."
Until Grade 6 (elementary school), students can wear regular clothes, but as soon they enter high school, they must wear uniforms, explained McLeod.
"You can't go to school without a uniform ... two-thirds of the parents can't afford them," he added.
Two years ago, McLeod received a wishlist from the students of items they would like to have, and said he hopes to fulfill the requests of books, world atlases, paper, English dictionaries, computers, pencils and money for uniforms.
"These are things we take for granted. It's so sad to see a kid go to school with nothing. The more I get involved with the kids, the more I fall in love with them," he said.
Recently, McLeod connected with Mia Sutherland at The Core Exercise Studio in Comox, who is offering studio space as a drop location for individuals who would like to make donations towards the school.
McLeod said despite the warm temperatures in the Philippines, donations of socks, shoes and blankets are also appreciated. He hopes to ship about five or six large boxes, and is planning to return to the country in October.
"The teachers are pleading, and I want to focus on their wishes," he added.
Donations can be dropped off this Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. each day at The Core Exercise Studio, 821 Shamrock Pl. in Comox, or at the home of Marv and Victoria at 30-390 Cowichan Ave. (across from North Island College) in Courtenay. For those unable to drop off donations, call Marv at 250-338-6648 to make arrangements.
Victoria, who is an esthetician, is also co-ordinating a raffle to raise funds for the schools. Prizes of a full makeover and a spa gift basket are available to be won; tickets are $5 each, and will soon be available at Victoria's Esthetics at 7-2311 Rosewall Cres. in Courtenay or Lorena's Advanced Hair Studio at 624 Knight Road.