A Kaleden pastor received some special, if unexpected, recognition this week, when a group on an international torch relay run stopped by the community to present him with the Torch Bearer award.
For the last 12 years, Pastor Les Clarke has been leading groups of high school students to a small village south of Tijuana, Mexico to help build homes for Mexican farmworkers.
“We build them homes and they move out of cardboard palettes, plastic — whatever they can scrape together — to a nice 20×20 foot home on a concrete pad with doors and windows and all of that stuff,” said Clarke, who said the new homes are mansions in comparison to how the people were living.
The award came from via the Peace Run, started by activist Sri Chinmoy nearly three decades ago.
“The peace run was founded in 1987 by Sri Chinmoy, who believed there is more that unites us than divides us as one world family,” said Brahmata Michael, of Ottawa, and the only Canadian runner in a group that included Czech, Iranian, Australian and New Zealand runners.
Clarke is joining some special company as the latest recipient of the Torch Bearer award. It’s also been presented to world leaders like Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, former Governor-General Michaëlle Jean and others over the years.
“We can really see from this welcome how respected and revered Pastor Les Clarke is in this community,” said Michael.
Clarke got started on his mission in 2006, when his son was graduating from high school. His son had joined trips like this before, but since this was the last time as a student, Clarke and his wife decided to go along too.
“I was hooked on that trip and I have gone every year since,” said Clarke, who has taken more than 500 high school students and 70 adults along with him over the years. Clarke jokes that he has done the trip so many times that he knows all the towns along the long bus ride south by heart.
Participants, he added, don’t just come from Kaleden, but communities throughout the South Okanagan.
Clarke said it has been a delight to work with the Mexican families and see their excitement with the new homes, but it’s also been a delight to see the high school students interact with a culture that is not their own.
He passes the credit for the success of the trips on to the entire Kaleden community.
“I am reluctant to receive this award by myself,” he said.
“This community of Kaleden, from the very first year in 2006, has been a tremendous supporter of this trip and it is as much their award as mine and all the kids that go.
“There are my Kaleden folk. They came out to a dinner in 2006 and most have come every year since.”
“The Peace run is a global torch relay, it is happening in over 120 countries and we are the North American team. We started in New York in April and it is a journey of about 10,000 miles,” said Michael.
Read more: Peace Run