Metta Foundation offers kindness, compassion

by Anne Beaty, Airdrie Echo Editor, December 21, 2005

Airdrie area charity founder touches the lives of dying children a world away

Airdrie, Alberta (Canada) -- They laugh, they love, they cry. They go to school, eat, sleep and play like any other children. But the young people of Mercy Centre, in Bangkok, Thailand, are orphans in the storm. They are among the 25,000 orphaned children in Thailand who were born HIV/AIDS-infected. And they will all die before their lives have really even begun.

Now, an Airdrie area resident has devoted the remainder of his life and beyond to helping these children. At the beginning of November, Charles Darwent ? a retired barrister and solicitor who practised law for 25 years in Calgary ? established the Metta Foundation, a registered charitable organization dedicated to raising funds to help ease the short lives of the Bangkok orphans.

For Darwent, who himself is facing imminent death as a result of ALS (arterial lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig?s disease), his mission is clear.

"?Metta? is a Sanskrit word for loving kindness and compassion in the broadest sense," he said.

With that in mind, Darwent?s goal is to raise $50,000 for Mercy Centre through the foundation. Should he die before that goal is reached, his daughters ? Rebecca Darwent,a first-year University of Calgary student who plans to be an international social worker, and Tacita Clarke, a political science master?s student at U of C ? will carry on with his dreams.

"I?ve already passed my expiry date," Charles said. "So (the Metta Foundation) will go on when I am relieved of the indignities."

Mercy Centre ? which provides a loving home, food, clothing, medication and nursing care ? was founded by Father Joe Maier, a Roman Catholic priest. A member of the Redemptorist Order, Maier has spent more than 30 years in the Klong Toey slum district of Bangkok, where the centre is located. He runs Mercy Centre as a non-denominational facility, a home in which all the children, the majority of whom are Buddhist, can live, pray and go to school. The aim is not to convert, but to comfort.

"Even though it?s a Catholic group, they still let the children have their Buddhist beliefs," Rebecca said. "Having faith in something is critical."

Charles was first introduced to Bangkok and Thailand in 1957-58. As a member of the British army, he was a U.K representative to SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization) and saw first-hand the hopelessness of Klong Toey. The experience left a deep impression and his emotional and spiritual ties to the country have remained throughout the years. As such, his passion about the plight of the orphaned children has impacted his family, friends and former colleagues. Support has been strong in the first few weeks of Metta?s existence, with much assistance coming from the law community. Now, he is also reaching out to the community at large, with hopes of raising awareness, as well as money.

"We want to set up a booth in the malls," he said.

Rebecca, a member of the Global AIDS Awareness (GAA) group on campus, is also planning a club night and benefit dinner.

On the desk beside Charles? computer are photographs of some of the special Thai children who have succumbed to AIDS. Although their deaths have been difficult to fathom or accept, their spirits live on in Darwent.

"They remind me that every day I must do something, no matter how small," he said.

"They don?t deserve to die," he added.

For more information, call the Metta Foundation at 261-9048 or e-mail to: