IT'S not often a brand name precedes a product, but when a trio of North Vancouver teens came up with the catchy title Make a Difference or Dye Tieing, they knew they had a good idea on their hands.
MADODT is the brainchild of Chris Vanderkooy, Peter Wilton and Burke McGuinness, all 18. The boys make and sell tie dye T-shirts for $25 a piece, then hand over the profits to help improve the lives of impoverished children in Rwanda.
The brand name, and ensuing philanthropic initiative, came in 2010 when Vanderkooy and Wilton returned from a summer humanitarian trip to Rwanda with Youth Unlimited, a non-profit organization with links to their youth group at North Shore Alliance Church.
Along with 25 other Canadians, they volunteered at Kigali Christian School in the country's capital city. One-third of the students attend the school through sponsorship programs because they would not otherwise be able to afford the nominal school fees.
The overseas experience left an indelible mark on the two teenagers.
"It was crazy for me to realize how often I take things for granted here," says Wilton. "Things that we have and use and see on a daily basis are so valuable to other people in other parts of the world."
"We knew it would be pretty easy to leave the experience behind us," adds Vanderkooy, "and we knew that the feeding program at the school needed a lot of help."
To date, the boys have raised $3,000 from T-shirt sales for the Kigali school's meal program, which provides students with nutritious lunches. And that's just from selling their apparel at school and at local festivals.
Now that the threesome has graduated high school - Vanderkooy and Wilton from Sutherland secondary and McGuinness from Windsor secondary - they are looking to expand their charitable brand.
Fortunately, they have the space to do so. A makeshift workshop in Wilton's family garage is where plain T-shirts are transformed into colourful, hand-dyed creations emblazoned with the MADODT logo.
This past summer, Vanderkooy returned to Rwanda for the second time through Youth Unlimited. McGuinness joined as well, and, for the first time, he was able to meet the children he had been helping to feed.
"I didn't know what I was making tie dyes for and going
there was sweet to see what all our efforts are going to," says McGuinness, who adds he was affected by the legacy of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and wants to help provide a better future for the new generation of Rwandans.
Currently, the tie dye project is something the boys work on between their part-time jobs and post-secondary schooling. But they hope to one day turn MADODT into a full-time operation.
Until then, they are just happy to have found a way to support their young friends in Kigali.
"It doesn't really change the whole school, but they really appreciate it and it definitely helps them out," says Vanderkooy. "We're just excited to help in whatever small way we can."
For more information, visit madodt.com.