Rick and Adrianne

Founders of "K.I.D.S. International Development Society"

“Twenty minutes… No more”.

After that the machine gunners would locate them and they’d be shot, their guide darkly warned. It might be doable, but they’d have to move at top speed, and there could be no mistakes.

Rick Lennert then recalls running 150 metres to the banks of the Moei river that separates Thailand from Myanmar, where he and his wife, Adrianne Dartnall forded it at top speed and scrambled to the opposite bank, entering the war torn territory of Myanmar entirely without papers or permission or perhaps even a sense of the extreme danger in which they had placed themselves.

There, the couple left packs and supplies, filled with clothes, books and medicine, meant for the embattled and persecuted Karen people, and rushed back to Thailand, aware they could at any time be cut down by machine guns, drown, or be intercepted by an official on the Thai side of the river, refusing them re-entry; they had no official stamp in their passports for such a perilous and forbidden crossing.

“That was the early days… We don’t do that anymore.” Adrianne says, laughing.

More seriously, Rick confesses, “In those early days, after Danielle had died, we didn’t really care if we lived or died, either…”

Adrianne, ever positive, softly adds, “…And we were naïve, too.”

Danielle is their late-daughter, killed by a drunk driver at age 21, whose untimely death left Adrianne and Rick immobile, in a state of deep shock, for months. Knowing they must do something to start the healing process, they travelled to England, Ireland and Germany, simply hiking, trudging, thinking, walking.

“Walking with grief is what I called it”, recalls Adrianne.

Friends in Germany suggested they go to India, where they took their first small step as humanitarians by painting a formerly barren looking daycare. The bright colours and happy rainbows now on its walls seemed to delight the children, and move a stone from their hearts, at least a little. They sensed then that such acts of kindness were what they must do and began their journey.

In addition to India and the Thailand/Myanmar border, they traveled to Vietnam, Nepal, and especially Cambodia, helping fix or build homes and schools, public facilities, and providing fresh, clean drinking water. They discovered areas where not only children, but entire villages lived in abject poverty, without any medical help or basic sanitation.

The stark change in perspective brought about by their findings altered perception of their own troubles. Yes, they grieved, but could not solely focus upon it when so many around them were so badly in need. Rick and Adrianne discovered the truth in the maxim that the best way to help yourself is to help others.

All of this led them to establish Kids International Development Society, known simply as KIDS.

KIDS began not as a registered charity or foundation, but rather without fanfare, with a bounty of $700 in hand, in 2004. “Five hundred dollars of that came from us,” Rick laughs. “I thought, ‘Seven hundred bucks! We’re golden… We can change the world!’”

Now, twenty years later Rick and Adrianne have been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by Her Excellency Governor General Mary Simon in a ceremony held at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, proving their early, very personal and sometimes risky efforts have taken wing and become a source of national pride. The award is presented to those who have made “remarkable contributions in many different fields of endeavour, from advocacy initiatives and health care services, to research and humanitarian efforts.”

Indeed, Rick and Adrianne have made a remarkable contribution, and plan to continue. They may not have changed the world just yet, but they are well on their way – and in so doing have truly become Iconic Islanders.

by Vince R. Ditrich