Helping is the 'true significance of living' for these heroes

An immigrant who raises millions to help children, an artist who dove into a river to save a drowning family and a teen who climbed a mountain for cancer are among the 2006 Canadian heroes named by Reader's Digest magazine.

Alberta immigrant, retired Nova Scotia principal and Ontario teen make Reader's Digest list

An immigrantwho raisesmillionsto helpchildren, an artist who dove into a river to savea family and a teen who climbed a mountain for cancer are among the 2006 Canadian heroes named by Reader's Digest magazine.

"Life is not about us," said Ashid Bahl,a Calgary airportcustoms officernamed for foundingthe For the Love of Children Society of Alberta.

"It's really about making life happen for someone else out there. In that lies the true significance of living."

Each year, Reader's Digest Canada asks readers to nominate heroes in their communities. The winners are selected by a panel of the heads of journalism schools.

Also chosen for 2006 were:

  • Former special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis, who with his daughterIlana Landsberg-Lewis started a foundation in hisnamethat has raised over $12 million in less than four years.
  • St. Catharines, Ont., artist Mathew Vizbulis, who rescueda drowning father andhis two sons from the Niagara River in July.
  • Nova Scotia retired school principal Hetty van Gurp, who foundedPeaceful Schools International after her son diedafter being the victim of bullying at school.Schools that joinbanishbullying andteach students to interact without violence.
  • London, Ont., teenager Brandon Schupp, who became the youngest person ever to reach the summit of 3,200-metre Good Hope Mountain in British Columbia at 13. Hemade the Julyclimbto raise money for cancer research.

Bahl, who came to Canada as an immigrant from Kenya, said his inspiration is giving back to the country that gave him a home.

The organization he started 26 years agoandruns todayraises over $1 million a year for children in need. His work hashelped an estimated 100,000 children in Canada and abroad.

"It wasn't our intention to help that many children when we first started off. We just thought we'd try to help one child at a time. But it just grew," he said.

'A huge heart'

Locally, the organization helps children with serious illnesses and disabilities.

Patricia Wheatley, who has 11 adopted children who are disabled, needed more space in her house to accommodate their needs. Bahl helped renovate her home, almost doubling the space and installing a wheelchair accessible bathroom.

"He has a huge heart and I think it breaks if there's ever a child that he can't help," she said. "He's really dedicated to improving the lives of children and particularly children with special needs."

Internationally, the organization helps meet the basic needs of disadvantaged children. Bahl has built orphanages and schools, and travelledacross Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake, handing out blankets, lamps and rice.

"Sometimes I give just a simple pen or pencil to a child and you see his face light up," he said.

"It's sad in one sense to see that, but then again it's a good sign you've made, or are trying to make, a difference in somebody's life."