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The song “If Everyone Cared” holds a special place in the heart of philanthropist and entrepreneur Treana Peake. Not only is it her favourite Nickelback song and video but, as the wife of Nickelback guitarist Ryan Peake, she is personally spreading the message with more than just words.
As the founder and creative director of Obakki, a Vancouver-based fashion brand, Peake has taken action through her recently launched Obakki Foundation, a humanitarian effort to help communities in Cameroon, Africa. It’s an innovative grassroots campaign designed to bring the fashion world into the charitable world through the soulful words and artistic expressions of the local children and villagers.
The Obakki Foundation was established in December 2009, and its main goal is to “take the creative elements out of these communities and give them an outlet to raise money for themselves,” explains Peake, having just returned to Vancouver from her third trip to Africa in 2010. “We give 100 percent of what we raise back to the communities that are involved.”
The awareness and fundraising campaign kicked off simply enough, with Peake giving pens and paper to 150 children at three Cameroon orphanages and posing the following questions: “What makes you happy?” “What makes you sad?” and “What makes you afraid?”
“There is real beauty in their words,” says Peake. While some answers seemed typical (“Friends make me happy”) or quirky (“A dancing pig makes me happy” and “A cat in workout gear”), others were more poignant (“I hate dirty water” and “Rain makes me sad”). Even the seemingly innocuous response of “A mosquito makes me sad” takes on a whole new meaning for children in Africa, where mosquitoes spread malaria and, often, death. And while some expressed a fear of jungle predators (“I’m afraid of a tiger in the field” and “I am afraid of crocodiles”), others found bliss in sheer simplicity (“A box makes me happy”).
Kate Hudson, along with her son, Ryder, have been spotted wearing apparel from the Obakki Foundation Collection. Peake says that the aim is to spark conversation and connect. “When people see those phrases, it gets them discussing the charity and Africa,” explains Peake, noting that the women’s scarves have become the hottest pieces in the collection. And all funds target their critical needs. “Instead of ‘Let’s just raise money and we’ll do good all over,’ we have specific projects that are clearly defined,” she states. In addition to funding three Cameroon orphanages, the Obakki Foundation is building schools and medical centres and launching much-needed clean-water projects. “It’s incredibly gratifying and emotional to show the children the power of their words,” adds Peake. “They’re seeing that because of their answers, proper food, education and health care will be available. They’re really giving themselves a future.”
Not surprisingly, the members of Nickelback were the first to lend Peake a helping hand. They donated one dollar of every ticket from their sold-out summer tour, resulting in a $500,000 boost. “It gave us such a huge start,” says Peake, a native of Nickelback’s hometown of Hanna,
. “They have always supported me—even going back to when we were in high school and I was running fundraisers where I could only afford to donate my time.” After spending more than 15 years running charitable causes, Peake is definitely not your typical rock-star wife. She worked in the psychiatric field for years and ran group homes, in addition to co-founding International Children’s Awareness Canada. Launching the Obakki Foundation seemed like a natural evolution for her. “I think that people want to see a whole new side of charity and philanthropy,” offers Peake. “We’re trying to tackle serious issues, but we have surrounded the foundation with creative, happy, thought-provoking, inspiring messages. Showing the beauty of Africa and its people is a fresh approach.”
As the parents of two children aged seven and five, the Peakes have definitely been affected by their trips to Cameroon. “You see extreme poverty,” she admits. “It’s really troubling and it messes with your mind. But, on the other hand, you see things that we don’t have here, like entire communities working together to build one person’s home. They celebrate little things that we don’t notice here. It has definitely changed my life. I try to live in the moment, and I have learned that the most important thing is just being able to hang out with family and friends.”
As a result, Peake is producing a second coffee-table book that comprises photographs and stories from the women of Cameroon. From trekking four hours a day to get fresh water for their families to spending six hours a day grinding palm nuts for the precious oil, these women “are pretty much invisible, even though they do all the work,” says Peake, who is determined to give them a voice. “I took over all these disposable cameras for the women and asked them to tell the story of who they are in 18 pictures,” she explains.“They were so excited by this project, and now that I have all the photos developed, it’s pretty incredible.”
Peake admits that the villagers were nervous when her group first arrived. “We would always hear ‘White man coming! White man coming!’ and they would stand outside their houses and stare at us. But now when we drive up, the kids all come running up to the vehicle, smiling and screaming ‘Canada! Canada!’”
When Treana finally brought Ryan to Cameroon, they purposely kept his rock-star status a secret. “But I guess someone in our group leaked it,” says Peake, “because when I went back in May, everyone was saying that there had been a superstar among them last time. And I said, ‘Really?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, your husband is like Celine Dion, right?’ Peake lets out a huge laugh. “That was the only person they knew from Canada. I couldn’t stop laughing that Ryan was being compared to Celine Dion, of all people.”
For more information on the foundation, please visit foundation.obakki.com.