A warm smile goes a long way in a greeting. In the case of Betty Kaahwa, her warm smile comes all the way from Uganda to Lodgepole Market and Bakery at the hall of St. Faith’s Anglican Church. Every Wednesday from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Kaahwa is at the till of a convenient and cost-saving produce and bread market. The job started with volunteer work at the church some two years ago. A major perk resulted: she is now the paid Lodgepole Market and Bakery coordinator.

Kaahwa arrived in September 2019 to join her husband, Paul Bulamu, a student and community support worker at Excel Society, a local non-profit disability and mental health services provider. Shortly after their marriage in July 2015, Bulamu moved to Canada to continue his studies. In 2019, the time was finally right for Kaahwa to follow.

 Betty Kaahwa at Lodgepole Market and Bakery. | Constance Brissenden

The couple share a deep resolve to help others. While in Uganda, Kaahwa volunteered at FOCUS Uganda, an orphanage non-governmental organization, helping with accounting, office work, and any tasks that needed to be done. As soon as she arrived in Edmonton, she picked up on volunteering again. “I checked online for a church where I could volunteer,” she says. “Church has always been an important part of our lives.”

Being accepted as a volunteer took several steps. Kaahwa called St. Faith’s pastor, Reverend Travis Enright, then completed forms, was interviewed, and was invited to be a volunteer.

Looking back, Enright recalls her trajectory from helping with homeless meals during COVID-19 to what will be a full-time office position (combined with Lodgepole duties) in September. “Even with all this, Betty still cleans our church, saying it’s her contribution back to the church,” marvels Enright. “She does all this in a dedicated, humorous, and genuinely faithful way.” He is not surprised that immigrants contribute so much. “We sponsor some 30 or so immigrants every year. They all bring dedication and a desire to be part of the community.”

Another favourite place for the couple is Alberta Avenue Community League (AACL).

I met Kaahwa’s husband Paul Bulamu at HUB night in the league’s hall. He was hauling a plastic bin around, collecting dirty dishes from the 60 or so people enjoying a free Thursday night dinner and the chance to socialize. Like Kaahwa, Bulamu is grateful to our community for volunteer opportunities.

Although he had worked that day as a community support worker at Excel Society, Bulamu saw no reason to sit at home resting.

With a gentle smile, he says, “We volunteer to give back to our community and to make a difference. I’m getting so much from being here. I meet so many friendly people and I gain other skills.” With great joy, Bulamu recently became a Canadian citizen. A party to celebrate was held with family and friends at the league’s hall on March 3.

According to Ali Hammington, AACL president, people like Kaahwa and Bulamu are crucial to the success of AACL activities. “For HUB night, we need at least 14 volunteers to make it happen. We couldn’t do it without people like Betty and Paul.”

“You will find it amazing to volunteer,” encourages Kaahwa. “You have a reason to go out, have something to do, and make new friends. If you are lonely, you forget about your loneliness.”

April 24-30 is National Volunteer Week

This year’s theme is: “Volunteering is Empathy in Action.”

Learn more: volunteer.ca/nvw

Watch for more volunteer-related stories online this month.