Trevor Hardy has carved out an excellent reputation for training amateur and professional athletes including National Hockey League players Kris Versteeg and Devin Setoguchi. Now Hardy is in the corner of the non-profit organization Bridges of Hope in a fight to improve the lives of people in Burkina Faso, Africa.
Hardy, who is from Fort Macleod and who has family here, and his company Hard Training is raising $60,000 to build a school in the west African country.
A Golden Gloves, jujitsu and kickboxing champion and mixed martial arts fighter, Hardy was introduced to Bridges of Hope through Daniel Zopoula.
Zopoula escaped the crushing poverty in his native Burkina Faso and now works with Bridges of Hope in improving life in the world’s poorest countries.
“I was really taken by what he had to say,” Hardy said of a conversation with Zopoula. “He is an amazing man with an amazing story. His life is a testament to the power of these projects.”
Zopoula was guest speaker Wednesday at a fund-raiser organized through Hardy’s company Hard Training at the Galt Museum in Lethbridge.
Zopoula told of growing up in abject poverty in Burkina Faso, where he was the 33rd child of 35 by his father, who had eight wives.
“It was a very poor country, and it still is,” Zopoula said of Burkina Faso, where people live on $500 to $1,200 a year.
Zopoula said his life was okay until his mother died of starvation when he was just four years old. He was given to one of his father’s other wives, who did her best to care for Daniel and his sister but whose loyalty was to her own children.
Zopoula and his sister had to fend for themselves, begging in the streets for food. Finally, his sister resorted to stealing and was banished when she was caught by her stepmother.
“We made the bush our dwelling place,” Zopoula said.
They were managing, but one day a man came and took away his sister, then 12 or 13 years of age, to make her his wife.
“I was in despair and by myself,” Zopoula said. “Life was again pain and pain and pain.”
The future was bleak in a country where 250,000 children are sold into slavery each year — often by their own parents who are beaten down by the crushing poverty.
Zopoula’s life changed when he met a missionary from Saskatchewan who was working in Africa.
For the first time in his life, Zopoula went to school and had regular, healthy meals. He eventually came to Canada with plans to finish his education and return to Burkina Faso as a teacher.
“But later I realized the best way for me to come back was as a resource for my people,” Zopoula said.
Now Zopoula, who lives in Lethbridge, works through Bridges of Hope to engage people in Canada in the fight against poverty in the world’s poorest countries.
“It’s amazing how a little investment can change the world,” Zopoula said.
Burkina Faso has the lowest level of literacy in the world.
The Burkina Faso 2012 Project will build a post-secondary college that will provide education for children in Grade 11 and 12, and for first- and second-year university students.
Two hundred and 80 students will attend the school each semester.
“A literate population is necessary to achieve actual development and actual democracy and actually benefit the people of the country,” Hardy said.
Jordie Deagle, one of the trainers at Hard Training and a forward with Carleton University’s hockey team, said most of the young people who train there had no idea where Burkina Faso was.
“Now they know,” Deagle said. “Now they understand that it’s one of the poorest countries in the world . . . their eyes have been opened. They understand.”
Hardy drafted Devin Setoguchi of the Minnesota Wild and Kris Versteeg of the Florida Panthers to use their influence as NHL players to help the project.
“People talk about poverty and the lack of literacy in Africa,” said Setoguchi, who is from Taber. “It can seem like it happens in a whole different world. But it doesn’t. It happens in this world.”
Versteeg, who is from Lethbridge and who won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Black Hawks said he was pleased to be asked to use whatever influence he has as a professional athlete to help the project.
“All the perks that come along with the NHL are great, but making the world a better place is something that I believe is even greater,” Versteeg said. Setoguchi agreed.
“It’s another way for us to give back, Kris and myself,” Setoguchi said. “We’ve been blessed with something that we love to do and it’s worked out for us so far. I can’t imagine where I would be if I didn’t have hockey.”
Added Versteeg: “We’re going to do our best to help get this school built.”
Daniel Zopoula welcomed the support of Hard Training and the NHLers, and said people in Canada should never take for granted how much difference they can make in the Third World.
Zopoula said citizens can’t wait for the United Nations, governments or churches to solve problems.
“There is no change that ever takes place until a group of people will gather and say, ‘It is time for us to make a difference’,” Zopoula said. “Two or three people can make a difference in the world.”
Anyone who wants to contribute to the Burkina Faso 2012 Project can do so at www.hardtraining.ca, www.bridgesofhope.ca or by calling Trevor Hardy at 403-892-2044.
“The cool thing is, you’re making your world better,” Hardy said.