By Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB
Elsie James (83) pulled into Fernie, British Columbia, with her family when she was seven. The rain-drenched moon raised its Aladdin’s lamp to the stars, conjuring magical shadows into being. The next morning, crimson streaks were smeared across the skyline, mountain topping mountain. Entranced by a magnificent view of the shimmering mountaintops, James — a prairie girl by birth — announced to her mother that she would live among crags when she grew up.
Sure enough, we find her among the mountains, symbols or images of other reality, 74 years later at home in High River, Alberta and, for months at a time, in Nepal — a poor land-locked state between Tibet and India — which features eight of the world’s 10 tallest mountains.
“I’ve been hypnotized by mountain ranges ever since that morning in Fernie, so, when I retired after three decades in banking, I trekked to Mount Everest, Nepal, in 1995,” James said on the phone from her Alberta home. “My metaphysical connection with mountains and the Nepali people led to a second career short on financial compensation, but long on self-fulfillment.”
International charities have been working in Nepal since 1951. Elsie James of Calgary, Medical Mercy Canada (MMC)’s Nepal Country Manager, has been making two trips there every year for a total of five months annually, usually in the spring and fall, the timing depending on needs at the other end.
First encounter with Nepal
Her first official trip to Nepal was for an NGO called PartnerShip Canada in 1996; James was there full-time until early 2000, except for brief visits to Canada. She continued to work with village schools and supported her activities by bringing tour and trekking groups to Nepal after PartnerShip downed shutters until 2007, when Medical Mercy Canada, a registered Canadian charity, adopted her projects, taking them under their wing.
(At right, Elsie James with summer intern, David Bobyn, at the opening of Sanskrit High School in Maidi, Dhading District)
James began working with Kanti Children's Hospital in Kathmandu 2008. She organized a fund-raising trek to the Everest Base Camp on her 75th birthday. New plumbing, electrical wiring, the installation of a new kitchen, painting the building inside and out, and replacing the leaking roof, were needed at the hospital’s Shelter House. This is where family caregivers stay while helping their hospitalized children. Everyone on the trek did fundraising in their communities, and a portion of the trek fee also went to the Shelter House Fund. The trek, called "Trek 4 Kanti Kids" (aka Granny's Grunt), raised approximately $29,000. The work was completed in 2011.
MMC also has an emergency fund that helps families unable to pay for extended treatment, blood transfusions and special diagnostic tests. The Shelter House is managed by a Nepali NGO, Social Action Volunteers-Nepal (SAV-Nepal). In 2015, SAV's annual reports showed 6,801 occupied "bed- nights" in the Shelter House Dormitory and 146 children financially helped to treatment and diagnostic services.
Between 2005 and 2014, they were improving sanitation at village schools, organizing annual medical or dental clinics in remote villages, and operating a mobile medical clinic that employed four Nepali health workers who made the rounds to four remote locations where villagers lacked access to health posts or hospitals. The free clinics were served by Nepali and foreign volunteers.
The last, large medical/dental camp was in 2012. Like its predecessors, it included workshops, teaching villagers the importance of clean water, water treatment options, sanitation and hygiene. By 2012, travel and food costs within Nepal had become too expensive for large mobile clinics to continue to be viable.
Road access to centrally-located District Hospitals had also improved, enabling transportation of patients from villages to District Hospitals for medical care. “We are now concentrating more on health education and prevention than active treatment,” says James.
Providing education and water
Beginning in 2006, MMC trained and paid four village youths in Tipling Village Development Council (VDC) to act as Classroom Assistants in three schools, to help the overworked teachers. The Tipling villages are in a high valley just south of the Tibet border in northern Nepal. The attendance of teachers and students had been irregular, and the villages unable to solve the problem. One teacher had three grades with a total of 105 students in ages ranging from 5 to 14 — and was expected to teach them all. Attendance and parental support of the schools improved with the provision of help for the teachers. “We supported this project for five years until the situation improved, and then moved on with the local government taking more responsibility,” says James.
MMC did its first major water project, bringing water to taps serving 84 homes in Khare Village Development Council, Dhading District, in 2013. Three reservoirs were built, and an electric pump raised the water from a spring 500 feet into a storage tank above the village. Gravity-fed pipelines from the reservoirs distributed the water to 14 tap stands conveniently located to clusters of homes in the local villages.
This was a joint project funded by MMC and a partner, the Bethany Baptist Church in Puyallup, Washington. Before this, the village women carried water cans from the spring in baskets on their backs, 500 vertical feet to their homes over a rough, steep trail. This was a project that made a sustainable difference to everyone in the villages served — especially the women who no longer had to carry water to their families at least twice each day.
School for the deaf
That same year of 2013, MMC joined hands with the founders of the Swabalambi Primary School for Deaf Children in Dhading District. The school opened in 2012 in borrowed quarters, an unfinished farm house, but needed to move from there. There was no educational facility available to children with profound hearing loss anywhere in the District. One was sorely needed.
Today, the school is in new quarters on land donated by a local farmer. A partnership of several donor agencies, including MMC, the local community and municipal government, made this dream come true. The school now has three floors — incomplete, but functional. Its 64 students live full-time at the school while becoming proficient in Nepali sign language and standard curriculum courses. Its 64 students live full-time at the school while becoming proficient in Nepali sign language. There are plans for parents’ sign-language workshops and vocational training for students not wanting to pursue academics.
Much of Nepal, including its capital city Kathmandu, was savaged by earthquakes in 2015. Says James, “The April 25 and May 12 earthquakes of 7.8 & 7.3 magnitudes on the Richter scale, did not physically affect the whole country. About 14 of 75 districts were affected, with the brunt falling on seven districts, including Dhading, where we were working. There were more than 400 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or more since the initial quakes.”
MMC reacted immediately after the quakes. Emergency supplies were gathered and delivered to devastated villages in its service area, putting other projects on hold temporarily. Then, in the following 10 months, with the help of many donors, including Canadian Nepali organizations, nine villages’ schools were rebuilt and ready for occupancy for the new school year, beginning April 2016.
Families hope to vacate their temporary shelters in resettlement camps before another monsoon starts in mid-June, but their future is still a question mark and recovery a long, dark, winding road into the unknown.
A school at Muralibanjyag, the first of nine to be built by MMC, was completed in November 2015 in partnership with the Calgary Nepali Community Association (CNCA). They did not respond to e-mails sent by New Canadian Media.
Another school was inaugurated in Dhading 10 May 2016, in transitory sunshine and clear skies. District, VDC, and political party leaders thanked the sponsors, organizers, volunteers and construction team. The last three speakers had, however, to shout to be heard over thunder and lightning. This project was also in partnership with the CNCA.
Ramesh Dhamala, district president of the Nepali Congress Party, unveiled a donor plaque with James.
Mules were the only carriers that could access many places MMC worked, till recently. That changed with the introduction of jeepable roads.
(At right, micro-enterprise trainer Bimla Dhakal teaching menstrual health education at a typical countryside school in the Himalayan foothills.)
MMC inaugurated the Single Women's Hostel in Dhading Besi in partnership with the local chapter of Women for Human Rights, Single Women's Branch , in May 2014. The hostel provides a temporary dormitory for women in transition, and vocational training rooms. (Micro-enterprise Trainer, Bimala Dhakal, teaching the girls menstrual health education at a typical countryside school in the Himalayan foothills, picture at right)
“Currently, we are sponsoring a start-up program jointly funded with a US NGO, ‘Project for a Village,’ for a micro-enterprise group that is producing menstrual hygiene kits to be distributed in conjunction with an education program for girls in Grades 5 through 10 in the District’s government schools,” continues James: “This program was founded by ‘Days for Girls’ and is being expanded into Nepal.”
The Karuna Girls’ School and Women's College in Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, was a project that was brought to MMC by Trevor Ironside of Calgary, who was sponsoring it, and raising money to establish the school in partnership with a Canadian Engaged Buddhism Association (CEBA). MMC adopted the program. Ironside is now president of its Board and MMC still very involved in the project. “Trevor is the one who manages this one,” continues James: “ It is a great project and they are now hoping to expand on property they have acquired, to build a hospital and nurse training program in conjunction with the school one day.”
Ashoke Dasgupta is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Winnipeg. He has won three journalism awards in Canada and Nepal.
By: Bhupinder S. Liddar in Oliver, BC
Nestled in the scenic and stunning rolling dry desert hills and mirror lakes of Okanagan Valley in beautiful British Columbia is the town of Oliver – the wine capital of Canada!
Oliver’s population of 5,000 is made up of about 1,000 Sikhs. If one drives along the town’s Main Street, one is bound to see a turbaned Sikh or a Sikh lady in Punjabi dress, as well as the Sikh Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship). And as one proceeds through the scenic Okanagan Valley one is struck by the greenery of wineries and fruit orchards, and depending on the time of the summer, one will drive by cherry, peach, apple, and perhaps prune trees all along Highway 97.
Oliver’s Mayor Ron Hovanes describes his town as an “authentic farming community.” Other than driving along the fruit-tree-lined highway, one can pull into one of the many wineries for tasting, buying, or even a meal.
The Sikhs started migrating and buying orchards and vineyards in Oliver and the Okanagan Valley about three decades ago. Farming is in the Sikh genes. Their ancestral home state of Punjab is the breadbasket of India. Sikhs are also successful farmers in Australia, Kenya, Fiji, among other countries.
The Sikhs bought orchards/vineyards predominantly from the Portuguese, who had migrated here in the 1950s. Mayor Hovanes explains the origins of Oliver are in the irrigation canal built in 1926 under British Columbia Premier John Oliver, after whom the town is named. The intent was to settle returning British veterans of the First World War.
The British migrants were followed by Germans in the 1930s and Hungarians in the 1940s and 1950s. Sikhs own about 70 per cent of orchards and wineries. The average holding is about 10–12 acres, and according to farmer Bhupinder Singh Karwasra, an acre generates an income of about $8,000 to $10,000. Prices of land have doubled or tripled since Sikhs first bought land at $4,000 an acre.
Apart from farming, Sikhs are venturing into other trades and commercial enterprises. Paramjit Singh Chauhan owns and operates East India Meat Shop on Highway 97, down the road from Oliver. Similarly, Surjit Singh Aulakh this month set up a hairdresser shop on Oliver’s Main Street.
Oliver-born Baljeet S. Dhaliwal, a graduate of Simon Fraser University, is now a manager at one of BC Tree Fruits packinghouses. Others, such as Toor twin brothers – Randy and Jessie, have set up an 80-acre, state-of-the-art Desert Hills Estate Winery on what was once an apple orchard. They are the second Sikh family to settle in the area, in the footsteps of Major Dhaliwal. The Toor brothers, from Village of Ucha Jattana, immigrated from India to Canada in 1982 and settled in Winnipeg. On the urging of their sister Lucky Gill, who is involved in the hospitality industry, they moved to Oliver in 1988. Randy Toor was elected to one term on Oliver Town council in 2005.
Oliver’s major communities – indigenous, Portuguese, Caucasian, and Sikhs live in silos, with little or no informal social interaction other than in schools, shopping centres and workplaces. Mohinder Singh Gill, president of the Sikh Gurdwara, attributes this partly to lack of English speaking skills among Sikhs. For instance, the Sikh seniors meet at the Gurdwara instead of going to the central seniors centre.
The indigenous Osoyoos people, almost all live on a reservation adjoining Oliver.
Punjabi was offered at Oliver High School until recently and the search is on for a Punjabi instructor.
Fortunately, days of ugly racism are almost over, though I was told of schoolyard fights among indigenous, Sikh and white students.
According to Mayor Hovanes, there is “no overt racial tension,” and former Town councillor Randy Toor observes there is “very little evidence of racism and it is fading away.”
The future looks promising for the Sikh community in Oliver, though many young Sikhs are opting to head to urban areas and into professions other than farming. But for now, most Sikhs make up a dynamic, vibrant and growing community in Oliver and the Okanagan Valley.
Bhupinder S. Liddar is a Kenya-born Sikh and a retired Canadian diplomat. This piece was republished under arrangement with the Oliver Chronicle.
A new world for BC
By Judith Sayers
British Columbia sits on a precipice and will either fall into a minority Liberal government, an NDP minority government or a possible Liberal majority, depending on the results of the absentee votes and any recounts. This is one election where one vote could turn out to make the real difference.
Christy Clark is, of course, trumpeting the line that the BC Liberals will continue to govern and not wearing the fact that people wanted a change and her popularity has wilted drastically. If Clark retains power, I would predict she doesn’t make any change in the way she governs and that this election will not be a wake-up call to the Liberal party.
If there is a minority government, which many predict, it will definitely be a new world for B.C.
Will the government be able to build a better future for those of us who make B.C. our home? I sure hope so.
Whether many of the needed changes are made will be in the hands of the BC Greens, who hold the balance of power. The NDP and Liberals will have to work with the Greens to make decisions. The key to success of any initiatives will be finding agreement with the Green Party.
It is going to be a very interesting four years. Reversal of decisions on major projects like Site C and Kinder Morgan is a real possibility. Achieving electoral reforms, including an end to unlimited political donations, is now closer. If we thought the B.C. legislature was a battleground before this, it is nothing compared to what we will witness ahead.
As a First Nations person I am disappointed that more people didn’t vote to make the difference we needed. We are at a critical state in this province and only 57 per cent of voters went to the polls.
Uncertainty will be something we will live with until we get final results. If there is a minority government, that uncertainty will continue while parties wheel and deal on their priorities. This is a time when people will really learn about the values of the Green party as they will play a major role with a minority agreement.
Clark’s survival shows our system is broken
By Andrew Nikiforuk
It is outrageous that a government so Trumpish in character, so wedded to alternative facts and so visibly supportive of growing economic inequality still won a minority government. It proves that Canadians have as many political problems as the Americans and that a diminished press allows those with the most money to engineer political control.
Expect more volatility. And another election soon.
A Schrödinger election?
By Crawford Kilian
Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment seems very applicable to B.C. politics after yesterday’s election. Imagine, he suggested, a cat put in a sealed box. A source of radiation may fire a random particle into a Geiger counter, causing a hammer to smash a vial of cyanide and kill the cat. Or it may not.
Schrödinger argued while the box is closed, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead, in a state of “quantum superposition.” When we open the box, reality “collapses” in a single cat, alive or dead.
The B.C. 2017 election box won’t be opened until May 24 and the official vote count. Given the outcome of the vote, all three parties are in a similar state of superposition, simultaneously alive and dead. Recounts and the absentee vote may cause reality to collapse into a majority Liberal government; or a majority NDP government; or a Liberal-Green coalition; or an NDP-Green coalition. (A Liberal-NDP coalition, with the Greens as the opposition, seems too weird even for B.C.)
Even then, a coalition would be another kind of superposition. If Andrew Weaver makes a deal with Christy Clark and becomes a cabinet minister in a Liberal government, he’ll have to extort an end to Site C and the Kinder Morgan pipeline — or go the way of David Emerson, who defected to the Harper Conservatives within days of being elected as a Liberal MP. His whole party would lose credibility.
Both Weaver and his party seem likelier to survive a deal with the New Democrats, who are largely on the same wavelength. But they would have to get past some hard feelings about vote splitting and Weaver’s late-campaign blowing of kisses toward the Liberals.
Whatever the coalition, its members should bear in mind that its half-life will be short. The larger party will ditch its Green allies the moment it seems opportune to do so, and we’ll all be back in Schrödinger’s box again, awaiting yet another political reality.
Green voters helped Liberals stay in power
By Paul Willcocks
You don’t have to support strategic voting to recognize it could change the outcome of elections.
On Tuesday, Green voters who ignored the idea of strategic voting handed three seats to the BC Liberals, turning a potential NDP majority into a Christy Clark minority government.
It’s not reasonable to assume all Green supporters would consider voting strategically. And in three ridings, the party had a realistic chance of winning.
But assume half the party’s voters in other ridings decided to cast a vote to ensure the party they preferred — Liberal or NDP — formed government. That means 74 per cent go NDP, 26 per cent go Liberal, according to a Mainstreet poll on voters’ second choices.
Run the calculations on all 87 ridings, and you’ll find the NDP would have taken Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, Richmond-Queensborough and Vancouver-False Creek, all seats that went to the Liberals. Two NDP seats at risk of being lost to recounts — Courtenay-Comox and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows — would be secure.
And the New Democrats would have the slimmest of majorities, with 44 seats to the Liberals 40 and Greens three.
Republished with permission from The Tyee.
by Daniel Morton in Vancouver
One year after Canada first resettled 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canadian communities — a number that has since grown to 40,000 — the refugee program has left Canadians divided as to its merit and efficacy. A recent poll by Angus Reid showed that 6 in 10 Canadians approve of the way the government has handled the influx, but a deeper dive into the polling reveal almost one in four Canadians support a Trump style ban on Muslims. Despite its welcoming reputation, Canada has already seen an alarming rise in Islamophobic incidents. At this point, failing to help newcomers settle runs the risk of a more intolerant future in Canada.
In Metro Vancouver, a region that has seen a 20 fold increase in immigration since 2001, newcomers often have trouble navigating the services they need. In 2016, seven Metro Vancouver municipal districts identified access to information and services for newcomers as a top priority to strengthen resettlement efforts. As an example, Metro Vancouver immigrants struggle with backlogs for government funded English lessons while failing to make use of the network of free lessons — many offers are not getting to the people who need them.
At a time when social media discourse about immigrants grows more toxic everyday, Vancouver’s vibrant non-profit community is stepping up with a positive response. Currently a top 10 finalist of the Google.org Impact Challenge, Vancouver-based NGO PeaceGeeks has partnered with the immigrant settlement community to explore how to better connect immigrants to local services such as health, language programs and housing options to ease their transition. PeaceGeeks is one of several Canadian non-profits vying for $750,000 from Google through a public vote to make their project a reality.
The idea for this application builds on another PeaceGeeks project called Services Advisor, a smartphone app that connects refugees to essential humanitarian services like food and medicine across Jordan—a country that has housed almost 656,000 Syrian refugees according to Amnesty International. The Services Advisor prototype was successfully deployed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan and will soon be deployed in Turkey and Somalia to support another 3 million displaced people.
Now, PeaceGeeks is exploring how tools like Services Advisor can help to significantly improve the experience of newcomers arriving in Metro Vancouver and beyond, through generating personalized roadmaps for newcomers to navigate what is often a dizzying array of settlement and community services.
PeaceGeeks intends to build this app so that it can eventually be used across Canada.
“We want to create better visibility and access to existing services and providers while reducing what can be an overwhelming experience for immigrants as they navigate the steps to becoming active and vibrant citizens in their new communities,” says Renee Black, the Executive Director of PeaceGeeks. “Services Advisor Pathways (the Vancouver version) aims to connect them to the most relevant and timely services to help with their particular circumstances at any given stage of their immigration journey.”
The project is being developed in partnership and consultation with cities, local newcomers, immigrant service providers such as MOSAIC, Immigrant Services Society of Canada (ISSofBC) and S.U.C.C.E.S.S., as well as Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs) across the Metro Vancouver region. LIPs are federally funded, cross-sectoral partnerships that aim to improve integration of newcomers into the fabric of local communities and create more inclusive workplaces.
“By building on their global experience using technology to support refugees combined with innovative approaches that will be developed locally, PeaceGeeks is poised to make a pioneering contribution to the way that immigrants and refugees access information about services in Metro Vancouver,” says Nadia Carvalho, Coordinator of Vancouver’s LIP.
The project has received over thirty endorsements since the beginning of March from key individuals and organizations across settlement, tech and humanitarian spaces, including the B.C. Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services.
“By facilitating the integration of newcomers into British Columbia, this new technology will return benefit the whole Province,” says Minister Amrik Virk.
PeaceGeeks anticipates that Services Advisor Pathways can help reduce the stress on government services, by connecting immigrants to the pathways for success before and upon arrival, straight from their smartphones.
At such a critical time for Canada to stand apart from the closing borders of other nations, PeaceGeeks is hoping that Services Advisor will show that Canada’s strength continues to come from its diversity and inclusion.
For more information about PeaceGeeks’ project, visit votepeacegeeks.org.
The Google.org Impact Challenge supports Canadian nonprofit innovators who are using technology to tackle the world's biggest social challenges. Google.org will award $5 million across 10 organizations to help bring their ideas to life.
Between March 6 and March 28, Canadians are invited to visit g.co/canadachallenge to learn more about the finalists, and to vote for the projects they care about most. One winner will be chosen based on this public vote to receive a $750,000 grant from Google.org. The remaining winners will be selected by a jury during a live pitching session on March 30 in Toronto.
Daniel Morton is a volunteer for the organization.
Commentary by Stewart Muir
City residents use British Columbia’s resource products such as natural gas on a daily basis, but how often do they stop to think about the significance of these goods in their own personal lives?
Probably not much.
Asian Pacific Post
by Winnie Hwo in Vancouver
The world is still catching up to Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier.
A year before being appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2006, she presented a landmark legal petition to the Inter-American Council on Human Rights, linking the disastrous impact of climate change to human rights in the Arctic and urging the United States to set emissions limits and work with Inuit communities.
"Today, it's mainstream language – everybody talks about [climate change] as a human-rights issue," said Watt-Cloutier in 2010, when she was a teaching scholar at Bowdoin College's Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center. "I think we've been successful in changing the discourse on this issue to making that connection."
Her book The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic, and the Whole Planet was released last March. Later in the year, a UN Report on the same subject was presented at the Paris Climate Summit, stating that climate change and human rights are intricately linked and that recognizing this connection will help protect the fundamental rights of communities and people across the planet.
The book was a finalist for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing in 2015 and British Columbia's National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction in 2016.
Watt-Cloutier’s story begins in the hunting and fishing village of Kuujjuaq, a coastal Inuit community in Northern Quebec's Nunavik region.
“During the short summer months, cloudberries, blueberries, arctic cranberries and black crowberries grow among the green leaves and tundra . . . In the winter, the landscape is transformed into a brilliant vista of ice and snow that stretches under the vast expanse of the blue Arctic sky.”
At the age of 10, Watt-Cloutier was sent south to be “educated.” She struggled with being away from her mother, grandmother, and the land that nurtured her, but later admitted that the experience of separation helped shape her role as an activist in defending and promoting the “northern” way of life.
Watt-Cloutier’s personal story and her message of our interconnectedness are powerful not because she went through a single life-changing event. Her story evolved with the discovery of her own strength and power through disappointments and losses.
Like many young people, she had high hopes for herself. She dreamt of being a doctor and worked hard to meet that goal, yet it remained elusive.
Watching home disappear
After returning home from Churchill, Manitoba, Watt-Cloutier worked as an interpreter, educator, and eventually a community advocate. Within her own generation, not only did she witness how environmental degradation and global warming took away her people’s identity as hunters and trekkers, but also how it stripped them of their dignity and physical health.
As an immigrant from a former British colony, I do not need my environmental hat to understand the frustration and helplessness Watt-Cloutier felt as a young girl, witnessing the rapid disappearance of her traditional way of life in Canada’s North.
For the Inuit people, everyday life is tightly knit with their natural environment – hunting, fishing, travelling by dogsled. When the eco-system in the Arctic erodes and gradually melts away, so too goes the Inuit people’s cultural identity.
With colonization, climate change, and toxic pollution, the cold and pristine northern country Watt-Cloutier knew so well was quickly disappearing along with the melting ice and snow.
Linking global communities
Watt-Cloutier’s big break as a national and international advocate for the Northern indigenous people came when she was elected to lead the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), representing Inuit people from Canada, Russia, Greenland and Alaska. Working closely with allies and NGOs, the ICC focused on negotiating a global treaty that would ban toxins known as POPs – persistent organic pollutants that travelled airborne from factory smokestacks in the south to the north.
Toxins leaving factories travelled fast in hot air. When they reached the cold North, they would freeze and stay there.
Northern wildlife tends to store more fat, and as it turns out, these toxic particles did well in fatty cells. They survived in the seals and whales that were eventually hunted and consumed by Northern indigenous people.
When an Inuit mother breastfed her babies, the toxins were passed on to her children, ultimately harming the health of the entire Northern population. Watt-Cloutier’s campaign ended with the signing of the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants to eliminate or restrict the production and use of POPs.
Today, Watt-Cloutier continues to do what she does best – fighting for the rights of her people to live in a healthy environment. And she will fight the way she knows best – with strong words, clear ideas and succinct translation.
“What’s happening today in the Arctic is the future of the rest of the world. In one lifetime, we Inuit have seen our physical world transform, the very ground beneath our feet shifted dramatically . . . As we head into stormier seas, we must ask ourselves, 'If we cannot save our frozen Arctic, how can we hope to save the rest of the world?'”
Winnie Hwo joined David Suzuki Foundation’s Climate Change Team in 2010 after a long and stellar career in journalism. She is passionate about Canada’s multicultural policy and healthy environment.
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by Melissa Shaw in Vancouver
A new novel reflects on the experiences of Filipino Canadians through the story of one family, and aims to inspire newcomers to achieve their dreams.
Eleanor Guerrero-Campbell’s novel, Stumbling Through Paradise: A Feast of Mercy for Manuel del Mundo, is a work of fiction inspired by the author's experiences working with immigrants.
“Home – one's identity – is not geographic-based, it's not culture-based, it's not age-based. It's who you love and who loves you and who you care about and who cares about you,” says Guerrero-Campbell, who co-founded the non-profit organization Multicultural Helping House Society to assist newcomers with settlement, education, housing and employment in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“This is our home and we will never be torn when we think of home this way.”
The story follows Josie and Manuel del Mundo's journey from the Philippines to Vancouver with their children.
Manuel is a proud engineer who has trouble adjusting to his new work environment in Canada. Josie has a teaching background, but finds work as a cook and eventually becomes the chief executive officer of a catering company.
Manuel later helps a caregiver in distress, which leads to an affair. His son Bobby discovers his father's secret, resulting in the family's separation.
After a confrontation between father and son, Manuel has a heart attack. The next section of the novel focuses on the lives of the older del Mundo children: Sonia, who faces racial discrimination, and Bobby, who becomes involved in a Filipino gang.
The third section of the book focuses on the youngest child, Manolita, who becomes involved in politics.
“When I was reading the book, I had to stop for a little bit and wipe my tears. It really resonated with me as a newcomer in Canada,” says Irene Querubin, who was born in the Philippines and now hosts the Vancouver radio program The Filipino Edition.
Querubin was emcee at the book’s launch at the Creekside Community Centre in Vancouver. The event featured dramatic readings by members of Anyone Can Act Theatre, which sponsored the launch.
Vancouver-Kensington New Democratic Party member of legislative assembly (MLA), Mable Elmore, B.C.’s first MLA of Filipino descent, read Manolita's political campaign speech from the book. Elmore says the novel captures the challenges and struggles immigrants face in Canada, including racial tensions and underemployment.
She says although the Filipino community in B.C. is relatively young, she has noticed increasing participation of Filipino immigrants in their community through literary work, council presentations and musical performances.
Challenges for Filipino youth
Among those using the arts to promote inter-cultural dialogue are members of DALOY-PUSO, a mentorship and arts program for Filipino newcomers in high school. The group, whose name means “flowing from the heart” in Tagalog, benefitted from proceeds collected at the launch.
“The mom and the dad are working three jobs and they don't have a lot of supervision at home,” Vancouver School Board youth settlement worker Adrian Bontuyan says of young newcomers.
He explains that many mothers come to Canada from the Philippines through the Caregiver Program, through which they provide childcare in Canadian homes. After working for 24 months or 3,900 hours, they can apply to become permanent residents and bring their family members to Canada if their application is approved.
Bontuyan says he will read Stumbling Through Paradise to learn about how he can further support immigrant youth and start discussions to help them understand their parents’ experiences.
“The aspect of mentorship that [Guerrero-Campbell] mentioned is very important, because the youth need someone to look up to as an example of success and basically someone that the youth can be comfortable with sharing his or her struggles of being a newcomer,” he says.
Guerrero-Campbell also explores the idea of home through her young characters. The del Mundos' daughter Sonia finds belonging through the satisfying relationships she builds with people in the Philippines and in Canada.
Empowering other newcomers
Guerrero-Campbell says she hopes people who have read her book will discuss it with others and start a dialogue about the challenges immigrants face.
“The one message I really want to convey is empowerment – for our newcomers to feel empowered,” she says. “They came all the way to achieve something and I want them to know that they can achieve their dreams.”
Guerrero-Campbell came to Canada in the late 1970s with a master's degree in urban planning and regional planning from the Philippines. She was a planner for the City of Edmonton, Alberta, and continued to work in planning in Surrey, B.C. and Richmond, B.C.
She helped author Hiring and Retaining Skilled Immigrants: A Cultural Competence Toolkit for B.C. human resources managers. Guerrero-Campbell was the CEO of the Minerva Foundation for BC Women and a co-convenor for the Vancouver Immigrant Partnership’s Access to Services strategy group. Stumbling Through Paradise is her first novel.
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I used to naively believe that simply pointing out a social issue, and offering a viable solution to it, would be enough to get things done to fix a particular issue. However, my experience with BC Community Corrections (also known as Probation) has proven to me that this is far from the reality.
Representatives from BC Community Corrections have known for some time that they have a large percentage of South Asian clients – with a large number of them being Punjabi-speaking men with addictions – who are not receiving adequate services. Now it’s easy to accuse the entire probation system of being racist, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that. The reality – at least as I see it based on my direct experience with them – may be in many ways worse.
Commentary By Herman Thind in Vancouver
A racial slur against a former Vancouver Park Board commissioner with a South Asian background is creating a social media furor.
Meanwhile, a protest group is championing an online petition calling for the firing of British Columbia’s only deputy minister of colour.
To many, these are disturbing signs that racism is on the rise in British Columbia – just one week after the Hands Against Racism campaign launched its second year.
In a recent incident, Niki Sharma, who is running to be a director of the Vancity Credit Union and previously served on the park board, received an offensive tweet saying “you people are taking [o]ver our country.” Meanwhile, a digital map tracking anti-Muslim incidents in Canada shows that British Columbia is on track for 2016 to be twice as bad a year as 2015.
Individuals under attack
Fazil Mihlar is the subject of the online petition campaign. He is a prominent South Asian intellectual with a long track record in public life.
Mihlar, according to his LinkedIn profile, came to the civil service relatively late in his career after many years in charge of the opinion pages of the largest-circulating Canadian newspaper west of Toronto, the Vancouver Sun. Before that he worked for RBC Economics and spent several years with a think tank widely known for its conservative views, the Fraser Institute.
Sharma is a lawyer who represents residential school survivors, works closely with First Nation governments and has been connected with many progressive causes. Her affiliation with Vision Vancouver suggests she and Mihlar would not agree on everything. Yet in both cases they are high achievers with visible minority backgrounds and both are under attack for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance.
When Mihlar was appointed to an assistant deputy minister role a couple years ago, his successor as editorial pages editor of Vancouver Sun had this to say: “The smartest guy in the room is now the smartest guy in government.”
Newspaper colleagues of Mihlar say that one of his jobs was to run the newspaper’s editorial board, which is where politicians, business tycoons and policymakers come for their ideas and records to be put to the test. “There were groups who feared coming to an editorial board run by Fazil, because his questions were so tough,” recalls one former colleague. “It didn’t matter who they represented – everyone got the same treatment. On his watch, coming unprepared was not a good option.”
Apparently LeadNow has launched its petition because it thinks that Mihlar’s time with the Fraser Institute should cause him to be stripped of employment as the deputy minister responsible for climate change policy.
There is no sign that LeadNow has any particular policy grievance with Mihlar’s handling of a particular issue, and they are not questioning his competence. They just don’t like him.
To be skewered for being bright is a problem some people might love to have. But is it actually dangerous to have intelligent people leading our civil service and seeking elected positions?
In both incidents, other motives appear to be at work.
One view attributed to him in a speech he gave at the University of Northern B.C. before leaving journalism is that the “ban everything crowd” is quick to critique and oppose B.C.’s resource extraction industries, but slow to provide solid alternatives for economic development. It’s hardly a radical position, even though some people would probably disagree with it. So you have to wonder why LeadNow is hellbent on damaging Mihlar’s character rather than trying to explain why it has a better idea.
Impacts on future generations of leaders of colour
Mihlar has origins in Sri Lanka, a country that has had some rough times yet remains a place of rare co-operation. It’s widely known that Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians live there in peace today because of a determination to hear and respect a whole range of viewpoints, however trying that can be at times. Canada thinks of itself highly in this area too, but actions like LeadNow’s seem to test our reputation for tolerance.
In a democracy like India, the world’s largest democracy, a vast range of noisy viewpoints compete for voter attention. This is what many South Asian immigrants are used to. The idea that “winning” a debate by snuffing out the other viewpoint is, quite clearly, foreign to the Indian perspective.
Will these disturbing acts of intolerance drive out the next generation of leaders of colour? Let’s hope not.
Sharma has refused to delete the offensive comment, a decision she explained in this Huffington Post column.
If Mihlar is fired for being “too smart,” that would be a sad statement on who we are as a society. And it will send a clear message to visible minorities that they are not welcome in the upper echelon of leadership.
Only time will tell if the LeadNow people get enough signatures to force the casting aside of Mihlar’s legendary abilities.
Herman Thind is the Principal of Buzz Machine, a social media company based in Vancouver.
Republished in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.
VANCOUVER – The BC Government has announced that MOSAIC will lead the Metro Vancouver Refugee Response Team (RRT). The organization will convene a community RRT comprised of 38 diverse memberships, to include: private sponsorship groups; settlement service agencies; healthcare providers; education organizations; social service agencies; the business sector; Syrian community; and municipal staff to identify [...]
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