“We sat down one evening after work and decided it was time for a change. The next day, we both retired. Within a few weeks, we had picked up everything and moved to Sri Lanka, where we spent the next three years of our lives.”
This is the story of George and Toni Fernhout, from Edmonton, Alberta. In 2005, George and Toni were both working full-time, spoiling grandchildren on the side, and volunteering in their local community when they had time to spare. George directed a mental health services organization in Edmonton, and Toni was the principal of a local school. A few months earlier, they learned of a volunteer opportunity with World Renew, a Christian disaster response and community development organization that helps families in over 30 countries escape from poverty.
George and Toni Fernhout in Zambia
As volunteers with World Renew, they would use their management experience to support local organizations that were implementing projects to help families affected by conflict and natural disasters. Though excited by the opportunity, they thought that it would be something they did a few years down the road. After all, they were busy doing work they loved. However, when they heard of a short-term volunteer opportunity to help families in Sri Lanka affected by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, the enormous levels of need moved them to change plans and consider an early retirement.
When they arrived in Sri Lanka, they assumed it would only be for a few months. A few months came and went, and they found themselves falling in love with the people and culture, and continually moved to help those in need. “It was a privilege to be able to work with local communities who experienced the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami,” shares George. After three years, World Renew’s work in Sri Lanka came to an end and George and Toni returned to Canada.
Yet this was just the beginning. In the 11 years since then, they have volunteered with World Renew, spending over 900 days in eight different countries, helping thousands of families who were affected by conflict and natural disasters.
In 2010, less than two weeks after an enormous earthquake devastated the country of Haiti, George and Toni found themselves on a plane to Port-au-Prince. They spent nearly five months in Haiti, helping to manage World Renew’s response to this devastating earthquake. In their time there, they set the groundwork for what would become a five-year, $20 million response that helped over 130,000 Haitians.
At the beginning of January 2019, they left Canada again, this time to Madagascar – their fourth time serving as volunteers with World Renew in Madagascar. On this assignment, they will be working with a local organization to design a food assistance project that will help families in southern Madagascar who have been affected by severe drought and often go to bed hungry.
“We have been incredibly grateful to serve as volunteers with World Renew these last 14 years. Every time we travel, we meet incredible people who inspire and remind us why we are doing this work. We continue to learn so much from the people we meet, and are humbled to be able to help those in need, in whatever small way we can.”
George and Toni Fernhout are part of a team of volunteers that serve with World Renew known as International Relief Managers. These volunteers provide critical management support to local partners implementing disaster response projects, often for several months at a time.
World Renew International Relief Managers meet in Burlington, Ontario for a three-day training.
There are twenty volunteers across Canada who are willing to drop everything, at a moment’s notice, to fly thousands of kilometres away to help families living in the midst of crisis. For each person the motivations are similar: to offer the knowledge and skills they have in order to help those in crisis, making sure that communities are stronger and better prepared for future disasters.
We are incredibly thankful for the volunteer service of our International Relief Managers, and are proud to know that these volunteers are representing World Renew and Canada in the work they do.
In the photo above: George and Toni Fernhout meeting with the World Renew team in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake response