On October 21, the Dalai Lama Humanitarian Award was presented to church member John Volken for his work in helping homeless children through his orphanages in Africa and his aid to addicts at his recovery facilities in Vancouver, BC, Seattle, Washington, and Phoenix, Arizona. The Dalai Lama himself traveled personally to Vancouver to make the presentation at the local Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education. This international centre works to promote “inner values such as love, compassion, justice and forgiveness.”
Brother Volken lauds the efforts of the Dalai Lama. “I admire what he stands for and that he is a simple, good man. He doesn’t care about money, but he uses his money for good. He has great influence. He is personal, and when he speaks, it is with authority. I feel honoured to be recognized by him.”
John's organization, Lift the Children, now sustains 82 orphanages in Kenya and Uganda, Africa, caring for more than 10,000 children. The organization identifies struggling orphanages who need clothing, shelter, food, education and health care.
For instance, in Kenya, all children who have a uniform are allowed to attend school. Many orphans now are able to attend because Lift the Children bought them uniforms.
The organization has created agricultural projects to help fund the orphanages. One orphanage owns 20 acres of land where adults are trained to improve farm production and raise animals. By planting trees and high yield crops, the project improved the farm production 100 fold. Training is provided to anyone who wants to learn farming skills. Many orphanages are now equipped to produce their own food.
The academy team teaches ways to retrain the brain and gain life-skills. “Students are educated with the tools to stay sober,” says John. “The program works to be self-sustaining, using clients to work at a grocery store, a furniture store, a ranch or other manufacturing enterprises. Students develop work ethics and employers often request that more Volken graduates be sent to them to fill job openings.
“When clients come to the academy, I have to know when to show love and when to be tough. It doesn’t take long to love them all,” says Brother Volken. He remembers one young man who thought he was ready to leave the program early. John and the team sat him down for some straight talk, but in the end the student opted to leave anyway. John applauds the mother, who would not accept the boy back, despite her own desire to bring him home. She threw his jacket out, and told him to live under a bridge or go back to the academy. He returned to the Academy and completed the program. “When the parents come to graduation, they are so grateful!” John says. “They have so often lost hope, and this program brings them real hope for the future.”
Another student, Tyler, recalls, “I am a landscaper. John loves to do work with a shovel in his hands, so I have worked with him a lot. We talk and have powerful conversations as we work together. He taught me that work is an eternal principle and a prize not just in this life, but in the next.”
Graduate Kelly says that she is grateful to have found the academy. “My life was out of control. I was lost and had no purpose or direction. This Academy helped me find myself, be the best person I can be and a good mother to my children.”
Says Brother Volken, “God let me earn lots of money, so I feel He is watching to see how I use what He has given me. I have learned that where much is given, much is expected.”
“Every day at the Academy, it feels like I’m living the story of the good Samaritan. When you love us and smile, it’s like you are helping people on the side of the road. We put a smile on our faces, but inside we’re struggling. I’m grateful for everyone who comes into the store to support us. They make my day.” - Shilo
“I know the Savior was with me when I needed Him. In my darkest moments when I felt alone, He did come. The Savior is our best friend. I have struggled with worthiness feelings. Don’t ever feel that you are not worthy of the Savior’s love. Forgive yourself and move on.” - Tyler
“As soon as we begin to be obedient, that’s when the power of the Atonement kicks in. Christ’s power is there for the taking. How can I be more forgiving of myself? I’ve learned that when we forgive others, we start to see ourselves the way the Savior does. We can forgive ourselves more easily. Jesus, even while suffering, was patient with the apostles when they were found sleeping. Sometimes, we fall asleep to the fact that the Savior is there for us.” - Kevin
Says Brother Volken, “I thank Heavenly Father every night and every morning for the opportunities I’ve had to help. The work is rewarding in itself. I feel the award is an honour, but helping is the real honour.”