The founder of an Abbotsford-based international rescue mission has been awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal.
Susan Chalkias is one of the founders of the group that is now known as Seeds of Hope, which runs an orphanage, school and a food centre in Zambia and another orphanage in Southeast Asia.
Chalkias discovered that thousands of babies are being born with antibodies for HIV, meaning that they either have the infection or have parents that were infected.
They are usually orphaned within a few months, or die of the disease themselves.
But Chalkias, and her husband John, have found that compassionate care, strong prayer and good nutrition can be combined with powerful medication to give these youngsters a chance at a productive life and a quality education.
She began her work 15 years ago when she and a friend decided to raise funds by baking pies and collecting bottles in Mission. Her group of moms in Mission raised $23,000 to help establish the Agape Home in northern Thailand.
In 2000, she and her husband saw a need in Africa, so refocused their efforts on Zambia. With the support of Cedar Valley Mennonite Church and Northside Church they have established the Buseka Home and Grace Academy, a boarding school for 120 children. They also run three feeding programs.
“We received more than $100,000 through the Rotary Clubs in Mission,” said Chalkias.
“Saving the kids is the best thing about this. Thin, broken, emaciated and dying children are brought to us and within a year many of them are healthy and thriving.”
Some of the first children to be helped by Seeds of Hope are now graduating from high school and are planning further education to become doctors and professionals.
When Chalkias heard she won the medal, she was honoured, but quickly credited others.
“I really believe that I accepted it on behalf of hundreds of people. So I share it with a lot of people. I actually have the certificate from the Governor General up in the office, not at home.”
But receiving the medal still holds special meaning for her.
“My parents are British, so it meant even more,” she said.
Her father flew out for the ceremony, which took place on Canada Day in Vancouver.
Chalkias has been working with the organization for 16 years and plans to continue for the foreseeable future.