Rockwood resident volunteers on Kenya trip

ROCKWOOD – Maria Artuso’s trip to Kenya through the RBC Global Citizen Award is the latest highlight in a lifestyle dedicated to volunteering.

The Rockwood resident received the award from her employer, RBC, which recognizes the efforts of staff members who help communities prosper.

“I am so proud, humbled, extremely grateful and excited for this opportunity,” said Artuso, director, business enablement and performance, at RBC Insurance in Meadowvale.

“The entire experience was of many emotional roller coasters and moments of self-reflection.”

Along with 46 other employees from Canada, the U.S., Europe, Hong Kong and the Caribbean, she spent the week of April 27 to May 6 volunteering on a sustainable development project and collecting water for a remote Maasai community in the East African nation of Kenya.

There were also opportunities to immerse themselves in African culture, with safari adventures in the Maasai Mara national game reserve and a training session with the Maasai warriors.

“This is definitely an opportunity to share in a lifetime experience with those who have believed in me, and supported me, either as a student, colleague or community partner,” said Artuso.

“This trip reinforced the great partnership that RBC has with WE, an organization that emphasizes community engagement, support and self-reliance.”

The RBC Global Citizen Award was launched in 2016. It is made through a partnership between RBC Royal Bank and WE Organization, the global entity co-founded by social entrepreneur Craig Kielburger to help lift people out of poverty in developing countries.

It celebrates employees who give their time and expertise to their communities by volunteering and leading charitable initiatives.

Artuso said her parents were immigrants who stressed the importance of education and helping family and neighbours whenever possible.

“I suppose we call this ‘paying it forward’ today,” she said.

Artuso volunteers with many different organizations annually, with one of her main focuses being Junior Achievement (a youth financial literacy initiative).

She has worked with them for over 15 years, starting in Barrie and bringing her connections with the organization to Ottawa and now the GTA.

She was also the co-chair of a Women’s ERG (employee resource group) and NextGen ERG that she helped launch in Ottawa.

In partnership with the group, she worked closely with the Ottawa Community Immigration Services Organization in developing a pilot program supporting immigrant women in the financial services industry.

Her African trip started in Nairobi, and continued with a visit to the Giraffe Centre and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation).

They visited the Kisaruni Girls School and had an early-morning nature walk with Maasai warriors.

“The landscape was absolutely stunning, and something I have never seen before,” she said.

“The girls at the school have such confidence and drive; it was inspirational to see how a school has transformed their way of thinking, doing, and being. The world is their oyster.”

There were five “mamas” (village ladies) from a local community who showed the visitors how they support their income growth opportunities with beading.

“It was very rewarding, therapeutic and above all, very appreciating of the work mamas do for their families and communities alike,” said Artuso.

The travelers discussed what they wanted to do as group to help, and decided water was the priority. In one evening, they collectively raised $8,000 for a local community bore-hole.

“The entire experience created memories to last a lifetime and my heart is full.

“The communities we visited, the experiences we had, what we saw, was a true definition of selflessness, humility and the unification of communities coming together for survival.”