He’s been called a “father to thousands” and an “advocate of humanity,” but according to Strini Reddy, he’s just doing what’s right.
“I’m always concerned about the fact many of our children don’t have access to the opportunities they should. There are so many inequities,” Reddy says. “That’s driven me to do whatever I can to try and level the playing field for them. The programs I’m involved in are trying to do that.”
Born in South Africa during apartheid, Reddy overcame racial discrimination to become an educator. He worked in a variety of countries before ending up in Canada in 1971. Here, he has worked as a teacher, principal, consultant, university lecturer and chief superintendent, and has been an instrumental volunteer.
Reddy was recently recognized by Gov. Gen. David Johnston with a Caring Canadian Award. Created by the Governor General in 1995, these awards recognize individuals who volunteer their time to help others, building a smarter and more caring nation.
“I think people are too kind,” Reddy, 74, says of the award. “There’s a lot of people doing good work. I do what I can but it’s nothing out of the ordinary.”
Many people disagree. “Strini in my opinion is a special person,” says Mike Owen, who – along with Frank Cosway, Rick Frost and Ron Brown – nominated Reddy for the award. “He sees things from outside the box. He studies issues, listens to others, and takes action to do what he can to address things he believes to be important. I see him as a rare combination of a dreamer, visionary and realist.”
In addition to his work as an educator, Reddy was the first official chief superintendent of Frontier School Division in Manitoba from 1985 to 1991. He also worked as the executive director of the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents, retiring in 1998.
It appears that retirement hasn’t slowed him down.
Strini works with community organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg (BGCW), the Rotary Club of Winnipeg and Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. His life-long focus has been improving education opportunities and combating child poverty.
To curtail summer learning loss, Reddy co-founded the Community School Investigators (CSI) program, run by BGCW.
“Studies have demonstrated summer learning loss is a significant factor in the high dropout rates experienced by underprivileged youth,” explains Owen, former executive director of BGCW. “I am confident this program will result in many, many inner city youth graduating from high school who would not have, if it wasn’t for this program.”
Starting in 2005 at two schools with 60 children, the program has grown extensively; as of summer 2013 CSI is helping over 1,000 students at 14 schools.
“It really feels very good,” Reddy says of the program’s success. “The only downside is that 1,000 more (students) could benefit from this program. We try to keep growing the program so we can involve more and more children because we can really see the benefits.”
Reddy is currently working with CanU Canada, a program that pairs inner city youth with mentors at the University of Manitoba, helping to instill hope and confidence and make university more accessible. Since its inception four years ago, CanU has seen growth similar to the CSI program and next year will involve 180 students.
Reddy has never forgotten his home country. His international work includes supporting AIDS orphans in South Africa through partnerships with the Winnipeg Presbytery, the Rotary Club of Winnipeg and the Hillcrest Rotary Club in South Africa.
While initially providing orphans with food, shelter, education and a caring home environment, in recent years the program has expanded to help communities become more self-sufficient. This includes offering life skills training in trades such as carpentry and welding, along with sustainable economic development ventures such as commercial vegetable gardening.
“He is a very effective fundraiser, raising over $20,000 annually through a Golf Tournament,” says Rotary Club of Winnipeg member Frank Cosway. “For Strini, nothing is impossible. The impossible just takes a little more creativity.”
For more information on the Caring Canadian Awards, click here.
This is part of a series on the recent Caring Canadian Award winners from Winnipeg. Click here to read about other recipients.