For the close to 100 orphans in Hohoe, Ghana, Ottawa lawyer Adriana Doyle is their version of Santa Claus.
But even though Doyle has packed her baggage to the brim with clothes, teddies, toys deflated soccer balls, as many books as she can carry, and boarded a plane bound for the west African country, she’d argue against any comparison to the jolly elf.
In fact, Doyle says her holiday mission to Hohoe’s new orphanage is due mainly to the overwhelming generosity of other lawyers in the capital who donated $10,200 to the cause, and she deflects compliments sent her way.
The money collected in the past three months by Doyle from the legal community has gone the distance to see the dream for construction of a new structure - with sleeping areas, classrooms, clinic, and a real washroom - a reality.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the legal community,” says Doyle in an interview with Law Times a few days before she and her daughter Nathalie, 19, took off Dec. 20 for a 24-day mission to help finish building the orphanage.
“I’m in awe about the generosity exhibited by the bench, the bar, administrative and support staff in this community,” primarily in Ottawa - though a few from outside the city contributed. She’s overwhelmed by the trust people had in writing cheques made out to her for $20, $500, $1,000, which she then sent off through Western Union to orphanage founder Nicholas Victus to buy building materials.
“I’m just so touched that people want to help other people,” she says. “I’m just a middle person.
“I’m so sick and tired of lawyer jokes and things like . . . [people] saying they’re liars and putting our profession down. I’m proud to be a lawyer and proud to be part of this community that cares about humanity, whether it’s giving 20 bucks to support a poor African child, or being part of the march for [the legal profession] in Pakistan.
We are a community that reaches out to those who are disadvantaged in the world. That is what is most touching about this,” she says.
The adventure began for Doyle, a family law lawyer called to the bar in 1984, earlier this year when she turned 50. The milestone spurred her into “doing something I’ve always wanted to do; helping needy children. I just decided I was going to do it,” she says.
So she started Googling, one thing led to another, and she found the Hohoe district in the Volta Region of Ghana, where the area is plagued with poverty and sickness, she says. Many children, as a result, are on the streets with no parents, home, food or future. In 2003, the community banded together to help the children, organizing the Hohoe Christian Orphans’ Home, to provide shelter for the growing number of kids.
They are currently housed in a humble building where people in the community volunteer to feed and teach them.
“It’s a one-man operation with the support of the community, but with little in terms of resources or help in terms of money. I like to help those who are most needy, so I decided to go with this particular one,” she says.
Starting last April, Doyle began helping by filling out applications and getting “money here, there, and everywhere. I have more availability to the internet than [Victus] does in a small village in Ghana.”
The local campaign to raise funds began Sept. 24 via e-mail. “The legal profession has a history of donating their time and money to social causes. The CCLA has the tradition through various events of rising to the occasion to help important causes,” she wrote. “If everyone gave just $10, I know we would reach our goal.”
The community more than rose to the occasion, she says. The building is nearly completed.
Aside from Doyle’s efforts, fundraising needs have also been met by groups in Utah, New York, and Australia. The plot of land was donated by a local church, and the builders are parishioners and local volunteers.
The building will have bedrooms for the children, five classrooms, kitchen, dining room, an office “and they’ll actually have a washroom, a toilet, that’s amazing,” she says, noting that, since equipment like backhoes are unavailable, volunteers have done all of the work manually, including building a septic with shovels. The children currently relieve themselves in an area in the backyard, and there is no furniture, so the kids sleep on the floor.
“One of the most rewarding things that has happened to me, is it’s added another dimension to my life,” says Doyle. “When you give, you receive a lot more in terms of the feeling of having helped your fellow human being. I know that sounds corny . . . .
“I’m just a rookie, just a lawyer, but I’m learning.”
Meanwhile, in February, Doyle will receive the Gordon F. Henderson Award, bestowed by the County of Carleton Law Association at its annual general meeting to someone in the legal community for charity work.
“The award shouldn’t be granted to me, but it should be granted to all those members in the legal community who were so generous to this project of helping the needy,” she says. But, she adds that the $1,000 prize will be well used by the orphanage.
“It’s a lifelong project for me now,” she says, adding a big “thank you” to her legal colleagues and noting there are plans to build a clinic.
For those interested in donating to the cause, contributions may be sent to Adriana Doyle, 203-00 Elgin St., Ottawa, Ont. K2P 1L5. Or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the orphanage, go to www.independentvolunteer.org/.