Art takes many forms and enriches lives around the world. One local artist has taken his talent and love of art to families in Cambodia and is not only teaching them how to express themselves through various forms of art but he is also helping to raise money to rebuild homes for those families through a local charity, Bracelets 4 Buildings.
Local Artist Russell Thomas is on the board of directors with B4B and owns and operates Birdsong Studio and Healing Centre in Okotoks. He has just returned from his third trip to Cambodia where he brought art supplies and other donations to build into the lives and rebuild homes for the very poor in that country.
Thomas says connecting with the people is what he enjoys most, and he says the impact he sees year after year is profound.
Although he doesn't speak the language, he says something magical happens when you spend time with people.
"Language is a barrier and then it becomes no barrier at all because you sort of create a common language. A way of communicating just organically happens and is completely beautiful."
Thomas said while others are there building homes for very poor rural families, he paints and hangs out with kids and talks with other family members. This year he went back to a family he had been to 2 years ago and was surprised by a young girl who brought him a drawing she made and saved for him.
"She didn't know I would be coming back, but she had done the drawing for me and held on to it. You just can't put a price on that." shared Thomas.
Thomas says Bracelets 4 Buildings is a small charity that was started by 2 friends, Kent Lissack and Lee Chandler. Both men have a passion for helping people in Thailand and Cambodia and they use donations to pay for building homes for the very poor in these third world countries.
Thomas says last year they rebuilt 16 homes in rural Cambodia and 12 homes are projected for this season.
He says the charity aims to build skills in the community by getting them involved in the building process, plus it employs residents.
"They learn valuable skills, and their living conditions improve dramatically, that's the big thing." he explains, "All of a sudden they become stabilized, and it changes their abilities to raised children and to move forward. That's what it's all about." said Thomas.
Thomas says 3 homes were built for people in Cambodia with the funds raised from selling just the bracelets and as a group between 30 to 40 houses have been built or rebuilt in the last 3 years.
Thomas was joined by local photographer, Rob Kuntz this year and the 2 men brought back with them many interesting stories from their experiences and they were impacted by the difference they saw with the families who have benefited in previous years from having a home to live in.
"The impact is profound." expressed Thomas, "It just gives them a leg up and it changes the momentum of the entire family."
While he was there the grandmother and matriarch of one family made several trays and other items that the team bought to bring back to raise more money for the community.
As for donating to the charity, Thomas says the website shows what kind of impact even a small amount of money can make and breaks it down in a relatable way.
"They have it listed so that if you donate $50 that's a door for a family. or $30 that's a window. So you can sort of see the impact." he continues, "$100 buys a starter pack for a family with a new home. All of the goods, rice and dried fish and cleaning supplies that they need to get started."
Thomas plans on going back again next year and expresses the satisfaction he gets from connecting with the people of Cambodia.
"You can have a tremendous impact by giving a little," adds Thomas.
More information can be found on the charity website bracelets4buildings.com.
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