Pura Vida Foundation founder Nathan Beninger (right) thanks David Paetkau (left) and his team at Wildlife Genetics for the $25

Big donation for Nelson’s Pura Vida Foundation

A $25,000 donation from a local genetics lab to an international foundation based in Nelson forms a bridge for a charitable heart.

A $25,000 donation from a local genetics lab to an international foundation based in Nelson forms a bridge for a charitable heart.

Wildlife Genetics’ David Paetkau has had his eye on the Pura Vida Foundation since it started in 2005 and believes it has proven itself. He sees their donation, earmarked for operations, as a chance to do something significant.

“They have a vision that’s pretty complete but it needs a platform of support to spring from,” he says.

Founder Nathan Beninger recently purchased a piece of land in Peru where he plans to build a shelter that will house girls needing rescue from a rough life of poverty.

Getting the larger facility up and running is “going to be a slow process,” he says. But this donation from Wildlife Genetics allows him to keep his current shelter, where he lives with his wife and young daughter, operating and supporting seven girls while he generates funds to expand his setup.

“I don’t know how to even explain…” said Beninger, overwhelmed with the generosity of the donation. “With this money, I don’t have to structure my building around making sure the shelter keeps running.”

Beninger is a photographer who first travelled to Peru to capture its natural beauty. Struck by the tragedy of young girls being exploited and abused, often as child prostitutes, he decided to stay in Cusco to do what he could to make a difference.

“We are literally changing their life path from severe abuse, prostitution, living on the street… we’re changing these kids’ lives in a way that is unbelievable… but here it’s more evident because they’re living with us and we’re seeing how we’re changing their lives little by little,” he says.

Today, the foundation is “stuck in a weird spot,” says Beninger.

As is often the case, raising capital for building is easier than funds for operations. Pura Vida works hard securing donations to support the girls currently in the shelter while wanting to expand. Some people want to donate to the future building but would like to see it helping more children. But more children can’t be supported with current resources.

“It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” said Beninger. About Paetkau’s donation he adds, “But if we had two more business owners do exactly what he’s doing, we’d be able to support 20 kids per year.”

Funds totaling $75,000 would support 20 girls including costs of $3 per day to feed them, five employees at $500 per month as well as costs set aside for education and hospital care. HIV and sexually transmitted disease tests are not free in Peru.

Started in 1999, Wildlife Genetics has been in Nelson since 2001. The company does genetic work for agencies dealing with wildlife management, research and breeding. Their work extends well beyond BC’s borders. Paetkau is one of three Wildlife Genetics shareholders and he says all employees are behind the donation even though it means sharing in the cost.

“It’s something to bond around,” he says. “It motivates us to come to work. There’s something else we’re doing with this company other than paying mortgages.”

Wildlife Genetics has always supported local projects with donations to the Osprey Foundation and Kootenay Lake Hospital Foundation. This time, Paetkau says this donation bridges the gap between local and international. In his own travels he’s learned that if anyone needs a “hand up,” it’s young women — something Pura Vida sure is providing.

“It’s a project that wins my heart. The people who run it are local folks and the more Nathan succeeds in making this work, the more he’s a local role model,” says Paetkau. “Anyone can do something to make the world a better place.”

Beninger hopes to have parts of the new large shelter built by next spring. Pura Vida means “pure life” in Spanish.