Port Dover illusionist brings magic of hope to orphanage in Tanzania

At first, the children could not believe their ears. This strange man talking to them on a screen from the other side of the world was telling them to rip up the playing cards they held in their hands.

The young residents of Tumaini Children’s Foundation, an orphanage in the Usa River region of Tanzania, nervously looked at their teachers for permission.

Once granted, they each cautiously tore up four cards, placing one of the eight halves in their pocket without looking at it.

Then the fun began.

Guided over Zoom by Norfolk County-based illusionist Lucas Wilson, the kids passed and traded the remaining card halves, dropping some, throwing others up in the air, and generally ensuring they were thoroughly mixed up.

Each child ended up holding one jagged half. Then Wilson told them to reach into their pocket and pull out the by now-forgotten other piece.

To their astonishment, the card in their hand matched the one in their pocket.

“They were screaming and laughing. The energy was just so amazing,” said Leslie Butler, executive director of Tumaini Children’s Foundation, a Norfolk County-based charity that provides housing, nutrition, education and access to health care for 55 orphans in their direct care and many more vulnerable children and families in the community.

For most kids living at Tumaini, Wilson’s virtual show last August was their first brush with magic.

“They could not believe what he could perform for them. He’s now quite a superstar in Tanzania,” Butler said.

Wilson, who holds four Guinness World Records and before the COVID-19 pandemic routinely did up to 200 magic shows a year, told The Spectator his performance for the children of Tumaini was unlike any other in his long career.

“I went into this thinking it was just another virtual show,” he said. “But it was an unbelievable experience — just exhilarating — because of their reactions and excitement. I was so moved by seeing these children and what Tumaini is doing for them.”

Co-founded in 2009 by the late Cherie Tiffin-Szucs of Simcoe and Oddo Ndonde, a Tanzanian who worked with street children in Arusha, Tumaini cares for orphans ranging in age from as young as four to their mid-20s.

To further support Tumaini, Wilson will perform his family friendly show, The Magic of Hope, at Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover on Jan. 21 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 each and all proceeds go to the charity, which Butler said will recoup some of the donations lost during the pandemic and address the increased cost of food and fuel.

“It’s really important to us that we are able to continue to support the children we have committed to,” she said.

Wilson performs around the world with his assistant, Kelly Defilla, but calls Port Dover home.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve been narrowed down to a tiny computer screen, and now we get to pull out all of our big illusions that can only be performed inside a theatre,” Wilson said of the upcoming shows at Lighthouse.

“And of course, one of our world-famous straitjacket escapes.”

Butler said a magic show is the perfect fit for a charity that works magic in the lives of children in need.

“The magic of hope really happens at Tumaini Children’s Foundation in Tanzania,” she said.

“We are changing the trajectory of their future.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator