Talent show shines light on child soldiers

New organization with Chilliwack roots aims to help give former child soldiers a better life in Sierra Leone

Fazineh Keita and Ava Vanderstarren co-founded the Innocence Lost Foundation

Fazineh Keita and Ava Vanderstarren co-founded the Innocence Lost Foundation

Kids aren’t ready to be soldiers.

They’re ready to jump and play, to kick a ball with friends, to dance, to sing, and to learn.

But there are as many as 300,000 children used in conflicts around the world, a common practice in countries embroiled in conflict, including Sierra Leone.

Now that the African country is rebuilding itself, a new organization with Chilliwack roots is eager to help repair some of the damage done to the children there.

The Innocence Lost Foundation was founded by Fazineh Keita and Ava Vanderstarren, who met while studying at Vancouver Film School. Keita was used as a child soldier in the Sierra Leone civil war, and now is a political activist working to bring democratic change with his music.

Vanderstarren is a model and actor, former Miss B.C. winner, and a graduate from G.W. Graham.

As their friendship grew, so did the idea to really make a dramatic difference in Sierra Leone. They founded the Innocence Lost Foundation, and began fundraising. They have plans in place to build a full functioning recreational centre in the Sierra Leone community of Kabala. There, former child soldiers will be able to play soccer, to act, to learn and to be safe.

They’ll have access to education, which is not free in their country. They’ll also have access to water, computers, and medical resources.

They’ll have a chance at a better future.

“The whole thing we’re trying to do is to stop the cycle of poverty,” Vanderstarren said. And they find that art therapy is one of the best healing tools.

They have traveled to schools through the Vancouver area, teaching students about child soldiers and talking about their plans. So far, they’ve raised just over $22,000 toward their first major fundraising milestone of $200,000.

Now, they’re coming to Chilliwack to launch a new fundraising initiative that will focus directly on the arts.

The Self Xpress Community Talent Show will be held on Nov. 26 at G.W. Graham, with the help of drama teacher and foundation director Damon Fultz.

Auditions for the show are coming up fast, on Sunday, Nov. 8. The show is open to all manners of talent, and all age groups. Chilliwack’s GW Graham is the first school to host the community-oriented talent show, and they are looking forward to mimicking its success in other schools in the Lower Mainland.

Vanderstarren stresses that the show is open to all ages, with the idea of coming together as a community to create art.

“This is a way for Chilliwack to express themselves,” she says. ” Art is very healing.”

All of the money raised by Innocence Lost Foundation goes directly to this project, which at completion they estimate will cost $862,000. The first $200,000 is what’s necessary to purchase the land and begin building.

When they hit that mark, Vanderstarren says, they’ll head to Sierra Leone and break ground.

At full completion, the 3.5 acre compound will include a medical officers, a kitchen and multipurpose room, residences, daycare space, a library and classrooms, fine arts studios, workshops, gymnasium, equipment to use, community gardens, a soccer field, and more.

Vanderstarren knows it’s going to be a long road to get there, but she’s putting in every spare minute to work on the foundation.

“I still model and act to pay my bills,” she says. “But every free moment I’m working on this.”

They’re also starting to get the word out. Their website contains all the details, including basic building plans, for their project. They’ve been featured on Shaw TV, and have held a few very successful fundraisers in Vancouver.

They’ve pulled together a board of directors, and have applied for charitable status. And they can’t wait to get to started building Sierra Leone’s future.

“It’s ready for it,” she says. “The war has been over there for a while now, their economy is being rebuilt, but they’ve had the ebola crisis and there still a lot of poverty and illiteracy.”

Kabala is a smaller town in the northeast of the country, and has an illiteracy rate of about 70 to 80 per cent.

“There is a lot of poverty there,” she says.

To book an audition time on Nov. 8 for the GW Graham talent show, or to get involved, email innocencelostfoundation@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

Just Posted

The theme for this year’s Fraser Valley Regional Library Summer Reading Club is “Crack the Case” and Katie Burns, community librarian at the Chilliwack Library, is encouraging people of all ages to sign up. She is seen here at the Chilliwack Library on Friday, June 18, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crack the case, read, win prizes with FVRL Summer Reading Club

‘Immerse yourself in other worlds and have a bit of fun while you do it,’ says Chilliwack librarian

Harrison Hot Springs country singer Todd Richard poses for a photo with Mission firefighters. (Photo/Sarah Plawutski)
VIDEO: Harrison country artist Todd Richard plans for a busy, rockin’ summer

Richard and his band look to live shows as restrictions start to lift

Vanessa Dueck.
Snapshots of a Chilliwack father from his loving daughter

Father’s Day memories of special moments shared together

Rachel is a six month old Labrador retriever cross who was found at large. She is seen here at the Chilliwack SPCA on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Find Me My Furever Home – Rachel at the Chilliwack SPCA

6-month-old puppy found at large, now at Chilliwack SPCA, needs special home

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

A police pursuit involving Abbotsford Police ended in Langley Saturday night, June 20. (Black Press Media file)
Abbotsford Police pursuit ends in Langley with guns drawn

One person arrested, witnesses say an officer may have been hurt in collision with suspect vehicle

Most Read