Years of Quietly Giving

Courtenay residents Marvin and Victoria McLeod have spent nearly two decades quietly making the world a better place. In 1993 they founded the Simple Smile Foundation.

They possess neither large personal wealth nor the time and freedom of youth, but over the last 18 years, the couple has become a beacon of hope for poor students. Each year, Marvin and Victoria bring crates of school supplies and everyday essentials to over 650 poverty-stricken students in the Philippines; things like running shoes, used backpacks, pencils, pens and crayons.

The pair spends several months at a time in the Southeast Asian country, on a one-hectare parcel of land on which they live with an adopted family of 10.

They are known by the local children as 'Tito' and 'Tita;' a rough translation of 'uncle' and 'aunt' in English. The affectionate namesakes are bestowed with good reason. The crates the McLeods bring contain items that are taken for granted by most Canadian school children, but considered unattainable by the vast majority of Filipinos between first and sixth grade.

Victoria knows this reality all too well. She was born and grew up in the village of Calatrava, in the province of Negros Occidental, a few minutes' drive from her and her husband's home in the Philippines.

She recalls her days as a poor student. Her father and other volunteers had built the elementary school nearby, but it was a poor community. One memory in particular illustrates what times were like for the young Victoria. "I remember when I was little, my teacher broke my pencil in half so that it could be shared," she said. "And I cried." She said it is not uncommon to see children there playing with makeshift soccer balls made out of bound-together plant leaves. The sad thing, she said, is that years later, nothing much has changed. "People are still very, very, very poor," said Victoria, who works in the Comox Valley as an esthetician. "If you don't have a high school uniform, you don't go to school." She began donating her tips from work to purchase school uniforms and has to date clothed 39 students.

Marvin is Canadian-born and never expected his life would turn out as it has, he said. The retired mechanic donates most of his pension and spends over $5,000 annually purchasing equipment and used items for the children, including shoes, used computers and typewriters. Because the couple relies mostly on Victoria's income, they live modestly in a two-room home and scrimp and save for their trips to the Philippines.

Marvin recalled meeting his future wife at a Manila hotel gift shop in 1989, where she was staying on business as an assistant at the South African embassy in Taiwan. A friendship developed over a cup of coffee, leading to letter correspondence over three years, then finally a marriage in 1992. When the newlywed couple visited Victoria's family in the Philippines, Marvin was aghast. "I was shocked so much by the poverty, I told her, 'Take a good look at your town, because we're not coming back,'" he said.

But the couple did return in 1997, three years after they began sponsoring students. While Victoria can only spend one month at a time overseas due to work commitments, Marvin stays there for up to six months. "What I saw and talking to the kids made me think, I've got to go back there and see what I can do," he said.

The self-described handyman has used his time well. He and his adopted family have connected one of the local schools to electrical and water lines, an essential infrastructure upgrade that otherwise would not have been completed. "The government does nothing for them - that's the bottom line," he said.

He and Victoria also pay tuition for two college students, at a cost of $100 per term each - a small amount of money that can make all the difference, said Victoria, who left her village at age 14 to look for opportunities elsewhere. Two years ago, the couple asked the students to write letters requesting items they needed for school, and have been flooded by responses.

"I am Daniela-Ann J. Ermita, Grade 6 pupil, with five in the family," reads one in broken English. "My mother is a house maid, and my father did not support my family because she have a new family but I pray to lord that he gave a good life. I need a big support because my mother cannot afford this things." Then a list: school uniform, shoes, sandals, bag, school supplies.

"We are five in a family," reads another letter by Leah Mae M. Mediana, also in Grade 6. "My father is only a driver and my mother is a house wife. His income is cannot [afford] this things. I wish I have a school supplies, a school shoes, a bag, and a uniform. I am so very, very poor, I need your support."

With their next trip planned, the McLeods are asking Comox Valley residents for help, particularly with the cost of shipping the boxes of supplies overseas, which amounts to hundreds of dollars.

Below is a list of some of the items the students have requested:

  • Small garden tools such as gloves or trowels
  • Globes, maps and dictionaries
  • Backpacks, new and used
  • Shoes, clothing and socks
  • Computers and typewriters
  • Pens, pencils, markers, crayons
  • Blankets, raincoats, umbrellas
Click on a photo below to enlarge
     
     
     

If you wish to donate items or money to the Simple Smile Foundation, you can contact the McLeods directly at 250-338-6648 or by e-mail at Marv36@shaw.ca. Go to Victoria's Aesthetics & Footcare.