Canada honours Wells of Hope founder
In many ways, Ted van der Zalm felt he didn’t belong on Parliament Hill.
It wasn’t just that van der Zalm, the founder of the Niagara-based charity Wells of Hope, isn’t a politician. He could even live with the suit he wore Friday to meet Governor General David Johnston — although van der Zalm is infinitely more comfortable in his work boots and jeans.
It was momentarily being the centre of attention during the overly serious pomp and circumstance of the ceremony that made him feel out of place.
“It was very formal. Turn here. Bow here. Say this,” said van der Zalm in an interview after receiving the Governor General’s meritorious service decoration. “It’s just not the kind of thing I am used to.”
Van der Zalm received the award for the work he has done with the Niagara-on-the-Lake-based Wells of Hope, which digs fresh water wells for the impoverished residents of the Japala mountains in Guatemala.
“I’m honoured, of course. But I don’t really like to have that kind of attention focused on me. Without my wife Miriam, Wells of Hope wouldn’t exist and she really deserves so much of the credit,” he said. “But if it helps raise awareness of the cause, then there is a purpose for it.”
Van der Zalm founded Wells of Hope in 2004.
After he graduated from university, van der Zalm travelled to Africa to do missionary work. Although he had no experience with wells, officials at the mission set to work digging one.
Eventually he married his wife Miriam and started a family. The couple returned to Canada and van der Zalm thought his days of digging wells were over.
He was wrong.
After giving a presentation about the work he did in Africa, van der Zalm was contacted by a woman from Jalapa, who said her community was in dire need of clean water. Could the van der Zalms help, she asked.
The van der Zalms packed up their family and travelled to Guatemala to get a clearer picture the situation. Ted van der Zalm then pulled together a team of like-minded people from Niagara and got to work on digging wells.
Since 2004, Wells of Hope has expanded its programming to including an annual drive for school supplies for children in Jalapa, supporting firefighters in the community, along with women’s programming to help them better earn a living and care for their families.
Each spring, groups of people from Niagara — including school groups — travel to Japala with Wells of Hope to help with the organization’s work there.
Van der Zalm said there is already a full slate of school groups scheduled to go in 2017.
For more information about Wells of Hope visit www.wellsofhope.com.
Photo Credits: Governor General David Johnston, right, presents the Meritorious Service Medal to Ted van der Zalm. (Sgt Johanie Maheu/Rideau Hall, OSGG)