Allan Lissner, Independent photojournalistAge: 29
Allan with Sheila, one of hundreds of thousands of
people in Tanzania who have been displaced by gold mining
operations. She took it upon herself to act as Allan’s
tour guide in ‘her’ refugee camp.
For Allan Lissner, working in development wasn’t really a choice; it’s something that has always been part of his life. The 29-year-old’s father worked with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and he has lived all over the world as a result. “I grew up in nine different countries on four continents—and that includes some of the poorest countries in the world as well as some of the wealthiest places in the world—and just growing up seeing that contrast every day is really where I get this interest in doing this kind of work.”
But Lissner isn’t your average development worker. He doesn’t work for an organization, and he doesn’t conduct surveys or dig wells. Instead, he takes pictures. The independent photojournalist is currently working on his first long-term project: a multimedia documentary about the effects of the mining industry.
The project, which Allen began three years ago, is entitled “Someone Else’s Treasure.” Through photos, words and some video, Allan tells stories that are rarely heard: those of the communities affected by mining. He developed this focus after discovering it is very easy to find out what environmentalists, engineers, NGOs and even the companies are saying about mines, but it’s extremely difficult to find the views of the local people where these mines are located. “That’s really what’s been driving me to go there, to meet with people who have actually lived next to these mines, to find out how having this mine next to them affects their lives and to get those stories out, because I found that it’s almost impossible to find out that side of the story.” So far, Allan has spoken with hundreds of people about how mining has impacted their lives. He’s collected stories in twelve different communities—six in Tanzania and six in the Philippines— and he has also spoken with representatives from Australia, Chile and Papua New Guinea. He hopes to travel to more communities in the future and to eventually expand the project into a book and a photo exhibit.
On his website and through presentations to universities, NGOs and activist groups, Allan shares people’s accounts of the environmental and health problems that result from mining practices, as well as the human rights abuses that are occurring in some areas. Exposing a Canadian audience to these stories is especially important, because about 70 percent of the world’s mining and exploration companies are based in Canada.
“It’s important that it is a Canadian audience because this is very much a Canadian issue, and because Canada is a world leader in the mining industry, and because a lot of it is funded through public funds… a lot of it is our own money being used to make all these things possible,” he says. “Canadians don’t really know what’s happening, in terms of their own mining companies. I honestly don’t think that a lot of the companies would be able to get away with the things that they do if more Canadians knew about it.”
Victoria Sheppard, Founder of Canada-Mathare Education Trust
Residence: Ottawa, ON
Victoria Sheppard with CMETrust secondary
school scholars in Mathare.
Victoria Sheppard first visited the Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi, Kenya, to avoid getting trapped in the “expat bubble.” She was completing an internship at the United Nations Environment Programme when she, along with several fellow UN interns, began spending their Friday afternoons volunteering at a primary school in Mathare. “It was something that I really was consciously wanting to do while I was there—get engaged with local people,” Sheppard explains.
Inspired by the efforts of the teachers and community leaders volunteering there, Victoria asked what she could do to continue helping youth in Mathare upon returning to Canada. They identified education, specifically secondary school scholarships, as their biggest need. A few months and one mass email later, the Canada Mathare Education Trust (CMETrust) was born. “I was just constantly thinking it’s so unfair, I don’t deserve what I have any more than any of these people,” says 30-year-old Victoria, who is CMETrust’s founder and president. “It’s just where you’re born— it’s just dumb luck. And to me, it’s a social responsibility to do something to help when you have a capacity to do something to help.”
CMETrust is a volunteer-run, registered charitable trust that currently pays for 37 children from Mathare to attend secondary schools outside of Nairobi. Mathare is the second-largest slum in Nairobi, and is home to more than 600,000 people—most of them children. While primary school is free in Kenya, secondary school is not. This makes it impossible for most children in Mathare to attend. Instead, because of their age and lack of education, they are often forced into prostitution and crime for survival. Many Mathare community members believe that giving children the opportunity to attend school outside the slum is one way to break this cycle. To this end, the Trust’s scholarships include tuition, room and board and transportation to boarding schools in Western Kenya, as well as books, school supplies and uniforms.
“What I like about CMETrust is that we use existing infrastructures, so we’re not going in and building new schools or taking teachers from institutions,” Victoria says. “We’re working within the status quo because that’s the reality there right now, and using that existing capacity to the best of our ability.”
Victoria, who is a policy analyst at Fisheries and Oceans Canada and jokes that the Trust is her “unpaid full-time job,” would like to see the Trust expand to cover post-secondary school scholarships. They’ve had four scholars graduate from secondary school so far, and three went on to take a one-month IT-training course, their tuitions funded by a Mathare youth group. According to Victoria, CMETrust will continue to focus on education: “We don’t intend to get too big, we don’t intend to expand much further out of our mandate—we’re really trying to stay focused on where we came from.”
Dr. Martin Spencer, Ophthalmologist with Seva Canada
Residence: Lantzville, BC
Dr. Spencer examines a woman’s eyes at a Seva-funded
programme in Battambang, Cambodia.
Dr. Martin Spencer—Marty to those who know him—chuckles as he recounts his first trip with Seva, to Nepal in 1986. “I remember lying in this little freezing-cold hotel room in Kathmandu, and sort of wondering what I was doing there,” he says. “You know, wondering whether I had anything to offer.”
Dr. Spencer, a Nanaimo-based ophthalmologist specializing in cataract and intraocular lens surgery, is now a board member of Seva Canada and the Seva Foundation. He has travelled overseas with Seva once a year for the most of the last 23 years and has worked in six of the seven regions where Seva Canada operates. In other words, he quickly discovered that he had, in fact, a lot to offer the organization, which works to restore sight and prevent blindness in developing countries.
The problem Seva and Dr. Spencer are tackling is a huge one: approximately 45 million people around the world are blind, and 90 percent of them live in developing countries. The majority of blindness in the developing world is a result of cataracts; these occur about twenty years earlier than they do in developed nations, where they are considered to be an affliction of the elderly and where cataract blindness is virtually unheard of. The cause of cataracts in developing countries is thought to be a combination of malnutrition and sunlight exposure, but “We don’t know for sure,” says Dr. Spencer.
One of the ways Seva works to achieve its goals is by helping to establish eye care services in developing countries. They support programmes in hospitals and clinics, eye care centres and mobile eye camps to reach people in more remote areas. Seva’s goal is sustainability. “We’re trying to set up programmes that will go and run on their own,” explains Dr. Spencer, who has spend a great deal of his time overseas training eye care specialists. “We try to put ourselves out of business which, of course, is unfortunately is not going to happen.”
Dr. Spencer has performed sight-restoring cataract surgeries on thousands of patients. But the focus of his work with Seva has been on adapting tools and techniques to allow his work to be conducted in more basic conditions, making cataract surgery faster and safer.
Dr. Spencer isn’t the only member of his family now involved with the organization. When he first started, he would take his young family with him every few years, and his youngest daughter even took her first steps at a guest house in India. All three of his daughters are active volunteers with the organization. Dr. Spencer says, “Having the family involved has been very special.”
He says he continues his work with Seva because “It’s indescribably satisfying. I mean, if you were there, if you go to an eye camp, you wouldn’t say ‘Why would you?’ you’d say, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’ It’s, as far as I’m concerned, not an option.”
Merna Schmidt, Founder of Siyawela Foundation
Residence: Edmonton, AB
Merna in the Zululand region of KwaZulu-Natal, during
the initial fact-finding mission that led to the creation
of the Siyawela Foundation.
Merna Schmidt is passionate about volunteering and the difference it makes. She was watching the six o’clock news one day, not long ago, and heard the story of a local hero: A woman in a wheelchair fell onto a set of train tracks, directly in the path of an approaching train, and was pulled to safety by a good Samaritan. The man later commented on how fortunate he felt because not many people get to save a life. “I was sitting by myself at home and I actually spoke out loud, which I don’t normally do, and said ‘No! Everybody can save lives!’”
The Edmonton native always dreamed volunteering overseas but didn’t make her first trip until 1997, when she was 37. Looking to do something meaningful with her holidays, she had committed to volunteering for two months in Palestine with World Vision. While preparing for the trip, she says, “I thought if I were to die today, what would I regret that I hadn’t done yet? And I knew immediately what it was—it was volunteer in Africa.” She took a leave of absence from her job at Grant MacEwan College and spent the next year volunteering with a number of projects in the Middle East, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Since then, she has returned to Palestine seven times, Africa four times and has also worked in Albania and Kosovo. “I spent that year volunteering and got totally addicted, hooked,” she says. “I always tell people that when they ask about doing this, ’I just have one warning for you: once you start it’s really hard to stop.’”
And she hasn’t stopped. Merna’s current volunteer project is the Siyawela Foundation (currently known as Every Life Matters), a volunteer-run organization she founded in 2007. Named after a Zulu word meaning to unite or connect, the Siyawela Foundation aims to help impoverished communities become as self-sufficient as possible. Merna started the foundation with a desire to make more of a difference on the ground in South Africa and began in the province on KwaZulu-Natal, which has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world.
While on a fact-finding mission in 2007, Merna discovered a small local organization called Zisize and decided to work with them because of their passion and holistic approach. Zisize identified housing as their most immediate need, as the huts in their village, made of sticks and wood, are literally falling apart. “I had no idea we were going to build houses,” Merna says. “We left it wide open to what do you need.” The foundation recently completed their first project, the construction of two houses that will provide homes for orphans and vulnerable children.
Next, the seven-person foundation plans to move on to agricultural training and education projects in the same community. Merna would like to be able to work on the Siyawela Foundation full-time someday, but says, “It’s going to take a lot of building up to that point.” She calls volunteering her “selfish work,” explaining, “I just find I get so much from it.”
David Peck, MagicianAge: 44
Residence: Oakville, ON
David speaking at “Why Everything Must Change”,
a SoChange conference held in Oakville, ON.
David Peck has pursued a variety of interests over the years: he’s worked as an electrician, he holds a master’s degree in philosophy and is even a self-published poet. Currently, David is a teacher, public speaker and the founder of a social justice organization. He’s also an acclaimed magician with more than 20 years of experience, whose latest trick combines high school students, magic and comedy in the hopes of making malaria disappear.
The Mosquitoes Suck Tour (MST) is a travelling event that helps high schools raise money for UNICEF. Each show features performances by a comedian, a magician and a speaker from SoChange, who educates the audience about malaria. SoChange is an organization David founded in 2008, which helps charitable organizations increase their efficiency and impact. “It just seemed to make sense—a fun, entertaining show talking about a really serious matter,” David says. “I like the paradox. I like the contradiction.”
MST operates in collaboration with Spread the Net, a campaign spearheaded by Rick Mercer and Belinda Stronach, and each show raises money for UNICEF to purchase and distribute mosquito bed nets. The performances last for the duration of one high school period (around 60 minutes) and schools raise money by having students “buy-in”—purchase tickets to attend the show during one of their classes. Student councils pay a small fee to cover posters and other administrative costs, and the rest of the money goes UNICEF.
Although the tour officially launched in September, two pilot shows were held last February at John F. Ross Collegiate Vocational Institute in Guelph. One thousand students attended the shows and John F. Ross went on to win the high school category of the Spread the Net Student Challenge after raising over $59,000 for bed nets in Africa. With successes like this, David hopes to expand the tour across Canada.
Malaria infects 350 to 500 million people each year and kills about one million, the majority of them children in Africa. Sleeping under an insecticide-treated mosquito net can reduce malaria transmission by 50 percent and overall mortality in children under five by up to 25 percent. For every $10 raised by the Mosquitoes Suck Tour, one net, which will last for five years, goes to a family in Africa. “It is a kind of fundraising that’s tangible, so students get to see that ‘Okay, we raised 100 bucks, that’s ten nets.’ I think that’s helpful right now, in this age of suspicion with respect to fundraising and donor accountability and so on.”
But, for David, MST is about much more than money. “It’s about hopefully instilling some kind of passion and desire for change,” he says. “And I guarantee you that at most of the performances there are one or two students (or teachers) who are going to go on to learn more about the issue or engage in some way.” That’s what excites David most: the idea that the seeds planted at these shows will germinate and inspire change.
Laura Archer, Artist, and Nurse with Médecins Sans Frontières
Residence: Montreal, QC
Laura in her Montreal studio with “Suma”, a painting
from her 2008 exhibition. Laura met Suma in the Central
African Republic, when Suma, very ill herself, brought her
nine-month-old baby to the clinic after walking for two
days to receive treatment. Photo - Melanie Vallieres.
For Laura Archer, painting is a way to give a voice to the voiceless. The 31-year-old Montreal resident is a nurse with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and believes part of her job as a humanitarian is to raise awareness and share the stories of the people she has worked with.
“I think most people who are artists, whether it’s a musician or a painter or a sculptor, it’s because they have some burning thing that they need to express to the world—and my burning thing is what is happening in developing parts of the world. My burning thing is global disparities and global health,” she says. “I only know about those things from my experience working in the field.”
Before returning home from her first trip with MSF in 2007, Laura had never painted. In fact, she didn’t draw either, or have much of an art background other than being the daughter of a painter. She had, however, always been interested in other people’s art and secretly wanted to try painting. So, exhausted after nine months and two missions in Chad and the Central African Republic, she decided to take a month off and get creative. Drawing inspiration from the 10,000 photographs she had taken in the field, one month quickly turned into twelve.
In August 2008, the rookie painter held an exhibition in Montreal, entitled “Facing Africa,” that featured 27 paintings, all of them large portraits. Originally intended to run for just three days, the show was extended by a week due to unexpected media attention.
Laura has started painting again, following her latest assignment in Darfur, Sudan, where she was among four MSF staff members abducted and held for four days. So far, her newest series of paintings is in black, white and various shades of grey—except for one. This painting is one of only two works Laura has completed from memory (without a photo to work from), and features red, orange and pink tones. It depicts one of Laura’s kidnappers.
“I didn’t feel upset, I didn’t feel angry,” she says of her time working on this painting. “I think people imagine painters throwing paint at the canvas, and it wasn’t like that at all. It was just a very soothing and almost a forgiving time for me. “ She says she “tried to show the little bit of tenderness within the horribleness,” because she believes that no matter what people do to one another, deep down they probably believe what they are doing is right.
Laura says painting is also a way of dealing with the emotional trials of working in war-torn areas, because during her time in the field she often doesn’t have the time or the energy to really feel events. “Of course I’m always kind and try to empathetic, but you can’t always cry every time you pronounce a baby dead. You can’t always get excited when you do a delivery. You can’t always get scared when there’s an armed person at your car,” she says. “So, these things you kind of just deal with at a minimum level emotionally to get through the day… And then when I come home and paint, that’s when I have a safe environment and time and privacy to just go through everything that I didn’t feel and feel it.”
Tammy Babcock, Founder of Help Tammy Help HaitiAge: 33
Residence: Kingston, ON
Tammy distributes free water to residents of Boston, a
community in Cité Soleil that now has access to the water
tower Help Tammy Help Haiti built.
Tammy Babcock lives two separate lives. She spends the majority of her time in Kingston, Ontario, working as a security supervisor at Queen’s University. In her time off, she’s a humanitarian, working in Cité Soleil, a slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. “It’s hard to explain,” she says. “Every time I make the switch, I realize how lucky I am to have the other half.”
Tammy began her second life as a result of the 2004 tsunami. She was planning a vacation at the time, but just couldn’t get excited about her trip despite her love of travelling. So when the tsunami happened a few days later, she says, “I thought to myself, why not go to Thailand, because they need help.” During the next year-and-a-half, she spent a total of six months there, helping to rebuild homes.
She first ventured to Haiti a year after finishing her work in Thailand. She wanted to continue making a difference, and chose Haiti as her next focus because it was close to home and the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere. She ended up in Cité Soleil, a five-squarekilometre area thought be home to around 500,000 people.
Her organization, Help Tammy Help Haiti, was created in early 2009, after Tammy began working with a local man she met in Cité Soleil. It now includes the duo, along with a Canadian director, several Canadian volunteers who help with fundraising events and about ten Haitian volunteers.
Their first major project, the construction of a water tower, was completed in July 2009—less than a year after the organization was created. The tower is one of many in the area, but offers water for a substantially lower price: two gourdes (about five cents) for a ten-gallon bucket. This price includes the cost of the water, which is purchased from a supplier who pumps it into the tower, the salaries of seven staff members to distribute the water and provide security for the tower and a bit for maintenance fees. Most of the other water towers in the area charge seven gourdes for their water. Tammy’s tower is located in the middle of three different communities in Cité Soleil, with a combined population of around 50,000. The grand opening was “basically a big party” where they hung the Haitian and Canadian flags on the tower and provided free water to residents.
Help Tammy Help Haiti has also paid for twelve children from the slum to attend school. Fundraising is underway for several other planned projects, including a clinic providing free health care and medication and first-aid training for Haitian volunteers.
“I know it seems a little crazy,” Tammy explains, “but there’s so much need that you can’t just focus on one thing. We’re not actually manually building things, we’re there overseeing—so we oversee the water tower project, but while we do that, we can do a water delivery somewhere, we can provide first aid and put some kids in school.”
Marc Gold, 100 Friends ProjectAge: 60
Residence: Bangkok, Thailand and Berkeley, CA
Marc spends one of the best hours of his life putting
donated hats on the heads of over 100 children at an
orphanage in Ganzi, Eastern Tibet.
Bicycles. Rice. A restaurant in Bangkok. Mosquito nets. Animals. Mattresses. Sewing machines. Schools. These are just a few of the countless things Marc Gold has purchased with the nearly $600,000 he’s raised in the last twenty years.
Of course, Marc’s 100 Friends Project is about much more than just things: it’s about helping people in developing countries and improving their lives. In 1979, on his first trip to India, Marc met a woman suffering from an ear infection. He stopped the infection with a $1 antibiotic and restored her hearing with a $30 hearing aid. “And that’s when the light bulb went on,” he says. “I realized you can do a tremendous amount with almost nothing. That blew my mind, of course, and so, one thing just led to another.” He returned home and sent letters to 100 friends, telling them about his experience and asking for donations he could distribute on his next trip.
Since then, Marc has been on 22 humanitarian missions in 67 countries, the majority of them in Asia. Of his work as founder and director of the 100 Friends Project, which is really a one-man show, Marc says, “I just go looking for problems. I go into slums and villages and prisons and hospitals and orphanages and clinics and just see what I can do with the money.” His only rule is that the people he helps must not be receiving aid from another source. There are no strings attached to Marc’s gifts, but he does ask recipients to give back by helping others.
The 100 Friends Project has funded the construction of five schools. Every year the organization donates $10,000 to the Centre for Children’s Happiness, an organization that provides a home and education for 150 children who used to live and work in a landfill in Cambodia. Marc has funded heart and cleft palette surgeries and awarded scholarships. He helps people he’s read about in the newspaper, those he’s heard about through his extensive network of friends and those he meets by chance.
Marc isn’t the only one doing this type of humanitarian work: “You know, the big groups like Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders, they do great work, but there’s a lot of very, very small oneor- two-person operations,” he says. In his travels, Marc has met a number of individuals doing great things on their own. He enjoys increasing their ranks by helping others get started. In total, Marc estimates he’s helped about 30 people launch similar projects and says, “I have a standing offer—anyone who’s serious, I’ll give them their first $100, teach them everything I know and give them contacts.”
Nearly two years ago, Marc quit his job as a community college professor, teaching psychology and public health, to devote all of his time to the 100 Friends Project. He is grooming his youngest son to take over the project when he is no longer able to run it himself. In the meantime, Marc wants to continue building schools, “because that’s something that will last a lot longer than me.” He also wants to keep funding operations, giving away scholarships and teaching people how to do what he does—amongst other things. In short, “I just want to keep doing what I’m doing,” he says. “I’m 60, I figure I can do this another 10, 11, 12, 15 years, who knows.”
Allison Furniss, Kicking AIDS Out / Commonwealth Games Canada and EMIMA
Residence: Whitehorse, YT
Allison takes a break from co-facilitating a Kicking
AIDS Out workshop in Dar es Salaam for EMIMA youth peer
Typically, recent university graduates may find employment in the city they attended university or in their hometown, but 23 year-old Allison Furniss isn’t your typical university graduate. The location of the first job of her professional life? Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
After earning her degree in kinesiology and nutrition from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, the Whitehorse native was hired by Commonwealth Games Canada as an intern. She was placed at EMIMA, a Tanzanian NGO that works to empower youth through sport. There, Allison worked on Kicking AIDS Out (KAO), an HIV/AIDS awareness programme and network that uses movement, games and sport to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and promote life skills.
Allison’s path to Dar es Salaam began in December 2006, when she travelled to Central and East Africa with her brother over Christmas break. She was then in her third year of university and had lost much of the passion she initially had for her studies. The hardship and poverty she witnessed on the trip prompted her to re-evaluate her career plans, and she returned to school in January, inspired and looking to return to East Africa. “I just really loved it there, so I wanted to try to come back,” she says.
Two years later, Allison began a 12-month term as the programme coordinator for Kicking AIDS Out. In this role, she worked with youth peer leaders, providing general support and teaching them games and lessons, which they could use to educate other youth about HIV/AIDS.
These youth peer trainers welcomed Allison into their lives with open arms, and forging these relationships was one of the most rewarding aspects of her work. “I’ve seen the true hardship that comes with poverty because we’re working with disadvantaged youth that come from very poor backgrounds. I’ve seen the challenges that they face everyday—literally having to choose between having lunch, or having a meal, and taking the bus.”
She says another of the most rewarding moments of her job was something she heard about after the fact. A peer trainer who was attending Allison’s workshop wasn’t enjoying the session, which usually began with a lecture on health and well-being as a lead-in to discussing HIV/AIDS. The trainer decided she would leave, but when they switched gears to do some movement games, she opted to stay—only for the games. She ended up enjoying the games and other activities so much that she decided to complete the whole workshop, which took place over a weekend. “It’s nice to hear little things like that, little stories when you know that somebody stays involved or is a bit more empowered,” Allison says. “I’m always thinking that if I can just teach one person that using a condom is going to save their life from HIV/AIDS, then I think that's a success."
Dr Chris Opio, Founder, Northern Uganda Development Foundation
Residence: Prince George, BC
Dr. Opio looks on as a Northern Uganda Development
Foundation (NUDF) delegate, pumps water from a well the
Dr. Christopher Opio believes that water is life. And he should know—the 55-year-old associate professor at the University of Northern British Columbia has experienced first-hand the pain and suffering caused by drinking impure water. Dr. Opio grew up in the Oyam District in northern Uganda. His parents were poor farmers who had ten children, and he recalls the daily suffering from drinking unclean water, and walking long distances to collect it.
In 2007, Dr. Opio founded the Northern Uganda Development Foundation (NUDF) for two reasons: to prevent the kind of suffering he went through as a child, and to use his professional skills to help. Dr. Opio teaches forestry and environmental sciences and has extensive experience in both fields. While he says the desire to help has always been in him, “like part of my DNA,” the trigger was a visit to Uganda in 1995. “I saw people with diarrhea. I saw people with tapeworm. I saw people with ringworm, just from drinking dirty water. So then I said, ‘No, something has to be done.’”
NUDF’s primary focus is providing clean water to the people of the Oyam District by building wells. Since 2007, they have funded 16 wells, providing water to about 40,000 people. Community members choose the location of the well and once the well is complete, ownership is handed over to them. “We say this is your gift, now you can manage it,” Dr. Opio explains. Each household in these communities contributes 500 Uganda shillings (about 25 cents) to a fund for future repairs, a practice Dr. Opio says began in one village and was taken up by the others when the word spread.
Fresh water has improved life immensely for the people of the Oyam District. NUDF conducted surveys asking villagers about their health before and after the wells were built. Before the wells, people were sick and unproductive. Children were often unable to attend school because of diarrhea and stomach ailments and their parents were too sick to farm their land effectively. Now, parents are able to do their own work and kids are able to attend school because they are healthy.
NUDF has the support of the local government, and in 2008 Dr. Opio and a NUDF delegation from Canada discussed the organization’s work with the President of Uganda. But for Dr. Opio, it all comes down to preventing the suffering he experienced as a child. “If I can help kids and other people and they don’t go through what I went through, that is really probably the most rewarding thing.”
Ashleigh Mitchell, CUSO
Residence: Winnipeg, MB
Ashleigh poses with Ethel Suri, her co-worker
and best friend at the NGO Vois Blong Mere in the
Ashleigh Mitchell knows things happen for a reason.
Her story begins back in 2005. She had just returned from three years of solo backpacking around the world—a trip that included stops in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Switzerland—and was looking for a way to begin repaying the many “kindnesses” the world had shown her during her travels.
One afternoon, shortly after her return to Canada, Ashleigh found herself chasing a bus down a Manitoba highway—with a stranger in her back seat. This stranger was CUSO Atlantic recruiter Marian White, who was stranded at a diner when her bus left without her. When Marian burst out of the restroom, begging for someone to help, Ashleigh volunteered. “We just instantly hit it off,” Ashleigh says. “It’s one of those serendipitous encounters.” Chatting in the car, it soon became clear that Ashleigh was looking to do volunteer work, while Marian was looking for volunteers for overseas placements.
The bus was caught, plans were made and six months later, Ashleigh arrived in the Solomon Islands, in the middle of the South Pacific. Her placement, made possible by NetCorps and CUSO, was at Vois Blong Mere (Women’s Voices), an NGO that promotes women’s rights.
Ashleigh’s role was to provide basic computer training to the women working there. Despite frequent power outages, the lessons were a success, and Ashleigh eventually found herself providing computer training and literacy classes to women from 12 different groups. She also worked on Vois Blong Mere’s newsletter and radio programme, and wrote several articles about women in her community that were published in the Solomon Islands’ national newspaper.
According to Ashleigh, she learned as much from the women as they did from her. “They taught me so much,” says Ashleigh. “They are such strong and inspiring women, that it was far more so, I’m sure, them teaching me, than in any way, me coming in and teaching them.” Ashleigh’s volunteer placement not only helped her begin repaying her debt to the world, but it also led her to her current career. “I didn’t even know what social work was, to be honest,” she admits. “The more that I learned about social work, the more that I realized that was what I was always meant to do."
Daniel Ivorra, Red Cross
Residence: Toronto, ON
Daniel, a nurse with the International Committee of the
Red Cross, provides care in Chad.
For 61-year-old Daniel Ivorra, retirement has not involved slowing down or even leaving his professional life behind. Since retiring in 2005, the nurse has completed eight overseas assignments with three humanitarian organizations: Médecins du Monde, Operation Smile and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Southern France native began his career with independence in mind: he knew becoming a nurse would allow him to find a job quickly, anywhere in the world. He worked in operating rooms in places like Djibouti, French Guyana and New Caledonia, before finally settling in Canada with his Canadian wife. Then, for 19 years, he was an operating room nurse in a number of Toronto area hospitals.
After their children were grown, Daniel and his wife left the city for nursing positions on a remote First Nations reserve in Northern Ontario. Following this three-year experience, Daniel says working at large hospitals was “finished for me.” He particularly enjoyed the new opportunity to interact with patients, which hadn’t been possible in operating rooms. His desire to find similar work took him to Sudan with Médicins du Monde.
In his current work with the Red Cross, Daniel has been on assignments as an educator and a front-line nurse. For Daniel, education is always a part of the mission. On the first of three trips to the Ivory Coast, a young local woman Daniel was working with asked him what he was going to give her as a souvenir.
Daniel said, “I have a very nice present for you—I’m going to teach you a job. And if you follow my advice, if you work hard, you’re going to become indispensable.” The young woman, who was a volunteer working one of every three days, began coming in every day and staying late if necessary. She learned the equipment sterilization techniques Daniel taught her and is now a full-time employee.
On this trip, Daniel’s original assignment was teaching operation room techniques to the nursing staff, but finding their skills sufficient, he realized that the real issue was sterilization.
Although Daniel initiated the redesign of the sterilization room in the hospital, which resulted in the implementation of modern standards, he credits the local employee he trained with the success of this project. “It’s not by redoing the room you make change, it’s just because of what I taught her and because she’s doing it that it works.”
Daniel plans to keep busy by continuing his work with the Red Cross, and hopes that he will be able to go on more missions with his wife, who retired last year and has joined him on one Red Cross mission. He’d also like to continue volunteering with Operation Smile, an organization that provides corrective surgery for children and youth with cleft lips, cleft palettes and other facial deformities.
Teresa Mellish, Farmers Helping Farmers
Residence: New Perth, PEI
Teresa presents funds raised by a PEI Sunday school to
primary school teachers in Marega, Kenya.
Teresa Mellish has been farming her entire life. She grew upon on a farm in New Brunswick and currently lives on a 400-acre farm in Prince Edward Island where she raises sport horses. She has an undergraduate degree in agriculture and she was an agricultural extension worker. But her agricultural work isn’t limited to Canada. In fact, for the last 30 years, Teresa has helped farmers in Kenya and Tanzania through a PEI-based organization called Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF).
Teresa has been the coordinator and treasurer of FHF since it began in 1979. And, according to current FHF president, John VanLeeuwen, she is “the ‘hub’ of all activities at FHF, with her finger into just about every activity, ensuring that all goes as planned, as much as possible.”
The ultimate goal of Farmers Helping Farmers, which now has 100 members in PEI, is simple: to improve the lives of farm families that belong to FHF’s five partner organizations in Kenya. They focus on improving the lives of women in particular—a focus Teresa is responsible for developing—because Kenyan women do most of the farming. “My husband and I have stayed on the farms of farm families there, and we’ve seen that if we make a difference to a farm woman, then that difference translates into a difference for the whole family.”
FHF’s current projects, which all originated as proposals from their Kenyan partners, focus mainly on the areas of crops and dairy. One of these is the Wakulima Dairy, a project that began as a “self help” group (the Kenyan equivalent of a cooperative). FHF began working with the dairy fifteen years ago and it is now a limited company with 6,000 members, all farm families with a few cows, who ship milk to the dairy for storage in cooling tanks. Among other things, FHF has provided the cooling tanks, as well as training on how to keep cows healthy and improve milk quality. As a result, milk production has increased and more calves are being born. The farm families involved also have more income. “It’s just a more prosperous community all around. As a result of that dairy, $10,000 a day is coming into that community from milk,” says Teresa. “We haven’t done it—they’ve done it for themselves…but we’ve been able to help them do that.”
This ability to make a difference is the reason Teresa, whose husband and son are also heavily involved in the organization, cites for her devotion to FHF for all of these years. “The reason I stick with it is because when we work with the farm families in Kenya, the groups that we work with, we make a difference. We make a difference in their lives—they’re better off because we work with them.”
Erica Corbett, Maternal Health Care
Residence: Halifax, NS
With the help of a piki-piki, Erica conducts
a community-needs assessment in Ruvuma province.
Erica Corbett always knew she would work in development—it was just a matter of where and in what role. After attending a speech by Stephen Lewis about HIV and Africa, Erica, then in her final year of studying to become a speech therapist, made that decision. “I remember people actually said to me afterwards, after his talk, that I changed that night. [After that] all I ever talked about was working in HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa,” she says. “I mean, I’m kind of like that, I’m a pretty impassioned person—it’s like all or nothing for me.”
The next day, Erica asked her parents for a plane ticket to South Africa as a graduation present and she left for Cape Town just one day after graduating from university. There, she volunteered at a home for AIDS orphans and a soup kitchen; she also completed an internship with Habitat for Humanity. Then, at a Treatment Action Campaign rally she met the director of Mothers to Mothers.
Also known as m2m, this NGO works to support pregnant women and new mothers who are HIV-positive. It started in Cape Town and has since expanded operations into six other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Their main function is to encourage participation in Prevention of Mother-to- Child Transmission (PMTCT) programmes, which, as the name suggests, reduce the possibility of HIV being passed from a mother to her baby. These programmes are extremely effective, but have had few participants in South Africa, largely due to the overloaded health care system. Women often first discover that they are HIV-positive when they are pregnant, but nurses and physicians don’t always have the time to discuss their options. M2m has space in facilities like hospitals and clinics where expectant mothers can be directed for education and advice. And, the beauty of m2m’s work is their staff is made up of mothers who are HIV-positive and have been through the programme themselves.
Erica started at m2m as a volunteer, but eventually became a full-time staff member after applying for and receiving funding through CIDA’s now-defunct HIV/AIDS Rapid Response Fund for m2m’s Psycho-Social Support for Staff project. She managed the pilot version of the programme, created to provide counselling for m2m’s staff, who were often struggling with the stigma and issues surrounding being HIV-positive themselves. The results were extremely positive: staff started taking fewer sick days because they were less stressed.
“Women would often come up to me or to other people involved in the project and say, ‘Because of the support in this project, I’ve been able to disclose my status to my kids for the first time’ or ‘I’ve been able to talk to my community and now I’m seen as sort of the community support person,’” Erica says. “We found just having the opportunity to talk about some of the stressors that they were going through really empowered women.”