S/Sgt. Luc Breton was sitting in a restaurant in Conakry, Guinea, one evening when he got the eerie feeling that someone was watching him. Turning around, he did a double take when he realized that someone was a young boy.
"I remember telling people, 'Look at this cute little boy'," says Breton. "Then I realized it was about 9:30 at night and what is he doing out in the streets, he's just a boy."
He went outside to chat and brought the boy some food.
In Conakry — a city of 1.5 million people — on a six-month assignment, Breton never expected to see the child, whose name is Ouri, again. So it was a real surprise when a few days later, he saw him running down the road towards him, screaming, "Monsieur, Monsieur!"
Breton was in Guinea working on an illegal immigration investigation and it was his first international policing experience. He says life in the West African country was a huge culture shock.
"It was a real eye-opener for me in terms of how poor it was," says Breton. "The living conditions were extremely below anything we know. You always wonder, 'Is it still possible people in today's age live in those conditions?' "
Because it wasn't a peacekeeping mission, Breton's mindset was that he was there to get a job done and that's all.
But that changed once he met and got to know Ouri.
"It was nothing to me to give him money or to buy him things," says Breton. "I just kind of locked in on him, he was surrounded by poverty and hunger and corruption and I just felt like this boy didn't deserve this."
After a few weeks, Breton started to try to influence Ouri positively and encourage him to attend school regularly.
Around the same time, he also noticed Ouri's clothes were in tatters. Breton went to the market and got him some new shoes and clothing, which he presented him with one morning.
But the woman working at the restaurant they were at told Breton that if Ouri went home with new clothing, his parents would think that he'd stolen them. Breton didn't want the boy to be in trouble, so he offered to accompany him home and explain it to his mother.
"And I wanted to see where he lived because I wanted to know more about him," says Breton. "When we got there, my heart sank, I couldn't believe it, I knew why he wasn't going to school."
The house the boy and his parents were living in was more like a shed, with a small bed for his parents and a piece of cardboard for Ouri's bed and not much else. Seeing that situation, Breton wanted to do whatever he could for this family. He bought them another mattress, a 50-kilogram bag of rice and all the supplies Ouri needed for school.
He also visited Ouri's principal, accompanied by Cpl. Christine Briand.
"We had this idea about having a school luncheon for Ouri's class and we brought it to her and she agreed," says Briand. "We didn't set out from the get-go that we wanted to get involved. It just developed one thing after another."
Breton paid Ouri's mother and a friend to prepare a lunch for the 70 kids in the class. They also brought water, juice and snacks to go with the meal. Ouri served every child with a huge smile on his face.
"I think what Luc did was extraordinary," says Briand. "When you're on mission or working internationally, it makes you realize that there's a whole different world out there. You definitely see how lucky we are in Canada."
It's a sentiment Breton echoes. And although the experience was completely different from what he'd originally expected, he wouldn't change it for anything.
"As a police officer, you want to help people," says Breton. "For me, it was probably one of the best experiences of my life to be able to help this child."
Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express ().