Tara Trompetter always knew her son, Ben, had a heart for the children of Thailand, where he worked for years as a guide.
But it wasn’t until last year, when she and her family took some of his ashes “home” to his favourite places, that she realized just how much of an impact he had made on the people there.
“Everywhere we went, his spirit was there,” Trompetter said Thursday, recalling some of what she learned during the six-week visit – all of which was reinforced during a more recent, three-month trip to build a school in Ben’s name in the remote northern village of Pha Dang Luang.
Trips to the village were a regular thing for Ben, who rode a motorbike up the long, rugged mountain road on his time off work to spend time with the children, teaching them English in the “shanty box” they called school, or playing soccer with the makeshift nets.
“I was so proud of my son… so proud that was so important to him,” Trompetter told Peace Arch News.
“That was the guiding force for the foundation. I knew how much Ben loved Thailand. Going there showed me how much Thailand loved Ben.”
Ben, who grew up in South Surrey, died on Aug. 17, 2012, after jumping from a cliff northeast of Pemberton into the glacial waters of Anderson Lake.
The 27-year-old had been enjoying the lake with friends – planning to head to Whistler later to watch his cousin compete in the slope-style mountain-biking competition, Crankworx – when he decided to free-climb the cliff face.
His body was found two days later in about 70 feet of water. Search crews told his mom it was the icy waters that had killed her son, not the jump.
As news of Ben’s death travelled, Trompetter and her family – including Ben’s siblings Tyler and Meghan – were flooded with stories detailing the impact he had had on the lives of those who’d had the opportunity to spend time with Ben. They spoke of his kindness, his compassion and his desire to better the lives of orphaned children in Thailand.
With that in mind, Trompetter spearheaded the Live Like Ben Foundation, focusing efforts on helping the orphanages and children that meant so much to her son. It was important to Ben that the children knew they mattered.
Donations quickly reached $40,000. The first project, Ben’s School, a 1,000-square-foot structure in Pha Dang Luang, opened with much celebration on Jan. 28 – with three classrooms, a blue roof, tile floors, teak doors and a hand-carved sign reminding everyone to Live Like Ben.
In the music room, a photo of a smiling Ben having his photo taken by a young Thai boy was hung, “so there was always a face to who Ben was.”
“We couldn’t believe we pulled it off,” said Trompetter, who carries some of her son’s ashes in a silver cylinder that hangs on a chain around her neck.
She named Thai architect Akkradet Kenny Chairak, project manager Alex Sinsawas – who was “like a brother” to Ben – and creative director Niki Young as a few of the key people who helped make it happen.
“Everything just fell into place going there.”
The school project cost about $25,000 and Trompetter said plans for another project – to improve the water supply to the same village – are already in the works.
A major fundraiser is to be held later this year, and Trompetter expects efforts by two of her son’s close friends – Melissa Jol, who plans to cycle from Jasper to Anderson Lake this August to mark the fourth anniversary of Ben’s death, and a music and silent auction event by Terence Jack – will also inspire donations to the foundation.
Trompetter hopes to return to Thailand before the end of the year to continue Ben’s legacy.
“I know it was exactly where I was supposed to be… and I knew exactly what we needed to do,” she said.
“It was perfect. I think that we were led there. The people needed us. It has changed their lives.”