A Canada Gives donor story: Toronto physician gives back in the developing world
This is the fourth in our new Donor Connect series, an initiative designed to share giving ideas and to highlight the great work of the many not-for-profits supported by the Canada Gives’ family of foundation funders. In this piece, we highlight a Canada Gives Foundation account holder’s efforts to provide assistance to women and children in the developing world.
Connie Chen has dedicated her professional life to helping families. As a physician in Toronto’s west end, Dr. Chen has practiced family medicine since the early 1990s, focusing largely on obstetrics. From delivering babies to caring for toddlers and teens, she’s ushered many patients through the earliest stages of life. But a desire to make a difference outside of the community would inspire her to lend that medical expertise to the developing world.
“I decided that I wanted to give back to help women and girls, making sure they get the care and respect they don’t always receive in some countries,” Dr. Chen explains.
Her international care journey began when she and a nurse colleague struck up a conversation about the latter’s charitable work. At that point, the nurse was working with an organization that delivered containers of supplies to areas in South and Central America, Africa and other impoverished regions around the world.
Not long after, members of that group would establish Silent Children’s Mission, a charity whose mandate is to provide on-the-ground aid and medical services to women, children and their families in developing countries. The nurse began taking aid trips to Guatemala and Malawi, around 2016, Dr. Chen joined as well, when her nursing friend began taking health students from Humber College to Guatemala. The goal: diversifying the regional impact of her philanthropy.
Her professional expertise proved an immediate asset to Silent Children’s Mission. The physician worked directly with a Guatemala City-area school and travelled to remote indigenous communities to provide medical care.
“It was a huge learning experience for us as physicians,” Dr. Chen says of her initial visits to Central America. “The type of care we’d expect in Canada, you can’t expect in Guatemala. Some conditions or illnesses that are easy to treat here, you simply can’t manage there.”
Leveraging her professional talents
As with many philanthropists, Dr. Chen’s giving journey began modestly, but soon grew once she realized the potential to create an immediate impact by committing time, expertise and financial resources. She was also able to lean in and give back in a way that reflected her personal values, in this case supporting causes that aid young women and children. The work has been inspiring and added another dimension to Dr. Chen’s already impressive career achievements.
“What’s given me a source of pride—because we’ve been going down every year other than during the pandemic—is that the children know us,” she notes. “There’s a sense of importance among the team. These kids mean something. They get a feeling of self-esteem and that’s incredibly rewarding.
“Silent Children’s Mission has also done projects outside of our medical work, helping to build a bakery and teaching kids so they can earn a baking certificate,” Dr. Chen adds. “Kids are now able to get a job in a city at a bakery; one child went to horticultural school in Honduras. That’s very rewarding and a huge part of what I get from this work.”
Creating impact at home
Dr. Chen’s international philanthropic work with Silent Children’s Mission will continue, but she’s now working with the Canada Gives Client Services team to extend that impact back home in Canada. Having a focus to her charitable giving will only help speed the process of finding charity partners to do similar work domestically.
“We’re working to find charities that would give us the same sense of pride and ability to make a difference in young women and kids’ lives,” Dr. Chen says. “Canada Gives has been helping us research charities that we can support with grants, and maybe even by donating some of our time.”
Dr. Chen’s work is also helping other Canada Gives donor clients. Recently, we had a donor contact our Client Services team requesting information about how she might support a charity working to uplift women in developing countries. We were able to work with Dr. Chen to make the right connections. The donor client later gifted $25,000 to Silent Children’s Mission after learning more about the organization’s work.
For Dr. Chen, the real joy comes from knowing that she’s creating a lasting impact and delivering medical, social and economic benefits that will be felt for generations to come.
“We’re really passionate about helping young women and girls find their place in life and maybe move away from the situation that’s been placed upon them,” Dr. Chen says. “It’s about allowing them to overcome those circumstances to achieve their full potential.”
The Canada Gives team
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