'Epitome' of a mentor wins Rotary award
On November 10, 2021, Dr. John VanLeeuwen was honoured as the 2021 winner of the Mentor Award from the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty.
Dr. John, as many of us call him, is a professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown.
As we learned at the awards ceremony, there is also a Kimeru word that the people in Meru use to describe him: Murithi, which means shepherd or leader. Murithi has travelled to Kenya 29 times, and on most of those trips, he has been joined by vet students, either through Vets Without Borders or Farmers Helping Farmers.
He has led scientific research and international development projects worth more than $23 million.
And, most importantly, Murithi has made a difference in the lives of thousands of farm families in rural Kenya, through his work on improving the health of dairy cows on small farms.
Asante Murithi and congratulations!!
Here are the comments that past president Wendy MacDonald shared at the awards ceremony:
Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty Club
2021 Mentor Award John VanLeeuwen
November 10, 2021
Nominator Testimonial – Wendy MacDonald
It’s very appropriate for Winston to have given us this context … for Winston himself is a mentor.
I know this, because it was Winston who started my own involvement with Farmers Helping Farmers.
I joined this Rotary Club in 2003, and quickly became a member of the International Committee, which
Winston chaired. So I soon learned about FHF and its work, as the committee provided support to FHF
over the following years.
In 2008, I got directly involved in FHF, by joining the Education Committee, but it wasn’t until I joined
the Board in 2014 that I began to get a fuller sense of John’s work on many fronts.
I first had an opportunity to work with John in 2017 and 2018, as part of the team that put together the
funding proposal for the project we are now doing in Kenya. Through that, I saw how true Winston’s
comment was about the editing! I learned that no matter how busy John was, he always found time to
read through these often lengthy documents – and every time he did, his comments made them better.
Truly, he must have found some way to make the day 36 hours long.
As well, I saw from that work, and from our participation in the Project Committee, how much John
contributed to the discussions, the planning and the delivery of our work with Kenyan farm families. He
was always positive and constructive, helping us to sort out the options, to find solutions, and to agree
Then, when we both went to Kenya in early 2020 as members of the annual tour group, I was able to see
John in the field, and that added a whole new perspective. I saw him work with students … both from
here and from Kenya … and with hundreds of farmers at the walk-in clinics and on their farms. And I
saw John’s focus on helping people learn, and his commitment to include students both Canadian and
Kenyan, and to give them opportunities to learn and to get to know each other.
One example stays in my mind. As part of the project, during our visit in early 2020, we were trying to
connect with Kenyan county employees providing agricultural extension support. One morning, a group
of six officials who had been assigned to our project came to meet with us and get oriented and discuss
how we might be able to work together. We were just getting introduced when John’s big passenger
van rolled into the yard, and within five minutes, George the livestock specialist was on his way with the
team. I believe he was with them throughout the rest of our time there, and the relationship that was
built has been helpful to us ever since.
After those experiences, it was no surprise to me when I worked with Winston and others to prepare
the nomination, that there was one consistent theme that ran through all of the information that we
had gathered – including a forty page resume!
That theme was a commitment to including students and others in opportunities to learn and to
develop, not just academically, but also as caring human beings. This commitment touched hundreds of
students, who were included as co-authors on many of his publications and presentations … who did
their graduate work under his supervision … who worked as undergraduates on summer research
projects … who went to Kenya under his leadership … and who came to PEI from other countries to a
welcoming and supportive learning environment.
In short, for me, John epitomizes everything that Rotary is seeking to recognize through its Mentor