Lloyd Cenaiko is president of HART.
What is HART and what does it do?
Cenaiko: HART is a relief, aid and missions agency, dedicated to alleviating poverty and injustice in Eastern Europe.
For the past 20 years, HART has been on the cutting edge of a movement focused on empowering and equipping local leaders, agencies and churches to develop sustainable solutions to the problems facing their communities.
We’ve developed a network of over 200 partnerships across Eastern Europe impacting tens of thousands of people each year through our core projects and programs such as relief aid, medical care, children and youth programs, seniors programs, community development projects, support for gypsy villages, education scholarships, micro-finance, missions, and child sponsor programs.
How did you become involved with this and why?
Cenaiko: I went to Ukraine with my parents in 1994. My father was interested in visiting his birthplace and meeting our relatives still living in Ukraine. For me, I thought this would be an interesting time to travel to Eastern Europe. With the Soviet Empire imploding in 1991, I was eager to witness Ukraine’s transformation from communism to free enterprise.
It was not very pretty. Throughout the trip I found myself astonished and deeply troubled by the poverty and despair I witnessed. Often through tears hidden behind a camera, I captured the harshness of my relatives’ life in rural Ukraine.
It became stunningly clear to me that I’d won the lottery to be born and raised in Canada and that somehow, I had to give back. So, at the age of 40, I found myself at a fork in the road. I could go back to Scottsdale, Ariz., to continue my successful real estate development career or, alternatively, go off on a journey into completely uncharted waters doing relief aid and development work — something I had virtually no experience in.
I couldn’t have been further out of my comfort zone doing this, but I somehow felt this is where God wanted me to be. So, in 1995 I transitioned from the corporate world to relief aid work.
How has the economic downturn in Calgary in recent years impacted your organization?
Cenaiko: Not that much. Here’s why: Firstly, we’ve been blessed with a generous donor base from across Canada and a dozen states in the U.S. Secondly, I think it relates to our goal of connecting donors with projects. People want to feel connected to where their hard-earned donations are going, so we try to match people with projects for which they have an affinity.
Here’s a great answer to this question, given by a couple in Calgary who sponsor two children through HART and recently visited them in Ukraine:
“We recognize that many families are struggling with our current economic climate. We ourselves were at a point that we had to cut back on many things and were contemplating whether we could afford to keep up with the sponsorship. As it was, we could not see ourselves abandoning these children that had already experienced so much abandonment and hurt in their lives, so we chose to trim other things that we could live without. Besides, we knew that God would take care of us, and that everything would work out in the end. The profound joy we felt when we saw how extremely grateful they were for our intervention in their lives far outweighed the sponsorship cost we would otherwise have spent elsewhere.”
What can you tell me about the need out there that HART responds to? Is it growing and if so why?
Cenaiko: Ukraine and Moldova rank at the bottom of all social and economic indicators for European countries. State bureaucrats and oligarchs have teamed up with corrupt politicians throughout 28 years of independence to perpetuate a graft-ridden, Soviet-style system. This has kept millions of Ukrainians and Moldovans impoverished and prompted millions of others to flee their home countries in search of a better life.
On top of the systemic corruption and poverty plaguing the country, Ukraine is still in the middle of a war with Russia in the eastern part of their country. So far, it has resulted in 13,000 deaths and 1.8 million refugees. In an environment like this, the most vulnerable – children, young girls and the elderly – are the most at risk. Our projects and programs are designed to benefit all these affected people but as you can surmise, the needs are tremendous and growing.
What’s your vision for the organization?
Cenaiko: Giving more people in Canada and U.S. an opportunity to make a tangible difference in the world. Let’s be honest: No single one of us can change the world. In fact, I’d suggest we need to do away with the “I can change the whole world” mentality and language, because it’s impossible, and actually unhelpful. But we can impact the worlds of some. Some may be just one family or one person, but we can make an impact and, in the process, be changed ourselves.
This, in my opinion, is the best part of wanting to change the world. Inevitably, we will be changed in the process. We believe HART’S model can and should be replicated in other developing countries. In most emerging nations today, development is what should be occurring. Development – or long-term, intentional strategy that promotes an increase in local capacity – is the concept we embrace and facilitate. It’s the strategy that, when done right, creates opportunity and hope.
We in the West need to transform the way we look at wealth and poverty. To truly help the poor we need to move from paternalism to partnerships; from aid to enterprise, from poverty alleviation to wealth creation, from handouts to investments and micro-finance. This is how we can change the world for many. This is HART’s vision.
Interviewed by Mario Toneguzzi, a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary.