Leo Seguin, a world-renowned humanitarian and founder of Rainbow for the Future, passed away March 24.
He was 68 years old.
Family, friends and neighbours paid their respects at an April 1 funeral service held at Holy Family Parish in St. Albert close to where he and his wife Bonnie have lived for the past several years.
Born Aug. 12, 1950, Seguin spent his early years on the family farm near Vimy.
In his early years he partnered with his brother-in-law in the ownership and operation of the Westlock Feed Mill (where the Husky service station on Highway 44 at 105 street sits today).
Later, he moved into other business ventures including a construction business in Slave Lake and Westlock.
That evolved into several projects, including a couple of rental apartments in Westlock owned by the Seguin family under the L-6 moniker.
But the real legacy of Seguin is his community work and humanitarian efforts.
In the early 1990s, seeing the need for a large community hall he was the main driving force in the establishment of the Westlock and District Community Hall.
But his thirst to help others was far from over. He often urged people to “give back” to the greater community.
After learning of the work of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and seeing a growing project for CFGB in action at Neerlandia, he joined the CFGB food study tour to Ethiopia in early 1996.
That journey changed his life forever as he witnessed first hand the needs of impoverished people there.
On his return to Westlock, he established the CFGB Westlock Growing Project, and inspired others to join the team.
Land just east of Westlock was rented for the first project that spring, but there was a problem. When Leo shared the story of CFGB, questions were asked as to what this CFGB was, and just what kind of ‘bank’ was it?
Ever the entrepreneur, Leo decided a World Record Harvest would help people understand. It would involve many local farmers and their combines to take off the crop in a record time. But the weather in the fall of 1996 was such that it had to be cancelled.
The project for 1997 was moved north of Westlock, but again it was cancelled due to yet another wet fall and delayed harvest.
In 1998, the project was again moved, this time to a quarter section just south of the town adjacent to the Old Pickardville Road. The crop of CPS wheat was in early, and things looked promising. The crop was swathed by mid-August and local farmers were contacted and everything looked great until it rained the day before.
However, a warm, gentle breeze came up and the morning of Aug. 21, 1998 dawned bright and sunny and the harvest was on.
Combines arrived from miles away, and were lined up and ready. Official timers for the event were in place, and everything was ready to roll. Print, radio and television media were on hand to join some 3,000 spectators and 400 volunteers.
The time to complete the harvest, with 65 combines, was 15 minutes and 43 seconds. Although Guinness World Records had no category for this, in the hearts and minds of locals, and the CFGB Growing Project, it was indeed a record.
In the meantime, a partnership with an Ethiopian water engineer, Gebreyes Haile had been established and monies from the project were transferred to him and his organization Support for Sustainable Development (SSD) for a water diversion project for irrigation to grow crops for pastoralists, the first of many.
Several more were completed over the years with SSD, projects that allowed these pastoralist people to a sustainable lifestyle, freeing them from the need for any outside food aid, as had happened in the past. Over the years, the pair became true brothers in spirit, and were in contact often. Sadly, Haile passed away just a few days before the fourth-annual Sports for Ethiopia fundraiser event held Feb. 15-16 this year.
Other partnerships were established but CFGB doesn’t provide funding for such things as schools, help for HIV victims, orphans, medical facilities, technical school, grinding mills, wells and such. Again, Seguin’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked into action with the establishment of Rainbow for the Future (RFTF) and again, community members joined with him.
But just supplying money wasn’t enough as Seguin felt those who contributed or volunteered time should have accountability. In other words, follow the money to assure it was being used as promised.
In January 2004, he and three locals traveled to Ethiopia to view the work in progress of the first water diversion project, plus other projects.
A second similar trip was made in late 2005, and then again in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015 and the last in 2018.
Over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been forwarded to these partners, and Rainbow for the Future and the Westlock Growing Project has an enviable record of 95 per cent of funding provided used for the work to help others half a world away.
Following the 2015 trip, Leo wrote a book telling of the work and the partners in Ethiopia. He titled the book, Where a Bird Meets a Fish in the Sky, a saying of the Kereyu, one of the Ethiopian tribes the work of Rainbow has helped.
Last week on his 630 CHED talk show, Ryan Jespersen, who traveled with the group to Ethiopia in 2008 to do a video documentary when he was working for an Edmonton television station, learned of the passing of Seguin and gave his own tribute.
He commented that a friend had told him prior to his 2008 trip, “Once the African drum beats in your heart, it will never stop.”
And that was true with Seguin. In his book, one passage reads, “In 100 years, it won’t matter what clothes we wear, what job we had, what car we drove. It will matter how we treated the least of our brothers and sisters.”
Though thousands of Ethiopians who have benefitted by the work initiated by Seguin may never know his name, but they know that somewhere, in far-off Canada, he, and others, provided the help that gave them, as Seguin often quoted, “A hand up — not a handout.”
Last week, after being notified of the passing, partners in Ethiopia, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and others, offered their sincere condolences to his family and friends.
Seguin was a true Alberta humanitarian who made a difference in the lives of thousands.
And while he will be most sincerely missed by his wife, children, grandchildren, relatives and hundreds of friends and neighbours, his legacy will live on in the hearts of not only them, but with the thousands in Ethiopia who have been helped through his efforts.