Lauren Gostick, Ve’ahavta Outreach Worker, speaks to CBC about the realities of living on the street and the desperate need for clean dry socks. Listen here.
Ideas For Solving the ‘Native Issue’
We would like to hear your input on solutions for this ‘issue’. Leave them in the comments section below.
I live alone in a basement cave
I work by myself by the freeway
Wait all day for the rain to fade
But it doesn’t fade away around you.
So I run with luck until it dries
I flew with the bird until it died
I said a wish into the sky
Dig the ground up before the bottom flies
But flies buzz bad thought clouds
and rain clouds are cold
I saw the rust for the gold
I saw the seams between the folds
Down underground the air gets so cold
As two clouds collide and the sky goes white
the lake turns grey as it turns night
Steady and blue as a gospel hymn
I remembered the good while exploring the sin
Because two sides to anything is hardly enough
Endless angles seep under cuff
Who played till sick, and drank till dawn
And work up in the morning with their dress shirts on
For he who puts down his guard finds trial
The truest happiness be state of denial
Fuel and unrest take one miles
We burned up all the folders just to save on all the files
Cause we go as we want to, come as please
pay the tollman the collection fees
From smashing down upon the floor
to praying on your knees,
could even god himself get a grip on all the sights you have to see?
Cause we were high in the bunker, drunk in the truck
Winding yellow lines with speed and luck
Who wasted in the alley
Who slept in the park
Who’s alarms went off as it got dark
As the cold went lower and the heat turned cold
The wind picked up, those bones were old
But the shake sets in and I knew my fears were
Bigger and closer and realer and nearer and nearer…
Well who cares about the red and black
You missed the dream when you hit the sack
because money was as empty as time was useless
We picked our brains with needles and Q-Tips
But that was not my face in the bathroom mirror
Reflection left as I came clearer
It all suddenly appears and I knew my fears were
Bigger and closer and realer and nearer and nearer and here and
Over and over…
* * *
by: Jason Samilski
WET WINDOW AFTERNOON
By Michael Olarewaju
You stand there, a mix of emotions, bewildered, relieved. It was on the second floor of that house that you spent the evening of your youth. You sit on what’s left of the porch, feeling it all, the opaqueness of the air in the room. You lie down gazing up at where the ceiling used to be, cigarette smoke curling up to a lazy fan, doing it’s best to clear the air. It was here that you remembered your innocence, where you remember the things you did and now your knees quiver in regret of the things you didn’t do. Tuesday mornings listening to the vinyl your boyfriend bought for you, you find it funny that you ever called him that. The radio still plays the songs you love, but it sounded better on the roof of his car, driving and skidding down the freeway to nowhere. The ashtray sits empty, the trip to the store for a lighter might mean having to talk to someone, so you lay there, staring at the ceiling. You were sure of what you weren’t, the dresses you could always fit into, your hair bound into an artsy sophisto. You remember ignoring the alarm clock, waking up to the sprinkler splashing against your window in the afternoon, wondering how the water was able to get that high. Now you are drowning in the memory of you remembering the people, faces, bottles, toilet seats, mornings, headaches. The telephone rings, a constant reminder of the street below, the world around. It always starts with the same piercing ring, you run to pick it up and stop halfway reminding yourself of your cynicism. The bed, a complicated montage of the clothes you used to wear to the places you thought you would always go. You stare at the fan, its continuous spin. You watch it twirl and doubt if it will complete another rotation just as you question if you are going wake up to another wet window afternoon. You make yourself coffee, hazelnut, while still wearing the same Pink Floyd t-shirt since your last visitor. You have no reason to stay up, so you don’t drink the coffee. You sit at the computer, you haven’t paid the bill in a while so you continue playing the game of solitaire you believe you’re winning. You go to get the paper, your only interaction with world. On this particular day, Coer de Pirate was in the entertainment section. You saw her live once, in Paris, with him. He’d gotten you the tickets from the redhead at the cafe, whom you forgot to thank. You recycle the paper, remembering Paris, the bicycle. You try pedalling faster, trying to catch the wind. He bought you that bicycle, the one with the little white bells. You thought he was a romantic but he really just had a rich father. Paris was alive, with it’s toe tapping techno, but you sit here with your cold coffee and it all felt so long ago, so unreal. Even more, you now lie here, a world of drilling and deconstruction erupting around you as you stare at where the house used to stand. It was your birthday, so you picked up the phone; it was the phone company. You go to bed in the morning with Buffalo Springfield singing a charm from the radio, songs you once loved, people you never see. As dark as those days were, you want them back, you want the hypnotic fan and useless coffee back. You want to wake up to another afternoon, with a freshly wet window of opportunity, a candle of hope. This was were you grew up, where you threw away the veil of innocence, the run of childhood. This was where you closed the curtains of reality and began to construct halls of memories. This was where you put away your youth, your bare foot nights at the Riviera, freeways to nowhere. Here you have embraced adulthood, a stunted growth. Now you look at the void, reminiscing about the days you remembered. Somewhere deep inside, in some secluded pocket of your soul, you’re glad they’re tearing this place down. You’ll never have to see it again, never having to admit your potential. So goodbye to white bells and entertainment sections. I am who you’re not. What you could have been. Goodbye.
I’m Real © Kathy Pinheiro 2012
I now have a home – humble, but a start. I’m working again, part time. I’m on my way. This time round, I’ll never make the mistake of thinking that homeless people are not real, or that they’re all the same.
I had been homeless for less than two months when a Globe and Mail article infuriated me, and taught me a lot. A well-meaning journalist had written a piece on poverty, and how our society does not deal decently with its most unfortunate members. The author made some sound recommendations. He did care. He had a social conscience, yet when discussing hunger, he said something like the following: “For you and me, hunger simply means the anticipation of a decent meal. Rarely is hunger an unpleasant experience.” You and me? It did not occur to him I might read the Globe – a publication geared to well-educated citizens. It did not occur to him that maybe, just maybe, there are homeless, hungry people who might read the Globe, or even Aristotle for that matter. In this author’s mind, I wasn’t there.
But I can’t say I’m any better. Only a few months prior, homeless people were bellow my radar. Generous by nature, I’d give them change, but no acknowledgement. They weren’t real human beings. They were clichés, stereotypes, and of course, they were all the same. You’re not a somebody when everyone reduces you to a handful of clichés, when each passer-by believes that they know exactly what you are. So now I was a nobody. After reading that article, I understood perfectly.
Once I owned house, and lived with my children. I had friends and family who now shun me and treat me like dirt. When I think of all the times these people came to me for help, it really hurts. It’s as though they don’t want to be reminded of my existence. Think of the reporter who really seemed to care about the homeless. In theory, he cared. In the realm of ideas, he was bang on, but even he did not have it in him to consider the possibility that he might be writing directly to the homeless. He was writing to his own kind, safe and cozy, and probably walked away feeling good about himself for having written a socially conscious article.
Yeah, as long as he doesn’t have to talk to me, see me, feel what I feel – and of course, touch me – he’s willing to be a big bundle of care.
Here’s a reality check: I exist. I can read, write and speak three languages fluently.
I am flesh and blood. I’m not just an idea.
647 765 1292
Recently we read Parshat Noach, a Torah portion dealing with the flood God sent to destroy the world.
It was a perilous time, a destructive one, so much so that a rainbow hung in the sky once the deluge had abated, to remind the world such destruction would never occur again.
After the flood, Noach and his family descended the ark and rebuilt the world. They were called upon to cleanse themselves in order to rise to the occasion, in order to be the authentic pioneers they needed to be.
The parshah was very sad. It was hopeful.
Sad because so many lost their lives. Hopeful because the planet was still intact and when the precious dove discovered land, that in of itself was a symbol of absolute life – then and forever.
Hurricane Sandy came into our lives yesterday, uninvited and with a torrential character. Its rains pounded on the roofs of New Jersey’s neighborhoods and washed away the walls of homes built by people in Pennsylvania who had worked so hard to build them.
Sandy’s winds toppled trees and blew signs about, so much so that a fellow Torontonian was killed by one minutes away from our offices. Rest in peace!
We in Toronto, however, were mostly saved from Sandy’s brash temperament, and for this we feel blessed.
Sandy’s legacy is a sad one, and it is hopeful. It is sad because seniors and children were terrified by the wooshes of her journey and parents experienced the unknown of life, when they were uncertain whether they would be able to cross a street flooded with dark waters, a street they simply stroll across most days.
But Sandy is leaving a hopeful legacy too. Too see that one only needs to gaze upon the relief workers who power boat into Long Island to rescue citizens trapped by her waves. They are the doves.
The legacy of Sandy is indeed a rainbow because those States, our country, still pushes forward with unbelievable strength to rebuild, to re-establish the walkways and the eddies picked apart by her wrath.
A possible lesson, or perhaps outcome of the flood and Sandy, is that we survive and do so with grace and grit. Person kind is magnificent in that way.
We wish all those affected by Sandy, well. On this, Starry Nights Week when we celebrate the beauty of our tikun olam work, we extend our hearts and resources should they be required, to all those who suffer today because of the greatest storm in American history.
Look up at the sky over the next few days. See if you detect a rainbow. If it is not there remember its vivid colors and its smile of hope. If the rainbow is in your mind and soul than we know, our world will always survive and people everywhere will come together, to recreate it when called upon to do so.
Love, in overtime today. Hug your child a tad more and wish the stranger well. Hand the homeless a tooney. Don’t toss it.
Happy Starry Nights week. Thank God we have such beauty in our lives. We wish this for everyone.
Benjamin Sternthal and Julie Schneiderman, the couple who founded the humanitarian project Kulam (Hebrew for everyone), announced the completion of Kulam’s first project in Cambodia: a sustainable solar electricity system at a school for more than 120 disadvantaged children. Kulam’s Larry Markowitz was an on-site volunteer. Until now, Kulam has focused on Africa, building a small school and building wells in Ethiopia, working in partnership with the Toronto-based Jewish humanitarian organization Ve’ahavta
Ve’ahavta’s Theresa Schrader, Founder and Coordinator of the Ve’ahavta Street Academy, is featured here in the Toronto Star.
By: Frances Kraft
August, 27, 2012
A recent invitation to a powwow on a reserve north of Parry Sound provided a timely opportunity for representatives of six Toronto synagogues, as well as the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism (CCRJ), to connect with a First Nations community.
This year, both the CCRJ and the Bayview Corridor of Synagogues (BCS) – an interdenominational group of six congregations that collaborate for social action events – will focus on issues faced by First Nations communities.
Helen Poizner, past chair of social action at Temple Emanu-El, told The CJN that the BCS came up with the idea last winter after reading news about housing issues facing First Nations communities in northern Ontario.
Kim Wheatley – a traditional hand drummer and singer originally from the Shawanaga First Nation Reserve, an Anishinabe Ojibway community – performed at an awareness-raising event in February at Temple Emanu-El, and became the BCS’ resource person. At a subsequent event, she shared her perspective on water issues.
“My community spends over a million dollars a year purchasing water, and we’re 20 minutes north of Parry Sound,” she said in an interview. “We have water trucks that come to fill our reservoir, and we have to take an enormous amount of our budget to ensure we have water to drink, to bathe in, to cook. To me, that’s the most massive issue. We’re not far from the infrastructure of a big town.
“As a result of that [event], the concept of partnering came about,” said Wheatley, who is also interested in establishing a library on the reserve.
She extended the invitation to the Aug. 18-19 powwow, which gave the Jewish visitors “a first-hand idea of a different culture and a different way of life,” Poizner said.
Wheatley, who is aboriginal program co-ordinator at the Toronto Zoo, explained that powwows are open to anybody. “They’re public presentations and sharing. It’s just like a festival, except they have a sacred nature to them. They’re immersed with cultural teachings.”
In turn, Wheatley was invited to the Reform movement’s Camp George for Shabbat dinner and services, “which was amazing,” she said.
Rabbi Noam Katz – the dean of Jewish living at Camp George (which hosted two groups of First Nations youth this summer for activities and dialogue) and Leo Baeck Day School – said he was dazzled by some of the customs and traditions he witnessed at the powwow, and by having the chance to speak with Lakota elder Cliff Standingready. “I thought it was very inspiring.
“I realized there are so many points of intersection and commonality between aboriginal traditions and many of our own Jewish traditions… safeguarding the earth, respecting the elders and transmitting the old values and stories to the next generation.”
The CCRJ came into the picture when Poizner and Fran Isaacs, chair of Temple Har Zion’s social action committee, attended a meeting of the Reform movement’s national social action committee.
In addition to the two Reform congregations, the BCS also includes Beit Rayim Synagogue, Beth Tikvah Synagogue, Shaar Shalom Synagogue (all of which are Conservative), and Kehillat Shaarei Torah (which is Orthodox).
A total of almost 30 representatives of the two groups attended the powwow. Poizner and her husband Marty brought 50 backpacks filled with school supplies, donated by Ve’Ahavta, as gifts.
Among other ceremonies, there was an honour dance for the Jewish group to thank them for developing the partnership and bringing the gifts.
Wheatley recalls feeling “so pleased, so happy, so proud” at the powwow. “It was a great opportunity [for visitors] to experience who we are in a very fun and welcoming atmosphere.
“I think partnership between communities that are connected by their hearts is really important, and I think the grass roots level is the most important way to get anything done.”
Read More Here.
By: Doctor Tinashe Gede
August, 21 2012
UNLESS you have been living in a cave the past month or so, you most likely have come across news that Dr. Paul Thistle who through his dedicated service for the past 16 years has endeared himself to the community of Chiweshe in particular, will be leaving Howard Hospital in a few days.
The exact circumstances surrounding his pending departure are unclear, and depending on who you choose to believe, he is either being re-deployed by the Salvation Army, or being transferred against his will to Canada, or as the people of Chiweshe choose to believe he is being kicked out for being such an honest guy trying hard to stop some good-for-nothing church leaders from dipping their filthy hands into the cookie jar (which incidentally he personally begged for from his native Canada).
And as with most things in Zimbabwe, it appears some are viewing this through a political prism with a theory which seems to have gained some traction in some quarters alleging that Vice President Joice Mujuru, who is a senior member of the church and incidentally also wields a lot of power politically, has something against Thistle.
Whether there is any truth to this is anyone’s guess, but Mujuru is a senior member of the Salvation Army and she happens to hail from the province in which Howard Hospital is located, the health institution which employed Dr Thistle.
We have seen her parade in the Salvation military uniform on TV for much less causes, and in this instance her silence on an issue so dear to so many in her province lends credence to the speculation that she didn’t like Thistle very much and probably couldn’t care less if he were to leave.
The Salvation Army, for its part, whatever salvation it represents, in all likelihood does not include the salvation of the people of Chiweshe and thousands of poor Zimbabweans who had come to rely on Thistle for care.
So another white Zimbabwean is being kicked out of the country unceremoniously, why should it be news?
The contribution of Paul Thistle to the nation of Zimbabwe can never be adequately captured in words. For 16 whole years, he served with honour and total dedication at Howard Hospital, providing high quality medical care to the nation’s poorest. He left the comfort of Canada where he was assured of a six figure annual salary and all the benefits of a developed society to settle in rural Chiweshe to offer his service to a people who needed it.
For 16 years, he lived among them sharing their pains; when everyone saw desolation, he chose to be a symbol of hope. He married among them; when our store shelves were empty, he got no bread; when bungling NOCZIM made sure the nation had no fuel, he learnt to park his vehicle and hope for better days.
I will mention three instances to illustrate why he was a man apart. Sometime in 2004, a set of conjoined twins was delivered at Howard Hospital. Their parents named them Tinotenda and Tinashe, names conveying their appreciation and belief in a God who provides ways even where we see none.
Such an occurrence in our public hospitals would attract a flood of visitors to see this rarity but in the end with no expertise for the complex operation needed to separate them, they would be condemned to a sorry death. Not under the watch of Thistle though. He got on the phone, mobilized, begged and badgered until the twins were flown to one of the world’s best children’s hospitals – Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and ultimately got life-saving surgery. To this day, Tinotenda and Tinashe are alive and will never forget how hard Thistle fought to save their lives.
When Zimbabweans, myself included, decided Chiweshe was too rural, too slow to spend the youthful days of our lives, he lived there, somehow managing to convince hundreds of fellow Canadians to devote months of service there as well. And when the government and the church told him they had no money for supplies, he independently begged for money from all who cared to listen.
Miraculously, even in the darkest of years when even the government could not keep its own hospitals like KuGomo open, Howard remained an oasis of hope. I distinctly remember working as a junior doctor at one of the nation’s largest referral hospitals in 2008.
That year, when all that could go wrong did go wrong, we learnt that when we had patients we could not look after we would refer them to Howard and Karanda Mission Hospitals. It sounds unbelievable, but hospitals with hundreds of doctors ended up referring patients to a rural village in Chiweshe. And as patients would report back, it did not matter how far you came, or that they had not a dime to pay, Thistle and his team welcomed you and gave you the best of Howard’s renowned hospitality and clinical excellence.
When political violence engulfed our land in 2008, with militias marauding villages wielding pangas and machetes, Thistle would clean the wounds of the victims and nurse them back to health.
Just this past year in 2011, Paul Thistle and his Howard team got a pitiful US$7,000 from government to cater for a community of 270,000. That’s right, our government in all its wisdom decided to allocate each of these people THREE cents for health care for the whole year.
They could have easily thrown a tantrum and done nothing like a lot of ministers I will not name, but Thistle being who he is made sure they saw 125,000 people and delivered 3,000 babies. How about that for a miracle? Jesus fed five thousand with two loaves and five fish but after 2000 years of inflation, Thistle fed, housed and offered modern medical care to 125,000 at five cents each!!
Howard was a leader in showing the world that it was possible to provide ARVs to rural villagers and that with dedication, even palliative care could be provided in villages. To this day, thousands still trek from far and wide to receive care at Howard. Hundreds drive from Harare to Howard for care and Thistle has welcomed them and provided them the excellent care Howard has become synonymous with.
The goal of Paul and the other staff at Howard Hospital is that all who desire can access treatment, be restored to full health and be returned to their communities as productive members of society. And he would have gladly continued to offer himself in this service; his wife would have loved to continue teaching midwifery to a generation of cadres who will impact millions until on August 4, for reasons we shall never fully understand, the Salvation Army decided it was time he left.
Understandably, he was pained and worried about the sustainability of the many projects he had started in Chiweshe. But ever the gentleman, he refuses to wash dirty linen in public and has chosen to keep quiet when asked why he is being kicked out. Angered beyond belief, the people of Chiweshe appealed to the powers that be to spare him. As the deadline approached, they sent emissaries to the Provincial Governor hoping perhaps government could save them and Thistle from this most evil of decisions.
In perhaps the only funny part of this whole ordeal, the Mash Central governor is on record as saying “government does not interfere in the activities of the church.” I must confess, when I first read this, I laughed uncontrollably. Is he seriously living in Zimbabwe?
Everyone including the village idiot knows how hard the government fought to protect Nolbert Kunonga when he was excommunicated for insubordination by the Anglican Church. Taxpayers’ money was used to rent riot police to the Bishop; whole churches were closed and many harassed.
For unclear reasons, the church and government have chosen to ignore the wishes of the population. For those who have the means to seek care in lands afar, Thistle’s leaving is nothing, but for the poor who have been reduced to relying on the benevolence of dedicated men like Paul Thistle or seeking divination from latter day prophets, this is a big deal. After all, in one swoop, whoever is behind this is wiping away 50% of their choices.
And as someone who has grown to admire Paul Thistle, and knowing how peaceful and honest a man he is, I am pained he had to leave in such a manner.
When people as dedicated as Thistle have to endure the ignominy of being kicked out like common criminals for asking for transparency in the handling of donor funds he went to extreme lengths to seek; when the government does not have the common decency to say thank you to a man who sacrificed so much to give hope to so many of our citizens; when even the ministry of health does not see the importance of honoring the service of such giants as Thistle, they are communicating a message to the hundreds of young doctors the nation asks to serve in our districts, for a salary you pray your haters never find out, living in conditions you would not wish upon your enemies that commitment will never be cherished.
For as long as we allow this insensitive treatment of those who have served the nation so well, the young and educated will continue to vote with their feet and the nation will be poorer for it. Whatever the reasons, the manner we have allowed Dr. Thistle to be treated after all he gave us compels us to reflect and deliberate on how as a society we should treat those who choose to serve our nation.
A nation that reserves $300,000 dollar golden handshakes for those who choose to have sex in public, wrapped in the national flag while uttering a few “patriotic” sentences, and a kick in the a** for those who choose to serve it selflessly for 16 years need not be surprised when they break all the bad records of this world.
Thistle is a humanitarian whose work speaks loudly for social justice. For the many of us who have been nurtured by Paul as a teacher, mentor, and distinguished physician they may kick him out but he will always remain in the deepest corners of our hearts.
In the hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts, through emails, and yes even through the villagers of Chiweshe overturning cars in disgust at how he has been treated, the true people of Zimbabwe are communicating a profound message of thank you to a son-in-law we have grown to love.
Go with God Dr. Thistle. May the dear Lord you served and continue to trust for providence continue to watch over your life in your next assignment. In thousands of homes in Zimbabwe, you will always be welcome and loved.
Having known Paul Thistle for many years, he taught me two very valuable lessons: first as a Christian you can minister through your works and second although we are all called to serve in different capacities, ultimately even the contributions of one man can leave the world a better place. There is no honor in how we treated him, but Paul Thistle will graduate from life with honour.
Dr Tinashe Gede is a graduate of the UZ medical school currently a PhD candidate at a UK university
Read more here.
By: Niamh Scallan
August 17, 2012
A Toronto doctor who spent nearly two decades heading a Salvation Army-run hospital in Zimbabwe is said to be en route back to Canada, after his ouster reportedly sparked violent protest in the impoverished rural community.
Dr. Paul Thistle, a Scarborough native who trained at the University of Toronto, told his supporters via email on Aug. 6 that the Salvation Army had ordered him to leave his post as chief medical officer and only full-time doctor at the 144-bed Howard Hospital (which serves 270,000 people in the rural Chiweshe region) as of Sept. 1.
“We leave with mixed emotions,” the Salvation Army officer wrote in an email obtained by the Peterborough Examiner earlier this month. “Howard Hospital is on the verge of collapse. Our hearts are weeping for the people of Chiweshe.”
But on Friday, a day after a public protest over Thistle’s removal reportedly turned violent and led to at least a dozen arrests, the physician received a 48-hour notice to return to Canada.
“His head is probably just spinning,” said Warren Viegas of Toronto, a close friend of Thistle’s who spoke to him by phone after he received the notice Friday.
Viegas said the doctor, who has two boys with wife Pedrinah, a Zimbabwean nurse who also worked at Howard Hospital, had not planned to leave his post in the immediate future.
“The impression I get from him is that he would rather continue to serve at the hospital there,” added Stuart Isherwood, 42, Thistle’s childhood friend from Scarborough.
Andrew Burditt, spokesperson for Salvation Army in Canada, said Friday afternoon that Thistle was “en route” home on the organization’s orders. While he could not elaborate on the reasons for Thistle’s removal, Burditt said all Salvation Army officers are subject to transfers.
Some of Thistle’s supporters and friends, however, have pointed to other forces at play in the politically unstable country that may have contributed to the Salvation Army’s decision to transfer the doctor.
According to local media reports, Thistle was removed after he raised concerns that money and supplies he had gathered for the facility never made it from the organization’s Zimbabwe office to Howard Hospital.
“There are some in Zimbabwe who feel he has been too vocal or too critical and now are trying to move (him) out,” said Isherwood.
Whatever the reason, news he was leaving sparked outrage and concern among local people reliant on his care and longtime supporters of the doctor’s 17-year mission to improve healthcare in the region.
“We’re really deeply disturbed and saddened by what’s happening over there with Dr. Thistle,” said Robyn Segall, marketing manager of Ve’ahavta, a non-profit Jewish humanitarian and relief committee that has provided both volunteers and supplies to Howard Hospital since 1998. “Mostly, we’re concerned that the community is going to be ignored.”
The Salvation Army has not appointed Thistle to a new post. The organization has also yet to find a new chief medical officer for the Zimbabwe hospital.
Read More Here
By Erin Sadler
August 7, 2012
Today, our last day in Uganda, was spent operating on a 5 year old male with congenital scoliosis at Case Hospital. While half of the team was at Case operating, the other half of the team went to Mulago to wrap up any loose ends, check in on post-operative patients, and clean up our equipment. Once we had finished up at Mulago, we bid a bittersweet farewell to this place that had quickly become a home away from home for several of us. Although we had only been there for two weeks it became very apparent to us that we had established very strong and special relationships with the health care staff we had been working alongside; not to mention the relationships we had formed with the patients we had operated on and were now on their way to recovery. To me there was definitely a sentiment of this trip not being long enough. It seemed like just when we were starting to get into the swing of things, and starting to really mesh with the Mulago staff, it was time to go. Afterall, there is always more we could do.
Once we had finished up at Mulago, those of us who were not part of the operating team at Case went home to work on outstanding reports, sorting of the thousands of pictures that will be necessary to supplement the trip report, and catching up on other odds and ends. However, our ability to do work was interrupted by a building-wide power outage. Thankfully a generator was brought in, but only lasted as long as a full tank of gas, and then we were once again powerless. This made for more of relaxing afternoon that we had anticipated, but we were not that upset about that!
The operating team finished up the case successfully and without any complications. Upon their arrival home, we all packed up, sorted out the equipment that would be getting shipped back to the United States, and cleaned up the apartments, as we had an early morning departure on Friday morning. After all of our dirty work was completed, we gathered for our final team dinner at a restaurant called The Lawn. It was a lovely evening, with great food, drink, company and lasting stories and memories shared amongst us all. As usual we shared our personal lessons, but this time it was lesson of the trip. Although we all shared very profound and meaningful lessons, it became obvious to me that this trip could never be summed up in a single lesson. Each of us has learned invaluable lessons from our patients, colleagues, from the Ugandan way of life as a whole; and more importantly learned more about ourselves than we probably even know. It is my hope that these lessons and memories remain strong and fresh in my mind for years to come.
Read more of Erin’s blog and view her beautiful photographs here.
By Erin Sadler
August 1, 2012
The day started with some of the team heading off to round on post-operative patients at the respective hospitals. The others who remained at the apartments spent the morning doing laundry, finishing up some work, catching up on other odds and ends, plugged into the Olympics, and in Dr. Holman’s case: fighting a suspected case of food poisoning. In the early hours of the morning, it came to Ngozi’s and my attention that Dr. Holman was feeling under the weather as he was making frequent visits to the bathroom. By the time the morning arrived he was feeling worse and we were all concerned that he had eaten something bad that was taking a toll on his system. It was no surprise that Liz took on the nurturing role of nurse to keep a close eye on him.
Once everyone had returned from rounding, we decided to spend the afternoon going to the art market and gain a more inside look at Kampala by visiting the city market. We had initially thought we would visit the Bujagali Falls, but the previous day, during our return from Putti, we had sat in traffic for over an hour, and thus we were hesitant to take this same route, and spend the afternoon baking in a vehicle stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. Instead, we settled on the local markets. After getting a grocery list from Liz with remedies for Dr. Holman, including salted crackers, ginger ale, and Lucozade, we headed off in the bus to exercise of bargaining skills at the market.
The art market is an area in the center of town where various vendors have set up booths and sell their goods. There is everything from jewellery, to art, to authentic Ugandan clothing, pottery, and other trinkets. Going from booth to booth we began to appreciate not only the art of the vendors, but the art of bargaining the price down. This was best demonstrated when we were looking at the section of the market with paintings. It was quite entertaining to see Brian attempt to exercise his negotiating prowess to try and get a painting from 150000 shillings to 80000. Although he claims he “won” since he did not end up paying more than he wanted, he also walked away empty handed because the artist wouldn’t budge below 90 000. Others were more successful, and came away with treasures that they had negotiated to a reasonable price.
From the art market, we courageously ventured to the real Kampala city market where goods are bought, sold, and traded. This was an absolutely incredible experience, to gain an insider’s look at the local commerce of Uganda. We also gained important knowledge regarding appropriate attire to wear in Ugandan public: women should not wear shorts. Unbeknownst to me, wearing shorts is the closest thing to being naked, as in Ugandan culture, a women’s thighs should only be exposed to her husband. I guess I had to learn this lesson the hard way, as many of the locals were taking pictures and quite interested in the “Muzungu” who was “naked.” Needless to say, the group of us was quite a spectacle to see wandering through the maze of alley-ways filled with mountains of clothing, shoes, electronics, and various food products and other provisions. This visit did serve a greater purpose; upon seeing the glorious local produce, we were inspired to buy ingredients to make guacamole. Under the keen eye of Chef Brian, we selected and bought the finest advocados, garlic, onions, hot peppers and limes. After making our way safely back to the vans, with our purchases in tow, and the new knowledge of what not to wear, we headed home. After a quick stop at the Nakumatt (the 24 hour grocery store) to buy a few more key ingredients including cilantro, salt and chips, we arrived home, all of us anticipating Brian’s creation. I have to admit I was skeptical, but Brian proved to be quite the chef, and concocted some of the most delicious guacamole I have ever tasted.
After our delicious appetizer, we decided to have our second dinner at Khyper Pass, the delicious Indian restaurant we had gone to on the first evening. Unfortunately, Dr. Holman was still feeling sick, and after giving him a few litres of intravenous saline and reminding him what it is like to be on the patient side of health care, he was still not up for taking solid food, so we headed off without him, promising white rice upon our return.
With our bellies full and white rice for Dr. Holman, we returned home to play a lively game of “Things.” Hopefully you have played this game, because in my opinion it might be the most fun game ever created. Needless to say, the rest of the evening was filled with hysterical laughter, learning a lot about each other, perhaps even things we may not have wanted to know, and most importantly, the complexities of Brian’s relationship with his cat, Max.
Read more of Erin’s blog and view her beautiful photographs.
By Erin Sadler
July 26, 2012
On Day 3 (Tuesday July 24) we undertook our first surgical procedure at Mulago Hospital. The team was eager and excited to get started, but we were quickly reminded of the Ugandan culture: slowly, but surely. Arriving at Mulago in the early morning, we anticipated getting started right away, but unfortunately we found that the sterilizer had broken down and the instruments that were required for the case had not been sterilized. This put a slight damper on the schedule, as the team had to wait until the instruments were sent to New Mulago, another affiliated hospital, to be properly sterilized before we could operate.
While half of the team was dealing with setbacks at Mulago, the other half traveled to Case Hospital to see patients in a back pain clinic, and prepare the equipment for a surgical case that would be occurring the following day at Case Hospital. It was an interesting contrast to see the patients in the outpatient back pain clinic in comparison to outpatients at Mulago. While those at Mulago tended to have extreme pathology, they expected so little; whereas the Case patients had relatively milder pathology, yet expected the world.
Upon seeing all of the back pain clinic patients, everyone congregated at Mulago to catch up with how their day had been going, and to see what progress they had been able to make under the extreme conditions of this Hospital and its amenities. It was a relief to learn that the procedure had gone relatively smoothly, but was not without its trials and tribulations in regard to equipment availability and malfunctioning, room and body temperature incompatibilities, and getting started much later than they had anticipated. As they closed up, the team breathed a sigh of relief that the first case of the mission had been completed without too many hiccups, and everyone felt that as a team we were coming together as a very high functioning group, where we are learning each other’s working styles, and building trust and confidence in our working relationships.
After what seemed to be a very long day, we went out for a very animated dinner at a local pizza restaurant. Although the service was as slow as molasses going up a hill, I personally appreciated the leisurely pace of the meal, as we all seemed to be enjoying each other’s company, stories, confessions, and lessons of the day. Today’s lessons coincidentally had a “P” theme, with lessons around the concepts of perseverance, power, polar: for bipolar, pressure, personal lives, Precious, and a few other profound morals of the day. Once the pizzas finally arrived, we quickly realized they were well worth the wait, and the fresh advocado that adorned most of our pizzas lived up to its reputation. We all delved in to these delicious pies, amid beautiful mood lighting provided to us by several Iphones at the table, as the power had gone out and left us in pitch black darkness.
Day 4 was another day of surgery, where cases were taking place at both Mulago and Case Hospitals simultaneously as the teams had been split up into two groups. As the Mulago group arrived at the Spine Ward, they were absolutely floored by what they had discovered. They were told that the patient they had operated on the previous day had passed away overnight. This was incredibly shocking and upsetting as the patient had tolerated the procedure incredibly well, was a young man with a good prognosis and was expected to make a promising recovery. Unfortunately, as the team was told through several sources that had been present, it was suspected that the patient had been given food or drink by their family, unbeknownst to them that is dangerous to do with a post-operative patient of this nature. This may have led to aspiration, but ultimately the patient began to have respiratory distress and was transferred to the ICU. Tragically they were unable to resuscitate him, and he passed away in the night. This was obvious very difficult for us to comprehend, but as a team we understood that unfortunately things can occur that are out of our control, and that is the nature of medicine anywhere you go in the world.
After regrouping, we found ourselves back in the operating theatre of the Spine Ward to do another operation on a suspected osteoblastoma case. Once again, there was never a dull moment in the theatre at Mulago, but upon completion of the case the team felt more comfortable and confident in their ability to adapt to the cultural, time, and equipment differences that exist within the confines of the theatre walls at Mulago.
The other half of the team at Case Hospital also ran into similar setbacks, from repeat blood work delaying the procedure, to equipment failing to work, to recognizing the limits of surgery; needless to say it was also a long day at Case.
The afternoon concluded with seeing some follow ups from Monday, and making operative decisions for the next day at Case Hospital. One small 14 year old boy learned that he would be admitted to have surgery tomorrow. Such a brave soul, to not even think twice about it, but knowing that this is his best opportunity to try and treat his scoliosis, so diving into it, fearlessly.
Arriving back to the apartments at 7:50 pm, we were given 10 minutes flat to refresh for dinner: stragglers will be left behind! Good thing we’re in Uganda, and glowing with sweat is fashionable, because we were all able to make the aggressive timeline. Thank goodness for our punctuality as it was a delicious buffet dinner. Once again, as a team we started the day, and as a team we ended the day, around a big table, sharing laughter and stories of the day, and always the new lessons that each and every one of us has learned, and will keep with us forever.
Read more of Erin’s blog post and view her beautiful photographs.
By Erin Sadler
July 23, 2012
The team all congregated at Heathrow Terminal 5 for a 9:15 pm departure to Entebbe International Airport. After some brief introductions the team seemed to quickly mesh well together and a warm dynamic was almost instantly evident. The team this year is quite large with thirteen members with various backgrounds, from the United States, Canada, and Poland. After boarding the plane many of us were exhausted from our travels that brought us to Heathrow, and thus tried our best to take advantage of the 8 hour overnight flight to Entebbe and get some sleep!
We landed in Entebbe at 745 hrs after a few hiccups from the flight deck in their attempt to land with heavy tail winds. We were all pleasantly surprised by the beautiful weather with temperatures in the mid 20s. We all gathered our gear, minus a lost bag from Poland, and made our way to meet our buses that would be responsible for our transportation for the next 2 weeks. We loaded up the buses quickly and began our journey to Kampala. Along the route there was much to be seen and taken in. The first glimpse of the fertile Ugandan landscape, the vibrant Ugandan people everywhere you look, the pop-up stalls along the road, and the many handmade bed frames for sale along the roadside, without any mattress stores in sight kept us all entertained throughout the journey.
We arrived at the Golf Course Apartments in Kampala where we will be staying for the next 2 weeks. These accommodations are very comfortable and well outfitted to suit our needs. Between the thirteen members of the team there are two apartments. Once we had moved our luggage in and had a chance to refresh ourselves and brush our teeth for the first time in too long, we were once again off into Kampala to do some shopping to buy food items for breakfasts and other necessities like water, hand sanitizer, and the odd bottle of wine! One hefty shopping bill later, and buses packed to the brim we headed back to the apartments to unload and organize ourselves before taking off again to go visit the two hospitals we will be working at.
The first hospital we visited was Case Hospital, which is a private hospital, relatively affluent with decent equipment, services and patient care; quite similar to a standard hospital in North America. Conversely, we then went to Mulago Hospital, which is the national public hospital; located on a sprawling campus of single story bunker-like buildings that serve as different wards. We specifically visited the Spine Ward, where we will be performing operations in the theatre, and the Orthopedic Ward. Both were equally eye-opening: wide open rooms with several beds lined up side by side, filled with patients, and more surprising, the patient beds were surrounded by families. It was very interesting to see the dynamic of patient care in the Mulago setting, where the families seem to be the primary care givers despite the inpatient nature of the hospital accommodations. The families were huddled around the patients, sometimes having created a small area near the patient`s bed where they have essentially set up a temporary squatting home, feeding them self-prepared food, bathing them, and really the only people in the hospital providing vigilant care to these patients. Futhermore, the familial presence extends beyond the hospital walls, where as you walk outside you notice families have found a space to call their own on the hospital property and are essentially squatting there as their loved one remains in hospital. As I toured these poorly faciliated wards, I couldn`t help but question how these native Ugandans view us: as foreigners who are coming to try and help, or perhaps do they question our role in their medical care? To continue this enlightening cultural experience, we then went to walk through a nearby slum in Kampala. As a group we walked through narrow dirt alleyways for streets, which were covered in garbarge and had waste water running down the middle, as beautiful friendly people waved and smiled at us through the hanging laundry, and curtained doorways fondly yelling “Muzungu” as we passed them by. This was unlike anything I have ever experienced before in my life, and not because I haven’t seem images like this on television or in other popular media outlets, but I think I was most taken by the joy and sense of community that I felt in this incredibly extreme and impoverished environment. I guess I expected to feel sadder and helplessness, which I definitely did feel, but these negative feelings were overwhelmed by my feeling that although these people live in the most horrific conditions, their sense of community is really quite powerful and uplifting. Moreover, the throngs of beautiful children with toothy grinned smiles from ear to ear was also quite a powerful sight, for there seemed to be such a sense of responsibility of the older children to look after the young, and the spirit of the child was so clearly evident, it outshone any despair that they, or more likely I, was feeling.
By: Shlomo Kapustin
August 14, 2012
TORONTO – One of the Toronto Jewish community’s most unconventional organizations rocked an innovative fundraiser last week.
“It’s gonna get loud in here,” said Terry Moshenberg, co-founder of League of Rock (LOR) and unofficial master of ceremonies of Ve’ahavta’s first League of Rock concert.
The event allowed amateur musicians to showcase their chops after months of hard work.
Larry Zimmerman, who labours by day as a corporate attorney, cranked up the volume on electric guitar for The Moody Jews.
“It’s an unusual type of organization,” said Zimmerman, long-time Ve’ahavta board member, of the group.
“Most Jewish organizations do their good deeds primarily focused on the Jewish community; with Ve’ahavta, though the philosophy and funding is from the Jewish community, the bulk of its largesse is in the community at large, both locally and internationally.”
Joining him to kick off the recent event was, among other aspiring musicians, lead singer Avrum Rosensweig, president of the humanitarian and relief organization. Both acknowledged opening-night jitters before their opening set: The Band’s The Weight, Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down and Can’t You See, from the Marshall Tucker Band. Two other League of Rock bands, Guns N’ Moses and Black Shabbos, followed, and were complemented by guest performances by Scott Helman, newly signed to Warner Brothers, and The Alpha Dogs.
The League of Rock coaches people of varying musical skill sets to perform as bands. While it often creates team-building experiences for companies, Ve’ahavta’s event followed its non-corporate track, which coaches individuals simply for the love of the music.
Ve’ahavta’s shindig may have strayed from the rubber-chicken dinner formula, but charity still owned the stage. While proceeds from the event will support all of its programs, Kinder Kits received special mention from Rosensweig, who urged the crowd of 200 to sponsor 200 kits for Toronto Jews in the coming year. Distributed around the world from Sri Lanka to Israel to Toronto, each kit provides school supplies to a poor child.
For many of the 14 amateurs, the experience represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a rock star – or at least play one in real life. But the fantasy demanded a 12-week commitment of weekly, two-hour practices and a willingness to accept direction from professional musicians such as Michael White, best known for his band’s performances covering Led Zeppelin, and Rush producer Terry Brown.
Bridging the group’s disparate skill levels proved challenging at the beginning, said Moshenberg. Around week 7, 8 or 9, though, the bands turned a corner.
“The payoff is so big,” said Moshenberg, “because they’ve worked so hard. They thought [at the beginning of the process], Oh, my G-d, but they really came out swinging. And now we have three fabulous bands.
“The players played, the coaches coached, and they gelled,” he added.
Zimmerman, who has been taking lessons for six years and has jammed with his son, noted the novelty of the experience.
“Playing with a band is very different from playing by yourself: the teamwork and how your instrument sounds in conjunction with other instruments.”
Moshenberg, however, wasn’t advising his stars-for-a-night to quit their day jobs just yet.
“I want them to reach a lot more people and make more money,” he said.
….Read more here.
The Ve’ahavta League of Rock rocked. Thank you so much to the three bands that participated: The Moody Jews, Black Shabbos and Guns N’ Moses. Thank you as well to all the fans who came out to the event.
For anyone who missed the show, or who wants to see the bands perform again, here are some videos from the concert:
Black Shabbos with its own creative spin on All Along the Watchtower
The Moody Jews captivating the audience with the song Salaam
Guns N’ Moses blowing the crowd away with Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey
Ve’ahavta League of Rock was so successful that we will be having an encore in 2013. If you are interested in getting involved or learning more please contact Shawna Meshwork at 416-964-7698 ext. 211 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ve’ahavta volunteer Josh Arbess is interviewed by The Globe about his Bar Mitzvah project, in which he will be sending Kinder Kits to orphans in Haiti, through Ve’ahavta.
Click here to listen to Ve’ahavta Radio’s newest interview with Wes Larson.
Max Adler, Josh Sussman, Catherine O’Hara and more donate their footwear for Ron White’s 16th annual shoe drive.
To read the full article, click here.
He played for the Toronto Blizzard until his knee blew out. He became a cop and today he is the Deputy Chief. Listen to Peter speak about the police and their compassion. Worth a listen!
Click here to listen.
To see all the photos, click here.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Jambo (hello) and Kwaheri (goodbye) from Kenya!
It was with mixed emotions that we began and ended our final morning of dental clinic Thursday in Maai Mahiu’s IDP (internally displaced people) camps. Even the generator battery rebelled against its assignment – the car battery dying too shortly after! David pulled off some feats of repairman-ship to get us through the morning smoothly, and the team did what they do best for the remaining patients, among them a few Marafiki support people, the local pastor, and our matatu driver. When the time came, it was hard to stop registration, screenings, and begin to turn people away, after 7 days of clinic and over 350 patients seen!
But close shop we did, even as we dismantled and packed up the stations for future service. We sat down in the evening for a last goodbye dinner with the full family of partners, volunteers, and friends of the Ve’ahavta-Marafiki Dental Mission 2012. We remembered -over thank yous, a (tooth!) cake, spoken word and laughter- our landing in Kenya less than 2 weeks ago, arriving with our excitement, our 12+ bags of dental equipment, jetlag, our challenges and our continuing partnership to meet the obstacles of dental outreach on the periphery of the system in the middle of a community displaced.
As we leave for safari and make our way home we say ASANTE SANA!
…To our team of pioneer dental volunteers who have built this mission from the (dirt floors) ground up with their experience, compassion, and hard work.
To our partners for their commitment to the rights of displaced peoples and these joint efforts to bring healthier smiles and larger dignity to those in need.
And to the community who have welcomed us into their homes, their hearts… and in their mouths!
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Today’s clinic started on Kenyan time with a few technical challenges- but ultimately overwhelming results. Over the course of the day the team treated a record total of 37 hygiene patients and 29 patients for extraction. Mindy, Tina and Pauline received some of our local dental support aides among their patients- including our beloved technician and his family. The future “Dr. Mark,” 8 years old gloved and masked to practice dental care on our puppets alongside his mentors . “Dr. Mark” was among an increased number of children receiving treatment at the extraction stations with Dr. Ira, Dr. Thileeb, and local Kenyan doctor, Dr. Mike. On the other end of the spectrum, an elderly patient of Dr. Thileeb had her last problem tooth extracted- also her last remaining tooth!
Working next door to Marafiki’s local school has allowed us to get to know the community and spend time with neighbourhood children and their teachers. One of our young friends honoured us today with Kikuyu names, others sang and danced with us, skipped rope, and gathered together around the common water source as the students’ morning meal program progressed.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Hello, how are you?/ Habari yako?/ Wemwege? The team is well here in the land of the Swahili and Kikuyu and other peoples of Kenya. We are still recovering from an active weekend hiking and scaling gorges in Helll’s Gate and an impressive trek up the crater of nearby Mt. Longonot. From the peak of the volcano at 2617m we could see the dry landscape of the Rift Valley and the reflection off the tin roofs of the IDP camps in the distance. The communities of the hundreds of the hundreds of families still living in makeshift tarp homes, we could not.
The return to the clinic was victorious with a total of 54 patients seen Monday, our 4th day of clinic operations. The competition is on now with equal patients treated between the two extraction stations and 3 dental hygiene stations. The team are busy screening, scaling (cleaning), extracting, suturing, counselling, and providing dental health education to the IDP and vicinity communities with the support of Marafiki representatives and a courageous band of local and longterm volunteers for our dental assistance and translation including Community Elder, Mr. Frances. Facilitating my job and that of our Marafiki technician, David also, is the fact that everything is working! Suction. Cavitrons. Autoclave. Check!
Our feedback and rapport with the community and local dental and healthcare workers allows us to better reflect on highlights and lessons learned in the field:
- Two minutes each time.
- No, for how many days?
- For the rest of your life.
Our team education volunteer, Miranda enjoyed her first day of placement at the nearby Maii Mahiu Primary School. Miranda is working together with local teacher Mr. Peter and his small 3rd grade class of 74 students. Miranda is offering lessons in English, organized after-school recreation and looking forward to offering support by introducing drama activities.
Please keep your thoughts with our team and out patients as the day breaks this morning over the mountains into the Rift Valley, Maai Mahiu.
Another dental care day in the refugee camp. Today our volunteers treated 38 patients including some who came back a second time for additional treatment.
Melanie tells me that morale is high even though the environment is challenging.
The weather is relatively cold, very windy, and dusty. The dust makes dental work difficult, but the crew is finding ways to cope.
Still no photos. There was some brief internet time, but it’s not stable yet.
We may not have a report tomorrow and Saturday, but I hope to update you on Sunday.
For an exciting interview with our Chairman of the Board, Henry Greisman, click here.
or to subscribe to all of our radio shows on iTunes, click here.
Melanie just called at 10:30 PM Kenya time Tuesday. She reports that her roommate is trying to sleep while she is busy calling us with the latest mission news. The group has arrived at the refugee camp in Maai Mahiu and spent a long work day setting up the dental clinic. Melanie reports that it looks great and is ready to receive patients tomorrow morning. There were all kinds of equipment and voltage challenges, but everything is ready to go.
All went well at customs clearance in Nairobi , actually smoother than loading the baggage in Toronto where the group was challenged by having bags with the wrong dimensions! Dr. Ira has joined the group and we now have a full volunteer contingent ready to begin the mitzvah work alongside our Kenyan partners, Marafiki.
There seems to be good cell reception, and I expect to hear more news from Melanie as the clinic begins its work.
Good morning everyone.
This morning I went to my old stomping grounds of Lakeshore Blvd in Etobicoke to deliver some jackets. My first stop was to a lovely lady Barb that I have known for years. Barb is disabled and mentally ill. I stopped by her home to give her a jacket. We sat and recalled the days of my past and she spoke so kindly of my big heart and appreciated that I thought about her.
My next stop was at the LAMP Community Health Center where I went to their daytime Out of the Cold Program. I know a lady Judy there from the times that I was using. She was so very excited to see me and thanked me over and over for staying dedicated to the community that I came from. I dropped them about 15 jackets, one of which was given to a woman right in front of my eyes. She only had a skimpy denim jacket on and was complaining about the cold nights as she is homeless. She was almost emotional to have received a jacket and gave me a HUGE hug.
My next stop was Women’s Habitat Drop in where I dropped off about 20 jackets. I didn’t see any of the clients but the staff were very grateful for the donation.
I was told that there is a women’s group home for young women leaving CAS care on 9th Street. I am going to see If I can drop some jackets to them as well.
I appreciate Ve’ahavta allowing me to give back to my community. They are in such desperate need with a total Lack of services in the area.
Thank you Ve’ahavta.
Community Poverty Relief Associate
Click here to see the latest Ve’ahavta TV episode.
When a men’s fashion mogul, and a philanthropist hook up tikun olam can flow. It does with Wendy and Lou Myles.
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A VE’AHAVTA HANUKA MESSAGE
Hanuka means dedication but the same Hebrew root means education, and I’ve always thought that Hanuka is the most educative holiday. First, the rabbis considered the hanukia that we light each night to be an advertisement to the world. They called it pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miracle. The hanukia is meant to enlighten the outside world, not our homes.
But, perhaps even more importantly, the complex story of Hanuka changes as we mature and learn more of its history. As youngsters the story is all about the 8-day miracle of oil. As we read history we learn that the oil story doesn’t exist in the early primary sources on the Hanuka events of 166 BCE. We wonder why the rabbis so stressed that story and under-played the original version. And why didn’t the Hasmonean account end up in the Hebrew Bible? These questions create an ongoing learning experience as adults celebrate the holiday every year. We grow with the story and the story grows with us. As much as we want the festival to be relevant to children and fun as well, we have a responsibility to ourselves as adults not to permit Hanuka to become “Pediatric Judaism”.
Ultimately we will find that Hanuka has adult significance in that the original struggle was one of maintaining the spirit of Second Temple Jewish life while under the powerfully attractive influence of Hellenistic culture. Sound familiar? No holiday could be more relevant to our own complex ambiguities.
Here at Ve’ahavta we are constantly reminding ourselves that in a consumerist self-centered culture there are ancient Jewish values found in our classical texts that speak to us today regarding our responsibility to bridge the gap between the way the world is and the way it ought to be. We call that tikun olam. Let the bright lights of Hanuka advertise to the world that we remember the life-critical lessons and aspire to apply them in our daily lives.
Here is the latest Ve’ahavta Radio episode. We interview Steve Schwartz, of Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem.
To listen to the radio show, click here.
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Click below to see our most recent episode of Ve’ahavta TV, a warm and introspective interview with Rabbi Yossi Sapirman, of Beth Torah.
Check it out!
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Last night was a truly special night on the van, and after discussing it with Eric we think everybody should hear about it!
It is hard to understand the full scope of the program and what we can offer our clients unless you are on the van regularly, with that being said yesterday was an epic example of what Ve’ahavta is all about!
I encountered a client last night who was in a T-Shirt, freezing and wanted to go to a shelter. Just being released from CAMH with an addiction and mental health issues he needed extra support during our time with him. We were able to take him to the Assessment and Referral centre (where you go to find a shelter bed in the downtown core) but all the locked doors and the hospital-like appearance was a trigger for his mental health issues. This client became extremely anxious and paranoid and would only calm down when myself and another volunteer were with him. We spent over 3 hours with this specific client (while serving others simultaneously at the referral centre) and ended up bringing him back to CAMH where he voluntarily signed himself back in. Before being taken away by the doctors, he told me and our volunteer that because of us he was safe, warm, and would be alive another night because without us he would have frozen to death outside.
I think everybody should be proud of themselves for being apart of an organization that can provide this kind of support for the people who need it the most!
I also feel very proud and honoured that because of Ve’ahavta, I am able to do what I do best out on the streets every night.
Listen to 3 fascinating stories of addiction – past, present, and future.
One of these guests checked into a rehab program shortly after this interview, stating that we had lifted him up and inspired to make a change.
Click here to listen to part 1.
Click here to listen to part 2.
A moment in time, sanctimonious and pure, Ve’ahavta’s annual ‘Starry Nights’ gala was a smashing success. Our friends, donors and volunteers as well as all other attendees made this year’s event one to remember. Driven by an innate desire to push and promote unity, to alleviate suffering of many kinds,
all of those in attendance have in one way or another made a substantial contribution to this end.
Master of Ceremonies Jian Ghomeshi was at his wittiest, Juno award winner Chantal Kreviazuk’s inspirational anecdotes of goodwill evoked gasps and exclamations of wonderment from many. ‘Humanitarian’ award recipient Alice Bartole – the founder of the ‘House of Hope’ orphanage in Haiti – encouraged all of us to look deep within ourselves, to challenge ourselves to do even more.
‘Starry Nights’ was indeed a celebration of all that Alice and others have accomplished, and a galvanizing call to action in order to encourage more love, peace and harmony amongst all people, everywhere.
Click here to read John Sacke’s blog entry about Ve’ahavta and Starry Nights
Jane Hawtin spoke with Theresa Schrader. She is a former sex trade worker and now runs Ve’ahavta Street Academy, a program that bridges homeless people and schools.
Click to listen to the interview here.
Sometimes co-host just need to talk. Listen to Avrum Rosensweig and Vac Verikaitis, co-hosts of Veahavta Radio – talk about life and tikun olam – repairing the world.
Click here to listen
Taken at the University of Toronto’s Multi-Faith Center.
From the left: Seymour Epstein (Acting Director of International & Education), Henry Greisman (Chairman of the Borad), Avrum Rosensweig (Founding Director and President), Tony Blair (Former British Prime Minister) and Melanie Lindayen (International Project Coordinator)
Jails are brimming with prisoners, with little to no rehabilitation offered; a place where men frequently come out ‘bad’ and women are regularly abused and demeaned. Joan Ruzsa, the Director of Rittenhouse, a Toronto based NGO offering services for men and women in jail joins Ve’ahavta Radio to speak to our listeners about people in jail, who they are, and how her organizations works toward enhancing their lives.
Joan has communicated with people in jail for over 9 years and brought hope to individuals who otherwise live very bleak lives. Please listen to this fascinating interview. You may not agree with all her thoughts and points, however will agree she is certainly compelling and involved in tikun olam (repairing the world). Your thoughts are always appreciated.
Joan Ruzsa’s Tikun Olam Interview
What does “Freedom” really mean?
There are a lot of words in the English language that have been kidnapped. Used in ways that have completely distorted their essence.
Take the word LOVE, for instance.
I’m walking by another one of the ubiquitous condominium complexes being erected in the downtown core where I live.
The boards surrounding the site proclaim the marketing motto: Charlie: Condos that love you.
Condos that love you? Are you kidding me?
How can an inanimate object made of glass, steel and concrete love me?
And then I hear an advertisement on the most influential purveyor of double speak, the television.
Cars love Shell gasoline.
I tell my children I love them, and it has deep, fundamental meaning.
But in the effort to completely brainwash the masses, advertisers, through their corporate masters, develop marketing campaigns that devalue the true meaning of words.
Another one of those words is FREEDOM.
I am free to choose between several different kinds of margarine in the dairy section of the
I am free to go to Tim Hortons or Second Cup or Starbucks if I want a coffee.
But what if you have little or no money?
Then freedom has no meaning. Because in a society that values material possessions above all else, when you have no money to make those consumer decisions, you aren’t free.
You are a slave to your circumstance. My poverty enslaves me and condemns me to a life of just trying to survive.
Leave a person with no work, no purpose, no hope, and freedom has no meaning.
Freedom to live means being able to take some measure of control over your own circumstances.
Still, my poverty has also enlightened me, and given me a different perspective.
I am now free to live without the fear of being poor. Simply because I am living it and have survived.
What else can happen to me?
Eat my meals in a soup kitchen? Been there.
Live in a shelter? Done that.
Be forced to live on the Ontario welfare allowance of $227 a month? I’m already there.
My freedom is the direct result of being unchained from those fears. Because my freedom comes from an internal, rather than external source. I am free to see an entirely different side of life.
For some years I have thought about freedom and other ways to achieve it. It hasn’t been that easy to specify what kind of freedom I really meant or really wanted. I have tried to specify freedom and how to achieve it and I hope this description can be useful for others that are looking to become free.
Becoming free implies that you lose attachments. Non-attachment does not mean that you should become indifferent or emotionally cold. It means that you should accept that you can lose your job, your best friend could die and your girlfriend could leave you. Don’t fear loss, but accept it as a part of life and something that could and will eventually happen.
Look within. Be still.
Free from fear and attachment,
Know the sweet joy of living in the way.
Live in the present
Live, embrace and accept the present moment, instead of waiting anxiously for all future desires to be fulfilled. Like Gandhi said: Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
Don’t carry the burden of the past,
nor indulge in the fantasies of the future,
nor intoxicate with the desires of the present.
No goals and dreams
Goals and dreams are mostly fantasies. You build a fantasy of how it’s going to be when you get that job or find the perfect mate. When you reach your goal you find out that it was just a fantasy and the taste is not that sweet as you imagined.
The lesson is to live in the present moment and not dwell on the prospects of the future. Enjoy what you have now, instead of being a slave of what you want to achieve or become.
Acting like you live in the present moment is not the same as living in the present moment. Acting like you you are non-attached is not the same as being non-attached!
Acting is a delusion and if you are acting you are cheating yourself. Don’t act free, but be free!
It’s a practice
Becoming free takes a lot practice. It’s not something that you can read your way through or something that magically happens to you. It’s a change within and a change that takes a lot of practice.
Then, there are other forms of freedom.
Freedom, as we have found out throughout history is measured in the actions of the people brave enough to seek it. To act on it.
Freedom of Speech
We need the clash of ideas in order to more fully understand reality. And we need to understand reality as deeply as possible not only for its own sake, but in order to change it (and there is plenty that needs changing).
People need to be free to follow their thinking where it takes them, and to air unpopular ideas and argue them out with others. This is essential in getting at and discovering the truth.
In capitalist society, the dominant ideas reflect and serve the interests of the dominant class in society, the capitalists. In that context, contending ideas are, at best, viewed as competing commodities in the “marketplace of ideas.”
I’m no Marxist. But as we’ve seen with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that has spread globally, we do not live in an egalitarian society. The people at the top of the pyramid have to be held to account, and being truly free to express that is an indispensable part of that.
You can’t do that at work. What exactly is that “general waiver and release agreement” one signs when accepting work with a corporation about?
It means that you give up your rights and freedoms to the corporations.
This is a framework that stifles the exchange of ideas and severely restricts the search for truth.
Even in this context, supposed guarantees of freedom of speech are at best sharply contested under capitalism, and usually observed in theory only.
There is a whole history in Canada for instance, of the state jailing and even murdering revolutionaries and progressives—either through kangaroo trials, police assassination, sponsoring or turning a blind eye to lynchings, etc.
Police, and even the army have been called out to suppress people demanding equality or unions or opposing imperialist wars—again, all through Canadian history.
The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was one of the most influential strikes in Canadian history, and became the platform for future labour reforms.
Although many Canadian companies had enjoyed enormous profits on World War Icontracts, wages and working conditions were dismal and labour regulations were mostly non-existent.
In March 1919 labour delegates from across Western Canada convened in Calgary to form a branch of the “One Big Union”, with the intention of earning rights for Canadian workers through a series of strikes.
In Winnipeg workers within the building and metal industries attempted to strengthen their bargaining ability by creating umbrella unions, the Building Trade Council and Metal Trade Council respectively, to encompass all metal and building unions.
Other workers throughout the city went out in strike in support. At 11:00 a.m. on Thursday May 15, 1919, virtually the entire working population of Winnipeg had gone on strike. Somewhere around 22,000 workers in the public and private sectors walked off their jobs.
On June 17 the federal government ordered the arrest of eight strike leaders (including Sam Blumenberg and M. Charitonoff, two Jews of eastern European descent who were later deported to the U.S.) Four days later, about 25,000 strikers assembled for a demonstration at Market Square, where Winnipeg Mayor Charles Frederick Gray read the Riot Act.
Mayor Gray called in the Royal Northwest Mounted Police who rode in on horseback charging into the crowd of strikers, beating them with clubs and firing weapons.
This violent action resulted in many people injured, numerous arrests and the death of two strikers. This day, which came to be known as “Bloody Saturday”,ended with Winnipeg virtually under military occupation.
In everyday life there is an ongoing pressure and chill not to get out of line, lest you lose your job or worse. A climate of enforced conformity. In Winnipeg in 1919, people died for their freedoms.
I believe in our individual rights. I believe the spirit and letter of the law was designed and intended to offer maximum freedom with limited government intrusion.
I believe I should have the right to protect myself and my loved ones from danger by any means necessary to end said danger.
It is alarming how those that choose and are allowed to fully exercise their aforementioned freedoms, are trying to make it their business to deny me the right to exercise my own.
Lastly, freedom is not now, nor has it ever been free. When a majority of the people no longer feel the need or the desire to protect our freedoms, and they impose their will upon the rest of us, freedom swiftly begins to erode, and once lost, is nearly impossible to regain.
We need to stand for freedom, or we will die in the chains of slavery.
By Vac Verikaitis
Monday, October 24, 2011:
The team has arrived safely in Guyana and continuing into the Middle Mazaruni after receiving the VIP traveller’s treatment in Georgetown and Ogle. Bekkie confirms it is sunny and beautiful in Guyana as the team hydrates on coconut water and the journey of this medical mission begins.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
The team are currently found in an Amerindian village, Issenuru, situated on a beautiful strip of the river. They passed the night camped out and began the first day of the mission smoothly, treating 82 patients including 1 malaria case. The team was able to take some time to swim in the river, and are also working together swimmingly.
Thursday, October 27, 2011:
With a total of 100 treated in Isseneru, our medical team moved on yesterday to Kangaruna, a village of 480. The five travellers were made welcome by the community, and greeted later in the night with torrential rains. Tents and spirits are holding up well after the tropical downpour. Bekkie reached us on the satellite phone as rains recommenced and the next day of clinic was underway. Tomorrow the team travels to Issano.
Monday, October 31, 2011
In a blessed turn of events, the medical team were able to save a life in Issano. A woman arrived at a Ve’ahavta clinic, in position in her village at the right time and place, and was able to receive emergency care during a life-threatening miscarriage, thanks to the Ve’ahavta team and team leader, Bekkie Vineberg equipped with her midwifery expertise and equipment. Once stabilized, the team were able to refer the patient to Georgetown and go on to treat over 80 patients total in Issano together with the 4 members of the regional health team and joined on Friday by volunteer physician Dr. Steele. The team are working closely with the local Community Health Worker, Mr. David, and also reporting on high incidence of malaria.
Outside of clinical hours, the team has experienced some busy evenings and nights. Night interruptions included, among rainstorms and other noises of the jungle interior, an emergency case for an individual with anemia. Last evening the team planned to carry out sexual health education outreach at Issano’s local bars.
Next moves bring the team out of the interior to Bartica for continued medical outreach and celebratory meetings of this work in the company of Ve’ahavta’s community partner, the Lions Club of Bartica.
In Bartica, the medical team dined in town with Ve’ahavta partners, the Lions Club, at President Rickford’s hotel. Another 88 patients were treated across the river at the Mazaruni Prison. Tonight sees the team stocking up on provisions before an early flight out in small plane to Kamarang. The mobile clinic will move straight on to Waramadong where they continue to set up clinics in hard to reach locales where they are most needed.
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
The group is in Kako, deep up the Mazaruni. They flew in a bush plane and then traveled by boat to get to this remote spot, very beautiful because of its savannah. They saw some patients today, will do a savannah walk early Wednesday morning, and see more patients after that. Yesterday they saw 88 prisoners in the Mazaruni prison, some from solitary confinement, others in shackles. They will be leaving later in the week for their final clinic in Waramadong, again deep in the interior. Just as I was joking with Bekkie about a great pizza joint in that village (NOT!), the sat phone disconnected.
I can hardly wait to see the group Sunday night when they return and hear the amazing stories they must have.
Thursday, November 03, 2011
At the mercy of satellite phone reception, I was pleased to hear from Bekkie and the medical team from a boat en route to Kamarang! The team ran a busy clinic in Kako which included screenings for cervical cancer. Women visiting the Ve’ahavta-Lions clinic left with a sense of empowerment in their experience of health awareness. Kako’s savannahs offered a beautiful commute in and out of the village with good weather on the river passages after much rain.
The team is currently based in Kamarang and operating out of Waramadong for the day at a school for 500 students living in dormitories on-site. The heat and hard work make a favourite swimming hole welcome respite after these days’ and two weeks’ clinics.
Everyone says HI!
Monday, November 07, 2011
Fred, Miriam, Carol, Cassanndre, and Brian returned last night from two weeks in the Guyanese bush tired but successful and elated after treating hundreds of patients in a variety of villages carefully selected by Bekkie. Our thanks to them for helping us extend the tikun olam arm of Ve’ahavta deep into the jungle and a huge KOL HAKAVOD to Bekkie for everything she puts into these missions – blood, sweat , tears, and pure chesed.
Donated by: Med Plus
Donated by: Anita and David Katz
Donated by: MT Service
Donated by: Apotex
Donated by: Neauvo Ragz
Donated by: Wholesale Medical
Donated by: Tropical Treets
Donated by: Indigo
The Shalit family, Israel and the world, welcome Gilad home, after five years in captivity. Tuesday, October 18th, 2011.
The Veahavta Family welcomes Gilad home, and with all of our hearts extend our love to the Shalits. We wish Gilad well, over the coming days, month and years and pray that he one day soon, leads a normal, regular life, where he will sit in a room surrounded by many people….that he should never sit alone again. B’shalom. Peace.
After the intense solemnity of Rosh haShana and the ten days of return culminating in the long fast of Yom Kippur, we enter into the joy of Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simhat Torah. The rabbis pointed out that the joy of Sukkot is emphasized in the Torah. Clearly, a holiday of festive meals, a beautiful sukkah, the four species of lulav (palm), etrog (citron), hadasim (myrtle), and aravot (willow) is an extended moment of joy. But is simha or joy the central theme of Sukkot?
As beautiful as we have made the sukka in all the various places we have sojourned over thousands of years, the legally required design is of a temporary shack that shakes in the wind with a leaky roof. Commentaries on the four species claim that only one has both good taste and a pleasant aroma, the others have their imperfections. The megilah that we read on Sukkot, Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), is hardly a joyous document, but rather the skeptical, even cynical, ramblings of a wise but world-weary old man. There are clearly mixed messages in this holiday that go beyond what we learned of Sukkot in Hebrew school. Sukkot is a harvest festival which celebrates the bounty God has provided in the agricultural cycle, but it does so by dealing with the reality that nature is fickle, and that not every year is one of great harvests. (Just look at the TSX!) The mitzvah of enJOYing the festival is an act of faith that emphasizes our role in working with the natural world to turn poor harvests into rich ones. In the same way that the earlier Tishrei holidays help us turn to better spiritual paths, this later festival encourages us to work on improving the material harvest of our world.
Listen to the new riveting interview with two of Ve’ahavta’s own Community Poverty Relief staff Eric Cisterna and Lauren Gostick
Eric Cisterna and Lauren Gostick Podcast
After York High School student, Daniel Shade Silver, volunteered on Ve’ahavta’s Mobile Jewish Response to the Homeless, he knew he wanted to find a way to help homeless youth get the supplies and support they need to get off the streets of Toronto. He launched a fundraising initiative called “Cookies for Kids” in which he will be baking cookies, with the generous support from 2 Moms Baked Goods, and then selling them to the public to raise funds and awareness about youth homelessness . To buy one of Daniel’s delicious kosher and nut-free cookies, please click here. (until October 7th 2011) Click here to see Daniel’s video.
The upcoming Jewish holidays of Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur are called Yamim Noraim in Hebrew, Days of Awe, a more meaningful term than “High Holidays”. Rosh haShana is traditionally celebrated as the anniversary of the creation of the world, but, interestingly enough, not the first day of creation, but day six, when humans were brought into the picture. The message in that is that the world we inhabit is one in which we share responsibility with the creator for its ongoing growth and maintenance. Over and over again, the Torah teaches us that our obligations far outweigh our rights, and that social justice in the form of tzedakah, hesed, and tikun olam is our means for keeping the world in good repair. On Rosh haShana we celebrate the partnership with God by calling Him King and by recognizing our role as citizens of a sacred realm.
On day six of creation we were given involuntary systems of digestion and respiration, but we were not blessed with an involuntary system for doing the kind of good that will repair the world. That kind of Ve’ahavta activity is totally voluntary and depends on our good will in contradistinction to all kinds of negative forces such as inertia, procrastination, consumerism, etc. We all make mistakes, and Yom Kippur, coming so soon after Rosh haShana, reminds us each year that we can overcome error and re-create ourselves in the image we had at creation - full partners with God in the ongoing responsibility for a better world.
Best wishes from Ve’ahavta for a sweet and peaceful 5772
Recently one of our Starry Nights honouree was mentioned in the Toronto Metro. Click here to read the full article.
Homeless individuals encounter constant barriers everyday, one of which being access to healthcare. With a lack of identification and no address it immediately makes walking into a hospital difficult. One of our clients broke his hand, which already had an infection from an open wound that did not heal properly because of his living conditions. He is also a recovering heroin addict, which poses a huge barrier to receive any type of pain medication which would normally be prescribed in an instant for somebody without such history. I took him to the hospital at Midnight and started by supporting him through the registration/triage stage which can be difficult and embarrassing when explaining that you live on the street. I then waited with him for 3 hours which a lot of clients would lose patience for and leave, as the hospital is a trigger for many and it’s hard to wait that long alone for anyone. Once we saw the doctor I then advocated for him to receive pain medication which despite his history was extremely necessary. The doctor, the client and I all came to a middle ground in which our client was allotted pain medication that best suited his needs, and were not a detriment to his recovery as an opiate user.
The homeless population are often stripped of their humanity and their voice (amongst other things), and everyday I work to restore these very things within each client I encounter. Staying at the hospital till 4:00AM to advocate for our clients to receive respect and equal access, as well as to have their voice be heard is part of making people feel worthy and human again. We were largely successful this time around!
Click here to listen to the stories of two street youth and their struggles.
William and Amanda Ve’ahavta Radio Show#2
Here is a poem from the creative-writing component of this August’s Ve’ahavta-Lions Youth Camp in Bartica, Guyana.
On a Cold Night
On a cold night at a casino,
We gathered together around
A broken hearth
When a man walked into a beautiful woman.
He asked her on a date
But she didn’t answer.
She was dumb,
The man felt sorry that she could not talk.
He stepped out in a rainy night.
For more poetry from the campers of the Ve’ahavta-Lions Youth Camp click here.
Ve’ahavta-Lions Youth Camp: Week 2
We set off into Week 2 of Camp in Bartica, Guyana with the Lions Club of Bartica, 3 full-time Ve’ahavta-Peace-Corps and Scarboro Missions Education volunteers, over 100 youth aged 5-17 and a bounty of exciting ideas and activities to fill our time together.
The weekend provided our team some rest from the first week, recuperation from a nasty bedbug run-in, and opportunity for planning some fun theme days leading up towards a Camp Closing Day presentation. Our team’s collective resume included degrees in creative-writing, music education, art therapy, social work experience, and (most importantly!) local experience… we had our work cut out for us!
The volunteers and I had the chance to learn more about the volunteers and each other as we explored Monday’s “Where I Live” theme learning local games and sports, expressing ourselves through word and images over different scales of place, and sharing multicultural songs. We had a “terrible” time on Opposite day, but decidedly wonderful adventures working in teams to complete a local eco-scavenger hunt, creating murals from found objects, and guest workshops with the Hope Foundation on Children’s Rights.
Over Week 2 the youth never ceased to amaze us over a broad range of ages, competencies, confidence, and characters. The Ve’ahavta-Lions camp programs pushed the boundaries of the campers’ creative experiences in writing, singing, visual arts, leadership, and teamwork. Keifer broke out of the box with his poetry. Bobin showed leadership on the football field. Shania shared her dreams of being a doctor. Denzil and his sister, Deborah created beautiful art and spirit in the camp. Whitney, Denzelina and Joshua became the camp ambassadors for Energy and Imagination!
On Camp Closing Day all our young performers wowed with steel band performances, creative-writing readings, and a multicultural rendition of “This Land is Your Land” (Guyanese, American, and Canadian versions) with Miss Ashley. It was a proudest moment for President Rickford and me to hand over the Ve’ahavta-Lions Certificates of Camp Participation to over 100 unique campers with newfound confidence, new jerseys from Ve’ahavta and brand-new Kinder Kits to begin the school year.
Highlights of Week 2:
- Building an interactive map of Bartica
- Doing relay races, musical chairs, and limbo—backwards!
- Creating cut-outs for a positive and negative space lesson- and watching campers reuse the techniques all week.
- Playing local Guyanese games led by senior campers and local volunteers.
-Admiring the scavenger hunt treasures collected for: “Find something truly beautiful.”
- Photographing youth creating the flag of Guyana with their bodies.
- Reading aloud our all-camp poem, “Happiness.” Every camper wrote a line.
- A sea of gold: campers in gold Ve’ahavta jerseys, matching Lions Club members in gold vests, among gold-painted steel drums.
- From the Rupununi to the Corentyne…From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lake Waters. This world was made for you and me.
The campers expressed in words, pictures, and giant thank you cards to Ve’ahavta and Miss Melanie how they will miss us and never forget us.
May we never forget the needs -nor neglect the potential- of children everywhere.
Ve’ahavta International Projects Coordinator
2011 Uganda Spine Surgery Mission Blog
DAY 12 – Thursday August 25th:
It seemed as though the second week flew by and the final day had come at last. Ngozi had been invited to give a lecture for the Physiotherapists in the New Mulago hospital, where some of our more difficult ICU patients had passed through. Compared to the spinal ward, the New Mulago was the Bellagio. It had been established in the 1970s by Idi Amin, the Ugandan President, as a military hospital and it was considered among the most prominent hospitals in East Africa. In reality however, the Mulago hospital, like the spinal ward, is now in serious need of “rehabilitation.” The team really appreciated Ngozi’s didactic teaching and demonstrations and insisted on exchanging contact information for future correspondence. Ngozi was relieved and delighted that she had gone from rejected to respected in terms of the value of her services and relationships with local physiotherapists on the spine mission and her patients. She even got a wave out of B.A., the 7 year-old girl from Monday who wouldn’t crack a smile.
Having already completed 16 surgeries, we expected a smooth final day in Kampala. But, as you may have guessed, fate struck us once again and the Mulagosystem tried to siphon off our last bit of energy. We arrived eager and early just to learn that the water supply to the autoclave had been disrupted, so the surgical tools could not be sterilized. We waited three hours for the water to come back on, and were finally able to start at 12:05pm.
The procedure was for M.W., a 51 year-old female school teacher with mechanical back pain with radiation to her legs since an accident in 2001. Two years ago she had a decompression procedure but had no substantial pain relief. She wore a back brace and used a cane with only minor relief of symptoms. Recently she had been experiencing right arm weakness and right-sided neck discomfort presumably due to neck problems. An MRI showed degenerative changes and narrowing of the spinal canal and intervertebral foramina (the opening where the nerves exit the spine). The team, with the help of interested local orthopedics residents and students, conducted a posterior L4-5 lumbar decompression and fusion. They approached from the back, removed part of the lamina (back wall of the vertebrae)and the arthritic facet joints, gently moved the nerves aside (this low, called the caudaequina, or horses tail) while working to remove the disc and replace it with bone graft and a cage. They also inserted screws to maintain the spinal column stability until the bone fusion consolidated. Despite the late start the team still completed the case efficiently and all went well.
At the end of these two anxiety provoking, yet gratifying weeks, we were ready to return home, but all struggled with the thought of leaving behind so many in need.Despite the emotions , as we left to pack our equipment and get ready for the trip home, patients expressed their deepest gratitudeand pleaded for our contacts so they could keep us informed on their progress.
The team still however had one final challenge, get the equipment packed and collected from two hospitals and loaded onto Mr. Metu’s truck (the local shipper) to be sent home, all in time for a celebratory dinner . Brian worked effortlessly to catalogue and box the gear while we shuttled boxes up and down stairs to the shipping van. Lieberman set a challenge, “dinner at the Lawns by 8pm.”We arrived at 7:55, for a fine meal of Ostrich burgers and Chili Crocodile, serenaded by the clapping of rain on the wooden roof. At dinner we shared our thoughts and feelings, our perspectives on the value of the mission and how we could continue to improve future missions. We spoke of the strength andbrother(& sister)-hood of the human spirit, our impact and how the Ugandans continue to learn from us, and we from them.
Quote of the Day:
“The behavior of the Uganda peoples is like video games. They think they have three lives. But this is not true. They have only one.” – Kris, on the whimsical attitudes and reckless standards sometimes encountered in the equipment, protocols, and patient care guidelines in Uganda’s health care system.
This year’s mission set the standard for productivity, emotions and future goals. New lessons were learned and old lessons were re-affirmed. The veterans were solid and the rookies were dependable.
I am consistently reminded of how many good people there are on this planet. Likewise I am constantly reminded of just how much need there is throughout the world. I strongly suggest that if anyone reading this message has even the slightest inclination to become involved or contribute to such a mission, please seriously consider the opportunity and take the leap to participate. It will change your mindset and your life.
Personally I will remember this mission as the most special on three accounts. I had the privilege of having my mother (Noemi Lieberman) accompany the team and myself on part of this mission; I was accompanied by three of my most respected colleagues (Kayanja, Siemionow & St Clair); and I was able, with the help of many, fulfill my promise to deliver a sefer Torah to the isolated Jewish congregation in the village of Putti.
By virtue of my position I tend to undeservedly get the all the credit for these missions. It is impossible for me to ever fully acknowledge all those who have contributed to the success of this mission. Please rest assured that I will I never take for granted all those who have contributed along the way.
1) 13 participants (including 2 anaesthesiologists and a physical therapist), two teams, clinics and surgeries at both Mulago and Case hospitals
2) Delivery of over $200,000 worth of medical supplies, divided by need to both Mulago and Case Hopsitals
3) Distribution of 200 Kinder Kits (school bags) to children
4) 17 complex spinal reconstruction surgeries
5) Daily teaching of residents, scoliosis lecture to staff and orthopaedic residents, physical therapy lecture to therapists
6) Delivery, training and donation of BPAP breathing assistance machines to Spine ward at Mulago (courtesy of DrSkulmowski&Kusza)
7) Formalize collaboration agreement between Case Hospital and Uganda Spine Mission for future care of the less fortunate
8) 8 surgeries scheduled for August 2012
2011 Uganda Spine Surgery Mission Blog
DAY 10 – Tuesday August 23rd:
Before heading to the Case operating room for surgery the team split up and saw post-surgical patients in the wards at Case and Mulago. At Mulago, Zbigniew, Kris and Jordan visited with three patients, who needed their surgical wound dressings to be changed. Patient J.S., a 35 year-old male was running a high fever since his surgery, while patient P.K. had trouble breathing at night, so required help from the BIPAP machine to breathe for him. Meanwhile in the clinic up the hill, Dr. Lieberman presented a lecture on congenital scoliosis to an audience of very interested surgeons and residents. It is important on our medical mission to make a lasting footprint by empowering the local physicians to improve their standard of care in addition to helping patients directly through surgery and consultation; we are only in Uganda for 2 weeks per year and must also think about the other 50. Even Master PT Professor Ngozi, PhD was asked to teach and present on key concepts in physical therapy – at both Case and Mulago.
The surgical case today was a 15 year-old boy A.T. who suffered from persistent complications of tuberculosis. He had surgery in 2009 for post-TB complications, but afterward developed a chronic, draining infection. Now, his hardware had become loose and he had multiple levels of bony breakdown (osteolysis) and inadequate healing of bone (pseudarthrosis), with a substantial left-sided abscess. In May, he underwent a procedure to clean it out (debridement) but it was unsuccessful. Our plan was to repeat the debridement of the incision, abscess, and tract and to remove the loose broken hardware. During the surgery, it was impressive just how much granulomatous (gunky) tissue had been created by immune cells attacking the unresolved infection.
We saw three new patients today. The first was E.N., a 2 ½ year old girl with congenital scoliosis. Had we seen her last week, we might have been able to squeeze her in, but now due to time constraints she would have to wait until we return next year.
C.A. is a 24 year-old female with history of progressive leg weakness over three years and lower back pain. She had extreme lower extremity weakness (1/5 on the power scale) and allodynia, the sensation of pain in response to a non-painful stimulus (eg. gentle rubbing feels like burning). In the absence of imaging studies, Jordan and Kirill exercised their differential diagnosis skills, ruling out vascular and autoimmune causes (the latter not at all common in Uganda) and suspecting a compressive lesion within her spinal cord, like a tumor. However, when Dr. Lieberman examined her he concurred that her symptoms are most consistent with a compressive lesion. It was then that she pulled out the secret X-rays of her back and it was clear that she had a focal kyphosis at the T11/12 disc level with a spondylolisthesis and disc resorption. Unfortunately, since the process had been going on for some time, the team felt that the damage was irreversible and surgery would be of minimal benefit. This was sad news to break, but having dealt with immobility for almost three years, it was not surprising to her.
The third patient was J.K., a 48 year-old male who was transferred from the trauma unit after a motor vehicle accident. Aside from being paralyzed from the shoulders down, he suffered a head injury and was confused and unable to speak (aphasic). He also had chemical burns over his body, but we could not illicit the history because of his head injury. His CT scan showed complete obliteration of the spinal canal (bone severed cervical spinal cord). This is the sad reality of spinal cord injury – and even in developed nations, motor vehicle accidents account for 50% of spinal injuries.
After a busy and interesting surgical challenge, Kirill didn’t have the stomach for dinner at the beautiful and sometimes delicious Serena hotel. Actually, he didn’t have the stomach for anything but a loading dose of Cipro. At dinner, the team howled at stories of spine missions passed (and present) and after the “Sister Sarah fiasco” yesterday, we did a “what time would Wednesday’s surgery begin” pool, Price is Right style: closest guess without going over wins!
Quote of the Day:
“Ugandance if you want to.” – Jordan & Kirill (a team 362 effort)
2011 Uganda Spine Surgery Mission Blog
DAYS 6-8 – Friday-Sunday August 18-20:
At the end of this long week, these threemystical days seemed to blend together into one.
On the spinal side of things, the mission team split up so some could stay for the surgery onI.K., a 64 years-young female patient who was postponed earlier in the week pending blood test results. Sometimes, a low Vitamin B12 level can cause the same neurological symptoms as an insult to the spinal cord. So, to justify a surgery, we had to rule out a B12 deficiency (pernicious anemia). Overnight Friday, her blood tests came back and showed her to have a normal B12 level, so Kris and Kirill reassessed the patient on Saturday morning and went ahead with the surgery at Case hospital. It was another straight forward spine procedure even with poor lighting and less than ideal instruments.
Early Friday morning, the second half of the teamventured upon the final leg of the torah mission to Putti, a small village near Mbale (“Em-ball-ay”). “Ohhhhhhh Lord,” we prayed, “please deliver us and the precious sefer Torah to the village of Putti.” Alex, Brian, Jordan, Judah, Doctor &Saftah Lieberman and the torah rode with Amos (our energetic driver), while Arne (the Dutch free lance reporter) and 150 Kinder Kits followed (almost too) closely behind. The apparently“220 km drive” took usEastward along Lake Victoriafor four hours on treacherously narrow, pitted roads and dusty boda-boda trails to the foot of Mount Elgon in the town of Mbale.When we finally reached Putti we were greeted by the village population, adults and children alike,charging the van with jubilant shrieking reminiscent of the peacock mating call. The torah as promised had arrived at its new home.
The Putti village was quite remarkable. There were a few small shacks for homes, and five larger structures. Of these buildings, isa kitchen with a sign post memorializing the “The Challah Project,” which had been donated to help theAbayudayahJewish peoples prepare their Sabbath bread. Also donated was a solar-powered chicken coup. Veterans noted that there were no chickens around last year, as they had been exterminated due to illness. Now, chickens roamed the dusty field and a sad-looking dog named “Master” wandered existentially. The children were many. The older ones would smile, but the younger ones were instinctively wary of “Muzungos” (whites). Of the Abayudayah, there were 130 children and another 40 adults in Putti. Jordan contrasted the age distribution to similar-sized Jewish communities he had met in Bolivia, where the stats were perfectly reversed, with shrinking communities.
The history of the Putti Abayudayahstarted inthe late 1800s. An elephant hunter namedSemeiKakungulubegan studying the bible. Upon further learning, he found his connection to the old testament, the books of Moses. He circumcised himself and his sons, a sign of Abraham’s (the first Jewish man) covenant with God. We don’t know how thrilled his middle-aged followers were about this initiation process at the time, but the incredible strength and devotion of the Abayudayah now speaks of their commitment to the Jewish faith. There are about a thousand Abayudayah in Uganda, but the orthodox ones (170) live in and around Putti. As they are not blood-descendants of Abraham, they have struggled for religious recognition for nearly one hundred years. The former dictator Idi Amin had banished them and the few who survived after the ban was lifted became the new generation of the Abayudayah. They prayed in a mud hut with a straw roof that was no larger than…well…a modest spine operating theater!A large Israeli flag covered half the back wall and Shabbat candles were stabilized with dried wax on the cement floor. Right next door stood the much larger new synagogue, which was about five times the size; aside from being large enough for all the Abayudayah, no wolf (or snake) could huff or puff or blow this brick synagaogue down.?
After unloading 15 boxes of Kinder Kits into the old synagogue, the villagers tied a sheet to four long sticks to build a “chuppah” (a Jewish ceremonial canopy used at weddings and Torah dedications). Torah in hand, Dr. Lieberman and community leader Rabbi Enosh marched under the chuppaharound the village, thento the old synagogue while the villagers rejoiced singing their favorite song, “We Love Torah.” It was then ceremonially placed in the AronHakodesh (holy arc) next to the original paper Torah replica that so compelled Dr. Lieberman to promise the delivery of the real one. The entire community gathered in the synagogue for a special mid-afternoon service. Nobody could find the words to express their joy and gratitude, but that didn’t stop them from trying. Dr. Lieberman spoke of the meaning of being Jewish, and Jordan spoke of Veahavta and the Kinder Kits. The kids then swarmed Jordan like the killer bees buzzing about in the papyrus thatched roof just above us and each got a backpack which they wore proudly. Brian taught the kids how to load lead pencils and how to spin a dreidel(special Hanuka toy) in the palms of their hands.
The next 24 hours passed like a dream. In Putti, the Sabbath started when we saw 3 stars in the night skies. No clocks, no watches, and no calendars to adhere by. Every day consistently has 12 hours of sunlight because they are so close to the equator: no real seasons either – just a couple rainy ones.We attended services on Friday evening and after services we broke bread with the villagers and ate the sweetest challahthat we’d ever salted. We were invited to stay for dinner and we simply could not refuse! With no utensils, and the evening darkness over us, Arnie, Jordan and Brian graciously shared a plate while Dr. Lieberman and the Rabbi did the same. On Saturday, Alex our hard-working IT man took charge. He followed along in English intrigued by a prayer service quite foreign to him. Even Amos piped up and asked about the meaning of Torah, Tallit and Tefillin.
Alex taught the kids hopscotch, Simon Says and duck-duck goose much to their delight. Brian stirred flour, toured the agricultural grounds while Dr. Lieberman watched while Arnie interviewed the kind and patient Rabbi Enosh. Jordan chatted with the cantor, Moshe, discussing the Abayudayah’s love of music. After Shabbat they traded CD’s of their respective choirs – “When I Wake Up – the Music of Putti” for “This One’s a Kippah,” of the University of Toronto Varsity Jews A Cappella group. Judah meanwhile played volleyball and football (“soccer”) with the teens and tods, respectively, with imaginary nets.For the record Judah, who some called Jonah, is a unique individual. An accomplished outdoorsman with a BSof Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Geologic Sciences, Judah played an integral role in the torah project.In addition to being the “mule” (bringing the Torah in its massive indestructible, everything proof, floatable case, on the connecting flight to Uganda), he built the website, helped raise money for the purchase of the torah, and worked closely with Doctors Lieberman and Rabbis Bloomenstieland Zakon. As if that was not enough, Judah is staying in Putti for three weeks to install an irrigation system to water their crops, and teach them to raise chickens. How does Judah know how to raise a chicken farm, you ask? One of the 8 books he brought with him to Putti was“Chicken Farming for Dummies.” He will learn, he will teach, and he will hopefully come back alive, lest a cobra leaps into his jungle hammock.
Energized by a restful Sabbath, the team departed Putti (minus Judah) and stopped at the Nile’s Bujagali Falls near Jinja, on the road back to Kampala. The Nile begins at nearby Lake Victoria and flows into the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria in Egypt. Amos, not content with just driving us on the life threatening roads in Uganda, even offered to captain a raft for us on the Nile. At the falls we watched as risky local teens come bobbing down the rapids for money. Every year two or three teenage daredevils die in the Bujagali falls in their quest for a livelihood which pays them 3000 Ugandan shilling (the equivalent of $1) per trip down the rapids. Once we finally returned back to Kampala the team united again, we went for a late night dinner across the road from the apartment at “The Pyramids” Hotel and Casino.Sieminowchose the very adventurous “deep fried chicken,” while Alex, Jordan and Lieberman compared surgical skills as they dissected their whole Tilapia caught fresh from the lake. After that display of skills, Jordan was banned from the O.R.
These were days of miracle and mysticism. From the Israeli flag in the man’s back mirror to the plastic Jewish star on our doorstep days prior, signs of the torah mission were pointing to success. But it didn’t end there. Our motel in Mbale gave us room number 18, which in Judaism symbolizes life, just before the torah arrived in Putti on Friday. Soon after the torah presentation, we witnessed a rainbow in the field that the Rabbi pointed out then followed with the prayer memorializing the covenant between God and Noah.The story of Noah’s ark in the old testamenttells us about the significance of the rainbow; it is a gift given from God to man to remind us of the sacred covenant: the covenant that he would never flood the earth with rains again. Only, it had not even rained in Putti. It was a very special moment for all of us, bringing full circle the promise of delivering a Torah to Putti. And even more symbolic, after dinner we decided to assess the Ugandan definition of “casino” with a quick walk-through. While passing the roulette table, the empty-pocketed Jordan joked to Failla: “Let’s put 10,000 Shillings on number 18 for Putti.” The ball was thrown and sure enough, it landed on number 18. Despite the “could have, would have, should have” bantering, the whole sequence of events verified the importance of the weekend to the village of Putti and to all of us.
On Sunday the team visited the Equator and nearby craft shops, sharing the events of days past and those to come. Disappointed by the closing of the famous French-Fries shop, talked up endlessly by the veterans, we ordered Nile specials and greasy fries at the next local restaurant and once filled moved on to visit the local neighborhood crocodile farm. There the 68 year-old monster croc Cleopatra recognized Lieberman and Failla, boasting its ancient teeth in their presence. Returning back to Kampala that evening was the most harrowing experience of most of the team member’s lives. We were inescapably involved it the worst traffic jam of our lives. Truly bumper-to-bumper, mirror-to-mirror, with boda-bodas crammed to fill the space in between. Veterans noted that it had never been this bad in previous years, and that the recent increase in car-shipping to Uganda has caused dramatic changes in street congestion in the city.We are convinced that Uganda has the best and worst drivers in the world. On arrival to Kampala we returned to Mamba point for avocado pizzas, said our goodbyes to Kris Semienow, who by the way just ordered a sealed bottle of water for dinner, in fear of the potential gastro-intestinal consequences of anything else, while on an airline flight.
Quotes of the Day(s):
“Dorit, you’re not in Kampala anymore!”
“His name’s not Jonah, it’s JUDAH! Jonah got swallowed by the whale…Judah got swallowed by the village of Putti!”
“Being Jewish isn’t about where you were born, the colour of your skin, or what your name is. It’s about what you feel: what’s in your heart.”
2011 Uganda Spine Surgery Mission Blog
DAY 5 – Thursday August 18th:
At Case, things were running like clockwork. The surgical patient was a 50 year-old female agricultural field worker with neck and lower back pain that rendered her unable to work.She also had numbness of fingers and toes. She wasdisabled by spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal where the cord sits in the neck.After rounding on the wards, the dynamic duo (Mark and Selvon) performed aC5-6 Anterior Cervical Discectomy (removal of the disc) and Fusion (locking the bones together) (ACDF) procedure. The team strategically exposed the spine, from the front, and masterfully removed the degenerated disc, a rubbery cushion between vertebrae that normally acts as a shock absorber. In this case, it was bulging out backward and compressing the cord, contributing to her stenosis. The disc was replaced by a solid implant to maintain the space between vertebrae, while screws and a platewere applied to the bones to hold them together until the fusion consolidates. The surgeons completed the procedure then came over to heckle the Mulago team, gloating about their efficiency and finesse. Sherrondecided to take advantage of her early dismissal and head into town to “get her hair did” (ie. braided). So much for roughing it!
On the wards at Case, Amy “the team Florence Nightingale” was administering pain medications where needed, while Ngozi“the team Joseph Pilate”was hard at work. Her patient F.T., who had few complaints yesterday, had a very uncomfortable physio session today, but was committed to getting up and back to school in September, so he pushed through the pain.
Also pushing through the pain of the penalty box wereRocky Lieberman and his corner man Jordan, being “rope a doped” by three more patients. One was a follow-up scoliosis patientthat Kris and Dr Lieberman had operated on in 2007. She had matured into a beautiful young lady with a straight and pain-free spine. Her x-rays revealed a solid fusion, intact hardware, and a well-maintained correction with a balanced spine. The other two patients were ambitious young teenswith aspirations of becoming computer engineers and businessmen, integral to Uganda’s future and who were not at all shy about sharing their ambitions. They both would eventually need surgery for their scoliosis and TB complicationsin the next couple of years, but wanted to finish high school first.Dr. Lieberman stayed in the center of the ring long enough to discuss all aspects of their predicament with them while displaying an incredible amount of patience, though he’d call it self-control, so as not to let the patients realize that he was rushing to get to the operating room before Siemionow and Ilalov did something he would regret (kidding of course – these guys are top notch!).
Unbeknownst to Lieberman, outside the ring, the surgical action at Mulagohad not yet even begun. The patient still needed pre-operative X-rays and the team was waiting on 3 units of blood for transfusion.While waiting, the Mulago orthopedics residents haunted Kirill, Kris and Jordan with articulate and detailed stories of the talented and deadly snakesfound in various regions of Uganda. Later that evening the entire building heard Kirill screaming “Black Mamba” in his Malarone-enhanced dream world.
The surgical patient P.T. was a 14 year-old girl with a spine so twisted that her ribs, over time,had pushed out and lifted her sternum (chest plate), leaving her with humps in both front and back. The multi-step surgery would require stabilization of her spine with hardware from behind, then removal of her sternum and fusion of ribs in the front, all the while maintain her ability to breathe in an already constricted rib cage. The decreased lung volume made this a particularly challenging case for our Polish pair responsible for maintaining her vitals (breathing, heart rate, and fluids) throughout the procedure. The first step took Dr. Lieberman, Kris and Kirill six hours, and after review of the patient’s status Lieberman and the anesthesiologist pair decided that further surgery would subject her to unreasonable risk. She would need to recover first, and we will reevaluate when to proceed with step 2.
Today was also a big day for our equipment manager Brian, who, after riding the pines for hundreds of spine surgeries, got to “scrub in” and assist the scrub nurse “sister Sara”. Giddy and camera-friendly, Brian worked diligently and learned that being a scrub nurse is a LOT harder than it looks.
As with every good story there is always a silent hero. Some one behind the scenes, who quietly goes about his/her responsibilities, unassuming, barely noticeable and never getting the credit they deserve. Well this story is different. Alex was everywhere, was noticeable and performed above and beyond allexpectations, especially with the team’s videography and IT needs.
After an exciting day we retired to dinner, saddened by the departure of Mark (back to residency training), Selvon and Amy (on their honeymoon), and after waiting a comfortable two hours to be served, we filled our stomachs with curried delights.
Quote of the day:
“Would you please, for the love of God, bring the check next time you come?”
2011 Uganda Spine Surgery Mission Blog
DAY 4 – August 17th:
We split up to tackle three surgeries today.
At Case,the A-team (Kris, Selvon and Jordan)started the day with ward-rounds, visiting patients recovering from surgery. We discharged a 39 year-old woman who Mark and Selvon operated on last Friday to relieve spinal cord compression that was causing leg numbness and pain. We also saw a new patient, H.K., a 4 year-old boy with muscle spasms in his limbs and delayed mental and physical development. We diagnosed him with Cerebral Palsy (C.P.) and explained to his parents thatlow oxygen levels before or at birth had caused irreversible neurological damage.
Coincidentally, the surgical patient at Case, 15 year-old A.W., also had C.P. Fortunately, an international C.P. organization sponsored A.W. to have surgery to correct his severely hunched posture (kyphosis). The incision was 14 inches long and the team, under the command of Sherron (the REAL boss of the O.R.) and Nurse Betty (actually an anesthesiologist) brilliantly inserted 14 screws and two titanium rods to straighten out the spine.
While the A-team was busy straightening spines, Ngoziand Amy ran physical therapy (P.T.) sessions for the patients recovering at Case. Ngoziworked for hours, sweat pouring down, in the overheated recovery wards. The complaints of the patients were minimal considering their operations, as Ugandans have a much different perspective on pain. Morphine is used sparingly, if at all, as addiction is overly feared. She was introduced to the new rehab ward, a tiny cubicle with one small bed and a chair. At first, Ngozi found herself butting heads with the staff physiotherapist, but things turned around when they discovered that our Texan hero had a doctorate in P.T. She was quickly volun-told to assist in patient teaching and to consult on a particularly difficult case tomorrow of a middle-aged man with 2 months of constant back and hip pain.
At Mulago, the DOUBLE A-team worked on 2 cases. The first was a 73 year-old male doctor with an infection caused by a previous surgery performed by a local surgeon one year ago. He requested to be operated on by Drs. Lieberman and Kayanja to remove the hardware and clean out the infection. The procedure was a success and the doctor had “no pain” when he awoke – just some mild irritation from the breathing tube. For the second surgery, Kirill, (very slowly) acclimatizing to the Mulago O.R., worked with Robert Kasirye, the 4th year orthopedics resident at Makerere University College of Sciences in Kampala. They operated on a 35 year-old patient who broke her neck carrying a heavy jug of water on her head, causing tetraplegia. The surgery aimed at stabilizing her neck to reduce and maintain her ability to breathe on her own. Spinal levels C3, 4, & 5 keep the diaphragm alive!
After a full day with all pistons firing, we retired to Mamba Point to sample the famous avocado pizza. Who knew that avocado worked with tuna, chicken, anchovies, pineapple and anything else one might normally put on pizza?After dinner, Dr. Lieberman ventured to the airport to pick up Noemi, his mother, and Judah, arguably the only Texan Jewish geologist in the world, and the securely-encasedand very much-anticipated Torah scroll.
2011 Uganda Spine Surgery Mission Blog
DAY 3 – August 16th:
The morning began with a trip to the warehouse where tens of thousands of dollars of medical supplies were waiting for us. VeAhavta, a humanitarian organization based out of Toronto, organized and delivered a 40-foot container also containing 200 Kinder Kits, bags of school supplies for our spine patients and children in the village of Putti. We divided up the supplies: two thirds would go to the state run impoverished Mulago hospital and the rest to the Case Hospital for future use by the team and charitable use by the Case medical staff. For all those at VeAhavta we once again thank you for the tremendous effort.
Amy, Jordan and Dr. Lieberman returned to the penalty box to review the x-rays and CTs of yesterday’s patients. Each study was as unique and special as the children themselves. They were tremendous deformities but nothing too intimidating for Dr. Lieberman. Dr L then painstakingly described the expectations and implications of major surgery to these young patients overcoming the language and cultural barriers. It was imperative that both parties be in favour of the decision. Ultimately surgery was planned for five of the children. For the rest we prescribed exercise and annual follow-up, hoping the deformities will not progress to the point that precludes future surgery. Fortunately, everyone left with a wide-eyed grin sporting their new red backpacks with notebooks, pens, and pencils for school. MedWish, an organization based out of Cleveland, who have been wonderful partners for many years now, also donated vitamins and toothbrushes, which will go a long way towards our patients’ general health.
Kirill, Mark, and anesthesiologistsKristoff and Zbigniew were kept busy in the O.R at Mulago. Their patient was a 63 year-old educated man who, 6 weeks early, summer-saulted forward off of his boda-boda (motorcycle) while riding along the country-side. Motorcycle accidents are the commonest cause of spinal cord injury here in Uganda.Two hours after his flip, he was discovered by a lady in the field who found him paralyzed below his shoulders, with his head sunken into his chest. On his instruction, she grabbed his ears and lifted his head back into place then called for help. Kids, do not try this at home! As if this trauma wasn’t enough, he was picked up placed on the back of another boda-boda and “bobbled” along for 2 hours down the cratered roads, with an unstable neck, already paralyzed, to the nearest hospital. It turned out he had dislocated the joint connecting two vertebrae in his neck (a bilateral jumped facet, in medical terminology) and the lady in the field actually “reduced” it to its original position. There was also a small vertebral fracture above the dislocation and damage to the spinal cord lining (a dural tear). Surgery to stabilize his spine and reduce further damage took seven hours. After the surgery it was clearly evident that he would have trouble breathing. Zbigniew, who has a special interest in mechanical ventilation, brought with him a CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure breathing device) and applied it to the patient (think of the mechanism as an air hose continuously inflating a tire at the same rate it is losing air through a puncture). We all have no doubt that Zbigniew’s efforts spared this individual further suffering and maybe even saved his life.
At Case, Selvon and Kris operated on F.M, a 22 year-old male finance student. In 2005 he’d had surgery for congenital scoliosis which at the time he was told would be free of charge. After the surgery, he learned that a different doctor had operated on him and that he owed the equivalent of 2000 USD. His surgery today was a revision procedure, as the poorly-placed instrumentation from 2005 was no longer effective. He was also concerned about returning to his studies but we reassured him that his recovery would take 4-6 weeks. The surgery took 6 hours, which coincided perfectly with the passionfruit-flavoured “6-hour-power” juice that Kris consumed beforehand. F.M. asked many questions about the prevalence of scoliosis in Uganda. In more developed nations, pediatricians and elementary schools screen for abnormal spine growth annually from a young age. When it does occur, measures are taken to prevent extensive curvature. Unfortunately Uganda’s population seems to have missed out on the epidemiology lecture and the incidence is disproportionately high. Even with screening the burden of spinal deformity in Uganda is substantial.
For dinner tonight we went to the all-time favourite Khyber Pass Indian Curry House. The discussion over the flavourful curry dishes was dominated by Arnie, a free-lance reporter from Norway who was interested in learning more about the spine and Torah missions.
Quote of the day:
“I wouldn’t have made it through surgery today without that 6 hours of pure PASSION!” – Kris S, with reference to the energy drink.
Ve’ahavta-Lions Youth Camp: Week 1
The small boat heading into Bartica was as full as my expectations for this first week of Ve’ahavta’s inaugural youth program in Bartica in partnership with the Lions Club of Bartica.
Monday: I unloaded into the town’s stelling (port) with as much camp supplies as buoyancy would allow, and hit the ground running with our partners and volunteers. The Lions are local leaders and longtime friends of Ve’ahavta over 14 years of logistical support to our medical missions in Region 7 and Region 2 in Guyana, and months of planning for these weeks of service to the youth of Bartica and surrounding areas through camp programs for creative education, recreation, and healthy choices.
The 2,500 Ve’ahavta Kinder Kits, destined for the campers and poorest children of Region 7, arrived ahead of me through the assistance of Food For the Poor Guyana. The Lions have graciously moved their weekly meetings elsewhere, as the mountain of backpacks of school supplies fill the Lions` Den, awaiting distribution this September for Guyana’s Education Month.
With students out of school for the summer, our morning camp activities have borrowed the secondary school fields and outbuildings for organized sport, cricket, football, and games, as well as the steel band- an ongoing Lions project. We have taken over the beautiful Bartica Learning and Resource Centre with Arts and Crafts, Music Education, Creative Writing Workshops, team-building and leadership exercises, and health presentations under the enthusiastic leadership and expertise of Ve’ahavta-Peace Corp Education Volunteers Miss Ashley, Mr. Seth, Miss Jocelyn, and honorary Bartician, Miss Katie, of Scarboro Missions.
The week’s mornings and afternoons have developed their own flavour as their progress continues to reveal the friendship, teamwork and expressive talents of close to 100 unique campers ranging from ages 5-17! Some highlights from the week include:
- Sharing local, Canadian, and American games
- song and dance Interactive presentations on HIV/AIDS and healthy living
- Story-telling circle and drama
- Creative writing
- Music as a Muse
- Group murals
- Recycled material environmental crafts
- School cleanup competition (10 jumbo bags filled!)
- Introductory computer skills
- in support of “One Laptop Per Family”
- Daily debrief and volunteer preparation over dinner (Victory over bedbugs!)
- Lions Club of Bartica Reception
- Warm and open hospitality the Bartica community
The small boat heading into Bartica was as full as my expectations….and neither could be sunk!
Please send your good vibes in the direction of Guyana as we prepare for an equally energetic Week 2 of
Ve’ahavta-Lions Youth Camp together with the Lions Club of Bartica, Volunteers and the youth of Bartica and environs.
2011 Uganda Spine Surgery Mission Blog
By Jordan Silverman, Ve’ahavta Volunteer
DAY 1 – August 14th:
Our mission began at the London Heathrow airport on Saturday August 13th. Jet-lagged from our trips from Toronto, Florida, Texas, and Poland, some remained in the airport while others day-tripped into London before the connecting flight. The anticipation grew upon the arrival of Dr. Isador Lieberman (Spine Surgeon) and Ngozi Akotaobi (Physical Therapist), who created and delivered our 2011 Uganda Spine Surgery Mission shirts which we wore proudly. The team had doubled in size since the previous year. Hugs were shared among veterans and handshakes among rookies, and we were all excited to reach our destination.
For others, the mission had already began. Mark Kayanja (Surgeon), the motivation for the first Uganda Spine Mission 5 years ago, arrived on Monday August 8th. He was joined by Amy (RN) and Selvon St. Clair (Surgeon) on Tuesday, after a day of unanticipated passport problems. Together, Mark, Amy and Selvon saw over 30 patients in the clinic and performed three surgeries. The surgeries included: 1) a T10-L1 posterior fusion for 20-year old male who fell from a mango tree 6 weeks prior, 2) the removal of an abscess causing kyphosis (hunched posture) in a 9-year old girl suspected of having tuberculosis of the spine, and 3) repair around an irritated nerve in the lower back of a 39-year old woman with back pain and numbness of her leg. They scheduled four more surgeries in preparation for our arrival so we could hit the ground running and maximize our impact during the mission.
We landed in Entebbe at 7a.m. local time exhausted from consecutive overnight flights only to learn that the airline had misplaced two bags: those of our fearless leader, Dr. Izzy Lieberman. We were enthusiastically greeted by our driver, stuffed two vans with our luggage and supplies and drove to Kampala. It was a familiar drive for the vets and eye-opening for the rookies, as we all snapped shots of the diverse scenery of lush landscapes and busy town markets. We arrived at our accommodations, bunked up and unpacked.
We met at 12:30pm to discuss our plan for the week. Two surgeries had been scheduled at Mulago, Kampala’s general hospital and another two at Case, a private hospital nearby. We also planned a clinic for 15 children at Mulago who were traveling to Kamapala to see us. We discussed some of the challenges to be overcome, including licensing and new regulations about moving our critical equipment between hospitals. With a team of 13, we divided into two groups so we could work at Case and Mulago simultaneously, for the first time. After the meeting, we went grocery shopping and returned home for a much-needed nap. Later in the evening we ate dinner at the nearby Serena Hotel, where we shared thoughts and laughs in anticipation for the days to come.
We had the pleasure of meeting a few wonderful individuals. In the Heathrow terminal our shirts were recognized by Elizabeth Iverson, an Italian dentist who moved to Uganda in 2009 to treat children born with cleft palates. She lives there with her family now and had much to share about humanitarianism, her experiences and the culture of the Ugandan peoples. We were joined at dinner by Brooke Stern, and her colleague Nick, from an organization called Supportive Opportunities for Ugandans to Learn (S.O.U.L.) based out of New York. Brooke had read about our mission online and wished to meet up with us in Kampala. She was an impressive young nurse who started and grew this organization. She has now reached many Ugandans, raising school fees for 250 children and supporting an additional 300 women in cooperative programs such as fish-farming and subsistence farming. We look forward to the many more remarkable individuals we will encounter over the next two weeks.
Quote of the Day:
“I’m gonna have to re-adjust my malaria meter.”
Dr.Lieberman examining patient
I just wanted you all to know that I have entered the Canesten I Can Achieve Contest. This contest is about the Achievement of Women. I have a profile and story on their site that I will provide in a link below.
So I guess what happens now is all the stories get voted on. The Top 10 Vote-Getters will be judged by a panel of 3 people and there are 3 Prizes.
Grand Prize is – $15,000
Second Prize – $10,000
Third Prize is $5000
So let me ask all of your help. Each person can vote once a date. Voting puts you in a contest to receive a gift card of $100.
This is the best part. Veâ€™ahavta was so instrumental in me changing my life and attributed to the Achievements I have made.
IF you help me by getting lots of votes I will do the following.
If I win grand Prize I will donate $2500 to VSA. Second Prize $1000 to VSA and Third – $500 to VSA.
Please help as much as you can.
The link to vote is:
Just Type in Theresa and look for my graduation picture. There is a skill testing question. The answer is 7.
Thank you for your help, and let hope for VICTORY!
Community Poverty Relief Associate
We are thrilled to share episode #1 of Ve’ahavta Radio, in our Street Series. This pilot show features a deeply moving interview with former prostitute and crack addict Theresa Schrader. Theresa is now a graduate of the Social Service Worker Program at George Brown College, proud mother of a 5 year old boy, and full-time staff member at Ve’ahavta. How does an individual turn life around so dramatically?
Hosted by Avrum Rosensweig and Vac Verikaitis. Produced by Robyn Segall.
MP3 Audio file: Theresa Schrader and Vac Verikaitis
After leaving the ‘sunburnt’ country down under, with all its familiarities, it was with apprehension and excitement that I got on the 47B en-route to 200 Bridgeland Ave. It was a mammoth effort to move from Australia to Canada with the intention of working with Ve’ahavta for this year as a Faith Act Fellow and I had no idea what to expect.
However when I walked in I was greeted with smiles and enthusiasm which is always a good sign! Our first days here as fellows were all about getting to know the Ve’ahavta staff as well as the plethora of initiatives that are running through this office. We heard all about the Van that reaches out the homeless here in Toronto, the various projects of the international department working across the globe, and even got to go visit the VSA in their classroom down town. It was great to meet passionate people who are motivated to make a difference within their surroundings. I am sure that my fellow fellow, Sumayya and I will fit right in. Our job this year will be supporting the projects run through the International Department here at Ve’ahavta and seeing how we can broaden their scope by facilitating work with other faith communities and organizations working on similar projects. As a born again Christian I am looking forward to this challenge as I am sure it will broaden both my, and Ve’ahavta’s, horizons while being a very enriching experience for us all. Bring it on! Its going to be a good year!
By Lorne Anderson
My first week at Ve’ahavta has been great and fruitful. The Ve’ahavta team was very welcoming and quickly helped us settle into our new work place! I am really glad to be involved with an organization that gives back to humanity on a local and international level. My highlight of my first week in Ve’ahavta has to be attending a workshop at Ve’ahavta Street Academy and the Shabbat dinner at Epi’s! I truly enjoy seeing how Ve’havata works as a family for one common goal; Tikkun Olam. I am looking forward to the year ahead and based on my first week, I think I am in for a great experience.
By Sumayya Daghar
Ve’ahavta’s 10th Annual Creative Writing Contest
Another year of Ve’ahavta’s Creative Writing Contest has come to an end. I would like to thank each and every person who was part of this very special landmark 10 years of giving people a voice; a voice that has often been silenced.
As a former Creative Writing Contest Winner is was my joy and pleasure to be the Coordinator. I can remember getting the call about winning the contest just over 5 years ago and how I felt. It was just as joyous to be the one making the call to the winner this year.
This year we received just over 200 submissions, which is the most that we have ever received in one year. The calibre of the entries was exceptional and I can certainly tell you that it was a tight race for our Grand Prize Winners.
This year’s Judging Process was a two step process, for the first time in the history of the Contest the highest scoring pieces went to 3 Judges for 3 different perspectives after the First Round of Judging. Our final round Judges were Ron MacLean from Hockey Night in Canada, Dr. Gabor Mate – Physician and Best Selling Author of “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” and Joe Fiorito – Columnist for the Toronto Star who writes about the minute underbelly of Toronto highlighting issues of poverty, inequality and substandard living. I would also like to send a very special thank you to all our first round judges who gave of their time to hear the passionate stories of those struggling in our society.
On June 12, we held our Coffee House Ceremony at Congregation Habonim. We had a small intimate crowd of about 60 who joined us for the event. The event was filled with love and togetherness as our writers shared their experiences and received their prizes.
I am pleased to announce that this year’s Grand Prize Winner of $2000 Cash is Matt Robbins. Matt wrote a piece titled Reflecting Glass about the experiences he had when he became mentally ill and hospitalized. Matt shared a small portion of his story of living in an institution. Our grand prize is sponsored by Kernels Popcorn. We would like to thank Scott Staiman from Kernels for his ongoing support and commitment to this contest. Scott Staiman has been providing the Grand Prize for Creative Writing Contest since it’s inception, we would like to thank Scott for his ongoing support, dedication and belief in this contest, we share this very special landmark with Scott and all those at Kernels. Mazel Tov!
Our Second Prize Winner of the Technology Bundle (Laptop, Digital Camera and 12 Months of Mobile Internet Service) was awarded to Henrick Sales. Henrick wrote a poem titled “I am”. During the Coffee House he read his poem with such passion and expression that many sat back in awe, just mesmerized with his every word. Our Second Prize is sponsored by the Greisman Family, and we would like to thank them for connecting someone to the world through this amazing gift. The Greisman Family have sponsored the Technology Bundle for the past 2 years.
This year’s Third Prize Winner of $1000 Cash was Kerri Anne Moore for her piece titled “a Dear John Letter to my Addiction”. Kerri Anne was not able to join us as she lives in Vancouver. When I spoke to Kerri Anne on the phone when she won the prize she told me that she just celebrated a year clean and sober. Congratulations to Kerri Anne. The University of British Columbia is offering Kerri Anne a free writing course at UBC this summer. The Cash prize was sponsored by the Arbess Family who has also been sponsoring the contest for the past 2 years.
At this time we would like to thank all our sponsors for providing donations for cash prizes and the Coffee House Ceremony. These sponsors include Whitegold Financial Services, Camp Manitou, Sarah Heller, Mayer Rosensweig, and the Canadian Jewish News. Your support to the contest was much appreciated.
Other prizes included the Judges Picks Awards. The winners are as follows in their respective categories:
We also gave three Honorary Mentions as follows:
1)”Avenue of Lost Souls” by Kara Penteluke
2)”A Chance at Freedom” by Jessica Haring
3) “I Made Kronkite at Six” by Jay Lawrence St. Germain
For everyone involved from the workshop volunteers to the Judges, from our sponsors to the office staff at Ve’ahavta, from the workers who spread the word about the contest to the people who posted the flyer, thank you one and all.
Most of all I would like to that those who took the words from their heart and wrote it on a piece of paper and sent it in. Year after year you are the ones that make the contest. Thank you for sharing your voice with us. We will continue to fight for your voice to be heard through our commitment of repairing the world.
Please see top 3 winning submissions attached.
Final Words from the Coordinator:
Finally I would like to express how much of an honor and privilege it was for me to have this full circle position of the Creative Writing Contest for the landmark 10 year anniversary. This project has now part of my full time position at Ve’ahavta, and I look forward to working hard to build this to a national contest. Thank you for allowing me to be part of this.
For all the writers…..Thank you for sharing your soul with me, I hope that I was able to be a small ray of hope for some of you that needed it. Change is possible, it might not be easy, but it can be done. I am proof of what picking up a pen and writing something for a contest can do. I believe in you and all you can be. Keep writing! -Theresa Schrader
Winner Henrick Sales performs his rap entitled “I Am”
June 17, 2011
Below is a ‘thank you’ note from Theresa Schrader, 2005 winner of Ve’ahavta’s Creative Writing Contest for the homeless and marginalized, and now Community Poverty Relief Liaison at Ve’ahavta. As a former prostitue and crack addict, Theresa entered the contest not expecting to win. When she did, a series of events including attending the course she won at Ryerson, led her eventually to this proud moment. This week, single mom, Theresa Schrader graduated from the Social Service Worker programme at George Brown College, and received the Dean’s Medal. Mazel tov Theresa!
Thank you so much to each and everyone of you that supported me through this amazing journey.
I am so honored and proud to have been bestowed the Dean’s Medal at Convocation yesterday.
I know that I put in the hard work but each and every one of you included in this email has played
a very special part in my life. Thank you so much for believing in me and that this was possible.
I love you all very much,
Your very PROUD graduate,
A response from Ve’ahavta board member and volunteer follows;
There could not be a more worthy candidate. You are an inspiration to so many, a role model and an outstanding woman who has courage, determination and amazing stamina. We are all here to support you and more importantly to learn from you. You have shown the world what is possible and you are helping others. WOW.
May you have many more wonderful successes and continue to share them
Way to go - you should be very, very proud
This morning I pulled into the Tim Horton’s on Caledonia for my morning decaf coffee. There are two entrances for the drive through ordering system. I happened to notice a car that wanted to enter the line up of cars from the uncommon entrance. I waved my hand and encouraged the gentleman to enter the line, in front of my car.When I arrived to the window, to pay for my coffee the Tim Horton’s employee had a huge smile on her face. Different from every other day she pleasantly hands over my order. She was beaming with a huge grin! I handed my card to her and she simply passed my coffee through the window and said: “the man in front of you paid for your order. She then continued to say that, he made sure I passed on the message to say Thank you! This was kind and unnecessary. It made my day and I think it made her day as well.
Submitted by: Shawna Meshwork, Development Officer at Ve’ahavta
Published in The Toronto Star, Tuesday, June 14th, 2011.
Writing Contest offers glimpse into the lives of people who were homeless, addicted, left on the margins.
Excerpt from the 3rd place winning entry, a Dear John letter to crsytal meth:
“When we first met you swept me off my feet; I was the lonely, quiet girl who never really fit in…” In the end she realizes, “I don’t love you anymore. I don’t know how I’m going to live without you, but I know I can’t continue with you”.
For the full story, click here
Opening the Doors for Tikun Olam
By: Robyn Segall|
Over 150 people gathered in front of Ve’ahavta’s doors on Sunday, June 5th to witness the official opening of its International Tikun Olam Centre, a first of its kind. Located at 200 Bridgeland Ave, near Yorkdale mall, the 5300 square-foot facility was nothing but a dream for President, Avrum Rosensweig, when he founded Ve’ahavta from the basement of his home in 1997.
Far more than a few desks, doors, and boardrooms, the International Tikun Olam Centre is a place where volunteers flock to roll up their sleeves, where millions of dollars of in-kind donations come in the doors and are re-distributed to people who need it most, where education and learning about volunteerism and empathy are at the core of the organizational mission.
Robyn Segall, Manager of Marketing and PR, says: “This is a momentous and exciting development for the Jewish and non-Jewish community. The Tikun Olam Centre is the first of its kind – a centre solely dedicated to the betterment and beautification of the world through hands-on work and education, all through a Jewish lens, yet accessible and open to all.”
Ve’ahavta’s loyal base of volunteers, donors, clients and partners, as well as special guests such as the Honorable Irwin Cotler, attended the grand opening event. Guests cheered as the Consul General of Israel, Amir Gissin, cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony. They listened intently as he delivered an insightful and refreshing speech on the importance of showing the world the true colours of the Jewish people, making friends not enemies, and gaining respect and empathy outside of the Jewish community. An excerpt follows:
The people who think we should only be on the defense and concerned with our own issues, they do not understand the situation at large. Advocacy by itself is not enough. Those who focusing on advocacy working within themselves and missing other important parts. Our goal is to build bridges and to make new friends and that is why Ve’ahavta’s work is so incredibly important in trying to secure the emotional support from all people by the good work they do for all of humanity.
With those words of inspiration guests then enters the doors, many rolled up their sleeves for some hands-on volunteer activities, including packing Kinder Kits (backpacks filled with school supplies for children in need), and Car Kits (a lunch-size bag filled with supplies needed by people who live on the street). Guests were encouraged to each leave with a Car Kit to keep on hand to give to the next homeless person they encounter en route.
Other activities included games and treats for kids, a live art performance by street artists, live interviews conducted by Avrum Rosensweig, staff presentations on local and international projects and volunteer opportunities, as well as awards given in appreciation of key volunteers.
For event photos, click here.
To join Ve’ahavta’s efforts, or for more information, visit www.veahavta.org or call (416) 964-7698
Jewish Orgs Set Up Slave Lake Crisis Fund, By Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf
Published in Canadian Jewish News, Thursday, May 26, 2011
Ve’ahavta Writing Contest Helps turn Lives Around, By Jared Lindzon
Published in The Canadian Jewish News, Thursday, May 26, 2011
Posted: Ori Belmont, Ve’ahavta Outreach Driver
Here is what I saw last night, and what I have witnessed over the course of the past few weeks.
The damp chill affects those who live on the streets tremendously. Their bones are brittle and bodies worn to such a degree that is practically unbearable. For us. But they have no choice. They depend on organizations such as ours for assistance. Therefore we NEED your help. Please donate your lightly used (or new) jackets, blankets and socks to help our city’s homeless and less fortunate.
Your donations will warm their bodies, hearts and souls to no end.
Title: Inter-Camp ClassicDescription: Camps compete in a softball and hardball tournament to raise funds for various charities, including Ve’ahavta.Date: 2011-05-15
Title: Creative Writing Contest Coffee House Awards CeremonyLocation: Congregation Habonim, 5 Glen Park AveDescription: Top winners of the Creative Writing Contest for the Homeless will share personal accounts of their struggles and triumphs of life on the streets of Toronto. This is an event not to be missed.Start Time: 3:00pmDate: 2011-06-12
Click here to read the full article.
Published in the Canadian Jewish News, May12, 2011.
On April 19th, Congregation Habonim hosted Ve’ahavta’s 12th Annual Community Passover Seder. It was, by all accounts, an absolutely enchanting evening that warmed the hearts and souls for those in attendance. The traditional Passover seder is a time to recall the exodus of the Jews from Egypt as they fled Pharaoh. It is also incumbent upon all of us at this time to look within ourselves and to ask “what are my chains made of”?
We recall the flight from slavery to freedom. For our forefathers, for us. I had the good fortune of spending a few quiet moments away from the hub of the seder with George Smolarsh, one of the attendees. A gentle and soft-spoken fellow, he shared the following:Our seder was a collaboration from corner to corner of the yidden world and beyond. Many local donors and volunteers – corporate and private – dropped off gourmet dishes, desserts and drinks. A musical ensemble added much enthusiasm and joy to all present.
“I have never been to a seder such as this. So many people, so much fun and food. Can you invite my family next year so I don’t have to go there ever again?”
Our marketplace was stocked with an assortment of spring clothing and gift baskets for our guests as they departed.
In the haggadah, it is written that “all who are hungry, let him come and eat”. Over 140 people enjoyed a gourmet, 5-course meal courtesy of so many from our community. From all walks of life, and with unique and riveting stories and anecdotes to share. It was a collection of worldly, passionate and gentle souls that turned this event into such a beautiful gathering.
I would like to thank all who were involved for the unique magnificence that made Ve’ahavta’s 12th Annual Community Seder a resounding success!
By: Ori Belmont, Seder Coordinator, and Ve’ahavta Community Liaison and Outreach Worker
Yom haShoa v’haGvura – Yom haZikaron – Yom haAtzmaut
Three Days of Commemoration and Celebration
These new days in the Hebrew calendar added in the 20th century, have become the Jewish response to the historical events of that century that re-shaped our destiny as a people. It all began with the evolution of political and cultural Zionism at the end of the 19th century, the re-birth of the Hebrew language as conversational idiom, and the growing unease that Jews felt in the European diaspora. The destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis and their willing collaborators was a national trauma that we still suffer to this day, while the establishment of a democratic Jewish state in our ancestral homeland is a miracle that continues to inspire us and make us proud. It is the very juxtaposition of these three days of commemoration and celebration within one week that causes all Jews to stop and reflect on the overwhelming loss in both the Shoah and in Israel’s wars of defence and the glory of the “start-up nation” we are building together in the State of Israel.
Moreover, the fact that these additions to our calendar occur during S’firat haOmer (the 49 days of counting between Pesach and Shavuot) is also significant. Our sages considered Shavuot an extension of Pesach in making the point that liberation and freedom are not sufficient for nation building. The responsibilities and obligations we were taught at Sinai on Shavuot are an essential complement to our freedom from slavery and oppression. One thinks of the refugees from the Shoah landing in Israel and immediately taking on the burden of defending their new sovereign nation as a symbol of that very powerful combination of freedom and obligation. The celebration of Yom haAtzmaut at the end of this shiva is a challenge to all of us to recognize the miracle of statehood we have been given and to be worthy of the responsibilities it entails.
Seymour “Epi” Epstein
Acting Director, International & Education – Ve’ahavta
I arrived in Zimbabwe on Wednesday afternoon and was greeted by Isaac, one of the Howard Hospital’s drivers. We made a quick stop in Harare to pick up some groceries which are hard to get in rural areas, and headed to the hospital. We drove for what seemed like two hours, first through paved roads and then through dirt roads into the village area where the hospital is situated. Upon arrival at the hospital, I met Dr. Paul Thistle, the Canadian doctor who has been running the hospital for over a decade and lives here with his wife and two children. I was immediately made to feel at home by him, and everyone I came across. I also met two Canadian volunteers, a 19 year old Canadian who is here for a couple of months stocking supplies and helping in the pharmacy, and Rebecca, a 4th year medical student working in the hospital. I have been spending most evenings with them, cooking dinners from the eclectic array of ingredients we are able to find around here; it has been quite entertaining and (mostly) very tasty in the end.
The hospital grounds is comprised of the hospital, numerous houses where some of the staff and their families live as well as the volunteers, classrooms, a small church, and teaching centers for nurses. The hospital itself is a very old building with four wards (male, female, maternity and children), each in a large room filled with beds for patients, as well as an outpatient department, medical laboratory, operating theater, a kitchen and a church. The hospital itself has 144 beds in large rooms where patients occupy almost every one. Together, the hospital sees an average of 400 patients each day.Despite the large number of patients, there are only 3 doctors on duty (at the moment) and handle all cases, averaging about 100 patients per day. They are supported by a team of dedicated nurses and nurse aids. In addition to the enormous patient load, about 2,500 babies are born at the hospital each year and 4,000 surgeries are performed.
Each morning I have been attending the morning rounds, where all new admissions, deaths, and births are discussed. After, I head to the medical laboratory for the day. The lab has three technicians, Billy, Sylvester, and Benefit, as well as three assistants. Since Howard is a low resource setting, many of the procedures are quite different than those done in North America, and, despite having worked in laboratories for the last 10 years, the first few days largely involved getting up to speed with the test the lab performs. The people in the lab have been incredibly helpful in showing me how to carry out these tests, as well as introduce me to a lot of Zimbabwean music that is always playing in the background. On a daily basis, the lab runs scores of tests to examine blood and other samples for signs of infection (tuberculosis, HIV & AIDS, hepatitis B, syphilis, bacteria, fungi, malaria, intestinal parasites), as well as tests for blood composition and liver function. These tests play a critical role in helping doctors decide on the correct treatment for the patients. Unfortunately, the rates of infectious disease seen for the patients seeking medical help at the hospital are high.
I have also had a chance to rounds with doctor Thistle in the male ward and Rebecca in the maternity ward. We went to visit each patient in the wards, examine them, and re-evaluate their treatment. I have also spent two afternoons in the operating room, watching the procedures and lending a hand where helpful. Many of the cases involve management of wounds due to infections, but range from obstetrics to skin grafting, and tumor resections to amputations. Considering the scarcity of doctors, machinery, and medication, the operating room sees an incredible array of patients with successful outcomes.
Aside from the hospital, I have been spending time getting to know the people of Zimbabwe and the area. I can easily say they are amongst the friendliest people I have come across. It is not possible to cross paths with someone without them saying hello and inquiring how you are doing. Several times already I have been invited into people’s homes to taste the local food or share a cup of tea. I have also gone on hikes with local people in the surrounding area (with the mandatory entourage of children following us from behind), climbing a mountain nearby that provides beautiful views of the green farmland, river and many small mountains that seem to spring up randomly around the area. The weather has been perfect every single day, with mild nights and warm, sunny days.
Posted by: Ron Geller.
Ron is an American Ve’ahavta volunteer (and scholarship recipient) and lab technician volunteering at the Howard for one month.
The team ran a clinic today in Mashabo, a beautiful community with a primary school, health post, and a large population of young children as well as very young mothers. They saw about 63 people today and Larry did a house call. They are, as I write, traveling back to Bethany via tractor-trailer for a relaxing evening before running a half day clinic in Bethany tomorrow. Its a bumpy ride (but fun!) They will spend Shabbat in Georgetown tomorrow at the Tower Hotel. Everyone is well and feeling good about the work they have done. It is unbelievable how two weeks have flown by (mind you, I’m not sure if the team members feel as though the time has flown or not!). I am sure everyone will enjoy the opportunity to be in Georgetown, swim in the hotel pool, relax, and debrief about the experiences of the past few weeks. Then on Sunday morning- the long journey back home! The flights are scheduled to arrive in Toronto at 8:40 pm (Caribbean Airlines). Please remember to check the airport website to make sure the plane is on time:
Have a wonderful evening,
Posted By: Sarah Zelcer, Director of International Projects and Education
I spoke with Bekkie this evening and the team is now safely in Bethany. Bethany is an Amerindian Village, and is also the site for the Bethany Medical Missionary College which is located about a 20 min tractor ride up from the Bethany Amerindan community. Along the tractor ride, one rides through dense jungle and can see many examples of local wildlife and flora and fauna- including the Purpleheart trees which are indigenous to Guyana. Ve’ahavta first connected with this community in 2007 when myself and Dr. Roy Rowsell, a founding volunteer with the Ve’ahavta Guyana projects did a site visit, and I visited the community again last year when we were preparing to expand into Region 2. The BMMC is run by a Seventh Day Adventist Missionary Group and is directed by two Americans, Melissa and Gilbert Sissons. Melissa has been with the team since the beginning of the trip- she is a trained nurse. Bethany trains local Guyanese and non-Guyanese students in various medical therapies, therapeutic massage being one of the main ones. Good news for our volunteers, who enjoyed a vegan meal and some massages this evening! Bethany also has relatively luxurious visitor accommodations, which means our volunteers will be sleeping tonight in beds, and will have flushing toilets (jumping frogs live in those toilets, but still!) and showers. The food is excellent (vegetarianism is a tenant of Seventh Day Adventism and this particular community retains amazing cooks who prepare wonderful vegan food) and the community is very warm and welcoming. Tomorrow they will run a clinic in Mashabo (an Amerindian village with a large population of children where we have worked before and which is located about 45 minutes from BMMC via tractor). The following day they will run a half day clinic in Bethany before departing for Parika & then Georgetown.
The team had a long travel day after a busy week of work and many referrals and no doubt are enjoying their massages and comfy beds tonight.
Some of the group will be seeing the Kaieteur Falls on Saturday. Others will be spending Shabbat in Georgetown.
More to come!
Posted By: Seymour Eptstein, standing Director of International Programs
As scheduled, the group is in Karawab and is having a relatively slow day, 50 patients so far.
Bekkie went up-river with a partner from the Lions Club to some small landings to get the word out about the clinic in Karawab. The local health worker is very enthusiastic about our presence in the village and has received some training from our volunteers.
Tomorrow is a vaccine day, and, no doubt, our doctors will be inundated with children and their medical issues.
The group members are happy and healthy.
I wanted to share my experience with all of you and thank you for allowing us this beautiful tikun olam opportunity.
My Mom, Lindy Meshwork, Executive Director of ORT Toronto and along with my children, Joelle and Syvana and I travelled to Cuba for a relaxing vacation. ORT Toronto sponsored a “Ve’ahavta Kinder Kit Travel Pack” to be donated to the children in Varadero and the Jewish community at ORT Cuba in Havana. The kit was comprised of two duffle bags filled with customized school supplies for the children including toothbrushes, toothpaste and a year’s worth of school supplies.
The pictures attached include students at a school in Santa Marta, Varadero (children of tourism workers), and the Hebrew Sephardic centre in Havana which includes services for the geriatric (eye care, meals etc.), a full gym open to the community and a synagogue and youth programs for ORT students. It was amazing to feel the warm welcome and comfort of the Jewish community in Cuba. My kids even enjoyed an ice cream and we had a delicious guava smoothie.
This opportunity was extremely meaningful and became the most memorable part of our trip. The process was smooth as the airline was accommodating with the extra weight of our luggage. Cuban Customs let us through with our paperwork and a smile. The recipients were overwhelmed with joy and pride to receive these kits. Joelle and Syvana said they felt “proud and happy to give school supplies to kids that don’t have”. We will be sure to incorporate a Kinder Kit Travel Pack into all our future travels! We only wish we could have brought more with us….
Development Officer, Ve’ahavta
Our team is now safely in Akawini, a remote, beautiful village located in the middle of dense jungle. It took about 2 hours to get there from Wakapao. The skies did open but thankfully the rain held off until the team had unloaded everything from the boat. They are now eating lunch and preparing for the afternoon clinic. Karen and Barry spent an hour with the local health care workers to discuss the priorities in terms of addressing health care issues in their community. The Regional Health Officer, Dr. Allison Brown, has been in contact with our team and has been helping to restocking them with supplies (e.g., topicals & antibiotics) when they have run out.
The team saw over 300 people in 2 clinic days and gave public health talks to several hundred primary & secondary school students. Our team is healthy and happy and working hard!
Bekkie was calling from a satellite phone due to patchy cell phone access, so our conversation was cut off a little prematurely due to cloudiness. I will email again later today or tomorrow morning once I’ve heard back from her about Clinic Day #3
Posted By: Sarah Zelcer, Director of International Programs and Education
We just heard from Bekkie (Field Coordinator) who tells us that the team is doing well. Marty, Aviva, Bekkie and the Medex went to the primary school this morning to give a health talk to about 100 students. In a few moments, Barry, Bekkie, and Karen will be going to the Secondary School. There are two British volunteers living in Wakapao at the moment who have been teaching English & who solicited anonymous questions from the secondary school students in advance of the talk.
It has rained a bit and is very, very hot. The team has seen some local wildlife, including a tarantula, a baby snake, and some dogs who have taken it upon themselves to guard the tents. Everyone is in great spirits, and well fed. Our volunteers have bathed in the creek and Larry & Barry took a ride in a local dugout canoe yesterday evening.
There is a big line up at the clinic today and the volunteers are busy. 126 patients were seen yesterday, and the team discussed the clinic day in detail during their evening debrief. It is always a challenge for our volunteers to grapple with the reality of how difficult it can be to refer complicated cases for follow up care. Adjusting to both the strengths and limitations of the local system is probably the largest challenge our team will face.
Tomorrow the team will leave for their next community, Akawini.
Posted By: Sarah Zelcer, Director of International Program and Education
Dear Kulam Friends,
Together with our partners Ve’ahavta (veahavta.org) and JDC (jdc.org) we’re thrilled to share the exciting news that our new school in Shumargie, Ethiopia is complete and students have started classes inside! Daniel our contractor delivered the project on time and on budget – something we rarely see in North America! On opening day each student received a “Kinderkit” (backpack filled with school supplies) donated by Ve’ahavta.
The teachers’ appreciation for the building, together with the enthusiasm of the students and the community is overwhelming. The school is allowing 60 students to study in a facility where they are no longer exposed to wind, dust, rain, nor distracted by animals roaming about. We are confident academic results will significantly improve and we are very proud that our Shumargie school is changing the reality, for the better, of the entire Shumargie community.
We’ve heard only good news about the 11 young Ethiopian patients of Dr. Rick who had major heart surgery in India. The vital medicines that we sponsored were instrumental in their recoveries. Dr. Rick continues to show us how with very little we can make a difference.
Now that the school project is complete we want to push Kulam forward with our next projects. We have recently applied to the Newman’s Own Foundation (Paul Newman’s philanthropic organization) for a grant for solar panels for the school. Our hope is to illuminate the building with sustainable green energy so that the facility can be used by the community for many activities. Imagine, maybe even one day there will be satellite internet!
While in Ethiopia in January we visited other villages looking for potential future projects from schools, to wells and much-needed medical care. One water well which costs approximately $3,500 eliminates the long walk that women have to make to collect water several times each day. This allows them to put energy into other activities including returning to school, and the community is able to drink clean water rather than water full of parasites and disease. With one well the health of an entire community can be improved.
We’d like to move forward on building several wells and need your help and support. And certainly we plan to continue to support Dr. Rick and his amazing work!
In our last email we mentioned that we’d also like to start contributing towards the Agahoza Youth Village for orphans of the genocide in Rwanda. We have secured funding for certain programs for the Village so that together with the children we can help build a future full of hope. There is much more that we can do for the village with your help!
Through your generosity over the past six months our fundraising efforts have been a huge success. We are grateful to you and have demonstrated that we haven’t wasted a second or a penny, delivering on results in a timely and efficient manner. We are now ready to move forward on our next round of projects over the coming months so that we can continue trying to make a positive difference in the lives of Ethiopians and Rwandans.
We would urge you to contact us should you be interested in supporting the Kulam cause. As you are aware we operate lean so that funds raised go to the projects.
Thank you for your continued support and interest. We look forward to sharing our progress with you as we move forward with Kulam and these wonderful projects.
Benjamin, Julie & the entire Kulam Team
Posted by: Benjamin Sternthal, KULAM
Just a short note to let you know that I just spoke with Bekkie and the team has just arrived in Wakapao. As you might imagine, they are quite tired after a long day of traveling which included a commercial flight, a bus ride, and several boat rides up the Essequibo and Pomeroon Rivers! Wakapao is an Amerindian community in Region 2, located creekside, with white sandy grounds. “Aunty” Irene, a long-time member of the Lions Club arrived in advance of the team and is busy preparing food for everyone. The group will take it easy for the rest of day, setting up tents, taking a tour of the health center, consolidating all of the supplies, and going to bed early. Their first clinic will open in the morning.
Posted by: Sarah Zelcer, Director of International Programs and Education
(Published in insidetoronto.com, March 24th, 2011)
“I was just a slave,” Schrader, 35, said of her crack addiction.
A desperate bid to escape crack drove her to Toronto. She lived at Covenant House, then found her own place to live. She had a child. Toronto Children’s Aid Society took her son at nine months old. After a year-long battle to regain custody, CAS took him permanently.
To read the full article, click here.
Note: Theresa Schrader is now Ve’ahavta’s Community Poverty Relief Associate. You can contact her at email@example.com
To make a donation in honour of Arieh and Val Waldman’s 30th anniversary please CLICK HERE. Mazel tov!
Recently, Ve’ahavta partnered with Holy Blossom Temple to distribute 700 Kinder Kits at the Bialek Rogozin School near Tel Aviv. A documentary about the school, called Strangers No More, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject .
Read about this in the article published by Haaretz.com on February 28th, 2011;
Read about Julie Schneidermans and Benjamin Sternthal’s volunteer mission to Ethiopia to build a school. Ve’ahavta and Kulam partnered to provide guidance and support for the couple’s humanitarian venture.
(Published in the Canadian Jewish News, February 10th, 2011)
Montreal Couple Builds School in Ethiopia (CJN)
(excerpt from Ori Belmont’s report on homeless outreach services excursion with teams from the Toronto Doctors Lions Club).
Cooking a meal that is healthy and high in nutritional value for one’s self provides sustenance – but only for one. Doing the same for someone that you know well brings great joy and pleasure in knowing that you have taken care of that special person who means so much to you. But Barb and her cadre went above and beyond this by preparing meals for a large group of people that they had never even met before to simply help those in need, irrespective of who they are and the circumstances that led them to where they are today.
Barb made me think and reflect. She helped me to remember why it is that we help people in the first place. Because it is the human thing to do. When we lose our way in life sometimes, it is often more relevant and appropriate to ask ourselves ‘why not?’ instead of ‘why?’ In other words, there is NO reason why those precious and wonderful women who reside at the Fred Victor shelter should not have a full stomach every night before they sleep. Moreover, every person unlucky enough to find themselves on our streets at night deserves the very same.
For the the full report click here: MJRH and Toronto Doctors Lions Club Outreach Report.
(Ori is a Community Outreach Liaison with Ve’ahavta, and is the current driver for the MJRH program).
By: Ori Belmont
An eerily familiar shrill ricochets off of the facade of one building, then another.
Just as a cannon would echo through the night as its projectile hits its intended mark.
Alas, it is only the 504 car as it creeps through the veiled symbiosis of the poor and the priviledged.
Its magnanimous conductor always mindful of his fares.
In the midst of lattes and tuxedos, there lies a magnificent and noble soul, bereft of his will to attend the premiere and its gala. It is possible that he will view it at some point over the course of this fortnight, after all.
For now, he is consumed with the need to rest. If only he knew what he was missing.
As the performers enter with the expected fanfare, Victor shines his effervescent glow. Did you even notice?
Perhaps it was his toothless grin that led your eyes astray, how quaint.
Was it his charming presence that led you adrift?
“I didn’t know there were so many of them,” the dolled-up figurine opines to her friend as she rushes in.
I scream for Victor, but only my silence rings out hollow.
His lips are now pursed once again, fused by the evening’s chill.
“A pity my dear”, I had wished to retort. You have missed your opportunity to meet a wondrous and unique creature. And yes, there is only one of him.
With a previously unseen gait will she re-emerge, I know. She will shine more than any dress would allow her to.
For the intermission is not far off. Now if you’ll kindly take your seats, we will begin momentarily.
Excerpt from the report and thank you letter from the Ankgor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, Cambodia after receiving kinder kits for sick children…
As a result from his (Saphea’s) HIV/AIDS he has bad skin lesions all over his body. His mother, however, cannot afford to bring him back to AHC to get proper treatment. We recently visited Saphea for a follow up visit, checking his weight (18kg) and height (114cm) and his general health. As a small gift we brought him some toys – a bag of crayons and coloring books. Upon receiving his new gifts he started immediately coloring with a gleaming wide smile on his face. It was wonderful to witness the bonding between him and his younger brother, as Saphea showed him how to color in the pictures. They laughed as they eagerly played with their new gifts. It’s amazing what a small difference can make!
Click below for the full report, thank you letter and photos:
Campodia Report_ 2011-1
Camp Manitou, (www.manitoucamp.com) owned and operated by Mark Diamond (Ve’ahavta Chairperson) and Jeff Wilson, is a beautiful environment for children of all ages and backgrounds. Part of their character and mission is to share with the world around them. Please takea look at the following link to determine how you can share in MANITOU CARES.
Well done, Camp Manitou!
Good morning Sarah and Avrum,
I want to start with a thank you; the partnership and support that Ve’ahavta has brought to the work of Food For The Poor Canada in 2010 has been exceptional.
We look forward to the work and successes that are ahead in 2011, and look back at the last 12 months and the incredible things that have been achieved in improving the lives of the poor in the Caribbean. Our partnership sending rice to Haiti, for House of Hope, as well as the recipients of FFP Haiti, has made a huge difference in the lives of thousands of people.
Thank you once again, and I look forward to continued collaboration and success in 2011, serving those who most need it in the Caribbean.
Food For The Poor Canada
Visit us at www.FoodForThePoorCanada.org
Today was a very productive day. I had a meeting with Claudia Jahn today. She is from
Community Action on Homelessness(CAH). She is a very lovely lady. I went to check out their office
space and then we went out for lunch. This was a Partnership meeting for the CAH and Ve’ahavta.
CAH has agreed to accept and distribute contest information for us in the years to come. They are
very excited about this venture and I have all faith that they will be very helpful in continuing the Contest
on the East Coast.
The other meeting I had today was with Mayor Peter Kelly. I was able to spend 30 minutes with him
discussing Homelessness in Halifax and plans to reduce Homelessness. He was also very excited about
the contest. I left him a Starry Nights Gala folder and the information for the contest.
I also had a chance to talk to him about the Ve’ahavta Street Academy and Peer Led Initiatives. He was very
interested in VSA. He said that he would like to discuss this further with me and mentioned that he would like
to bring me back down about the program specifically. More details about this will be in my report that will
be completed in the next week or so.
I also had the interview with CBC Radio this morning, that was amazing. The mayor was there as well, he
was on the air before me and told me later in our meeting that he tuned in to hear about the Contest after
he left the studio.
All in all, things are going really good down here.
Tomorrow all my ventures are across the bridge in neighbouring Dartmouth.
Will keep you updated.
This Sunday January 30th, 2011 our Creative Writing Contest Coordinator Theresa Schrader will be arriving in Halifax to promote the 10th Anniversary of the Creative Writing Contest for the Homeless and Marginalized. Theresa was our grand prize winner from the 6th Annual Creative Writing Contest. We are very excited to be running the contest in 3 Capital Cities this year. Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax. Reaching Coast to Coast. The idea is to empower individuals through their writing to recognize that they may have the skills to persue writing or education and perhaps find their way off the street or out of poverty. We believe that individuals who are homeless and marginalized NEED A VOICE. Ve’ahavta has made it a goal to enable each and every person, nationally and internationally, to actualize tikun olam (repairing the world) through our actions.
The Creative Writing Contest is proudly sponsored by:
Theresa will also be meeting with the Community Action on Homelessness (CAH) Program Director Claudia Jahn to set up a partnership with CAH to continue the contest remotely in years to come. We have been working with CAH for weeks now on our travel plans. We wish to send a special thank you to them for all their hard work from afar in preparation of our arrival.
Theresa has been requested for an interview with CBC Radio Halifax –
Information Morning Nova Scotia. www.cbc.ca/informationmorningns/
If you have the opportunity to tune in: January 31, 2011 at 7:20 AM. Follow the link for the live stream. http://www.cbc.ca/video/radio-popup.html?networkKey=cbc_radio_one&programKey=halifax
PLEASE NOTE THE TIME CHANGE – TUNE IN AT 6:20am in TORONTO VIA INTERNET.
Later on Monday, Theresa will be joined by the President of Ve’ahavta Avrum Rosensweig for the contest launch.
ANNIVERSARY EDITION PRIZES
Sponsored By Kernels
The Technology Bundle
(A Laptop, 12 month of Internet Service and a Digital Camera, $50 BestBuy Card)
Other prizes include:
The Judges Picks in Inspiration, Survival, Courage and Hope ($250 Each)
The Opportunity Award
A Writing Course at a Local College or University and $100
It is with great pleasure that we start off the New Year with a very special landmark 10 years of our Creative Writing Contest. 10 years ago in the early days of Ve’ahavta this was a small contest and a big vision of giving individuals a VOICE! Ten years later our contest has grown and more and more people are sharing their story.
Last year we took the Contest to Vancouver and offered the opportunity to the Lower Eastside Community. We had an overwhelming number of submissions from them. This year we have decided once again to expand to another city.
On January 30th our Contest Coordinator Theresa Schrader will be arriving in Halifax, followed the next day by Ve’ahavta President Avrum Rosensweig. Theresa and Avrum will be spending 3 days getting the Halifax Community engaged in the Contest and setting up a future partnership with Community Action on Homelessness to run the Contest remotely in years to come.
So our 10 year Landmark is here, and currently the Creative Writing Contest is in 3 Capital Cities in Canada – Reaching Coast To Coast.
Theresa Schrader our Contest Coordinator and Former Grand Prize Winner has refreshed the contest into a new and improved process in which we are reaching out to members of the Social Work Community. We would like as many people to take advantage of this opportunity as possible, this year we focus more on getting the word out there. This new and improved process comes with a pamphlet series that is compact and easy to distribute, a new judging process, and a whole new look at Social Marginalization. Our contest in the past primarily focused on Homelessness. We recognize that homelessness is just one branch of Social Inequality. There are many individuals that are housed, living with little income that are discriminated against, judged, and stereotyped. We want to hear your stories too. With current income assistance rates it is also important to understand that there are a substantial amount of people living one step away from Homelessness.
Our goal this year is to receive 250-350 submissions.
GRAND PRIZE – $2000 Sponsored By Kernels Popcorn
Second Prize – A Laptop, 12 Months of Internet Service, Digital Camera
Third Prize - $1000
4 Judges Picks – $250
3 Opportunity Awards – A Writing Course and $100
Ron MacLean – Hockey Night in Canada Coaches Corner
Dr. Gabor Mate M.D. – Author of Bestselling Book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts”
Laurie Monsebraaten – Toronto Star Social Justice Reporter
Joe Fiorito – Toronto Star Columnist
Today was a very special day for Ve’ahavta and the work that we do. We have now joined the Steering Committee of the 25in5 Network.
We have further joined the Election Sub-Committee.
This committee will organize key asks for political platforms as the 2011 Provincial Election nears. We want to represent the real needs of Ontarians. As part of Ve’ahavta’s Mission Statement we believe it is important to share our thoughts on repairing the world and assist in the efforts of many organizations that want to hold the government accountable to their promise of reducing poverty 25% in 5 years in Ontario.
25-in-5: Network for Poverty Reduction is a multi-sectoral network comprised of more than 100 provincial and Toronto-based organizations and individuals working on eliminating poverty.
We have organized ourselves around the call for a Poverty Reduction Plan with a goal to reduce poverty in Ontario by 25% in 5 years and 50% in 10 years.
Eliminating poverty in Ontario is possible. It just takes leadership and commitment— and a plan.
25 in 5 Steering Committee
Atkinson Charitable Foundation
Black Hat Media
City of Toronto
Colour of Poverty/Colour of Change
Community Development Durham
Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA)
Daily Bread Food Bank
Family Service Toronto
Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC)
Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coaltion/MCC (ISARC)
Mennonite Central Committee
Ontario Campaign 2000
Ontario Coalition for Social Justice (OCSJ)
St. Christopher House
The Wellesley Institute
United Way Toronto
Voices From the Street
Windsor-Essex County Poverty Reduction Strategy
WoodGreen Community Services
The meeting was very exhilarating. Thank you for all your support to Ve’ahavta, which has allowed us to take this big step in becoming more involved in Poverty Reduction.
For more information about the 25in 5 Network please see their website at www.25in5.ca
Under Publications you will see their Blueprint to Reducing Poverty, and an update on Ontario’s Progress – Release December 2010.
Please lend your support by signing the Declaration. http://25in5.ca/publications/endorse-the-declaration/
Theresa Schrader – Ve’ahavta Street Academy Founder/Director will be our representative in the 25in5 Network.
If you have any questions please email Theresa at firstname.lastname@example.org
It is with great pleasure that we have begun a new journey into partnering with yet another established and respected organization which supports those living in hardship.
On January 13th, we brought nearly 250 warm sweaters to All Saint’s Church and the Friendship Centre. They are as excited as we are because of the importance of these kinds of items.
Ve’ahavta Board Member, Ron Baruch, and his family recently returned from Cambodia where they distributed Kinder Kits and funds to the Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC).
All the best,
Ron Baruch (Ve’ahavta Board Member)
You may remember in May of 2010, we had been in contact with regard to a backpack drive that my son Cole completed at his school. After an experience with Perry in the Outreach program, Cole was very much inspired by the Ve’ahavta model. He initiated a backpack drive at his school, Sterling Hall in response to some of the homeless people requesting bags. Cole and his classmates collected over 100 bags. They then prepared sandwiches and rode along for another outreach experience.
Cole recently celebrated his Bar Mitzvah and this experience became one of the lessons that he bestowed upon the congregation as part of his D’var Torah. As Cole’s parents, we feel that charitable acts are much more significant in a child’s development than the simple, but needed, act of a monetary donation.
The opportunity that Cole was given will be remembered forever and has already formed a part of the man he will one day become. Cole decided to donate a portion of his Bar Mitzvah proceeds, specifically $2,000.00, to Ve’ahavta. We trust you will continue to do good works and make similar impressions in the lives of many other youths.
Shawna Meshwork just arrived home from Johannesburg, South Africa:
I had the pleasure of meeting with our partner, MaAfrika Tikkun: an organization that much like Ve’ahavta, never stands still as they focus on transforming communities. We had a tour of the Phuthaditjaba (Gathering of Nations) community centre in Alexandra township where they focus on serving 400 individuals in the areas of early childhood education, youth development, elderly services, food distribution and health care. There are two other community centres in Orange Farm and Diepsloot. Their outstanding work and achivements inspired extending our partnership to donate Kinder Kits in 2011 to the three youth development centres serving over 3500 individuals aged from 6-18. We are thrilled to include MaAfrika Tikkun, South Africa in our Kinder Kit distribution plan for 2011!
$1400 Raised by community donors in Campaign to Rebuild the University of Zimbabwe Medical Library
In its first fundraiser ever, HUTANO announced that its first event was a success. The Organization grossed just over $1400 due to the support of donors. The event featured Sarah Zelcer, Director of International Projects Ve’ahavta and Dr. Norman Musewe, Physician at Sick Kids Hospital.
“We are deeply grateful to our donors,” said Mugove Manjengwa, Trustee of HUTANO. “Most of them are not rich. They are students and parents — people who previously attended the University, and who are willing to help rebuild the library to keep it going. Their generosity is what keeps HUTANO available for aspiring medical professionals in Zimbabwe. ”
Launched November 20, 2010, the event was HUTANO’s first annual fundraiser. HUTANO also received support from Ve’ahavta, which offered support for future initiatives. “We are still looking for more donations as what we accomplished is only a small start in light of what is needed in Zimbabwe,” said Xolisiwe Ndlovhu, Trustee of HUTANO.
“I have been continually amazed and humbled as people have joined with us to rebuild through education,” said Chenayi Shava, Trustee of HUTANO. “The beauty of HUTANO is that it makes it possible for ordinary people to do extraordinary things. People like us initiate and organize, and people like us pay for it. It’s proof of our ability, together, to change the world.”
The money raised will be spent on restocking the library with books, teaching equipment and technology. HUTANO has 4 trustees, and several volunteers who provide technical, administrative, legal and outreach support for the global community of Zimbabwe.
HUTANO is a non-profit organization that operates out of Toronto, Canada and is funded primarily through donations and grants.
Click to view full size
After 82 hours, the Carmel Forest Fire was finally put out.
Ve’ahavta has raised just over $10,000 to date.
60% of the funds we have raised are going to support the Israel Trauma Coalition. ITC does incredible work in Israel and internationally in the areas of trauma counseling, emergency preparedness and disaster relief. They are working to support the relatives and colleagues of those who lost their lives in this tragedy as well as the first responder organizations which were involved in managing the crisis on the ground. (http://israeltraumacoalition.org) Ve’ahavta is currently also partnering with ITC in Haiti.
ITC organizations were instrumental in providing immediate relief and support through the ITC situation room that worked out of Amcha’s Haifa branch, which was deployed early on Thursday, in accordance with ITC emergency protocol. The situation room ensured that efforts were coordinated amongst the various ITC organizations and also with ministries and other organizations in the field.
Now that the immediate phase is over, we can pause to assess the intermediate and long term needs. ITC is now working with its organizations to map the needs and the responses that the government is providing so that a clear picture of what is needed emerges. The circles of exposure from the fire are wide, spanning the nation. Firefighters, Prison Authority teams, Zaka and Hatzala called their forces from the entire country, as part of the acute-phase relief efforts. Families that were evacuated are returning to find their homes in shambles, their lives irrevocably altered and their landscape demolished.
Beyond the responding with the care, support and coping skills required at the individual, family and team levels, we now face the challenge, and opportunity, to provide both rehabilitation and infrastructure solutions to the organizations and local authorities involved as we have been made to understand that there is a dire need for this type of work.
30% of the funds we have raised are going to support Rambam Hospital to strengthen the capacity of its trauma and burn units.
10% of the funds we have raised are going to support Hazon Yeshaya Humanitarian Network. Hazon Yeshaya delivered thousands of meals to the emergency workers who were working to extinguish the flames, and to families who had been evacuated, and who returned to find their homes in ashes.
Its soup kitchens in Jerusalem and Rishon LeTzion pulled out all the stops to produce thousands of extra hot meals for delivery to the affected areas.
We ask our volunteers from the Mobile Jewish Response to the Homeless (MJRH) van to share their experiences with us. The questions are designed to help focus their thoughts and feeling about their time on the van.
Q: What brought you to seek out this particular experience?
Living in the suburbs, I often feel disconnected from the reality of urban life. This program provides me with an opportunity to interact with individuals in need. It is also follows naturally from my experience volunteering on a mental health ward.
Q: What was the most meaningful aspect of your experience- what about it affected you the most, and why?
Despite living on the street, many individuals have their intelligence, wit, and personality. It is such a shame that these smart, personable, people are on the street.
Q: Has this experience changed your view of the homeless population, and if so, in what way?
I’ve come to see that, despite being homeless, many individuals are smarter, funnier, and more well read than I am. I have a new found respect for many of them.
Q: Has this experience changed your sense of humanity, and if so, in what way?
I will be much less likely to give a homeless person the snub as I walk by him or her.
Q: Did you get what you were seeking by doing this work?
I moved towards my goal of being at peace with my place in the world. I did not attain this goal; nor will I ever.
Q: Has this work given you the desire to seek out more community involvement, or to involve yourself further in actions that carry out the spirit of Tikan Olam?
I will certainly be doing this program again.
When I look at the supply of food in Canada and think about the food that goes to waste I ask myself – how do we let people go hungry in this country? How do we live with this on conscience? I thought Canada was developed country. The G20 Summit that was just held here tells me that we are not a third world country.
So why are we not taking care of our people, our fellow Canadians, who are hungry?
I attended a full day inquiry put on by the Recession Relief Coalition at the Holy Trinity Church on November 23, 2010.
The purpose of the Hunger Inquiry was to have a structured venue to explore real hunger issues in this province and in Canada.
There were a panel of six professionals that were appointed to hear varied evidence of hunger in the City of Toronto. The panellists were:
These panellists were chosen for their expertise on hunger. They will meet after the Hunger Inquiry to compile a report and recommendations to rally the government.
Throughout the day there were various individuals, including myself, that gave evidence of Hunger. Some of the evidence was given from a personal perspective of being hungry and some came from both people and organizations that work hand and hand with food security such as: drop ins, community agencies, CAS, food share programs, food banks and social workers.
The common thread during the day is that we have bad policy in Ontario. We have policies that keep people trapped in a cycle of perpetuating poverty to the next generation.
Some of the key suggestions throughout the day were to increase Ontario Works rates, and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits. The level of inadequate income has grown as the cost of living rises in Ontario. In order for people to have the things they need to be productive in society their basic needs have to met.
If we went back to Pre-Harris Days, the Ontario Works rates would be $904 today indexed to inflation, and ODSP rates would be near $1300.
Join Ve’ahavta and raise your voice for the province of Ontario to raise the rates and ensure that Ontarians have the ways and means to meet their basic needs.
Call your MPP today and tell them to support poverty reduction strategies in Ontario.
Inside an IDP Camp. The children after receiving the kinder kits have returned home and are outside their home playing and telling others about their wonderful gifts. At the corner of their house are the kinder kits hung on the wall
Happy children displaying their gifts.
Timothy’s legs have paralysis below the knees. With the wheelchair from Ve’ahavta, he will find it much easier to go to school
I took this picture from a moving van. The girl was running home to show her siblings what a wonderful gift she had received from Veahavta. I imagined what her feelings were and concluded that she was carrying valuable instruments in her kinder kit which would transform her life into a professional to care for her community. This little girl lives in the IDP camp and goes to school at Maai Mahiu Primary School accross the street from the IDP Camp.
Here is Agnes and Moses. Both are top students at Saikeri Primary Scool in the heart of Masailand. Despite the poverty in their community Agnes dreams of becoming a nurse and Moses dreams of becoming a doctor. Both say that when their dreams come true, they would work in their community. With the kinder kits, they said that their dreams of becoming healthcare professionals will certainly come true.
Ve’ahavta is in Jerusalem this week joining 19 organizations strategizing on Jewish volunteerism and the approach to modern Zionism, and exploring volunteer opportunities offered through Masa Israel Journey. With young adults’ growing interest in international volunteer opportunities, Masa Israel, a joint project of the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel, is making Israel a global hub for service programs.
Young Jewish Israeli volunteer building the Negev one village at a time.
Kirill Zaretsky, Ve’ahavta Director of Development said,” I am thrilled to be a part of this trip and representing Ve’ahavta in Israel. We are looking to continuing to grow and enhance our projects in Israel moving forward.”
“Masa Israel brought together this incredible group of leaders in the fields of community service and leadership development, including Ve’ahavta, to join in our effort to significantly increase the number of Jewish young adults who do meaningful community service in Israel.” said Avi Rubel Masa Israel, North American Director.
Masa Israel collaborated with Leadership Development at City Year to develop this study tour that will enable American and Israeli service organizations to share best practices in leadership development and community service. Among the 19 service organizations participating in this study tour are Ve’ahavta, Teach for America, Peace Corps, City Year, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the American Jewish World Service, UJA Federation of NY, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, JCPA, Avodah, Hillel, Jewish Funds for Justice, New Israel Fund, Repair the World, and Uri L’Tzedek. The tour and the emphasis on growing volunteer and social activism opportunities in Israel reinforces the new direction of the Jewish Agency as reflected in its strategic plan. The operative part of the plan, approved last month in Jerusalem, calls for the Agency to focus its work into two areas of activity: one, to increase the number of young adults on experiences in Israel, including Masa; and second, to increase opportunities for social activism in Israel – precisely what this tour for representatives of leading American service organizations aims to facilitate. The week-long tour will include visits to volunteer programs in the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas and consultation sessions with policymakers and senior practitioners.
Jews from Ethiopia preparing a coffee ceremony and a traditional meal. Israel marrying two cultures. Yesterday the Israel media announced that 6000 additional Ethiopian Jews have been approved to make allayah.
For more information, please contact Kirill Zaretsky directly at email@example.com
The Kinder Kits finally were cleared through Kenyan customs by the Israeli Embassy one and a half weeks after we arrived. We were so happy this day finally came. The boxes were stored for one day at the Nairobi Synagogue and then picked up by Marafiki in a lorry for delivery to the many schools, orphanages and kids at the IDP camp.
Marafiki guys unloaded the many boxes of Kinder Kits at the schools, orphanages, IDP camp for distribution. It was costly to rent the lorry so it was decided to do the drop offs in one day and then the actual distribution of the Kits to the kids after the weekend.
Before the Kits arrived, Marafiki took us to visit some of the places where the Kits would be distributed.
This IDP (internally displaced persons) camp is near Maai Mahiu (I finally learned how to pronounce it!), about an hour from Nairobi. People have been living here since the crisis of 2007 when it was not safe for them to stay in their homes. Some families are still living in plastic tents, initially provided by the UN.
Some three-bedroom stone houses have been built, with help from Habitat for Humanity, and the aim is to shelter everyone in a stone house.
Izzo, our main Marafiki contact, has been involved with the IDP camps for a few years. Marafiki was there helping the people when the government didn’t. He’s really good with the kids, who flock to you and slip a hand into your hand as you walk!
This little fellow looked about four years old. He’d just picked up all the corn cobs, put them in a bag, slipped the bag strap around his forehead, and took it inside his tent. Corn cobs are used for fuel.
Mark and his “assistant” videotaping an interview with Dorene, the headmistress. Such trust and interest by the little ones.
Southern Cross Academy, is a new school built by volunteers, and about 300 kids from the IDP camp attend the pre-school/grade 1 programs. The walls and roof are made of corrugated metal sheeting, the floor is hard packed earth, there are some windows. Children sit three of four on a long bench attached to a long wooden desk. There’s a large blackboard at the front of the room. A few school “charts” for alphabet, numbers, are made from maize burlap bags and stitched with the letter, numbers, etc. Children go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30. The plan is to have kitchen attached to the school to provide lunches for the kids; then they’ll be able attend school til about 4:30.
Dorene, the grade 1 (class 1 or standard 1) teacher is also the headmistress for the eight-room school. Before the crisis of 2007 she had had her own school.
Before the Kinder Kits arrived, Mark distributed some extra notebooks he’d brought along; his company, ecojot, donated all the notebooks in the Kinder Kits. Kids were delighted to get them.
Kids at their desks.
Cynthia, an 11-year old, who seems much younger because of her height, asked me for my e-mail address! Surprised me to think about someone having e-mail access in this place. There are about 2000 children in the camps and like some of the older kids, she goes to the town school where she has Internet access. I watched her walk with such a confident stride and can only hope that her life will get better.
In addition to distributing Kinder Kits, I had a personal objective: to help women start a knitting project. I’d taken 12 pairs of knitting needles with me from Toronto and purchased some acrylic knitting yarn in Nairobi. At our home stay in Maai Mahui, Stella, our second “house mother”, had arranged for me to meet with some of the women at the IDP camp with whom she works as a counsellor and who were interested in knitting. We gathered in Veronica’s stone house and when I asked who knew how to knit, every hand went up! Turns out they learn to knit in Home Sciences at school. With a pair of knitting needles and a ball of yarn, their fingers became busy knitting and purling, while they chatted and sang. Something positive for them to do when they’re not busy in their garden plots, doing laundry and other household tasks.
On a visit to the IDP camp a few days later some of the women had knitted baby booties and one had made a baby hat. They were full of ideas about what to knit that would sell at the twice-weekly market in nearby Maai Mahiu. We talked about the cost of the yarn and the need to make a profit. They had already talked among themselves about opening a communal bank account once they sold a few items.
This group of disadvantaged women now had some Hope, as one of them said. And for such a small monetary investment on my part.
Little ones looking after even littler ones!
Lisa is good with the children. They flock to her, wanting to be picked up, quietly putting a hand in her hand as they walk.
Lisa taught some of the kids at the IDP camp a circle game.
One recess at Southern Cross Academy, Lisa and a teacher got the kids involved in circle games.
Our home stays were pretty basic; more like hostels. In the first one, there were three bunk beds to sleep six people. Fortunately Lisa and I had the room to ourselves, except for the time that Mark and Thomas had to give up their bunk beds and share this room. Showers had cold water; or if you wanted, a kettle of hot water was added to a large plastic basin for a warm sponge bath.
At Stella’s in Maai Mahiu I did some laundry outside in a big plastic tub and hung things on the line to dry in the warm sun.
In Nairobi we visited a school in the Kibera Slum. About one million people live in Kibera.
Lisa is walking along the hard-packed earth “corridor” of this Kibera school. The rooms are small and not well lit. There’s a damp feel to the place.
Twice a week this Kibera school has a lunch program for the kids. This day each child got some corn kernels for lunch.
Compass School is another school we visited and will receive Kinder Kits. Most of the kids are refugee kids, mostly from Sudan, and orphaned because of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. There are about 300 kids, aged 4-20. It started as a feeding program, the main reason the kids went to the community-based day school, and gradually academic instruction was introduced. The deputy teacher told us that sometimes, because of funding problems, there’s no money for food and the teachers don’t get paid for several months. Yet the staff somehow manage to put together a bit of money to provide food for the students. I was impressed with the school and the staff.
Finally, our first Kinder Kit distribution (two weeks after we arrived)! We went to a school in Maasai land about two hour drive from Nairobi. It was a large primary (K-8) school of about 400 students. Some of the parents were there in traditional dress to greet us and later thank us for the Kinder Kits.
One of the students gave me his necklace as a thank you. Lisa, upper right in red t-shirt, was showered with beaded bracelets and necklaces from students.
A group thank you picture with some of the parents, Lisa, and me.
Students from the Maasai school proudly showing off their Kinder Kits.
On the way to the second Kinder Kit distribution we got stuck.
Unlike yesterday, when the van got stuck in mud during a downpour and took two hours of pushing and manouvering by Marafiki staff and other men in the area (great community spirit), the van got “unstuck” quite quickly. Nonetheless we were late for the students from the Naivasha slum area. They had waited patiently, lined up in classes by their teachers, and were rewarded with school bags and school supplies. When they heard that a pencil sharpener was included, they let out a big cheer!
Students from the Naivasha slum area proudly holding their Kinder Kits.
A Naivasha area student quietly examining his Kinder Kit.
Kids examining the contents of their Kinder Kits.
Me (Corinne) and some of the Naivasha students checking out the contents of the Kinder Kits.
The Kinder Kits Project was well received. Marafiki, Ve’ahavta’s Kenya partner, continues to do great work to help the poorest of the poor in their country. We got to experience a part of Kenya that the usual visitor doesn’t see. Also, it gave me great joy to see the beginning of the Knitting Project at the IDP camps.
I hope it will grow and provide a source of income for some of the country’s most needy people; I hope to keep in contact with Stella and Izzo at Marafiki.
I am now in Amsterdam on my way back. Everything worked well in Kenya; I feel very proud for the great effort my team put in assisting the marginalized families in Kenya. I am also very happy with the Marafiki team for their great effort in helping us accomplish our mission. Let me also thank for the support you provided us while we were in the field. The suggestions you made to us to consult various resources assisted us greatly. My regards to all Ve’ahavta staff.
Matthew & Aviva Gottlieb from Toronto! Thank you for your support.
To date our challenge has raised $24,000 which will distribute over 1,300 Kinder Kits!
Click here to read more about this event.
Our exciting eBay items are receiving a lot of attention!
Check them out here and place your bids today!
Ve’ahavta is proud to announce that this year’s Tikun Olam Awards Ceremony, Starry Nights were attended by over 750 people on Sunday, November 7, 2010 at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts.
The event featured keynote speaker Sir Bob Geldof, internationally acclaimed humanitarian activist, and co-founder of the charity super-group Band Aid. He shared with us his inspiring personal experiences along with the many challenges that he faced in his career in music, humanitarian aid and politics. We were also thrilled have as our Master of Ceremonies for this year’s event David Shore, creator, writer and executive producer for the award winning television series HOUSE M.D.
During the ceremony, Tikun Olam Awards were presented to six inspiring individuals in the categories of Humanitarian, Medical, Remembrance, Education, Young Leadership and Community. The award recipients are people who have overcome adversity, lead principled lives, served our community and have ensured a better life for many. The following people accepted Tikun Olam Awards on the night of the event:
We would like to thank everyone for playing a role in Tikun Olam by supporting this event. Read more about the event.
My heart started racing as soon as I saw the Center for Performing Arts, and the large congregation of people inside the front doors. I paused to collect myself, as I have never attended an event like Starry Nights.
Once inside my level of anxiety grew. I could not believe that I was going to deliver a speech to near 800 people. I tried to eat, but my stomach would not allow me to enjoy the lovely spread. My nerves had the best of me.
I mingled for a while, and then Kirill found me to take me to the side stage area in preperation for my speech. I sat with Avrum and we spoke. Avrum always calms me down. He has such a gentle soul, and he always makes me feel like a worthy human being… something that I haven’t had for most of my life, something that I am very much still getting used to after years of marginalization.
Avrum and I sat and spoke with David Shore, and to my surprise, David knew who I was and knew about the Ve’ahavta Street Academy. He told me that I should be proud of myself for all the hard work that I have done to help other people. He was pleased with me.
I shuffled my way to the seat in the second row so Sir Bob Geldof could sit beside Avrum. To my surprise, again, when Bob came in he sat beside me. He immediately extended his hand and said, in his lovely Irish accent, “Hello there, how are you?” We sat and made light conversation till the show started.
When Mark Diamond was speaking I was watching the visuals behind him and I felt so proud. There were two of my very own ideas up for the whole auditorium to see. The Ve’ahavta Street Academy and the relief efforts for the 200 Wellesley Street Fire. I felt like I have made a good contribution to Ve’ahavta.
At the end of Avrum’s speech he introduced me. I took my spot at the podium. When I got there I realized I could not see anyone in the audience and immediately I was calm and delivered my speech. It is sometimes hard to take a chance, to tell your story in front of so many. I was unbelievably comfortable. The speech was smooth and delivered just the way I wanted it to be.
After I was done I walked off the stage, I was met by Mark Diamond who asked me to turn around, when I did I saw the whole auditorium on their feet. I was so overwhelmed. Avrum asked me to return to the stage to thank everyone to which I did with great confidence.
During the intermission, I could not walk five strides without someone stopping me to congratulate me, or to wish me well. Each and every person that I spoke to was inspired by me. It was such a lovely opportunity for me to see my worth.
When I returned home the adrenaline kicked in and I could not sleep for hours.
Here I was once again just wrappped up in the love that I recieve from Ve’ahavta. Ve’ahavta has helped me so much over the years. The one thing that I stand tall to proclaim is that Ve’ahavta has been pivotal in helping me feel good about myself. Starry Nights was an exceptional example of this. I felt so good, and so loved by the end of the evening. It is so nice to know that I am never going to have to suffer in silence again.
Thank you Ve’ahavta for all the support that you have shown me, in the past and in the present. I am forever grateful to you.
Founding Director, Ve’ahavta Street Academy
I wanted to share with you some of the details of my conversation just now with Thomas Ngobe, who is returning home to Canada tomorrow after working in Kenya for these past three weeks helping to distribute our shipment of 2,500 Kinder Kits, rehab supplies (wheelchairs, walkers) and other donations (flashlights, tshirts) to Kenyans in need in IDP camps, orphanages and schools.
This Kinder Kit program has been, in my humble opinion, the most incredible to date. Not only did we have a wonderful, committed volunteer team in Thomas, Mark Gavin, Lisa Urbach and Corinne Farber, but the clearance of our container and its distribution was the result of an incredible international partnership between Ve’ahavta and the Jewish community of Canada, the Jewish community of Nairobi and the Nairobi Synagogue, the State of Israel and its Deputy Ambassador to Kenya, Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, and MaRafiki, a new and dynamic Kenyan NGO that is deeply committed to assisting Kenyans in need. This was a true model of tikun olam in action on a global scale!
Thomas was bubbling over with excitement and passion during our call today. 1,800 of our 2,500 Kinder Kits have been distributed so far, the rest to be distributed when schools reopen after preparations for the national exam are over. The distribution has taken place in seven locations. As Thomas says, one must see it to believe it, to experience the love in which the kits have been given and received. Although the state provides free education in Kenya, parents are still responsible for footing the bill for every single item their child might need as a student – uniforms, supplies, etc. The kinder kits have tremendous impact and have helped alleviate the financial burden for hundreds of families. Thomas felt tremendous pride when locals would hear him speak the language and express surprise – they had assumed he was African American. For Thomas, as a Kenyan, being involved in this effort has been emotional, powerful, and incredibly meaningful. I am so glad we had the opportunity to let Thomas shine in this capacity.
On Friday, Thomas and Lisa visited with Ambassador Elbaz Starinsky at the Israeli Embassy and presented him with gifts from Ve’ahavta as well as a distribution report. He is tremendously pleased with the work we have done together, and would like to continue to partner with us.
Thomas will be sending photos as soon as he can and when he does, I will be sure to share them with you. We congratulate him on the amazing work he has done of behalf of Ve’ahavta in Kenya. May we all continue to grow from strength to strength, in Kenya and throughout the world!
Director of International Projects and Education
Ve’ahavta is proud to announce that this year’s Tikun Olam Awards Ceremony, Starry Nights raised almost $700,000 for various tikun olam, repairing the world, initiatives around the world on Sunday, November 7th, 2010 at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts.
The event featured keynote speaker Sir Bob Geldof, internationally acclaimed humanitarian activist, and co-founder of the charity super-group Band Aid. He shared with us his inspiring personal experiences along with the many challenges that he faced in his career in music, humanitarian aid and politics. We were also thrilled have as our Master of Ceremonies for this year’s event be David Shore, creator, writer and executive producer for the award winning television series HOUSE M.D.
During the ceremony, Tikun Olam Awards were presented to six inspiring individuals in the categories of Humanitarian, Medical, Remembrance, Education, Young Leadership and Community. The award recipients are people who have overcome adversity, lead principled lives, served our community and have ensured a better life for many. The following people accepted Tikun Olam Awards on the night of the event:
All proceeds from the event will benefit Ve’ahavta’s top fundraising priorities including:
We would like to thank everyone for playing a role in Tikun Olam by supporting this event.
We are doing well in Kenya. Lisa broke her left hand finger on Thursday last week. She was riding in the back of the truck delivering the Kinder Kits when she accidentally tipped a box and broke her finger.
We made our first delivery of the Kinder Kits in a school in Masai land, a remote place 50 km west of Nairobi. Every student who received the Kinder Kit was very happy. We were overwhelmed by the handshakes and thank yous from the students, parents and teachers.
The handing of the Kits to the Malewa school, North of Naivasha was very well appreciated. The students all from poor backgrounds were very happy. The teachers expressed great joy, as well, and identified many areas which need immediate attention in order to help the children excel. Today we will be delivering the kits in an orphanage and in the IDP.
Corrine checked into a hotel and is not residing with us in the Homestays. The Homestays are not well managed; some have roaches and others have irregular meals. But we are undeterred. Corine leaves for Zanzibar Thursday
Access to the Internet is limited but we have lots of pictures and videos to present upon return.
We shall continue with our deliveries and we will bring wonderful stories.
Seneca College King Campus
13990 Dufferin Street, Toronto
416-491-5050 ext. 5273
In this presentation, Régine King will provide a short overview of the historical and political issues that led to the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, some of the consequences of this genocide and some steps made towards recovery.
Régine Uwibereheyo King is a PhD candidate in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto and a survivor of the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. Her research interest are finding appropriate mental health approaches for survivors of massive violence and models leading to the reconstruction of healthy communities. Regine is a community activist on issues of genocide and other forms of violence.
This program is generously co-sponsored by Ve’ahavta, a Canadian humanitarian and relief organization that is motivated by the Jewish value of tzedakah – the obligation to do justice – by assisting the needy locally and abroad through volunteerism, education, and acts of kindness, while building bridges between Jews and other people, worldwide.
Supported by Hillel of Greater Toronto.
Download the PDF information sheet for this event.
On Thursday October 28th we distributed the Kinder Kits to various places which Marafiki identified. The following day Lisa and Corrine went on a safari and I went to visit my family. Tomorrow, November 2nd, we will start the actual distribution of the items to the recipients.
I hope you’ve had a great weekend.
The team has now checked in at the airport in Timehri (near Georgetown) and should be departing shortly for Port of Spain, Trinidad, then Toronto. They will be arriving home tonight!
Their past few days have been busy and they have been slowly winding down. They ran a clinic in Itaballi, a mining riverine community near Bartica on Thursday, then a half-day clinic for members of the Lions Club on Friday, then traveled to Georgetown where they stayed at the Tower Hotel the past two nights. One team member did a tourist trip to Kaiteur Falls yesterday, while the rest relaxed and did some debriefing about the trip.
We’d like to congratulate our amazing team on their incredible efforts and commitment these last two weeks in Guyana. A special congrats to Bekkie Vineberg, Jess Lockhart, and Ray Deonandan for all their efforts to organize the logistics, our partner relations, and make sure our volunteer were safe and sound. Safe journey home, everyone!
With best wishes,
These Messages of Hope were written by the grade 8 students of Bialik Hebrew Day School in October 2010 for the children in Haiti receiving Kinder Kits. Click the image below to see all of the messages.
We received the kinder and they are now at the Synagogue for distribution tomorrow to various places.
Mark leaves tonight and Izzo will drive him to the airport. It’s a pity Mark is leaving just when we received the Kinder Kits.
We have been extremely busy working with the IDP Community at Maai Mahiu. Corrine has engaged women in knitting and this activity alone has greatly empowered the women. They see that they can come together and knit and earn a living without great effort because their area is a hardship area where it hardly rains. Lisa has been working with the children playing games and she is a great source of inspiration to the children. Mark has been very busy doing interviews with the victims of violence and has been working with the youth (men) playing football.
Everything so far has been going well and now that we have the Kinder Kits we will be much busier and fulfill the greater part of our mission.
P.S. Moar and the Synagogue team have been very helpful and they deserve a pat on the back.
by Bekkie Vineberg
It was quite a shock to the system to wake up to the sound of an alarm rather than waking to the sun, birds and stirrings of team members in the tents around me. Being back in Canada while the medical team is still in Guyana is a strange, new feeling – on one hand satisfying, knowing that the hard-laid groundwork leading up to the trip is successfully supporting the amazing efforts of the volunteers in the field. On the other hand, coloured by a sense of disappointment that I am not there to finish out the trip in a country I have grown to know and love, with my team; witnessing the reflection, transformation, and ultimate feelings of both accomplishment and humility that such an experience creates.
Being home early has given me a chance to reflect on the sense of awe and privilege I know all of the volunteers who visit Guyana share. As I flew away, over the dense rainforest as the lone passenger on a small plane, there was a simple rainbow, and it overwhelmed me with a deep sense of gratitude for being able to do this work, for the loving, kind people we meet along the way, and for the support we receive in so many forms – partnership, friendship, sponsorship. It has also brought me face to face with the great disparities that exist; the social determinants like education, economic independence, or political participation that define our health, and the role we as those living in relative privilege play in either ameliorating or contributing to those disparities.
As those of you who have been following along know, Ve’ahavta has been sending medical teams to the interior rainforest regions of Guyana for the past 14 years. We have developed an amazing network of local friends and colleagues, who continue to welcome our support as they work hard to meet the health needs of their unique people. Many of these communities are difficult to access – planes, boats and serious advance logistical planning are required, but that makes it all the more special and significant to know that we have the rare opportunity to visit, learn and share with people, in places, that few others – whether North American or Guyanese, will ever access.
The team rises early every morning with the sun, and while some head to river to bathe, others drink instant coffee and look out over an incredible scenescape of ancient geography, staggering biodiversity and remarkable beauty. Clinic work starts early, and while many patients face health challenges similar to what we might experience in Canada (Diabetes, Hypertension), resources for managing these conditions (which are related to rapid changes in lifestyle), are limited, despite the best efforts of the Ministry of Health and local health workers. Often we will see interesting and unusual cases unfamiliar to our Canadian experience, such the “Bends”, also know as Nitrogen Narcosis, a debilitating condition that affects divers who ascend from the depths to quickly, or Malaria, Leishmaniasis or other tropical diseases to which we would ordinarily not have exposure. We were blessed to be present at the birth of an Arekuna baby, delivered by flashlight, and ushered into a world at the interface of Amerindian culture and tradition and the technology and mobility that enabled us to be there.
The team has since moved from the interior to the Bartica region which is on the Essequibo River, just inland from the coast. They will be visiting the all-male Mazaruni Prison, as well as a large mining community, Itaballi, over the next few days, and will be sharing basic tips for healthy living on a local cable television call-in program. They will continue to share our supplies with local health centres as they go, ensuring that equipment, resources, knowledge and skills, and vital medications end up where they are most needed.
As the mission nears the end, the team will have time to reflect on all they have seen and felt, and it is our great hope that they will share those insights with you, their loved ones, families and friends, so that we can continue to widen our community and promote the values of tikun olam (repairing the world), and tzedakah (justice) in Guyana.
This is a short note to let you know that our team is now safe and sound in Bartica. They flew out of Kamarang today into the airstrip near Bartica, where they were picked up by the Lions. Everyone is experiencing a new kind of culture shock – where the interior is quiet, with no electricity and no cell phones, with small, isolated Amerindian villages scattered throughout, Bartica is a metropolis in comparison, with internet cafes, restaurants, traffic, and a bustling energy at all hours of the day. Bartica is considered the “gateway into the interior”, so it also typically has an influx of miners and foreign workers coming in and out frequently. Bartica is located on the Essequibo River, a river that is brown in colour and a mile wide.
Tomorrow the team will be running a clinic at the Upper Mazaruni Prison. This is usually included on our itinerary. The team will be accompanied by a number of members of the Lions Club and prison staff.
Good evening everyone,
I hope you’ve had a great weekend. Our team in Guyana is doing really well. They have experienced some big transitions and have been working through them cohesively and with great spirits. On Friday morning, Ray Deonandan arrived to join the group. His flight arrived in the morning, and he was picked up by our reliable and long time driver, Mr. Ganesh. He went directly to Ogle airport to catch a flight on a 13 seater plane to Kamarang. Bekkie was there to meet him and accompanied him back to Waramadong, where the team was (Waramadong is a boat ride of about 2 hours from Kamarang). So a very long day of travel for Ray and a lot of advance coordination was required – remember, there is no cell phone access in the interior, flights into Kamarang do not run daily, boats need to be coordinated in advance, and there is satellite phone and 2-way radio communication only. I was glad to hear that all of Bekkie & Jessica’s carefully laid plans worked out so smoothly and Ray arrived safely. That night, the team celebrated Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) which by all reports was beautiful and communal and spiritual. Aunty Irene, a Lions Club volunteer and our long time cook, made braided challah for the team. Irene, in her many years of experience with Ve’ahavta, also knows how to kosher a kitchen!
The next morning, the team left for Kamarang where they dropped off Bekkie before continuing on to Jawalla. Bekkie was catching a flight to Ogle, and then heading into town to organize a few last details for the team before catching her flight back to Toronto this morning. It was difficult for Bekkie to say goodbye to the team – she has poured her heart and soul into the project and feels a great deal of ownership over our work in the field, so it is very strange for her not to be with the team until the end. Bekkie does incredible work and we are grateful for her dedication. She has also promised us a detailed blog posting!
Everyone is in extremely capable hands with Jessica, who sounds fantastic during her evening satellite phone reports to me. The clinics in Waramadong and Jawalla have been very busy, seeing about 70 patients a day (some more involved cases, including a circumcision this morning of an older man) and doing public health outreach. Ray has settled in easily and is focusing on health promotion in the clinics. Jessica says the team has been extremely positive, communicative, and cooperative which is always so critical on these types of trips. She described the beautiful way one of our nurses, Nazmoon Audam, is particularly skilled at developing relationships with patients and members of the community and how her actions continue to strengthen our work in the field.
The team is heading back to Kamarang tomorrow and out of the interior on Tuesday. The first leg of the trip has passed and the toughest part, physically and environmentally, is almost behind them.
Have a wonderful evening,
I received an update from the team at around 9:30 pm last night – they are in Waramadong and are doing very well. They were tired – they woke up quite early to get a head start but a downpour delayed their travel. The clinic has been busy, and there is also a large secondary school (which houses students from all over the area), so a lot of need and a lot of opportunity for health promotion. The volunteers are in very good spirits, are working hard, and are becoming more comfortable in this new physical and cultural environment each day.
As some of you know, Bekkie Vineberg could only stay with the team for half the trip. Dr. Ray Deonandan, a Guyanese expat, professor of epidemiology at Ottawa U and Ve’ahavta volunteer, flew in to Guyana today (and is flying into the interior today) to join the team and support our Site Coordinator, Jessica Lockhart, for the rest of the trip. We gave Ray an additional suitcase of toothbrushes, toothpaste and multivitamins to take down…we can never turn down an opportunity to send more supplies! The team is close knit and have worked out how to adjust roles and responsibilities in the clinic given that Bekkie, who has been doing the sexual health/family planning counseling, is leaving. Joanne will likely be taking on the bulk of this counseling role.
The team will stay in Waramadong today. Their next community will be Jawalla. I will update you over the weekend- most likely on Sunday.
This is an update to let you know that our volunteers are doing well in Kenya. Thomas and I have been speaking each day. The volunteers are doing well and Izzo of MaRafiki has been keeping them busy and engaged. They are eagerly awaiting the clearance of our container of Kinder Kits from customs but we appear to be closer now. The latest word from the Embassy of Israel in Nairobi is that he hopes the container is released today and that it arrives at Nairobi Synagogue to be unloaded on Monday. Let’s keep our fingers crossed! I know our volunteers are encouraged by this news. This is truly a beautiful example of partnership between the State of Israel, the Jewish people, and the people of Kenya. Here are the past few emails I’ve received from Thomas:
We arrived safely in Kenya and now we are residing at a Home-Stay near the city of Nairobi. Izzo gave us to understand that the Kinder Kits are in the country but the container has not yet been cleared. I will be calling the Synagogue to get more info and I’ll let you know the progress. Izzo and his team has been a great resource for our activities. This afternoon, Izzo give us a presentation of Marafiki and Marafiki’s involvement in IDP and it appears like there’s immense need at the camps.
I was in touch with the Deputy Israeli Ambassador today and he gave to understand that the container is in Kenya but in the port of Mombasa. He said that the container might be cleared on Monday or any other day next week and then will be transported to Nairobi. He added that there’s little he can do to hasten its clearance. I gathered from our conversation that he is skeptic with the bureucratic tape of the government of Kenya. He also said that he will be in touch with you with regards to the clearance fees. Today IZZO took us to two of Marafiki’s projects; one in the slums of Kibera and another in the Kikuyu area about 25 Km from Nairobi. I will give you more updates tomorrow.
The container is indeed in Nairobi – at the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) offices. Since it is under my name I had to send my passport which I did.
Hopefully it will be released today and shipped to the synagogue on Monday.
Working on the payment issue.
Maor Elbaz – Starinsky
Embassy of the State of Israel
Ve’ahavta is doing the wire transfer today. Hopefully you will have the container by Monday!
This is great news; we’ll keep our fingers crossed!
This is a brief note to let you know that Bekkie called a short while ago to check in from Kamarang. They saw about 60 patients yesterday, got through a torrential downpour unscathed, and assisted a woman through her labour and then the successful delivery of a healthy baby last night! I jokingly asked Bekkie if they named the baby after her – she said, “No, it was a boy! Just my luck.” ; ) Some of you might remember that one of our volunteers, Dr. Sharonie Valin, helped deliver little baby Sharonie in the village of Jawalla about eight years ago now.
The clinic was quieter today so Louis led a session with the local Medex on how to insert an IV into a child, and some of the other volunteers went to go do some educational outreach at the local school. They had a very interesting case yesterday of a patient who came into the clinic with “the bends” – a condition when nitrogen gas gets trapped in the joints. Thankfully, Louis had gotten oxygen donated and was able to treat the man successfully.
Depending on how things go at today’s clinic, the team may travel to their next community, Waramadong, a little earlier than planned (they were going to originally depart tomorrow morning). There is a long secondary school in Waramadong and a lot of students from other villages who come there to board – so certainly many health promotion opportunities there!
Today’s note is to let you know that Jessica called a little while ago on the satellite phone to let me know that our team is well and thriving in Kamarang. They ran a busy first clinic today. Despite their long day of travel yesterday, they still managed to see some patients as well. Everyone is doing well and adjusting to the new climate, the language barriers (many Amerindians in this area speak the oral language Aikiwao), sleeping in tents, pumping their drinking water, and the lack of amenities. I will get a fuller report with numbers of patients seen and the team’s thoughts at their first debriefing this evening.
Looking forward to being in touch,
We arrived safely in Kenya and now we are residing at a Home-Stay near the city of Nairobi. Izzo let us know that the Kinder Kits are in the country but the container has not yet been cleared. I will be calling the Synagogue to get more information and will let you know the progress. Izzo and his team have been a great resource for our activities. This afternoon, Izzo give us a presentation of Marafiki and Marafiki’s involvement in IDP and it appears like there’s immense need at the camps.
Just a brief note to let you know that the team is now safely in Kamarang, which is in the interior of Region 7. The tents are set up, the bags unloaded, and their immediate plan is to have lunch, rehydrate, and for those who are up to it, setting up the clinic. I think all the volunteers will need a good rest after all of their travels and will have full day clinic tomorrow.
Have a great evening,
I will be trying to email you every day for the duration of the trip with little updates on our Guyana team.
This first update is to let you know that everyone arrived safely – and early – this morning in Georgetown. The flight was smooth and ahead of schedule, and all of our bags came through with no problems. Bekkie was on the tarmac to greet the team when they arrived. They should be preparing to travel into the interior this morning, which means that they still have another short flight ahead of them into the rainforest. I’ve attached a photo with a view from the plane into the interior!
I will email later when I have heard that they have settled in Kamarang, their first village.
For the first time, we sent off TWO international teams in one day – our first volunteer team to Kenya this afternoon, and our third Guyana team of 2010 this evening.
Our Kenya Kinder Kit team – Corinne, Lisa, Mark, and our very own Thomas Ngobe (site coordinator)- were excited and ready to go. Thomas was at the airport with about 10 family and friends to see him off. It was beautiful to see his excitement and absolute pleasure to be traveling to Kenya on behalf of Ve’ahavta. I think our team will be so fortunate to have this experience with him. The team will be working with our local partner, MaRafiki Community International.
Our Guyana team – Dr. Louis Nel, Dr. Joanne Laine-Gossin, Glenda Mindlin (physiotherapist), Nazmoon Audam (nurse), and our Site Coordinator Jessica Lockhart- were fantastic at the airport, as was the team from Caribbean Airlines who graciously gave us 2 free extra checked bags and wonderful service. The team were hands on and cooperative right from the beginning and check in was smooth and fun. Louis showed up at the airport with a huge duffel bag of extra donation supplies from the hospital AND a wheelchair, yet somehow we still managed to get everything through. Our senior Site Coordinator Bekkie Vineberg is already in Guyana setting everything up and can’t wait to greet everyone on the tarmac in the morning.
We will be providing daily updates from the field – stay tuned!
Last week we had our very first Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA) Alumni meeting. There were three alumni in attendance which was fabulous considering the pouring rain outside.
One of the two students that is going to George Brown College was in attendance. He reports how Redirection Through Education (RTE) is changing his life and how proud he is to be a student. The other student in RTE is doing wonderfully as well – I recently got a message from her thanking me for the opportunity.
We have three alumni who are now working part-time and one who is taking a continuing education course and loves it.
I am still in regular contact with all the students.
Its nice to see everyone continuing to move forward thanks to VSA.
Founding Director, Ve’ahavta Street Academy
On Tuesday of this week, I took my 16 year old cat, Fluffy, to the vet for the last time. She’d had two tumors removed from her tummy in July and unfortunately the cancer had spread to her lungs. Fluffy was sweet, gentle and kind with other animals and a comfort to me. Even though she is one of many cats in my apartment, she is one of the longest lived and has been with me since she was three years young. She will be sorely missed.
Everyone who knows me has been sending emails and calling, asking if there is anything they can do. More people have hugged me and offered comfort and “call me if you want to talk” than I can count (many of them are people that I work with). In my sorrow, I am finding the very best in people that I associate with every day, thanks to my little cat. What a jewel she was and what treasure she continues to give!
Posted by Terri
By Avrum Rosensweig
The rescue off 33 men in a Chilean mine seems Biblical in texture and miraculous in nature.
Millions of us traveled into the guts of the earth, to join in a rescue of 33 Chilean miners and to witness the intersection of nature, faith, the Divine, and the brilliance of people hood.
We sat in our homes, and felt a deep emotion rise up in our gut as we did when Apollo 11 touched down in the Sea of Tranquility, and Apollo 13 returned safely. What could inspire us more?
Our faith in humankind was restored. Our partnership with the earth was confirmed, but we were reminded of our limited control while these men were trapped 1/2 a mile below civilization.
The rescue of 33 miners in a remote part of Chile was indeed the resurrection of simple men, who once again showed us that no person is simple.
Normally people go into the ground because they have died. They do not return. They do not exit a mine after 68 days of being trapped. They do not relive.
But these men are climbing out of a rigged cage at the surface of the earth as if they were hopping out of their grave, or what could have been.
They are being dug out of the earth through the shear will and intelligence of person kind. And they are arriving home, out of inner-space, with smiles on their faces. There is no grave here.
The president of Chile and his wife are there. CNN is giving us live around the clock coverage. NASA has played a role in the rescue.
This historic moment is right there in our living rooms, in our hearts and in our souls.
God bless the Chilean miners, their families and all those who made this natural miracle, the rescue, possible.
We will always remember where we were when the human spirit defeated tragedy and when 33 men were pitted against death in a test of endurance, and they won.
Love the earth you walk on, and above. Know that we, humanity, can achieve greatness, like peace, when we decide we want to.
Starry Nights Tickets are on sale now! Click here to purchase.
Ve’ahavta Partners With the State of Israel and Skyline International to Send Pharmaceuticals to Chad
Ve’ahavta, The State of Israel and Skylink International have committed to providing urgently needed pharmaceutical supplies to assist refugees from Darfur currently living in refugee camps in Chad. The shipment left on October 5, 2010.
Yesterday during my outreach shift, I was stopped in a rough intersection helping about 20 people. A Muslim man walked up and praised me and our organization for doing God’s work. He blessed me in Arabic.
A nice, healing gesture, and one that is too rare among all people of differing faiths.
I live in the downtown area of Yorkville, which is quite affluent. It also has a large population of panhandling “regulars.” I find some of them difficult to interact with at times, in fact most of the time I don’t interact with them at all. There’s the young guy who tries to bully you into taking money out of a debit machine if you don’t have cash on you, or the guy who pretends he has to walk with crutches and curses at you if you don’t have anything to give him….and then there’s Patrick. Patrick’s the kind of guy who’s happy with a smile if you don’t have any change. That’s what he said to me the day I met him, so I obliged. Then I asked him where he gets his clothing and supplies from since I didn’t think our van did any drop-offs in the area. He tells me about a nearby church where you can pick up clothing and I told him I’d get the van to send some stuff over so him and the other guys in the neighborhood wouldn’t have to go down to City Hall. Since then, we’ve become buddies. I always say hi to him when I see him, chat for a few minutes, give him hugs, much to the shock of some of my friends and passers by.
The act of kindness, though, came from him, not me. But I doubt he’ll get to a computer anytime soon so I’ll volunteer the exchange on his behalf. I was walking home from the gym at about 11pm, just when the bars start picking up, and I see him on one of the corners with his coffee cup.
I say, “Hey Patrick! How’s it going? I’m sorry but I don’t have anything for you tonight.”
He says, “That’s alright. I got a pack of smokes, you want one?” (this is not the first time he’s been so unnecessarily generous).
“Sure, why not,” I say.
He pulls the pack out and I reach in. “Take a couple, he says,” insistently.
I smile and exclaim, “Thanks Patrick! You’re the best!” And as I walk away, I turn around and say, “Hey, I guess it pays to be friends with you, huh?”
He gives me the thumbs up, we both smile and laugh, and I go on my way. Patrick brightens my day whenever I see him. How someone in his situation can have such a great energy and generous spirit just astounds me and I feel extremely lucky to know him.
Ve’ahavta, in partnership with Food for the Poor Canada, is facilitating 5 20 foot containers of food aid and educational supplies to Haiti. The donations will be distributed to the House of Hope Orphanage, as well as to the 3,000 other local partners of Food for The Poor in Haiti. We are thrilled to announce that our first shipment has arrived and has been distributed. This is an important means of ensuring that many of our local partners in Haiti receive a guaranteed monthly shipment of food staples (rice and beans) as they get back on their feet during this very difficult time.
On Friday night a 6 alarm blaze ripped through a downtown housing complex at 200 Wellesley Street. The fire was extinguished Friday evening but as of Sunday the fire chief claims there are still hot spots. Some 1700 low income individuals are now homeless and seeking refuge at the Wellesley Community Centre. The individuals affected by the fire are unable to return to their homes to retrieve any of their belongings and are homeless indefinitely at the moment as there is intense structural damage to the building.
Ve’ahavta, in partnership with JVS and Congregation Habonim are launching a campaign to assist the victims of the victims of 200 Wellesley Street fire. We will deliver clothing, Kinder Kits and help with donations.
Local philanthropist and humanitarian, Walter Arbib, has generously donated $5000 to start things off.
Over 1700 people have been affected by this disaster and require a generous response from the Jewish community.
Please read the following and do your best to deliver relief items to the venues posted and donate.
Items most needed include:
Baby clothes and furniture are not a high priority at this time. Entertainers required to perk up the people.
Gift cards for grocery, department and drug stores are also being accepted. Donations of gift cards and clothing are being accepted at 519 Church Street.
Donate online through Ve’ahavta.
Drop off and pickup hours at 519 Church Street:
Sunday 12 noon – 5pm
Monday to Friday 9 am – 9pm
Weekends 10 am – 5pm
Residents of 200 Wellesley can pick up donated items at the Wellesley Community Centre (495 Sherbourne St) and the U of T Exam Centre (255 McCaul St). Residents are asked to bring their yellow registration card.
Things are really hectic there. There are lots of unanswered questions and lots of people looking for answers.
I have had a chance to speak to some of the people who are affected by the fire and a general consensus was they feel like they are numbers. They feel like no one cares.
I spoke to one man Steve, he was trying to get his bank to replace his card. They told him that he needed to get some ID. He asked at the community center if there was someone who could take him to the bank and try to explain his situation and get him a card…no one could take the time. I ended up going with him and I was also able to get his card replaced. We walked out of the bank and he fell apart, and started crying. He took me out for a coffee and I comforted him as much as I can. He believes that his cat may be dead in his apartment. His cat is his only companion.
I truly believe that these fire victims need some human connection. Can we send some people there to talk with these people and bring them some compassion and love.
Ve’ahavta Street Academy
Imagine not knowing where your dog is, wondering whether he will survive the increasingly intense wall of smoke and flames. Imagine not being able to go back to your place for your insulin, which has kept your diabetes in check for years. Imagine not being able to get your computer, your family photos, your wallet, your passport or any other of your possessions? This was the real life horror story for my 9 a.m. appointment Saturday morning, when Stephen came in distraught at having every possession he has ever had burned beyond recognition.
This was also the unfortunate scenario for the 1,700 residents of 200 Wellesley Street after a horrendous fire engulfed the 24th floor, causing many of the already poor and chronically ill of Toronto onto the streets.
Having worked at St. Michael’s Hospital Health Centre at 410 Sherbourne for over 15 years, I have had the privilege of helping many patients like Stephen. Many of the residents of 200 Wellesley Street have been patients of our clinic for many years, many of them suffering with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, depression, schizophrenia and addictions. I have met so many resilient folks from that building over the years, who with great determination and courage, have overcome great adversity, illness and poverty. Yet, this weekend I witnessed something that went beyond the usual challenges these residents face on a daily basis. Patient after patient described the frustration at not being able to go back to their homes. The angst and pain of not knowing whether their pets had survived. The anxiety of not being able to get their wallets, their ID and any of their possessions. The challenge of not knowing when they could return to their beds. The fear of not knowing where that next meal will come from.
The needs of these residents of 200 Wellesley are significant as they try to piece together their lives. I feel blessed to be working at St. Michael’s Hospital, where our patient comfort fund, in the last few days has helped dozens of our patients, homeless from the fire, get a meal or some new clothes. I also feel blessed to have worked with Ve’ahavta.
It is truly wonderful to see Ve’ahavta, again at the forefront of humanitarian work, helping those in need at their time of need. I feel privileged to have worked with some of these residents for years and know how much they would appreciate some food, new clothes and the simple acknowledgment that people actually care. Let us hope that they can all return home soon!
Gordon Arbess, MD, CCFP
Health Centre at 410
Department of Family & Community Medicine
St. Michael’s Hospital
University of Toronto
Why should we all come out to Starry Nights Sunday, November 7th at 6pm?
Because Ve’ahavta literally helped save over 200 orphans in Haiti after last year’s devastating earthquake by providing clean water and sustainable farming. We are also assisting in the rebuilding of their damaged classroom. More importantly, we have a long term commitment to support these children.
This past summer we provided ten people living on or near the street with a six week program called the Ve’ahavta Street Academy. Nine out of the ten graduates of the program have either enrolled in further education or are now employed. All students receive ongoing support following graduation. These results prove that we can make a difference.
This program is designed to remove barriers, to create an environment where people can learn, and explore further education as a sustainable way out of poverty and/or homelessness. We were pleased to have lectures provided by Ron Maclean and other prominent professors from George Brown College and Ryerson University.
I would like to personally express my congratulations to our graduating class, Ve’ahavta Street Academy 2010!
In 2010, Ve’ahavta distributed over 10,000 Kinder Kits internationally through our international distribution partners in Israel, Haiti, Poland, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Another 5,000 Kinder Kits have been distributed throughout Canada to our local distribution partners such as Jewish Family and Child Services, Working Women’s Community Centre, Children’s Aid Society and many other organizations.
There are many other wonderful stories and examples similar to this, but if you want to clearly make a difference in this world, your donations will go a long way.
We are also working on various projects in Israel, Zimbabwe, and Guyana and many other countries around the world.
As my Chairmanship term at Ve’ahavta comes to a close this year, I am thrilled to announce our accomplishments – we track all of our programs long term and only do what works and proves relevant. In my opinion a donation to Ve’ahavta will go a long way in making a difference in the world.
Please click here to see the e-vite including the 2010 Honouree list.
Sir Bob Geldof is our guest speaker and David Shore is this year’s master of ceremonies and the list of Honourees is as usual, truly inspiring.
Finally, the Platimum ‘HOUSE’ VIP package (tour of the set, watching a live taping of the show and other great items) will be featured on eBay prior to the event. Stay tuned for more eBay information.
For more information on Starry Nights please click here or to purchase tickets call Joshua Hacker at 416-964-7698, ext. 21.
Looking forward to seeing you on November 7th.
Mark Diamond, Ve’ahavta Chair
We have created a joint effort in our fight against poverty within the communities of Toronto. PARC is a drop-in and recreation facility which helps those living under the poverty line as well as facilitates the growing process by providing supportive housing within the Parkdale area. They are registered in the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon http://www.torontowaterfrontmarathon.com/en/index.htm.
Ve’ahavta is on board with them and sharing their booth which will be in the front of the marathon line! On Sunday September 26th Ve’ahavta will provide Breakfast to the Parkdale marathon spectators as a thank you for welcoming our Outreach team to their community!
Sunday, November 7th, 2010
Join Ve’ahavta as we celebrate our Tikun Olam Award honourees.
HOW TO PURCHASE TICKETS
Tickets $500 – To PURCHASE TICKETS CONTACT VE’AHAVTA AT 416-964-7698
LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE FOR STUDENTS / YOUNG PROFESSIONALS
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Acclaimed Humanitarian Activist and Co-founder
of the charity super-group Band-Aid
SIR BOB GELDOF
Creator, Writer and Executive Producer of HOUSE M.D
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how you can help make this event a success.
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Presented by: Distributel
6:00 PM Gala Reception and Silent Auction Preview
7:00 PM Tikun Olam Awards Ceremony
Ve’ahavta will present the Tikun Olam Awards to the following
inspiring individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary efforts
to repair the world. This year, our honourees are:
- Shabir Hussein ~ Humanitarian
- Bill Glied and Sally Wasserman ~ Remembrance
- Dr Paul and Pedrinah Thistle ~ Medical
- Peter Oliver ~ Education
- Rebecca Cherniak ~ Youth Leadership
- Naomi Azrieli ~ Community Leadership
Click below for a complete list of sponsorship opportunities or
contact Josh Hacker at Josh.Hacker@veahavta.org
> Complete list
Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts
5040 Yonge Street
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Ve’ahavta is a Canadian humanitarian and relief organization, motivated by the Jewish value of Tzedakah/Justice, that assists the needy at home and abroad, through volunteerism, education, and acts of kindness, while building bridges between Jews and other peoples.
Ve’ahavta Board Members
Mark Diamond ~ Chair
Henry Greisman ~ Vice-President
Larry Zimmerman ~ Secretary & Past President
Bruce Cowley ~ Executive Board Member
Gordon Arbess | Ron Baruch | Alison Cohen | Karen Ehrlich
Richard Ekstein | Danielle Kaplan | Malka Lewittes | Paul Lindzon
Barry Picov | Judy Shore | Brian Vyner
STARRY NIGHTS 2010 COMMITTEE
Bruce Cowley ~ Executive Chair
Alison Cohen ~ Co-Chair
Malka Lewittes ~ Co-Chair
Mark Diamond | Shelley Diamond | Alicia Gouveia | Henry Greisman
Fern Levitt | Lynda Nadolny | Brian Vyner | Jackie Zimmerman
Avrum Rosensweig – Founding President
Kirill Zaretsky – Director of Development
I cannot begin to describe my feelings of extreme pride and humility – proud to be part of Ve’ahavta, proud to be a Jew, proud to be Canadian and also at the same time, to be so humbled by the experience of how much individuals and groups can do to truly do to repair the world.
I salute Barry Picov and Sarah Zelcer for demonstrating passion to make things happen – following through on commitments to make things happen. I salute Barry for his extraordinary care and support of the House of Hope; for giving 200 children and youth the opportunity to grow and develop into kind, loving and spirited people. This is all thanks to the extraordinary work of the orphanage founder, Alice. She is a force of nature to be reckoned with – what she cannot find, attain, gather, collect, build, organize by sheer determination and hard work, she seems to do by faith and belief (and always her ‘father’ and ‘friend’, Barry, who seems to know no boundaries when it comes to helping Alice and her many children). These 200 little and somewhat older youth call Alice ‘mummy’ – she loves and cuddles them, treats them like individuals, encourages them, reasons with them and counsels them. She has never turned away a child in need, nor given up hope. The children themselves think of her as their mother, and they know they have 199 brothers and sisters with whom they share their lives – it’s just a fact of life.
I salute Sarah Zelcer for her outstanding contribution to Tikun Olam. It is she who carefully nurtured the relationships with our partners in Haiti – Canadian Feed the Children, Magen David Adom, Food for the Poor, Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, JDC and others. What a thrill to know how and where the funds raised by Ve’ahavta’s donors have gone. Through Sarah’s ongoing commitment, insight, vast experience in international relations and determination, she has enabled Ve’ahavta to:
(Please refer to Sarah’s daily blogs for a fuller description of what we did).
Sarah also pulled off a very important meeting on our last day in Port au Prince – she heard that Ruth Messenger, Head of American Jewish World Service was in the city with a delegation. Sarah took an educated guess at what Ruth’s email address might be, sent her an impromptu email and voila, we had a half hour meeting with Ruth and eight influential women from NYC, where we shared our work to date and future plans. We ended up being invited to dinner and the most remarkable address by Anne Spenser who had set up a micro financing program 15 years ago and is still going strong throughout Haiti.
We in Canada have much to be thankful for, much to be proud of, and know there is much work to be done. I am totally committed and so encouraged by the warmth, hospitality, know how, passion of those we met in Haiti, our partners on the ground, our partners based in Canada, the US and Israel. I saw much destruction, shattered lives, reason for despair and hopelessness in a country ravaged by the powerful earthquake which left 300,000 dead, homes, businesses and lives shattered. But I do know that we can rebuild one step at a time, with one community at a time and that Ve’ahavta can make the difference – we need to follow the leadership of both Barry and Sarah who are two remarkable people who I admire so much.
Sarah and I will be reporting on our trip with recommendations for the next three years.
I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to play my part in helping the people of Haiti, representing Ve’ahavta, Canada and Jews.
The High Holidays is a time when we work toward being less invisible. We stand in front of God and with all the visibility we can muster we ask for forgiveness. We humble ourselves in front of those we love, like, or work with — and we are contrite, showing as much of our essence as possible.
And we prostrate ourselves before the world, all creation, and we ask, with all of our being, “did I do enough to rescue you the enslaved child, or the abused woman or the homeless man?”.
On the High Holidays we remove our masks and expose our soul to the world. Then, and only then, do we succeed at maximizing these Days of Atonement.
Be visible. Show those you love your nefesh (spirit). Apologize and ask for the same in return. Stand up proud and obvious in front of the people of Israel, Zimbabwe, Guyana, Haiti and Canada — and let them know you are here to make their lives better and your’s more meaningful.
Thank you for letting us see you, through your support.
Let us hope and pray that in 5771 Ve’ahavta’s doors will close because the Garden of Eden will have blossomed into everyone’s heart and home.
We are sorry if we hurt you in anyway or did not do enough for our world.
Shana Tova. Let us know how we can do better!
President and Founder
Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish and Humanitarian Relief Committee
Let us take care of your Rosh Hashanah mailing.
Tax receipts are issued for all card donations.
Call our office today or click on the link to send sweet wishes
to your friends, family and colleagues.
This beautiful and inspiring card features original artwork by
Ve’ahavta’s Founding Director, Avrum Rosensweig.
Give truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham like that you
swore to our ancestors from long ago.
Fall is nearly here with cold weather just around the corner. We are looking for the following items:
To donate, please contact Eric Cisterna at 416-964-7698, ext. 17 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For the next three days we encourage you to think about homelessness and all those that don’t have a home. Homelessness in a rich nation such as Canada is not necessary.
For the next three days we are having events that we would like you to attend.
Tonight we are having an open mic. Please join us for an evening of sharing our talents and stories.
OPEN MIC – TODAY AT 7:30 pm
280 GERRARD STREET EAST (BASEMENT COMMON ROOM)
Snacks and Refreshments will be served.
Hope to see you there.
Please see a complete list of events as well as our Comedy Show Flyer.
The reception for the Kinder Kits was overwhelming.
The Rabbi could not believe the generosity and care in organization that had been put into making the Kinder Kits.
I spent a few minutes describing the program. He was in disbelief when I quoted our explosion of growth and the means by which we attain our donations. He mentioned that it was the function of the Principal’s office to help those in need and he was truly grateful for the support so that they can focus on other issues.
Thank you for providing this opportunity to distribute the Kinder Kits. It’s wonderful to feel the goodness that we bring to the people we serve.
- Anonymous Kinder Kit Volunteer
Day 4 Haiti
We had yet another wonderful day. I must tell you that as I write there is a tremendous thunderstorm – the first rains I’ve experienced here so far.
Our morning began with a meeting with our partner Food For the Poor (FFTP) Haiti. Ve’ahavta is working with FFTP Canada to facilitate four shipments of food and one shipment of educational supplies to Haiti between now and March. FFTP Haiti is a massive operation with major distribution capabilities to 3,000 local partners. They also run local projects – feeding programs, a medical clinic, orphanages, schools, homes for the aged and the disabled. House of Hope (HOH) managed to get on their registered agencies list and now gets monthly allocations of rice and beans along with other items that FFTP may have on hand, including shoes, clothes, etc. On top of this, our shipments over the next seven months will ensure that HOH gets its full monthly requirement of rice and beans (they go through 30 fifty lb bags of rice per month) which will free up some funds to support other aspects of daily life at the orphanage. We are also planning to ship 3,000 kinder kits this December.
After our meeting, we were treated to incredible hospitality at Gachette’s beautiful home. We got to see the photos of his amazing children and ate a delicious traditional Haitian meal. Alison and I could hardly believe it when we saw a huge bottle of Manischewitz wine on his wine rack! He loves the stuff. We explained how that wine is the ultimate experience of shabbat in Jewish households around the world, and Gachette immediately suggested we open it. So if you can only imagine, Alison and I were soon sitting on a rooftop with Debra and Gachette in Port au Prince, sharing a meal, toasting with Manischewitz and teaching our colleagues how to say “l’chaim”!
Alice soon joined us, and after Debra and Gachette left for a meeting, she took us to a local market where we invested in the local economy by stocking up on crafts. One of Alice’s “kids”, an artist named Pierre Jules, had joined us and brought, at our request, some of his paintings which we were thrilled to purchase to support his art career. I am sure his beautiful work will hang proudly in Ve’ahavta’s offices and local classrooms very soon.
After returning to the hotel and reconnecting with Gachette and Debra, we soon left again. We had been invited to join Ruth Messinger, President of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), at a roundtable she had organized at a hotel in Petionville. Ruth has been in Haiti this week as well with a contingent of AJWS supporters. It was a tremendous opportunity to share with them the work that Ve’ahavta is doing in Haiti. We were then invited to join them for dinner and listen to two women connected with the microfinance organization Fonkoze share the incredible story of their work in Haiti. Fonkoze are local partners of AJWS. Ve’ahavta is a member of the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief (JCDR), a coalition in which AJWS plays a significant role. Fonkoze was a recipient of a grant from the JCDR. As contributors to the Coalition’s Haiti fund, we have directly supported Fonkoze’s work in Haiti and it was an unexpected and thrilling opportunity to receive an in depth overview of their incredible efforts here.
Gideon Hersher, JDC’s representative here in Haiti, was there as well. As he drove us back to our hotel, I reflected on a chat I had briefly with an editor of the Jewish Forward, who was at the roundtable this evening. She said, “there is a Jewish story here in Haiti”. Leaving the meeting I thought, “there certainly is”.
I can’t believe how quickly our time has flown and how full it has been. This is a wonderful and heartbreaking place. We have seen some incredible need and have seen firsthand how our work is making an impact at the community level. It has been wonderful to make connections with so many partners and learn more about some amazing work that is being done. There is still much to do.
Tomorrow morning we fly home and begin to build a three year plan for our continued work in Haiti. I am looking forward to that process. I must acknowledge and thank the wonderful Alison Cohen, a member of our Board and a long time Ve’ahavta supporter. Alison’s cross cultural experience (she cycles around the world) and project management savvy (she is a consultant in that area), as well as her humour and generosity of spirit and her deep sense of humanitarianism made her an invaluable addition to this trip and I am grateful for her involvement.
Thanks as well to my colleagues in Toronto who have been making every effort to share my postings and the incredible work Ve’ahavta continues to do with our network of supporters. See you all again very soon!
Another incredible day.
With each day, with each hour, I find my perspective shifting. I am realizing, for example, that while during my first few days here it seemed as though very little has happened here in terms of cleanup since the earthquake, I have been noticing a lot of activity on the streets revolving around the clearing of rubble. The challenge, I suppose, is where to take the tremendous amounts of rubble that have accumulated as a result of the earthquake.
This morning we met with the mayor of Gressier, the municipality in which the House of Hope is located. He shared with us his perspectives on the greatest areas of need in Gressier, which mostly center around the needs of the many children who have been rendered homeless and/or orphans since January. As you can imagine, many are going without basic necessities of life, including food and healthcare, as well as education, and, of course, supervision and structure.
We then met at the home of a local Catholic priest who is very much engaged with the grassroots activities currently in place to assist the residents of Gressier. A few other representatives of small, grassroots initiatives joined us for the purpose of sharing information about local needs (again, the needs of children were described as the highest and most urgent priority).
We then drove to Leogane, an area that was completely devastated by the earthquake. Strangely, after driving around Port Au Prince and to and from Gressier numerous times over the past few days, it is strange but truthful to report that at a certain point, the presence of endless scenes of collapsed buildings and rubble almost seem to become part of the natural landscape. The images are so pervasive and so frequently observed that it becomes less shocking. However, Leogane once again invoked a sense of shock as we contemplated the level of destruction and spoke with local survivors who described the aftermath of the earthquake – the bodies in the streets, the mass burials, the horrible smells that hung in the air as bodies decayed in buildings, as no one could extricate them from the rubble. Again, there were so many tents, massive new tent cities that will undoubtedly be there for a long, long time, necessitating intentional planning and support to help create communities in these areas that function and thrive, at least until the residents can be rehoused. No one seems to be able to predict when that might be.
Alison and I had the opportunity to sit with Alice Barthole, the founder of the House of Hope, to get a clear sense of the structure of the orphanage and its day to day activities. As we spoke inside a sheltered area that serves as a temporary church and school as the former structures were demolished, we noticed a group of teenagers assembling who began to sing. Their voices rose in the most beautiful harmony and we couldn’t help but watch them and taker pictures and video of their beautiful voices which I will post soon. They are excited to see themselves on you tube once I get a chance to upload the videos.
Eventually, we drove back to the House of Hope, where we were greeted with such joy from the kids. There was a real difference between their response to us yesterday and today. Yesterday, it took them a long time to warm up, they were quiet and watchful and serious until we had been there for several hours. Today, they were boisterous and joyful and smiling and full of hugs. We gratefully accepted cuddles and obligingly took many photos of them which they loved seeing on our digital camera.
When I first arrived at the House of Hope yesterday, I had felt a lot of sadness. It was so painful to contemplate the fact that many of these children are in need. By the end of today, my perspective had once again transformed as I realized that the children of the House of Hope are amongst the more fortunate ones. They are housed and clothed and fed, and they are being raised in an environment that is contained within the warm and loving heart of a very special woman named Alice. They are loved, and that is apparent and beautiful to see.
We said goodbye to the children and they sung us out of the gate.
On the way home we watched the activities of the market, peppering Gachette with questions about what we were seeing and what we had observed. Gachette bought us some sugar cane to try and we all munched on it thoughtfully; sweet mouthfuls of cane juice as we drove away from the water and began climbing the streets once more to our hotel.
I hope to upload some photos tonight so my posts can be accompanied by some images. It is so important for Ve’ahavta’s supporters to know that we have been able to so closely monitor the incredible projects that we have supported in Haiti since January. There is still tremendous potential here for us to continue doing meaningful work and to affect positive change in many lives.
Let us take care of your Rosh Hashanah mailing. Tax receipts are issued for all card donations.
Call our office today or click on the link to send sweet wishes to your friends, family and colleagues.
This beautiful and inspiring card features original artwork by Ve’ahavta’s Founding Director, Avrum Rosensweig.
In the past month our volunteers and staff have packed and delivered over 1,500 Kinder Kits to local partners in the GTA. Here is a testimonial from a volunteer that completed a delivery of sponsored Kinder Kits:
Thank you for providing this opportunity to distribute the Kinder Kits. It’s wonderful to feel the goodness that we bring to the people we serve. - Kinder Kit Volunteer
Click to sponsor a Kinder Kit today!
I am so excited to tell you about our first real day in Haiti. It has been so full and we have covered a lot of ground. We started with an early breakfast and in the light of the morning sun I glanced at the pool and saw what I had missed last night – the entire building adjacent to the hotel lobby and behind the area where the three of us had dinner was collapsed, its roof caved in, a strange contrast to the otherwise idyllic setting.
Gachette met us at 8am. Gachette is the country representative of Canadian Feed the Children (CFTC), a partner agency with whom Ve’ahavta has been supporting the House of Hope. Gachette is a haitian man in his forties, a father, and incredible at his job. He manages the relationships with CFTC’s four partners in Haiti. He is warm with a wonderful sense of humour and has been sharing a great deal of information about Haiti and its history over the past two days. Gachette took us to CFTC’s field office, and then took us downtown to show us the utter devastation that was left in the areas hardest hit by the earthquake. The presidential palace is destroyed, and a massive tent city has sprung up across the street. Displaced people are showering and washing up in full view – there is no privacy, they are utterly exposed. Certain infrastructure seems to have been put in place in some camps – portable toilets for example and generators, important resources though signs that the camps themselves are becoming more established, less temporary, even permanent – at least for the foreseeable future. We were left gasping and sighing as we passed by building after building that were collapsed, some partially, some reduced to complete rubble.
There is rubble everywhere. I can’t imagine what this city must have been like in the immediate aftermath of January’s disaster considering how little seems to have been done from a clean up, demolition and reconstruction point of view six months later.
We began the long drive to Gressier. We have begun to learn that poor roads and tons of traffic make traveling anywhere unpredictable. As Gachette says, “we are not so close, but we are not so far”. Eventually we made it to Gressier and saw the sign for House of Hope (HOH). We pulled into the gates and pulled up to see all 193 of the orphanage’s children assembled to welcome us. We were treated to some singing and warm greetings. The children were beautiful and sweet. It is so painful to contemplate children without parents or families. Not all the kids at HOH are orphans in the true sense of the word – many are economic orphans, or kids whose families can’t afford to take care of them. We met a few heartbreaking cases, including one boy with sad eyes who witnessed his home collapse on top of his parents, rendering him alone and living on the streets until someone brought him to Alice.
We then spent several hours meeting with Alice and one of her staff, discussing current and potential projects, and touring the grounds. We saw the vehicle we helped purchase, the sites for potential reconstruction projects, the chicken coops. We were treated to a beautiful lunch with the kids, and then to wonderful music by a troubadour group of Haitian musicians. We all listened, enjoyed, danced. Then we were treated to a show that a number of kids had prepared. Finally it was time to drive back. We received beautiful gifts of incredible paitings created by a couple of residents at the orphanage. We left, happy to know that we will be back tomorrow.
The drive home to close to two hours, the passing landscape weirdly becoming increasingly familiar – the throngs of people, the crowded markets, the piles of garbage clogging the canals and streets, the colourful tap-taps (minbuses) that are teeming with people, the rubble, the many SUVs with NGO logos, even the UN blue helmets, whom we’ve seen everywhere. Back at the hotel, we had the chance to shower and relax for a bit before meeting with Gideon Hersher, a lovely man who is the JDC rep in Haiti. It was wonderful to have dinner with him, an Israeli who has spent the past five months overseeing JDC’s projects and networking with other local NGOs. He was able share an incredible amount of information, including a few things that I didn’t know – for example, there are 21 jews currently living in Haiti, and Haiti opened up its doors to Jewish refugees after the holocaust. Gideon also gave us an update on an incredible rehab clinic we have supported which is being operated by Magen David Adom. The clinic provides free treatment and fitting and prosthetics for patients who have lost limbs in the earthquake. He was thrilled to meet us and to let us know that Ve’ahavta was one of the primary supporters of this clinic and one of the first to pledge support early on in the aftermath of the quake.
A full day, and now my eyes are closing. Time to rest. Tomorrow we look forward to meeting with the mayor of Gressier and the travelling to Leogane.
What a day. Wake up in the morning in my house in Toronto, my daughter asleep beside me still. Last minute packing before the cab arrives with Alison to take us to the airport.
It seems strange to be going to Haiti. Neither of us had been and we had no idea what to expect. We met our colleague, Debra Kerby of CFTC at the gate, ready to start the adventure.
Landing in Port Au Prince was almost disconcerting in the sense that it was so easy, so relatively close to the hub that is the Miami airport where we had caught our connecting flight. From the air, the city looked orderly and beautiful. Our plane was full of all sorts of people – young families, NGO people, individual volunteers, members of church groups, members of relief teams, people who looked like they just might be on vacation. I thought of the people who exited their flight last January 11th, some of whom wouldn’t survive the disaster that they could never have known was looming before them.
Exiting onto the tarmac, a clean new American Airlines shuttle was waiting. This impressed me – possibly because I am so used to flying into the Guyana airport where one just walks off the plane and into the airport. The shuttle felt like a contradiction – a modern luxury on a tarmac where one could see boxes of humanitarian aid and large containers waiting to be cleared…vestiges I imagine from what must have been masses of supplies that arrived here in the aftermath of the disaster faster than they could be distributed. The shuttle took us to immigration and the baggage claim, which was a scene of total chaos. Eventually, we found our bags and wrested them off the conveyor belt, onto our baggage cart and wove through the tangle of people and suitcases and carts, emerging outdoors to a new chaotic scene of porters eager to help with our bags. We connected very shortly after with Gachette, CFTC’s country representative, whom I had met a few months ago in Toronto, as well as Alice Barthole, the head of The House of Hope Orphanage. It is nearly impossible to believe that Alice is an older woman – she is vivacious and so young looking, driving a gleaming new pick up truck which Ve’ahavta and CFTC helped purchase.
Getting into Gachette’s car, we began the long journey from the airport and began seeing the remnants of last winter’s earthquake immediately. Massive tent cities erected directly across from the airports, every city park transformed into a sea of tents, laundry hanging, children weaving in and out. Rubble still everywhere, so many buildings collapsed like fallen layer cakes, grotesquely contorted, many building sustained cracks like jagged veins in their foundations and walls. 35 seconds. It only took 35 seconds to cause so much devastation.
Many, many people, selling shoes, jeans, underwear, fruits, plants- you name it. Many many other people walking, minibuses careening by packed with bodies. So much traffic, often at a standstill.
We eventually arrive in Petitionville, where our hotel is. You can tell this is a wealthier neighbourhood, with leafy streets and funky buildings. Our hotel, villa creole, was partially destroyed in the earthquake, the wing that was reduced to rubble cordoned off by yellow tape. The main kitchen was destroyed in the quake so now one must order in from a local restaurant for meals. This hotel is another contradiction – beautiful yet partially destroyed, the repairs taking a long time as the hotel raises funds and works on plans for its restoration. Meanwhile, a couple caresses in the middle of its lovely pool, two other guests taking advantage of the wireless internet on their laptops poolside.
Tomorrow will be an exciting day – we are traveling to Gressier to visit Alice and the House (HOH) of hope orphanage. We are incredibly excited to spend time with Alice and finally meet the kids at HOH, and of course, begin to discuss plans for our continued support of HOH. I am also looking forward to distributing the messages of hope that students of Leo Baeck created for the residents of HOH.
Theresa and Avrum at VSA graduation
The Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA) wrapped up today. Our students graduated.
VSA, is a school for those who are homeless or near homeless. Ve’ahavta (www.vehavta.org) launched it at the end of June and it has been running until today (August 19th). Essentially VSA is an environment where we taught life skills (writing, finances, health and nourishment etc.), academia and hosted fascinating speakers for our 10 students, so that they could learn and create a better life.
VSA was founded by Theresa Schrader, the winner of our 2005 Creative Writing Contest for the Homeless. www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/837267–ex-addict-puts-poverty-behind-her
She is magnificent. Theresa is a former prostitute and crack addict. She has turned her life around, after stints in jail and other such difficult times, to become a full-time student, a mommy of a beautiful little boy, a teacher, businesswoman and designer.
Designer? Yes, Theresa designed VSA and creatively nurtured it. As I said she was responsible for getting 10 students through this semester of VSA, keeping them interested and ensuring a decent education. Well she did all of that and more.
Today VSA ended. We held a graduation and gave out framed certificates and gifts. We also let our students know that they have a place in continuing education should they want it. And they do.
While I will stay away from mentioning names I will tell you that one of our students, a wonderful person who has been out of school for years will be starting at a local college in September. He began VSA with little confidence and the belief he wouldn’t make it through.
He did and while doing so brought great joy and laughter to our school.
This person I speak of was abandoned as a little boy by his mother, then his father. Abandonment at that level, at that age, can be debilitating. And in many ways his terrible fate slowed him down. We are so delighted however to state with much joy that VSA offered him the opportunity to fly – and HE DID.
Be free. Be Free.
Congratulations to all 10 students. You did it. You stuck it out, learned, asked some great questions, made silly and ensured that VSA from your end, was awesome. I so enjoyed coming down to VSA and sitting through classes and hearing your questions. As I said today at the graduation, what ever old voices you have in your head telling you are not bright or worthwhile, wish them shalom (goodbye).
I was witness to your learning and you inspired me and compelled me to study harder. Well done!! Well done and thank you.
We are thankful to all of our teachers and speakers and know that VSA would not have been the success it was without them. We are grateful to Karen Ehrlich and Paul Lindzon, board members of Ve’ahavta for their encouragement and constant presence. Thanks to our board for supporting VSA and to all of our staff who got behind it very quickly and just loved it. And of course we extend a great big hug to our donors.
There is so much more to say about VSA but I will let you read about it over time, because in September we’re going to our board to see if we might extend this program throughout the year so that we can play a role in assisting more of our community members to get off the street and into the shelter of their souls and minds. That is what education is. That is VSA.
Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee is working quickly to develop a Jewish response to the crisis through a Pakistan Flood Relief Fund. A direct supply of aid and donor-supported relief projects have commenced based on the Jewish principle of Tikun Olam by providing life-saving food, clothing, medicine, and other resources as directed by our local partners.
Pakistan is currently suffering from the most devastating flooding of recent history. At least 1,600 are dead, over one fifth of the country is under water, and more than 6,000 villages and towns destroyed. As victims brace for more flooding, up to 20 million could loose their homes. With two more weeks remaining in the Monsoon season the situation is expected to worsen in the coming days. While the scale of the disaster has already surpassed that of the recent Haitian crisis and 2004 Southeast Asian Tsunami combined, support from the international community is falling desperately short where disease prevention, clean water, safe shelter, food, political security and governmental aid are in vital demand.
Avrum Rosensweig, President of Ve’ahavta said “The suffering in Pakistan is devastating and we, the Jewish people, are therefore extending our caring and resources to help. We wish for peace between all peoples and a world of co-existence and health.”
Ve’ahavta is collecting funds to aid victims of the devastating floods in Pakistan. We are closely coordinating with the JDC, the American Joint Distribution Committee. The JDC has previously responded to victims of crisis in Pakistan in the wake of the disastrous 2005 and 2008 earthquakes. Funds will be directed to support local relief efforts immediately.
Please Support the Relief efforts in Pakistan by clicking Pakistan Flood Relief Fund or contact us by telephone: 416-964-7698 or by mail: cheques payable to Ve’ahavta-Pakistan Flood Relief 2221 Yonge Street Suite LL12 Toronto Ontario Canada M4S 2B4
Pakistan is currently suffering from the most devastating flooding of recent history. At least 1,600 are dead, over one fifth of the country is under water, and more than 6,000 villages and towns destroyed. As victims brace for more flooding, up to 20 million have been affected, with millions displaced. While the scale of the disaster has already surpassed that of the recent Haitian crisis and 2004 Southeast Asian Tsunami combined, support from the international community is falling desperately short where disease prevention, clean water, safe shelter, food, political security and governmental aid are in vital demand. Ve’ahavta and our partners the JDC are working quickly to develop a Jewish response to the crisis through a Pakistan Flood Relief Fund for direct supply of aid and donor-supported relief projects following the Jewish principle of Tikun Olam.
Ve’ahavta Street Academy is winding down. We are holding our graduation on Thursday. The response from the nine graduates of the inaugural Academy class was very positive. Many students are moving on to other educational programs in September, and are excited about doing so.
Ve’ahavta will hold a Ve’ahavta Street Academy Alumni Monthly meeting to continue supporting the success of our students.
Way to go, and congratulations to our nine graduates. All the best!
Our obligation to do our part to repair the world means we need to look out for those not only in faraway places but also those who are part of our community.
Recently I spent an evening with the Ve’ahavta Homeless Outreach Van along with my wife and twelve year old son. There is no obvious or easy solution to the problem of homelessness. Well-informed and well-intentioned people may have different perspectives as to how to respond to circumstances that lead people to live on the streets. Public policies, social backgrounds, health issues and expectations of personal responsibility both inform and reflect how we respond to homelessness.
But while we continue to try to identify the best way for a community to respond to the problems of homelessness, there are many people on the street who have immediate and sometimes urgent needs. The needs may vary but one that is common to all is the need to not be forgotten. The Ve’ahavta Homeless Outreach Van provided warmth and support in both tangible and intangible ways. A fresh pair of socks, a bottle of water, some helpful information, a sympathetic ear – this is some of what the Outreach Van had to offer. The driver of the Outreach Van, Perry, had obviously earned the trust and respect of many of the people the van encountered. It was clear that many were pleased to see him not only to receive something specific but also to know that here was another person who cared about their well being.
Generally speaking the responses from those who received what Ve’ahavta had to offer were
underpinned by soft spoken but profound expressions of gratitude. Such quiet dignity reinforced the most important and enduring part of the effort- that though circumstances can lead to people finding themselves in starkly different situations, the recognition of our common humanity with its corresponding obligations is something that should not fade into the background.
The Ve’ahavta Homeless Outreach Van helps ensure that some who are facing difficult
circumstances do not fade into the background.
- Randy Hahn, MJRH Volunteer
Mike Riley, a Ve’ahavta Street Academy student, and other share their struggle for financial independence.
Read the article online: Fix welfare rules, panel urges province by Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter, The Toronto Star
Click here to download the PDF.
The idea for this article started with a simple enough question. “Do you have any understanding of the Jewish community?” Pretty Basic. But for me, the question unravels many of the reasons why I’ve always cultivated the relationships I have with my Jewish friends, why I love the environment I work in as well as the people in it, and why I feel as if my unique role in the machinery of how Ve’ahavta operates is one that is supported and encouraged by my colleagues and the inspiring group of individuals that walk through our door on a daily basis.
Growing up, the majority of my family friends were Jewish and I had the unique perspective of being an outsider living within a community that was extremely inclusive and never treated me as if I were any different from them. However, this “difference” was implicit in all of my observations as I paid close attention to how those related in my world (as a WASP – white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) and that of the world I’d had the privilege of being adopted into.
What I saw was a tight-knit community of incredibly supportive and encouraging people in relation to others within their group. Families cultivated both the individual relationships within them as well as the need to function and enjoy each other as a cohesive unit. I saw parents who were constantly encouraging their children rather than putting them down, and much of the time seeing their own through a lens of “greatness”—greatness of what they could be, what they were going to be, and what they already were. While competition no doubt plays a role in all families, it seemed to be less spiteful and jealous than the competition I witnessed among the non-Jewish families that I knew. The jealousies were equalized by a healthy sense of pride and confidence, both towards each other and within.
Above all, the feature I gravitated towards most, that perhaps was most striking in its stark opposition to the dynamics at play in the outside world, was the sense that the capitalistic sentiment of selfishness, of greed and self-interest, of taking what you can from others in an effort to get ahead that I found so frustrating and disappointing, was not something that had a place in this definition of “Jewishness” that I was assembling. Seeing the possibility that people could be extremely successful while not having to limit relationships or the ability of others to achieve the same and rather, INCLUDE others in one’s circle in the acquisition of affluence, together, was extremely helpful and groundbreaking in curbing my cynicism of the cold world that lay ahead of me.
The secret, it seemed, that my world was missing, the secret that I witnessed amongst the Jewish families around me was this: When you share with others a part of what you have, that which remains will multiply and grow. The more you share, the more you will have.”[i]
I saw families that didn’t communicate with one another, that seemed to live like strangers under the same roof; you could feel the tension and disconnect within those familial relationships; you could see the inherent distrust amongst people within each other’s circle, the jealousy, the envy, the criticism of other people’s successes. I always felt some sort of common, unspoken theme of fear and insecurity that navigated decisions in life based on the presumption that if you don’t grab whatever you can, someone else will and there will be nothing left over for you. I found that quality so sad and limiting, so cynical and negative. I knew that that wasn’t and would never be me; that I could never look at the world with such a harsh and unforgiving eye. Nor would I ever want to live in world premised on a concept so lonely and isolating.
That world belonged to a more jaded, solipsistic individual version of myself that I would never be. I wanted something more to believe in, something more hopeful that would propel me into the world with purpose and motivation. And then I’d look at this other group of people, and I found what I could only describe as the “soul” of a community whose heartbeat has a pulse that was tangible and seemed to fill in all those holes that had left me with a feeling of societal emptiness. This energy rooted in the duality of explosive relationships and staunch displays of love and affection was infectious.
While there certainly was no lack of conflict or struggle, the secret they’d found ahead of the curve is that abundance and success can be had by all and that generosity does not leave one with less than the other; giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin. The spirit of giving, of supporting and loving one other has the ultimate reward of multiplying exponentially for everyone involved. As it starts with one and gets passed onto another, the group as a whole gets lifted up. I wanted to be a part of that. I felt at home with that. I felt hopeful about the world if it could be more like that. It never occurred to me that I would feel this gravitational pull so strongly. Upon reflection now, it does seem slightly serendipitous that I would end up working in a place where I felt at home amongst the same people who provided me with many of the lessons from my childhood that inspired my professional direction. And so, here I am.
Whenever I am walking behind someone and the tag on the back of their shirt is hanging out, I gently tap them on the shoulder and let them know, then tuck the tag inside. Every person has thanked me and smiled, and in fact, one person was so grateful, she hugged me, saying she was going to a job interview!
- Terri, posted via Facebook
An Archive of Goodness on Facebook
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Even though it seems not to be politically correct these days, I try to celebrate the birthdays of everyone in the office – either publicly (because we are a small and close-knit bunch) or privately with a card and a whispered “Happy Birthday”. Friends and family get cards (both ecards from www.care2.com and the Hallmark kind) and phone calls. It’s my way of letting them know that I bless the day they were born.
Our office keeps bottled water in the fridge. When we have a hot day (and we’ve had alot of hot days this summer), I offer the person who delivers our mail “a cold one”. It’s always received gratefully and with a smile.
When I’m out walking in the park I collect garbage and carry it out with me. I figure that people are less likely to drop their waste if they see a clean park.
- Jane, posted via Facebook
When you are online and have a minute to spare take a look at www.thenonprofits.com, the Free Donations Directory.
You may remember The Hunger Site the Breast Cancer Site or the Rainforest Site – a group of websites that collect money from their sponsors every time you click. That’s all it takes… a few seconds to click and you can help support a variety of causes.
Visit www.thenonprofits.com to help feed children (and adults) and provide relief to those in need worldwide, support an environmental initiative, give funds to cancer research and more – all at no cost to you!
I was reading to my daughter, and came across a story that had been adapted from a poem by Randy Poole titled “The Difference He Made.” Here’s how the story went.
One morning, while walking down a quiet beach, a boy saw an old man picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. The boy watched in wonder as the old man again and again threw the starfish from the sand to the water.
He asked, “Old man, why do you spend so much energy doing what seems to be a waste of time?” The old man explained that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun.
“But there must be thousands of beaches and millions of starfish!” said the boy. “How can you make any difference?”
The old man looked down at the starfish in his hand, and as he threw it to the safety of the ocean, he said, “I make a difference to this one.”
What I like most of this tale is that it speaks directly to how one person, through even the smallest actions, can indeed make a difference.
I have come to realize that even though one may not have money, shelter or even more than a few pairs of clothes, one does have a heart. And in that heart flows the same blood as I. A few years ago, I traveled to Turkey where I met some amazing friends. They lived in places where the stairs were ready to cave in at any time. Most of them ate one meal a day, if that, and slept in a room with 20 other guys with no blankets in the winter. Some days they did not earn anything, but yet they always spent their last cent buying me a cup of Apple Tea, providing me with warmth and friendship.
In their eyes, I was their big sister and their love and compassion towards me showed me that one must look past what is on the outside to see how beautiful and precious one is and that the Almighty really does reside in all of us no matter what circumstances he presently faces.
- Sangita Patel, MJRH volunteer
We were surprised to have such intelligent, interesting conversations with some of these people. Recently, we were stopped at a light at one of the van stop locations, and began to chat with one of the van’s clientele about meeting him the previous week. It was amazing to be able to interact instead of just “ignore”. Made us feel better about the world and it was equalizing somehow.
- Rachel Yaegar, MJRH volunteer
I spent an hour speaking to a lawyer about someone who is awaiting trial in prison. I am making arrangements with the lawyer to provide this person with clothes for court and money for what he needs in jail.
I work with people in prison, a population not normally associated with “goodness”. Pete, someone I work with who has been inside for many years, is an amazing visual artist. He gives a lot of his paintings and drawings to non-profit community agencies to be used as fundraising tools, and doesn’t ask for a penny in return. The agencies that I work for, and many others, have benefited from his generosity time and time again.
He also recently won an award from Human Rights Watch for his tireless work as a peer counselor, educating other prisoners about HIV prevention and harm reduction, and fighting to ensure that people inside receive adequate health care.
Pete, and other people that I work with, are a constant reminder to me that goodness can be found everywhere, and that we all, regardless of our circumstances, have the capacity to change.
- Joan, posted via Facebook
Date of Commencement: October 2010
Date of Completion: June 2011
If you are interested in volunteering, please contact email@example.com or 416-964-7698 ext. 16
Commitment: 3.5 hrs/week beginning October 2010 and ending June 2011
At the beginning of May, Matthew, a twelve year old boy who is celebrating his Bar Mitzvah this October, came up with the idea to collect 1,800 pair of socks to donate to homeless people all over Toronto. He chose that number because in Judaism the number 18 represents chai, or life, and he wanted to give one pair of socks to 1,800 homeless people to make sure that their life is just a tiny bit better. In just six weeks Matthew collected over 2,000 pairs of socks that will be distributed through our MJRH van to the homeless.
Yasher Koach, Great Job Matthew! You are an inspiration to all!
Yesterday, standing in line at the supermarket, I helped the people in front of me pay their bill as they were short of cash. They actually were removing groceries that they wanted to buy from their bags so they could get down to the amount of cash they had available.
For the last 5 years, there has been a shelf in my kitchen cupboard labeled “Food Bank Shelf” and whenever I shop for groceries, I try to pick up an item or two to add to the shelf. I try to mix and match (ie: pasta and a can/jar of sauce, peanut butter and jam or honey, Kraft Dinner and canned milk, bottles/boxes of baby food). While the original idea was to have these items available for the various food drives, the shelf fills up quite quickly and the items are usually bagged and taken to the food bins at my local grocery store more often than the Food Bank calls for public assistance.
As well, I also do this when I buy cat food, and then donate this to Urban Cat Relief (who does foster and rescue of cats). They always need it.
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City of Beit Shemesh
1 Av 5770
Hazon Yeshayah and Ve’Ahavta Canada
RE: A Special Thank You
It is our privilege to express to your organizations our most heartfelt appreciation for the very important project “Backpack for every Child”. Because of this blessed initiative many disadvantaged students will be able to begin the new school year with the proper school equipment. These backpacks will also give these students a wonderful feeling and better self-confidence towards their studies in the new year and will contribute to their continued success in their studies.
You should be blessed from Heaven.
Mayor, Beit Shemesh
Interim Head of the Local Authority
City of Jerusalem
15 July 2010
Mr. Avraham Israel, E.D.
RE: Help to Disadvantaged Children
It is my privilege to thank your organization for its contribution of 180 backpacks for disadvantaged children. These wonderful backpacks were distributed by social workers to families who are in very difficult economic circumstances (Level A, which is the lowest). The children that received these backpacks will now be able to begin the new school year in September with great joy.
In addition, please pass on my good wishes and thanks to Ve’ahavta Canada, your partner in this endeavour. Also, I would be remiss if I did not thank Mr. David Simon who organized this distribution in such an efficient and quick manner.
Today Ron Maclean spoke to our students and some board members, at the Veahavta Street Academy (VSA).
He spoke for two hours drawing upon stories from his humble beginnings, the 26 Stanley Cups he has covered, the Olympics he has attended and his close relationship with Don Cherry.
He told us about the affect Victor Frankl’s ‘Search for Meaning’ had on his life, as did the Zamboni drivers he knows, announcers, hockey players and the CBC staff.
He shared with us short vignettes about Bobby Orr who comforted him as he was about to go to air, having just learned Rose Cherry was on her deathbed.
Hockey is Canada’s cultural golden vessel and Ron Maclean is the emperor. While Don Cherry, another Canadian icon, projects his celebrity as a diva of sorts, Ron Maclean brings his royalty to the street.
And when he told us about one of his first NHL interviews, with the very intimidating Harold Ballard, we could almost sense the sweat rolling down his face, still a young guy from Red Deer, as the Leaf owner went on a tirade about the evils of bringing a Russian (‘Communist’) team to Canada.
Ron is real and compassionate, to the extent that he wrote his home number on the chalkboard for the VSA students – individuals who are homeless or near homeless – should they ever need help.
He is a storyteller, an archivist of Canadian history and an absolute pleasure to listen to.
Next time you watch Hockey Night in Canada, and Coaches Corner, consider that the humbly dressed man you are listening to gave of his time one summer day to a Jewish Street Academy, to enhance the lives of a few Canadians who have faced some very serious challenges in life – those whom we call the homeless.
I was walking with my daughter in her stroller when I heard a dull, loud thud on the road just ahead of us. I looked up to see that a car had turned left into oncoming traffic and had struck another vehicle.
The damage looked to be superficial but both drivers were very shaken. They were two moms, one with her young daughter in a car seat in the back, and the other was pregnant.
Other cars that had witnessed the collision either drove by and ignored the situation or honked and waved their hands angrily. I guess the inconvenience of having to drive around the two cars was clouding their vision.
One young man pulled over to help. He moved both women and the child off of the road and into his car. He proceeded to calm everyone down and got the women to make phone calls to their families while they waited for the police to arrive.
I’m sure that both mothers, and their families, are extremely grateful for this stranger stopping to help them.
Read the article online: Ex-addict puts poverty behind her by Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter, The Toronto Star
Ve’ahavta sent two volunteers, Drs. Lee Ann and Tsvi Gallant, on a mission to Haiti run by the Jewish Renaissance Medical Corps. The following is an excerpt from a trip diary by Dr. Alona Yacobovsky, physical therapist and YAD Social Co-Chair, who flew with the medical team to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s already time to return home. As I reflect on the past week, I have a lot of mixed emotions about my time in Haiti. I am first and foremost so glad and honored that I could participate in this mission with such a phenomenal and dedicated group of doctors and nurses. They are truly such compassionate and caring people, and have such a love for their craft. I am also eager to return home, especially to all the modern day comforts I’ve grown so accustomed to. However, I am also leaving with a tremendous feeling of guilt, as the patients we treated and the people we saw don’t have the luxury of leaving their horrible living conditions.
As one of the members of our team, Dr. Lee Ann Gallant so eloquently put it, “It is hard to describe to others what we saw and experienced in Haiti. The words do not give a sense of the people, hardship, anxiety, hopelessness and frustration that we were exposed to. We feel the connection to our fellow JNF ers in ways that are indescribable to others.”
Many times throughout the week, we were frustrated with our lack of resources and ability to give the full service of care that many of the patients needed. However, I think that just our presence and our desire to help them gave them a sense of hope, just to know that there are people who do truly care and want to help improve their situation. The earthquake happened four months ago, and to many that is considered “old news”, and I think it’s important for the people of Haiti to know that they are not forgotten.
Another thing I have been reflecting on is the spirit of the Haitian people. Although they’ve been through a horrendous ordeal and are still suffering the effects with no basic medical care, no clean water, no houses, and really no structure or order to their daily lives, they are fiercely proud of who they are and what they stand for.
I have every intention of continuing my support for the country of Haiti and it’s people. And I am truly indebted to the Jewish Renaissance Foundation for allowing me to participate in such a great and eye opening experience.
Apparently it’s the beginning of rainy season because it rained all night. The good news was the sound of the pounding rain against the tent managed to drown out the sounds of the roosters and other random animals. The bad news was that the rain brought more moisture, which, in turn, brought more mosquitoes. Yuck!
Today is our final day at Help Hospital and it was another hot, busy, crazy day. But, it was definitely worthwhile! Again, our better organization made the day run even smoother than the last. At the end of day, we gave the pharmacy all of our left over
medications, dressings, etc. and it is looking more like a pharmacy should, but what happens when these run out? How will they get more medications?
These are questions that run through my mind throughout our stay. I think the services we are providing are great, but what’s going to happen two weeks from now? Is there going to be any follow-up for these patients? Sadly, I know it is not likely, which is why I again feel as though our week-long medical mission is just a single drop in an ocean of what needs to happen for the Haitian people.
When we return to the compound, we have a debriefing with the nursing students from hospital. We thank them for all of their help and for being so welcoming to us. We are officially exhausted! We pack up all of our luggage and prepare to head to Port-au-Prince for the night so we will be closer to the airport for our flight tomorrow.
Another day at Help Hospital, and it’s wonderful to see that we’re even more organized than the last time. We’re turning into a well-oiled machine! A few more members returned home this morning, so we have less pairs of hands to help. Our team now consists of 10 people including two nurses, three family practice doctors, two pediatricians, an optometrist, his son and myself. I, personally, am helping out the optometrist today, as there are an overwhelming number of patients who need eye examinations.
I am so frustrated by my lack of French and Creole knowledge!!! The nursing students are very helpful, and there are a few interpreters that are there to assist us, but it’s still frustrating to not be able to communicate, and, unfortunately, my limited Spanish is getting me nowhere! We again worked all day in the 100 degree weather and by the end of the day we are exhausted. I can honestly say I have never in my life sweat as much as I have on this trip. We are all losing electrolytes at an alarming rate!
My half of the group went to do some touring and a get a better idea of the damage that was done to Haiti, especially the central historic area of Port-au-Prince where the Legislative Palace and the Presidential Palace are located, as those buildings were also destroyed. The other half of the group, “the optometry group”, went to a church to fit residents with glasses.
Throughout our travels around Port-au-Prince, I am absolutely astounded that people actually live there. The traffic is a nightmare due to the destruction of the roads, and there does not seem to be any regulation of the traffic. In addition, the heat and humidity do not let up at all. The sewers are freely running with no covers, and again, the piles of garbage that are as high as sand dunes are everywhere. The smell alone is enough to make you pass out. It’s so sad and revolting that people live amongst the filth, and there are actually food vendors along the streets selling food alongside the piles of trash.
After our excursion to Port-au-Prince, we headed back to Leogane to attend the weekly meeting at the United Nations compound of all the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in the area that is conducted by the World Health Organization. One of the things that was so shocking to those of us who attended the meeting, was the lack of communication amongst all of these organizations. Even to have a listing of all the hospitals and clinics in Leogane with their hours and services that they are able to provide would be helpful to everyone, especially since we’re all their for the same goal. Many of us left the meeting feeling frustrated and disappointed that there isn’t more collusion amongst the medical providers. We did, however, manage to make a list for ourselves that we can pass on to the next JRF mission group which will help them immensely if they find they would like to make referrals.
Another great thing that happened after the meeting is one of the women from another clinic, The Christianville Clinic, needed to unload all types of medications and vitamins, and we were more than happy to have her unload all of those boxes on us! We’re so excited to have Pedialyte and calcium supplements for our patients tomorrow!
Four of our team members left for home in the early morning hours. Unfortunately, due to the extreme heat, their health was a major concern and they needed to return home for their own safety.
The second day at the hospital is not much different than the first…there are hundreds of people waiting outside for our arrival. Today, however, we have decided to split up the hospital space in a more productive and organized way. We have also come up with a game plan for triaging patients and directing them to the correct “station” such as pediatrics, family practice, OB/GYN, optometry, pharmacy, etc… We again managed to see about 500 patients, and, again, we had very limited supplies and medications.
However, it seemed as though the majority of patients we saw were suffering mentally and emotionally from the trauma they and their families sustained, and they really just wanted someone to talk and a compassionate ear to listen. None of these patients received any type of therapy for the horrific experience that they survived. It was truly a heartbreaking sight. And, as I’ve said before, it was a frustrating situation for us as healthcare providers to not be able to meet those needs.
After the busy day at the hospital, a few of us decided to walk over to the Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), as their compound was a five-minute walk from our compound. We had a nice conversation with their head medical care coordinator who informed us of the services their facilities are able to provide in the area. We were thrilled to learn that we can refer patients with OB/GYN issues and mental health problems to their compound, as well as patients requiring surgery to St. Croix Hospital with which they are affiliated. It was somewhat of a relief to know that there are facilities where we can refer patients who need a higher level of care than we are able to provide at Help Hospital.
A bunch of us went out for some Haitian beer, Prestige, at one of the only still-standing restaurants. After we returned to our compound, we all retired to our tents and tried to get in as much sleep before the regular 3 am Rooster Extravaganza!
After all of us woke, showered, and had a bite to eat, we decided to go through the medications and dressings that we brought and create some sort of organization so we wouldn’t be so overwhelmed at the hospital.
Upon our arrival to the hospital, we were shocked to see hundreds of people waiting outside the front doors. Apparently word got out that a medical team from the United States and Canada would be providing medical examinations over the next week. Needless to say, the atmosphere was nothing less than pure chaos.
The clinic was over 100 degrees at all times, with no fans or any type of breeze. Because we weren’t sure what to expect, there was very little organization to how the patients would be seen and in what order. This is something we would work on over the next few days. We saw patients with all types of ailments from children with ringworm, to adults with hernias, to various gynecologic problems. Almost every patient that was seen had an eye exam and glasses were given out to those who needed them.
We saw lots of children who lost their parents in the earthquake, and many adults who lost children and other family members in the disaster. Most of the patients we saw had either post-traumatic stress disorder and/or depression, but there was very little we could do as far as mental health. This would be one of our many frustrations while working at the hospital. Our facility was so basic, and our abilities to perform full examinations were so limited, that many of us were left feeling extremely frustrated. Although we knew were helping to an extent it felt as though all we could provide was “a drop in a bucket” of what really needed to be done in terms of medical care. Some of the patients we saw needed surgery of one kind or another, and we had no clue as to where we could refer them. If a patient needed a medication that was not in our arsenal, we would provide him/her with a prescription for the local pharmacy, only to have them return to us saying that they couldn’t afford the medication.
One interesting thing that we all noticed is that none of the patients referred to the earthquake as “the earthquake”, they all refer to it as “the event” and give timelines using “before the event” and “after the event”.
Throughout or stay in Haiti, there was no evidence of any local government and seemingly no structure to the lives of Haiti’s residents. What’s the plan for this country and its people?
Upon our arrival home from the clinic that evening, we decided to all sit down and
discuss how we could organize tomorrow’s caseload better and more efficiently. We also had the opportunity to give our input for the next medical mission through the JRF, as far as what medications and equipment should be brought to provide more thorough medical care.
Sunday, April 25th
Newark Airport, Newark, NJ 3:45 am
I can’t believe I am going to be leaving for Haiti in a little over two hours. I’m anxious, but excited to meet the people from the Jewish Renaissance Foundation with whom I’ll be embarking on this medical mission. Where will be working? Where will be sleeping? What will the conditions be like? All of these questions are swirling around in my mind as I’ve never been in a third world country, or had the opportunity to participate in a medical mission.
4:00 am: I see two doctors shaking hands and introducing themselves, so I introduce myself to them as well. Over the next hour, other members of our 19-person group arrive at the American Airlines terminal. Many members of our team brought multiple bags filled with medications, vitamins, and medical equipment. Introductions are made and bags are checked, and off we go to gate.
11:00 am: We’ve finally landed in Port-au-Prince. The first thing I notice when we disembark is the stifling heat and humidity. When we finally get to baggage claim, there is no order whatsoever. Amidst the chaos, each one of us manages to find our luggage. But then we hit a snag… Dr. Paul Berman has been gracious enough to bring thousands of glasses to give to the patients we’d be seeing, and the customs officials wanted to charge a duty tax for the glasses, as well as the medications we hauled from NJ. Thankfully, one of the members of our team, Dr. Daniel Desrivieres, who speaks Creole, was able to convince the officials to allow us to leave the airport, with all of our luggage. Unfortunately, we then had to wait two hours in the Haitian heat for our bus to arrive to take us to our destination, Leogane.
Leogane is a coastal city that is 18 miles west of Port-au-Prince. Due to the poor condition of the roads, it took us two hours to get to our compound. Leogane is inhabited by about 60,000 people, with 95% of buildings flattened and up to 30,000 killed in the earthquake. The bus ride was bumpy, hot, and uncomfortable. Throughout the bus ride, we passed tent city after tent city with seemingly no end in sight. Garbage was strewn throughout the streets with humongous burning piles of trash that left a nasty stench in the air. Random animals such as pigs and goats were roaming around the piles of trash looking for something to eat. It is hard to put into words the smells that came from the garbage piles, but even more shocking to me was that people were LIVING a few feet from the steaming piles of trash, breathing in the noxious fumes day in and day out.
On our way to the compound we made a stop at the Help Hospital and Nursing School. We would be spending the next week there at a makeshift hospital providing medical care to residents of Leogane and the outlying cities. The makeshift hospital is made up of a plywood shed with a steel roof, while tarps and tents outside provide shelter over hospital beds. We are told that during the earthquake, 10 staff members of the hospital lost their lives. Upon our arrival a group of nursing students welcomed the head honcho on our mission, Dr. Goldsmith, with a bouquet of flowers, and they sang us a song welcoming us to Haiti. We also got a quick peek of the pharmacy that held meager amounts of medications. We were also informed that on any typical day, the hospital sees maybe 20 patients.
After our stop at the hospital, we made our way to our compound, about a 7-10 minute drive from the hospital. Upon our arrival, we enter what appears to be a house, but the roof is fairly nonexistent. We are also told at that time that although there are some buildings and houses that are still standing, people are so afraid of aftershocks and another deadly earthquake, nobody wants to sleep inside. We discover that there are two working toilets and a single shower, which I am so thankful for. Although we have to share the shower amongst the 19 of us, we’ll make it work! The shower has minimal water pressure and only puts out cold water, but we are all looking forward to cold showers due to the sweltering heat.
Once we all had a moment to sit and take it all in, the mosquitoes began their never ending attack. We all immediately retrieved our bottles of bug spray and deet, and sprayed any exposed skin. Eventually all of the tents were pitched and we went to work on blowing up all of the air mattresses. It is at this point that my only thought was “What did I get myself into? I wasn’t prepared for this!” But then I reminded myself that I was only living through this for a week. For most Haitians affected by the earthquake, this is their reality. Eventually we all settled into our tents for the night and prepared ourselves for the following day. We were concerned that we wouldn’t have enough work for all of us at the hospital, as we were told to only expect 20 patients a day…but we would be very wrong!!!
The barbecue dinner was fantastic. It was the biggest turnout Ve’ahavta has had since we started doing the dinners. We had well over 120 people to serve. Jack Stern and his family and friends were absolutely amazing. Jack insisted on doing the barbecuing and he had a blast (albeit he was VERY exhausted after cooking 200+ burgers and hotdogs).
Members at the hall let me know that they have not had a barbecue that big or that full of food in years. I am very happy it went seamlessly. We have another dinner planned for next Sunday.
Outreach Initiatives Co-Ordinator
So – there’s this homeless guy in need of size 10 1/2 shoes because his are falling apart and wouldn’tcha know that some Ve’ahavta employee went to Value Village and found a pair of runners in that size. Needless to say, Big John is a happy fella.
- Terri, posted via Facebook
While I was in Israel recently, I fell ill with sunstroke. For 24 hours I was pretty uncomfortable and as you know being away from home, and being sick, is not pleasant. I was staying in a three-star hotel where they did not have room service. Ugh!
When the front desk got word I was not feeling well (from my travel companion, Kirill) the fellow there called me and said, “I understand you are not feeling well, so I’ll send you up a cup of tea.”
I was so touched by his actions and it helped me feel a bit better for a while. He also gave me insight into what hospitality means, particularly in Israel and the Middle East. I look forward to returning…not getting sick…but being exposed to folks with such generosity of spirit.
- Avrum, posted via discussion board comment
This week I want to tell you about a remarkable man. He is extremely intelligent, and remarkably evolved. He is one of our clients, and he lives in a park. His name is Sid.
For the longest time, Sid would only have brief interaction with me. Then, about 6 months into my employment with Ve’ahavta, he started speaking. The conversation soon turned to my Judaism (or the failure of it for me), and the Torah. It turns out that Sid is a Kabbalist. He has read a fair bit of the commentary of Rashi and Rambam, and other Jewish scholars. What he has told me about the Kabbalist interpretation of the Torah, at the level he is at, has rejuvenated my interest in my religion.
To be brief, I had a very expensive private school Hebrew education, but the religious aspect of it left me completely cold. As a teenager and into my 30s, I was a Richard Dawkins-esque atheist. As I learned what little I knew about psychology, ethics and philosophy, I was convinced that the road to peace, harmony, and freedom from judgment lay in the domain of secular thinking.
As I later came to develop my faith in God, I suspected that the essences of Judaism, and the essences of Christianity, Islam, and all other faiths are remarkably similar and beneficial, but that it is the people who teach and practice these religions that created the problems I saw. One problem was with people who had beliefs that were harsh, restrictive, or judgmental of others. The problem is that they seemed to have not thoroughly examined the source and justification for their beliefs, or were too willing to accept an answer by rote, from people who themselves had not really thought deeply about it. I saw this as unethical, and believed then as I do now that such people let themselves off too easy. I did have faith at this point, as I said, and was prepared to leave it at that. I didn’t see a way to infuse the practice with the essence. Until I met Sid.
I’ll give you two examples of common Jewish thinking and practice (out of many) that stood as examples of why I had trouble with Judaism (and other religions). I’ll contrast that with an alternate view, with what I now believe is the essential Jewish view, which Sid has imparted to me. This is the view that is in keeping with my understanding of what a benevolent, loving God would create and want.
The first one: gender equality. For the longest time, women were not allowed to study or teach the Torah. Though this has changed a lot in 25 years, my understanding was that that was a result of the creation of breakaway sects of Judaism, and that in the main women were still prohibited from teaching Torah.
Sid told me about a passage where God says to Abraham, “In everything you do, listen to your wife Sarah”. As Sid tells it, the Kabbalist interpretation of that sentence is that it implies that Sarah has intelligent things to say, and further, that she has the right to educate herself so that she develops these intelligent things to say. According to the Kabbalah, there is no reason why women shouldn’t be teaching Torah.
The other example is of homosexuality. Many of the Jews I ask think it is a sin to practice homosexuality, according to their view of Judaism. My view, after I came to believe in God, was that He wouldn’t create a creature and then deny it the right to act within its nature. He wouldn’t create something only to have it suffer. The Jewish view was not in keeping with my view of how God would be.
Apparently, the seed of the offending belief is the sentence, “Man should not lay down with another man as he would a woman”.
Sid explains that according to the Kabbalah there is no homosexuality. What we see as homosexuality is really a situation where one of the couple is a woman’s soul in a man’s body (or a man’s soul in a woman’s body). On the surface we have homosexuality, but the surface isn’t really where the action is. As far as souls are concerned, homosexuals have every right to proceed as they would, at least according to this interpretation.
All of a sudden, I have been introduced to a Judaism that is inclusive and consummately peaceful. This, I am inclined to believe, is the truest meaning of the Torah This is indeed in keeping with what I believe is God’s nature, and is also in keeping with the best secular psychology that I know. The fact that these essences are so in tune points out to me that this is the real truth. Finally I can be a Jew.
As an aside, I think the problem with the way religions of all types are practiced is that it leads to people following people, without considering the facts in front of them. Some feel it is taboo to disagree with their teachers, rabbis, or even parents. However, God gave us a mind, with the intention that we use it. Can anyone really think God would create a homosexual and then not let him/her practice it? If that’s what a rabbi says, does that make it more reasonable? Why don’t more people question the things they’re told rather than accepting them as rote, and passing it down so that the next generation can accept it as rote? This was my beef with Judaism and the people who taught it to me. It was my problem with all faiths. I am relieved to know that it was just the practice, and not the policy.
And what a gift, to be shown a way into the beauty of my own religion by a Christian-born man from 11000 miles away. By a man living in a park.
- Perry Howell, Outreach Worker
Ve’ahavta Israel is proud to announce the landing and distribution of Kinder Kits in our Homeland, Israel.
This past Wednesday morning Avrum and Kirill, who were in Israel at the time, received word that the 3,000 Kinder Kits would be made available to hand out to impoverished children living across Israel through our partners, Hazon Yeshaya and Bialek Rogozin School in Tel Aviv.
Kinder Kits are backpacks with educational materials such as pencils, pens, notebooks, rulers, crayons etc.
Hazon Yeshaya is a well established non-profit with national distribution centers and soup kitchens across Israel.
Please give to next years Israel Kinder Kit campaign.
Our Aim for Kit Distribution in 2011 is to send 7,000 kits to Israel.
Make a gift by by clicking here:
We are thankful to the entire Jewish community and all our friends across Canada that were involved in donating and assembling these Kinder Kits.
For more information on how you can help support the Kinder Kit Project, please contact Josh Hacker at 416-964-7698 x.21 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When I went to Canadian Blood Services yesterday, I thought I would be donating just platelets (#103) but they needed plasma, so what the heck, what’s a few more blood cells when the body just makes ‘em up again within 24 hours.
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I was outside on garbage day trying to move two green bins, a large garbage bin and three yard waste containers up to the side of the house. I had a two-year-old in tow and was trying to keep her away from the road while keeping an eye on the newborn that was fussing in the baby carrier. Needless to say, I had limited mobility and this usually quick task was taking quite a while.
A Purolator truck was slowly making it’s way down the road and pulled over. The delivery man picked up my bins and asked me where I wanted them. I just stared at him for a second…I was so confused… He helped me with everything and showed me a photo of his grandchildren who were about the same age as my girls. He said that he misses them and can’t spend much time with them but hopes that somebody is there to help his daughter out sometimes. He then looked at the address and laughed – he went back to his truck and got a parcel for me. I thanked him and told him that he had made my month (not because of the parcel).
This one small act by a total stranger made me feel less alone that day.
How you can help:
An Archive of Goodness also has some real estate on Facebook and Twitter: @GoodnessArchive and An Archive of Goodness Facebook page
An Archive of Goodness is memory book of valuable Tikun Olam experiences that will be a constant reminder of our ability to do goodness as a reflection of human kind.
Ve’ahavta’s bloggers have taken up the challenge of archiving goodness, kindness, and healing the world and will reflect on what this means to them. We encourage you to take up the challenge, to post your thoughts and to post your acts of goodness or witnessed goodness.
By: Janet Phelan
Winner: The Pen to Paper Prize
In the time of enormous suffering
I awake to the soft staccato
Of rain on the roof.
It has been raining now
For several months. Why
Doesn’t someone do something
I fix myself a breakfast
Of genetically modified stewed prunes
With a mound of yogurt
Culled from cows treated
With Growth Stimulating Hormone.
The other kind is too dear
And the rumor is that it is the same
Damn stuff, repackaged.
The morning news announces
That the sun is shining everywhere
That we are glorious and free.
It is a tattoo that doesn’t take on me.
The days are submerged in loss, now.
I remember so clearly the dead, whom I love
And must now negotiate at every juncture
With the living,
Whom I do not.
Your face presses against the fog
Transmuting from ethereal to not even
Detectable. I sometimes see you
Flit through the eyes of another
A certain sidelong glance
A penetrating and thoughtful expression
And an avalanche begins in my heart.
It is tricky to stay alive
Under such circumstances
Anything but studied indifference
Can be detected
A leap out of camera range here
A twirl out of jurisdiction there
And playing a deadly game of cat’s cradle
With the wires
Which are now everywhere
The argyle network of power lines
And transformers, above
And the mesh of secret cables, below
Where the weapons lie in wait
Like coiled copperheads.
It won’t be much longer
I tell myself
As I swab some mascara on my lashes
The world has been split in two
Those who know
And those who don’t
Fear is the only thing we have in common
And that divides, not unites.
In the reflection of the mirror
I see it gathering outside the window,
It has grown so large, so intricate!
I breathe in the dampness of rain,
Loss and a million years of shattered history.
Outside the window,
It moves in.
The Creative Writing Contest is part of Ve’ahavta’s Homeless Initiative department. Every year, we distribute hundreds of packages into the street and through shelters, containing a sign-up form, a pad of paper, a pen, and a self-addressed envelope. We ask people to write a poem, a song, an autobiography, a recipe used to survive on the street… They have the option of writing a fiction or non-fiction piece. The possibilities are endless.
By: Mo Ali
Winner: The Rashi Prize
Being sexually abused as a child is hard to deal with as a young adult.
Growing up, living in poverty was embarrassing.
Having to admit to my friends that I have four mental illnesses was terrifying.
But you know, coming clean about the abuse, poverty, and mental illness all seemed feasible –
And so I did.
I was elevated to the highest grounds of liberation – I WAS FREE!!!
Until a dark secreted disease decided to put chains on me
It was sugar coated, to the point where the chains were glamorized
And a slow death is walking the runways this season
On the billboards, tv, and on the cover of vogue
Is a vague
Description of beauty
With so much detail in the criteria.
I read it through; this is what I want to be, that is what I want in me
I continue to feed and it eats away, leaving behind scar, skin, and bone
Faking a smile, thinking this is the way, as my belly groans.
Shit! I’m caught grasping my tummy, someone offers food
I turn around and quickly refuse, hoping not to come across as rude.
What goes up must come down, the law of physics has reversed for me
What goes down must come up or out; through puke, poop, or pee.
Only through the tricks I learn, the status I earn
I’m in control of what’s rightfully mine.
But is that so when I’m sitting in emergency with my heart rate on the decline?
On my runway walk of death, I fear of the unknown
For I cannot read the signs of desperation that my body has shown.
My heart is like an old battery, any second now before it stops
Getting strained further and further as my weight continually drops
I fear my death, I fear my life, I fear my pain, am I insane?
I fear my food, I fear my mood, I fear my weight, is it too late?
I want to cry, I told a lie, I said I ate, when I discarded my plate
Great, people’s level of understanding has gone with the food at this rate.
I’m all for standing up for people’s rights; they shall not be deprived of what they deserve
But in comes the double standard, because I deprive myself of what others say I deserve.
Some touching things happened this week that reminded me that our program and my participation in it have a real impact on the people we serve.
I now stop at a rent geared to income residence, where there live a few people I have known since they lived on the street. This week, there ware two things that caught my attention about this stop.
First let me explain something. The value of the program, as I see it, is in the interaction between me and my volunteers, and the people we serve. The value increases as small interactions often become lengthy ones, and, over time, form the basis of long term relationships between our clients and me. This is valuable for reasons I will illuminate in another post, if it’s not immediately apparent.
The stop I am referring to is usually a little chaotic, with up to 20 people to serve at once – most are waiting for us on the sidewalk as we approach.
What I noticed is that once people have their supplies, and as others are trying to get theirs, people often wait patiently for a long time for the chance to speak with me. Then they leave when the discussion has ended. They really seem very pleased with the relationship.
The other thing that touched me is how one man excitedly told me about developments in his living situation. Because of the time constraints, I had to end the conversation a little earlier than would be dictated by its momentum. He then said, “Sorry (About the time), I just wanted you to know how things are going for me.”
Afterward he was talking with another fellow and I overheard him explaining that he had known me since his days on the street. That is now almost two years!
Ve’ahavta has become a part of these people’s lives, and now they are part of mine. We are both blessed by this situation.
Outreach Worker, Ve’ahavta
By: Vaclovas Verikaitis
Winner: The Maimonides Prize
The sky was lifeless and without colour.
It hung over the city like a low ceiling in a dark, damp cellar.
The rain that came with it dripped down in hard droplets that seemed to pierce the skin.
It was an acid wash for the sins of a city gone mad.
Just a cursory glance at the ground told the story of the night before.
No amount of rain could cleanse the streets of the stench of want and desperation.
The heavy atmosphere only accentuated it.
Empty cans. Paper flying. Puke on the sidewalk.
Worst of all, the street soldiers limping home. Or somewhere.
Emaciated hordes. As grey and lifeless on their feet as the sky above.
And what of the wailing from the children who wouldn’t eat today because a parent had spent the rent money on booze?
Their mark was left on the street.
And the addict that woke up under a bridge, her arms pierced by that false light that soon turned to dark. The degradation of selling herself to get more.
Walk a block in their shoes.
Storefronts also told the story of the streets.
Pay Day loans.
Lottery Tickets. A tax on the poor disguised as promises of a new life.
My mind continues to race as I wake up on the morning of the night.
My thoughts a nebulous composition of raw nerves. I was ruled by fear and anger. By rage and resentment.
Seeing the aftermath of the destruction of the night before only made me feel worse.
No way out.
That’s the way it is in this block.
Cars drive by.
Shining four wheeled carriages transporting people into the parallel universe of abundance.
How is this possible?
My thought pattern shifts.
You can do anything and be anyone you like, as long as you put your mind to it.
Imagine a dollar for every time someone gave me advice on how to improve my lot.
Apply yourself, things will fall into place.
Stick with the program, humble yourself.
Good advice, I suppose, if you’ve got options.
But when you’re down, the phone calls don’t get returned.
E-mails and faxes disappear into cyberspace.
You should have done this or that, they said.
But if that’s the answer, what’s the question?
The fallacy that precludes all else.
What are friends anyways? Shoulders to cry on?
People to share joy with?
And when the joy is gone, so are the friends, like dust in the wind.
Rusty memories that haunt you, creaking in the dull, lifeless dripping rain of a grey morning.
Judge not, lest ye be judged.
One foot in front of the other is the real struggle.
Going forward when the world seems to be pulling you back.
After walking for a few blocks, I take refuge under an awning outside a furniture store.
I always liked furniture stores. Lots of space.
I was out in the open, but I had no personal space of my own.
I lit up the last smoke in my pack.
I’d been saving it for something, now was as good a time as any. A thought occurred to me. Who smokes, anyways?
The poor and working classes. Mostly.
The one pleasure in a life sapping existence.
Non-smokers rights associations aren’t composed of the poor.
And my mind raced on.
Cigarettes. Tax. Cigarette tax.
Tax laws. Written by the rich to benefit the rich.
Infrastructure in place to keep the majority of the wealth in the lands of the fewest people.
The rich are insulated. And protected. Who is protecting me?
The police? Private security force of the rich?
Last night I saw and experienced what drugs and alcohol can do. Numb the pain. Dull the reality.
And tonight, the cycle will continue.
What was the story of the Greek God that every day was forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill. If he managed to push the boulder over the other side, he would be free of his labor, his punishment. Only to reach the crest and have the boulder run back down, to start the process over. And over. And over again.
This is my struggle.
And I will keep going.
And I will keep going.
Are you interested in becoming an Ve’ahavta Site Coordinator for one of our International Projects? Ve’ahavta is always looking for exceptional individuals with volunteer management skills and field experience working with community based development programs in the Caribbean and/or East and Southern Africa to commit to managing our overseas volunteers in the field. Contracts are short term (3 weeks to 2 months) with a requirement to commit to a minimum of two volunteer trips. For more information, contact Sarah Zelcer, Director of International Projects at email@example.com or 416 964 7698 x 15.
By: Tom Hogarth
Winner: The Book of Life Prize
Long ago, when the world was yet young, mankind was but a new creature upon it. In this time the powers that be still walked the earth with man, and they were new to their powers. In this beginning time winter came to the land… and stayed on the land.
The king of Winter then declared that there would be a winter without end, until he had something of beauty to rival the gifts of other seasons. For the king of Winter envied the Spring with her rebirth and young animals happily played. He envied summer with his warmth and flowers and bounty of life. He also envied fall with her glorious many-colored foliage.
Thus it came to pass that there was an age of cold and snow; an ice age. Mankind suffered and died, and cried out to the powers that be: “Please help us!” they wailed, “We have no food and starve, we have no warmth and freeze, our children are dying!”
But although the powers that be heard their cries, the King of Winter was unmoved, and none of the other seasons or powers wanted to sacrifice any other gifts. Time passed and it looked as if Mankind and his brothers the animals would die to the last one.
Finally, hearing their cries and taking pity on them the lovely Lady Moon went to the King of Winter. “Hear me King of Winter! I give you now a gift of beauty that will not only rival the other seasons but outshine them!” So saying, the Lady Moon cut off her hair and gave it to the King of Winter.
And this is how the Northern Lights came to be; for the Northern Lights are but the hair of the beautiful Lady Moon cut off in sacrifice to the King of Winter . That is why to this day the only thing more beautiful in the night sky than the lovely lady moon herself are the northern lights…her hair.
Ve’ahavta will be recruiting up to 4 volunteers and 1 site coordinator for a two week placement in East Africa in September/October as part of our Kinder Kit distribution project. Volunteers will be assisting in receiving the Kinder Kits shipment and distributing supplies throughout the local community. Volunteer fees are tax deductible and will be subsidized. Ve’ahavta will coordinate flights, accommodations, and volunteer placements.
Looking for volunteers with a medical background to assist us in a tour of the indigenous regions of Guyana distributing medicine and providing health education to the local communities.
We are experiencing a higher than usual volume of donations and supplies. We need volunteers to sign-up for our on-call volunteer list to help with deliveries of supplies to us and shipments of donations out.
Sponsored by TNT, this program provides breakfast to youth and parents at Evangel Hall every Thursday morning from 7:30 to 8:30am.
It’s a great way to give back to the community and provide for those in need on a more direct, interactive level.
Ve’ahavta is now recruiting volunteers for the fall semester to tutor students within the community. It’s a great chance for hands-on interaction and a highly rewarding experience for all.
Click for more Volunteer opportunities.
For all volunteer inquiries, please contact our Volunteer Desk at 416-964-7698 x 16 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ve’ahavta would like to express our gratitude to all the schools and groups for their enthusiasm and support in the Kinder Kit Project. In May and June new and gently used supplies were collected in locker dumps in six schools across Toronto. These supplies will be used provide underprivileged children will the educational materials they require to receive a complete education when they return to school in September.
In 2010, we will distribute 15,000 Kinder Kits to children in need locally and internationally. To help us achieve this goal, please consider sponsoring a Kinder Kit for $18 or collecting school supplies to donate to the project
Click here to sponsor a Kinder Kit.
Thank you to all of the organizations who supported the Kinder Kit Locker Dump Project:
I volunteered on the Ve’ahavta van with my two children and I it was such an incredible experience I felt the need to write to you. I asked Perry, who was the gentleman who took us all out, to provide me with your email addresses since I really wanted to tell you about our experience.
Firstly, I have to say this is an incredible program, and I think that your organization is doing wonderful work on the streets of Toronto. I am aware of some of your other initiatives which are all very impressive. We learned about Ve’ahavta at the Bar Mitzvah of a close friend, and my children immediately decided that they too wanted to make centerpieces’ for donation and volunteer to give back to the community. Their B’nai Mitzvah is on June 5th, and I feel fortunate that we were able to do at least one day of volunteering before our simcha so that the children would hopefully realize how fortunate we are and how important it is to give back. Thanks so much for affording us this opportunity.
Secondly, I have to say that I was extremely impressed by Perry. He’s an amazing young man with a very special way about him. My kids took to him immediately – he made us all feel welcome, useful and helpful. He leads with a very gentle touch and a generosity of spirit that can’t be taught.
When on the streets, his empathy for the people he serves is palpable with every gesture. He is an amazing example to volunteers and I really appreciated that my children experienced being on this special day with him in particular. He told us that he loves what he does, and this is apparent by his obvious compassion and passion for what he does. And this passion is infectious to the people who work with him. Despite the fact that he likely works with different volunteers on every shift, he managed to make us all feel unique and special, and made my children feel extremely appreciated, which in turn, made them feel like giving back more.
I just wanted you to know that all this care that you take both with your projects, your staff and your ability to assimilate volunteers, is greatly appreciated.
Again, thanks for the opportunity to help.
- Ric Bienstock, MJRH volunteer
It is a very meaningful program. Many of us take advantage of the fact that we don’t struggle at school. However, with certain kids at the program, the prospect of failure is always at the back of their minds. It is imperative we help students avoid that negative mindset, providing them with the help to get back on track. It is extremely important that students be provided with every opportunity to succeed.
- Anonymous Homework Club Volunteer
Our June 2010 Guyana team returned home this weekend. Over the past two weeks Ve’ahavta volunteers, Bekkie Vineberg (Site Coordinator), Dr. Sandy Buchman (physician), Seth Buchman (support) , Victoria Siu (pharmacy), Sarah Wilson (paramedic), and Sue Rebick (nurse) have been in Guyana on a medical mission. You can read more about their journey in our Field Notes: Guyana June 2010 correspondence.
The following letter of appreciation was received from Dr. Allison Brown, Regional Health Officer, Region 2, Guyana.
Things are shaping up nicely for the official launch of the Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA). This has been an amazing journey for me as the Founder/Director. I am very honored and proud to be part of the Ve’ahavta team and look forward to an action packed summer with the students of VSA. Thank you to everyone who has been part of this process and stay tuned for updates throughout the summer. Ve’ahavta Street Academy officially launches next Tuesday June 29th, 2010 at 10am, at George Brown College. Thank you to all who have supported this venture. Stay tuned for updates…
Click here for more information about VSA.
Ve’ahavta Street Academy Founder/Director
On Sunday June 20th, 2010 Ve’ahavta’s Outreach Team lead by Perry Howell, Outreach Worker, handed out gifts to our fathers’ on the street. It was understood that challenges were to be expected during the presentation of these gifts as for some men on the street being a father in the position they are in may bring haunting memories. However with the grace of goodness and their best interests in our hearts we were welcomed and the great men who received these gifts took it into perspective. Some men broke down and spoke of them missing their children. Some men smiled at the though of their kids, some of them being so far away. In light of any separation, however, those men had a chance to revisit with their children through memory. It is certainly healthier then ignoring it altogether. Thank you to our great supporters and donors for these gifts and their sponsorship made it possible to fuel the Ve’ahavta Street Academy this summer for those looking to improve their lives through education and awareness.
Today I handed out three baskets to fathers I knew, and then drove the rest to two drop ins where Nir and I handed them out. One was the good neighbors club, a drop in for men over 50. The other was the Salvation Army on Jarvis south of Richmond. In the latter case, the social workers wanted to decide who got them, but I told them it was important that people know its from Ve’ahavta. Having a relationship with the night staff there, I believe my request was honoured.
People at the good neighbors club were very appreciative, although there was some tension when we ran out of baskets before everybody got one. Thankfully, the social worker dealt with this effectively.
The most meaningful one to me is the one I gave to a man named Nathan, a young man who has lost touch with his daughter, but who says he stays alive for her. He speaks to me about her fairly regularly. He gave me a deeply appreciative handshake and look in the eye as I handed it to him, and Nir got a picture of us together.
To those who sponsored the baskets, thank you very much for this very meaningful gesture.
Outreach Worker, Ve’ahavta
By: Lorren Stewart
Winner: The Chaim Potok Prize
This is my story. When my parents had me, I was addicted to heroin. I had to fight to stay alive. When I was six years old, my parents both died from heroin overdoses. I was put into foster homes until I started to run away at the age of ten. I lived on the streets where I survived and where my fight really began. Living in doorways and back alleys, I got into drugs. You name the drug, I did it, because it helped to take the pain away.
When I found out I was going to have a baby at the age of 13, I knew I could not keep it. I had no one and I was not willing to bring a baby up at that age. I decided to give her a good family who could give her what she needed to live.
After having her, I went back to the streets. I could not forget the pain of what I just did because I had given away my only family that I could love. There were many days I would be so high, I would not sleep. One time, I did not sleep for a week and I tried to end my life. I made a call to someone at welfare. I didn’t know what I said to the lady on the phone. I hung up the phone and sat down and shot myself with cocaine. The lady tried to call back. I would not answer the phone. The next thing I knew, there were police and firemen coming through the door, and the ambulance was taking me away to the hospital where I stayed for a few weeks.
The lady who picked up the phone on that day saved my life. I did thank her in person because that is the day my life turned around. I went into detox for a month. I felt great the day I got out, but it was not even a minute before I was back to doing drugs. I knew it was wrong. I sat down on the street. The lady who tried to help me came out from her office. She sat down and we started to talk. She told me that if I wanted help, I should just ask. I looked at her and said, “help me please”. We went to work. I got myself into a shelter. That helped me get into a program that helped me get into a community house where I would live for two years. I was doing well. I got myself into school where I could learn how to read, write, and do basic math. I worked hard every day. I have my ups and downs but I push on because I would like become a writer. I had to move out of my place because my two years were over. I moved into a house with a lady who seemed nice. It started out good, but the lady was getting weird four days before the end of the month. She told me I had two days to move out. I just found out I was diagnosed with lung cancer, and I was very sick with chemo treatments. I didn’t know where to go.
On December 1st, I ended up down on the Eastside of Vancouver where I didn’t want to be. All the shelters were packed. It was very hard to find one. I ran into an old friend who said I could stay with him. Wrong move. I got back into shooting heroin. I phoned a friend of mine. I asked for help because I didn’t want to be back on the street where I had worked so hard to get away from. I phoned a friend and he told me to come stay with him. I knew it was a safe place for me.
Before school, I found a place of my own. I am still in school and I am not doing drugs. Don’t get me wrong. Now I am older, and I’m still fighting to stay clean, and this time is the time because I am very happy in my life. I would like to thank a special teacher for believing in me to write my story.
Are you interested in learning more about social justice issues? Visit www.on1foot.com, an online database of Jewish social justice texts designed to support and promote the teaching of social justice.
The team got up super early this morning in order to be at clinic by 7 am so that they could ensure that they would see all remaining patients in Friendship before departing. They just called from the bus which is on its way to Supenaam, the boat stelling. Before arriving in Supenaam they will stop at Sudde Regional Hospital to donate a brand new hemocue & cuvettes which Ve’ahavta had purchased for donation, thanks to our support from the CAW Social Justice Fund. This machine will be used by midwives and nurses who provide outreach services in the Region from Sudde, and will be used in particular to measure the blood sugar of pregnant women.
In Supenaam, the team will bid goodbye to Melissa Sissons and to our cook, Sandra. Our boat driver Morris will take them to Parika (about a 25 minute ride on the Essequibo River), and from there, it’s about a 40 minute drive to Georgetown. The team is traveling much lighter now, having distributed much of their supplies along the way.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend and looking forward to seeing some of you at the airport on Sunday night!
Director of International Projects and Education
Good evening everyone,
Just a little note to let you know that the team ran their second last clinic today in Friendship, seeing about 60 people. Friendship is fairly remote and it took quite some time to travel there. Getting there including traveling for a few hours overland and then a boat ride down a narrow section of the Pomeroon river. Bekkie says that the community is beautiful, though buggy! She called quickly to report back and then had to retreat into her tent to hide from the mosquitoes. Tomorrow the team will run a morning clinic and then will make their way back to Supenaam and then back to Parika (by boat). From Parika they will be picked up by bus and taken to Georgetown, where they will spend their last two nights at the Tower Hotel. Although the Tower is a stretch from a 5 star hotel, I think it will likely feel like a palace to our team tomorrow. There is a great pool in the hotel courtyard which I am sure they will enjoy…as well as the flushing toilets and hot showers! The final day and a half of the trip will include a trip evaluation and a tourist jaunt to Kaiteur Falls, the longest single drop waterfall in the world (see attached photo). It’s hard to believe that almost two weeks have gone by!
With best wishes,
Director of International Projects and Education
The Gilad Shalit Prize
What has become of my life?
I no longer have a life
I did not have a death
I had an eviction
So I simply became a ghost
I wander the streets, day and night
Invisible to the unknowing
Untouchable to the uncaring
Incomprehensible to myself
Inconsolable in my grief
For my life
Despair being the unforgivable sin
Unwelcome in Heaven
Unwelcome on earth
I want to seize my life back
I alone can do this
I cannot do it alone
Won’t someone help me?
Just a short note to let you know that I did finally get to connect with Bekkie this afternoon. The team ran a very busy clinic all day in St Deny. It took about an hour to get there from Mainstay because of a very rough road, but they made it and will be camping out tonight. Bekkie says that the health care worker in St Deny is wonderful and that the village itself is beautiful and quite remote. Seth had a good day and wore his birthday crown for most of it . Yesterday, the rain did let up about midday and the team ended up seeing about 35 patients in Mainstay. Bekkie reports that Sandy, our physician, has been absolutely amazing, seeing every patient and consulting on almost every case, even for patients that are receiving family planning or other types of counseling. It takes an incredible amount of skill, patience, and dedication to work long hours and maintain such a thorough work ethic in environments that are often challenging and sometimes without all the necessary resources one is used to being able to access as a physician working in a major city like Toronto. The rest of our volunteers, Victoria, Sarah, Seth and Sue have all been equally dedicated, hardworking, and have been applying their skills and lending their individual expertise to the clinic. The team has been cohesive and really wonderful.
Tomorrow morning, the team will travel an hour or so to Charity, another town, and from there will catch the regional boat to take them to Friendship, an Amerindian village located way up the Pomeroon river.
Have a wonderful evening.
The team has been running a clinic in St. Deny today. This will be a short email because there is limited cell phone access in that community and I haven’t been able to speak directly to Bekkie yet. She did leave me a message saying that everything and everyone is fine. Looking forward to sharing a fuller update soon!
In the meantime, I wanted to publicly wish Seth Buchman, one of our volunteers in the field, a very happy birthday! I know the team was planning some special celebrations and I am sure this particular birthday – celebrated in the Amerindian communities of Guyana – will be one he will never forget.
The team is doing well – they had a very busy day yesterday, seeing a total of 85 patients at clinic in Lima Sands and doing a significant amount of health promotion throughout the day. Bekkie noted that she has seen quite a few cases of infertility, which taken in context in a place like Guyana, is a really difficult and painful affliction because of the cultural norms and expectations to have children. The team also helped a young girl who had a major gash, which she sustained from getting her ankle caught in bicycle spokes.
Every trip, our volunteers tend to discover their own personal niche and settle into their roles and responsibilities, which sometimes end up looking differently than how we had anticipated. On this project, we have been finding that Sarah Wilson (our paramedic and nursing student) and Melissa Sissons (nurse who co-directs the medical missionary college at Bethany) have been focusing on registering and triaging patients, while Sue Rebick (our nurse) has really discovered that she loves public health education and outreach. She and Bekkie have been doing a lot of individual and group sessions, focusing on issues including nutrition, hypertension, diabetes, oral hygiene, and family planning.
There is a huge downpour right now, and Bekkie spoke with the Health Care Worker and learned that because of the weather, the clinic is currently empty. So the team is waiting it out at the resort in Mainstay, hoping that the skies clear to allow them to do some work today. They are all in great spirits and have been joined by “Aunty” Irene Perreira, a volunteer with the Bartica Lions Club.
I did find a little you tube link with some images of Lake Mainstay and the resort where the team has stayed the past couple of nights – enjoy! www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhoY_tKeEXc
Have a great day,
Winner: The Albert Einstein Prize
I can’t say where I am from
For I am a drifter of space and spaces
I can’t say where I am going
For the future is nothing but a perspective
But I can tell you where I am
I am here
And I am changing.
Good morning everyone,
I hope you had a great weekend.
The team found their Thursday clinic in Capoey to be so busy that they decided to extend their work their by another day. The clinic was quite busy, and they saw approximately 130 patients. A few of the more significant health issues they observed included large numbers of individuals experiencing hypertension and diabetes- moreso than what we typically see in Amerindian villages, whose lifestyle and diet usually mean fewer risk factors for these issues. One possible reason for this could be Capoey’s relative proximity to Sudde, a larger town which has access to more Western-style amenities, including dietary options.
The team also noticed a great need for education around the importance of getting pap smears done regularly and the risk of HPV, which can lead to genital warts, cervical cancer, and other issues. The team ran out of certain supplies, including oral contraceptives and some topical creams, and the Regional Health Office is restocking them.
The team took a much needed day of rest yesterday in Mainstay, which is a resort in the area. Because of all the moving around and heavy lifting and intense heat, we sensed the team needed a little rest. They will be sleeping a total of 3 nights at Mainstay – in beds – and had the chance to relax, shower, and have a nice team dinner together yesterday evening. They are hard at work as I write in Lima Sands. The Health Care Worker, Basanti, and a local midwife who works with her are currently working out of the local nursery school next to the Primary School instead of out of a proper clinic because the health post is being rebuilt. As a result, they have been struggling with moving all of the contents of the old Health Post into the nursery school, and with a lack of private rooms in order to maintain patient privacy. Our team has helped them improvise by creating more private rooms using sheets, towels, rope & clothespins.
I’ve attached a photo of Bekkie & Basanti, as well as a photo of the primary school.
Have a wonderful day,
I just got off the phone with Bekkie. Everyone is doing great and they are just waiting for the boat to pull up to take them across Lake Mainstay and over to Lake Capoey. Capoey is the next village and is a magical place. Bekkie and I visited the community and met with its wonderful Health Care Worker, Alice, last week.
When Bekkie and I spoke yesterday morning, the clinic at Mashabo had thus far been very quiet, and the team was beginning to wonder whether any patients would show up. (An American team had visiting the community a few months ago, so we reasoned that as an explanation). However, by late morning the clinic became quite busy and the team saw 60 patients. They saw a large number of young women – many under the age of 25 – who had at least 5 children. The team distributed a lot of family planning (depo provera, oral contraceptives, condoms) and did a lot of counseling. Our project also has a multivitamin distribution program (pregnant women, general adults and children) coupled with a de-worming program, and that was well received. The Health Care Worker, Esther, was amazing, and the team worked very closely with her. They uncovered a case of undiagnosed gestational diabetes and were able to do blood sugar testing and provide the patient with a glucometer, lancets and strips. Sandy also suspects that one child he saw has Turner’s Syndrome, a genetic syndrome, and may be a candidate for surgery down the road. The team will be working with Dr. Allison Brown, the Regional Health Officer, to ensure follow up.
Transport does take up a lot of time, as we are in more remote areas and moving a good deal of supplies. The volunteers are doing well, despite very hot days and nights, some heavy rain, some leaky tents, and the loss of one of the team cell phones down a pit latrine (a replacement is already in the works!). Sometimes the challenges we face in the field are a little…unpredictable!
The team is travelling with two volunteers from the Lions Club of Bartica – Beverley and George – as well as a local cook from Mashabo we have hired and Melissa Sissons, the co-Director of the college in Bethany. The team is debriefing nightly and feeling very positive so far. I let them know that Chicago won the Stanley Cup and that the World Cup Opening Ceremonies is today in South Africa.
I’ve attached a photo of the view walking into Capoey from the landing, as well as a photo of Bekkie with Capoey’s health care worker, Alice.
Director of International Projects and Education
Winner: The Joseph, Coat of Many Colours Prize
I am me. I am me
no fake outs, no excuses
no I will not, I will not let you
control me. Only respect me and my space
I will not sit by and let you degrade
me. No I will not forgive you for the
endless pain you have caused me. I will
I will move forward. I will make it
through to higher ground.
I will compromise only to my benefits
I am me, a broken vessel
a repaired vessel. A stronger vessel of
hope and peace. Stronger because I
love me. Stronger because I have found the courage to say no without regret
Me. I am me
Beautiful no matter what you say
Stronger because I found the strength
Courageous because I need to leap into
bigger and better. Fearless regardless of
my past. Looking towards the future
never shying away from who I am.
I am me.
I define me.
Ve’ahavta is proud to support Israel during this difficult time by sending 3,000 Kinder Kits to underprivileged children in Israel. This will ensure that they not only receive the proper nutrition but also the education supplies necessary for them to succeed academically.
The value of education and freedom has sustained us as a people regardless of our geographical location, denomination, and financial status. In order to ensure the future of the Jewish people, it is imperative that all children in Israel have a chance to develop a love for learning.
Thank you to the following organizations for supporting the shipment to Israel:
We will continue to support Israel and work within Israel at all times as both Ve’ahavta and the state of Israel continue to thrive and grow.
Am yisrael chai. The nation of Israel shall live.
Our team has now arrived in Mashabo, another Seventh Day Adventist Amerindian community located along the end of Lake Mashabo. It is a beautiful village. The local health post (see attached photo) services a population of about 400 people. There is a large population of children in this particular community. The team got up very early this morning to pack up. The health post in Bethany is located along the river’s edge, but the missionary college where the team was staying is located about 20 minutes away via tractor ride. After breakfast and after packing up their personal bags, the team came to the health post to pack up the clinical supplies into a large trailer which was hitched to the tractor. The team then boarded the tractor for the hour long ride to Mashabo.
They just had lunch and are running their second clinic. They are all looking forward to a nice swim this evening!
Have a great day.
Just a little note to let you know that our team is running its first clinic today in Bethany. The turnout has been steady so far with a larger number of elderly patients. The team has been joined by a volunteer from the Lions Club of Bartica, Beverley, as well as by Melissa Sissons, one of the Americans who runs the Medical Missionary College which operates nearby. Melissa is a registered nurse.
The team did experience its first heavy rainstorm yesterday just as they arrived in Bethany and had to unload all of their supplies in the rain, as well as endure a wet tractor ride up to BMMC. However, the skies cleared up and the team was able to rest, receive an orientation, have a great lunch, dinner & breakfast. Sandy even did a little suturing workshop for some of the students at BMMC last night.
Everyone is in great spirits and adjusting nicely.
Just to give you a little context, I have attached a few photos of the health post where the team is working, as well as of a local traditional hut in Bethany and the BMMC.
By: Ruben Delgada
Winner: The Chai Prize
In the place I grew up in there were always troubles
that I never knew about until my age got doubled.
I grew up in a corrupt home, kept my feelings deep inside,
that’s why I felt alone,
criminal behaviour was seared into my dome,
because that’s all that I encountered
everyday I walked home.
My emotions were out of control so I started smoking weed,
did it a few times until I felt the need –
to try to get money just to succeed,
when I started thinking money,
I started thinking greed,
but I was too young to notice so I started selling weed.
I never went in too deep,
thought about where this would lead,
but by then it was too late
because I already planted the seed.
As time passed, my family was getting locked up,
seeing this happen more than once left my mind fucked up,
father figures behind bars left my heart roughed up and aching,
ever since then I despised seeing bacon,
so much so that I ended up being taken away,
bracelets put on me, left the days all grey,
life was getting to me, it was getting hotter than May
Even in pure darkness there is always light,
so no matter what comes your way you gotta always fight,
because you never know what might be pulled out of the hat,
bad decisions might be holding you back,
but you never know when a second chance can land on your lap,
you just gotta make sure you follow the map
because if you take the wrong path you might get trapped
with nowhere to go except for back…
This is a short note to let you know that our team, our bags, and all of our supplies have arrived safely in Guyana and were cleared through customs without a hitch. Bekkie called at about 8:30 this morning to let me know hat everyone was great and that the team was on its way to Parika, the boat stelling where a speedboat will be waiting to take them and their supplies to their first community, Bethany. Bethany is an Amerindian Seventh Day Adventist Community located along the Pomeroon River. It is a beautiful boat drive there. The team will be housed and fed for the next 2 days and nights at the Bethany Medical Missionary College, an American run facility located just above the village. They will be working at a health post located at the river’s edge alongside Esther, a health care worker from a neighbouring village, Mashabo.
Have a wonderful day – I’ll be in touch again tomorrow.
Director of International Projects and Education
Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian & Relief Committee
By: J.L. Marlowe
Winner: The Aggadada Prize
It is mid-November. I am sitting beside the reflecting pool in Nathan Philips Square in downtown Toronto wondering where I can find some cardboard for a bed tonight. Skaters are doing turns around the pool, which at this time of year is an ice rink. The sounds of children laughing comes back at me, clearly heard, even over the rink music issuing forth from the speakers that the keepers of this place have set at strategic positions around the area.
I have been homeless now for the past nine years and the wear and tear of the streets has not been kind to me, although I am sure others have fared far worse. That is the reality of the streets. They are hard and mean places that can swallow you whole, if you let them. Perhaps, I am better off than most street people, because I am aware of the dangers more profoundly than my peers. I choose to reside not in the city center per se but rather in the Don Valley, where as a young boy I grew up running from every kid in my neighbourhood because of my heritage. I am an Indian. Aboriginal, to be precise.
I know the places in the valley of my youth that are relatively safe from the drug addicts and gangs which inhabit the inner-city streets. The places where, even today, some of the beauty of nature still dwells, close, yet light-years apart from the busy streets of metropolitan Toronto.
So many things have changed in the Don Valley since my youth. I remember hearing the eerie cries of the peacocks echoing across the valley and the occasional roar of a lion issuing forth from the Riverdale Zoo as the last rays of light drained from the sky and followed the arch of sun which slid down the sky disappearing below the western horizon.
At night, when shadows mingled with the light of the moon, upon the walls of my room. I could hear the sounds of the trains, rolling by our house in the valley below, their whistles tooting warnings into nights’ stillness and I could feel the rumblings of their weight moving over the ties that gave the tracks purchase and then, the songs of crickets would fill the air, and I would dream of mysterious places within myself.
And I remember, the crystal clear autumn air, the wonderful scents and glorious colours of the leaves. The smell of decay and natures’ promise of new and wondrous things to behold. And I remember, the beauty of the animals of the woods: the chipmunks, squirrels, and raccoons. They were my friends. And I will never forget them or that time in my life when autumn refreshed my soul with her passionate beauty.
When I was a small boy I would play in the woods of the Don Valley by myself. I would invent imaginary playmates and dream of far off places that existed only in the confines of my mind. I never understood why other children didn’t like me, I just wanted to play with them and enjoy the games that all children learn. But it wasn’t to be.
As I grew older, the lines between hatred and ignorance began to blur and I chose to escape through the use of alcohol and drugs to deaden my senses and shield me from the loneliness that I had come to know so well. But I always saw the beauty in others, which seemed to evade some of them, leaving them empty and unable to recognize their own significance.
When I was little, I grew up believing in heroes. Batman, Superman and the Flash. They were the guardians of my youth and instilled the values of truth and justice in my very being. My parents doted on me but were unaware of the turmoil that transpired in my daily life. They were simple folk who concerned themselves with the daily regime of survival. We were poor. It’s been years now since the death of my parents, decades in fact. There is no one anymore. I am alone now in the world. Sometimes the loneliness is overwhelming. As I sit in my place in the woods, that has become my home, I remember, all of my hopes and dreams. The woman that I loved, and who loved me. Although I am getting older now, my dreams still live strong in my mind. I refuse to quit, to give up, with everything inside of me I will fight to achieve my dreams. For my spirit is strong.
I used to believe that native people were drunks and worthless. That they killed without a care. That they were savages, who needed to be eradicated.
When I was little, other children would call me names. Redskin, Wahoo, Wagon-burner and they wouldn’t play with me. I was an Indian. I hated being Indian.
I remember riding on the streetcar and seeing an Indian lying in a doorstep near Moss Park Armory. He was passed out, an empty bottle of wine lying on the steps beside him. He had wet his pants and his urine had left its tracks across the sidewalk where it found its way to the gutter. No, I didn’t like being an Indian.
Even television depicted natives as savages, rapists, murderers and drunks. John Wayne surely wouldn’t lie!
I was in my mid 20’s when I discovered the truth about my people. The beauty and the rich history and traditions of our culture. When I realized that everything I had been taught by society was wrong, it opened my eyes to the plight of my people and the attempt to systematically eradicate and hide the truth. Through the teachings of my elders I discovered who I was, but the damage had already taken its toll.
I am drawn back to the present by the voice of a young girl, perhaps 12 or 13, “Excuse me sir, are you hungry? Would you like some sandwiches and a juice?”
“Thank you” I say, as I take the bag offered to me with a smile. I watch as she moves off in silence, into the night and the city.
The clock tower of the Old City Hall chimes the bells nine times as I bite into a baloney sandwich. It’s getting late; I’ll have to find some cardboard soon, and a new place to bed down for the night.
Last night I saw the four horsemen of the apocalypse. They came to my camp through the woods. I could hear the breaking of branches under their feet, as they made their way towards me. But I never fled because my camp is hidden well in the foliage of the forest and, to my knowledge, no one knew I was there. I realized that I was mistaken, when I heard them talking; one of them was saying “He’s here somewhere. I saw him in here and he never left.” It was then that I realized I’d been followed.
Two nights ago,I went to the Good Sheppard to get some food. It was then that I saw these four. They were beating on Robert, another street person I know, who is mentally handicapped. I have known Robert for two years now. He calls me ‘Tom’ although that is not my name, but then, he calls everyone Tom – even women! He is a harmless and beautiful being who I am honoured to share the planet with, Robert makes me see and feel the true complexity and infinite meaning of the word ‘compassion’. Through Robert’s eyes the world is a simple place, where bad is bad and good is good. There are no in-betweens for Robert.
When I saw there four individuals were harming him and trying to take his money I ran at them and told them to leave him alone. They didn’t like that “You got a problem dog?” said the biggest one.
“No, I’m only asking you to leave my friend alone.”
“Well, what are you going to do if we don’t leave your friend alone?”
“Yeah.” Said a third. The fourth one, who was about 6’2 just stared at me and smiled. I knew he was the leader.
All this time Robert kept blubbering incoherently and crying. “Well, I wont do anything, I’m just asking you guys to give my friend a break, he’s a good person who doesn’t harm anyone.”
It was then that Tex and Rutledge came around the corner and said “What’s going on here?”
“Why nothing officer, we were just leaving.” Said the leader as they turned and left.
“You o.k. Robert?” said Rutledge.
“I’m ok, my friend Tom here helped me officer.”
“You’d better watch yourself Tom, those guys are animals.” Said Tex.
I went over to Robert and helped him over to the line, where other homeless people were lined up for supper. As we passed the officers I said “Thanks for the help, I’ll be fine.”
“Tom, why did those boys try to take my money?” asked Robert. Try as I might, I couldn’t come up with an answer. So I just said “Don’t worry about it Robert, they won’t bother you anymore.”
I could hear them approaching, but I was unable to make any move to escape for fear of giving my location away. Methodically, they searched the underbrush, like police officers working a grid at a crime scene. It was only a matter of time before they found me. I decided to make my move. I eased out of the hole that I had excavated into the side of the hill, past the camouflage that hid the entrance, and tried to escape unnoticed when I heard one of them yell “There he is.”
“Get that motherfucker,” cried their leader.
In seconds they fell on me, and the punches and kicks came down like raindrops from an angry sky. I tried to shield myself, but it was useless; they were bent on revenge for all the hardships of their own lives, and I was their release. I was glad it was me and not Robert.
Eventually, the beating stopped, their thirst for vengeance sated. And they left me alone there in the woods. But not until they destroyed my home. I lost consciousness and awoke to rain falling on my face, the branches of a maple tree thrashing in the wind. I tried to gather my strength and rise up from the forest floor but the pain went through me from head to foot and I fell back down, helpless, amid the fallen leaves, mosses, and decay that makeup the forest floor. And I lapsed into the darkness at the edge of sanity. I do not know how long I lay there; it must have been a few hours. When I woke, I was in severe pain and the darkness had fallen, my clothes were wet from the rain that had fallen. In the distance I could see the thin line of light that was the Don Valley Parkway, the car lights speeding off into the night. And I remembered a time when there were four sets of train tracks, where the parkway now sits and spews forth its putrid air; it was a time when terms like ‘acid rain’ never existed in the vocabulary of men. When the Don River was full of life. Fish, frogs, and turtles flourished and life as a whole was less complicated than today. But the pain in my ribs, back, and face stir me from my memories.
I raised myself up and made my way to the streets and the relative safety of Nathan Philips Square where I now sit and nurse the pain and humiliation of my circumstance, alone in a city of millions . People see me as a person who is a blight on the very fabric of society, an outcast, a drug addict or an alcoholic. And in truth, I have been some of these things. But just like them, I have dreams for a future beyond the streets. To attend university, to be a person who has it within him to help others less-fortunate.
All I ever wanted was to fit in, to be loved and held. To be given a chance to distinguish myself for myself. Perhaps, there is still time for me.
I move off of the bench and head towards Richmond Street. I remember seeing some cardboard there a couple of days ago. Maybe I’ll get lucky and it’ll still be there. I have to find a place to lie down and sleep. I am tired and hungry and I wish that I could go home.
The funeral home was on Danforth Avenue in the east end of Toronto. Robert made his way to the steps and into the viewing area carrying a dozen roses. He walked over to the coffin and looked into the face of his friend. Then he placed the roses atop his friend and said “Goodbye Tom, you were my best best friend.” He turned and exited the parlor the way he had come and walked along the street towards Donald’s subway. High above the sun broke through the clouds, its rays warming everything, and for a moment in time, the cold November day seemed like the first day of spring. Robert smiled to himself as he walked along.
*In the early morning hours of November 11, Remembrance Day, the body of a person described as “a homeless person” was found deceased in a laneway just off Richmond Street. It appeared that the person had succumbed to injuries sustained from a beating. No names were released. However, an officer, name of Sgnt. Rutledge, seemed to recall that the person was simply known as ‘Tom’.
In his pocket was found a poem titled “The Plight Of The Homeless” which we now publish here below.
THE PLIGHT OF THE HOMELESS
On our city streets
They eat and they sleep
They beg for their livelihood
Living ain’t cheap
A few nickels and dimes
May help them get through
Until the next day repeats itself
Skies aren’t always blue
Many a night on our city benches
They make their beds
Out in the trenches
Never afraid of having to roam
Proud in their stature
Yet they haven’t a home
Who are these people? What makes them tick?
Those are the questions
The politicians can’t lick
Some say they’re crazy
Some say they’re nuts
Eating out of garbage cans
And smoking old butts
But I’ll tell you something friend
You can take to the bank
They may be unwashed
They may even smell rank
But they won’t rob you
Wouldn’t steal a cent
Sometimes I imagine that they’re angels
With the Good Lords intent
To teach us compassion
Put love to a face
A part of mankind
The human race
If you look into their eyes
You’ll see deep pools of thought
Minds filled with concepts
Which schools never taught
One day you may wake from a dream
To find yourself there
Out on the street
With no one to care
Alone and destitute
With nary a hope
Out on the mean streets
Just trying to cope
If such a day comes
And I pray that it doesn’t
You may wake from a nightmare
To find that it wasn’t
Should that day come
I hope that you see
That the plight of the homeless
Concerns everyone even you and me
And so the next time that you see someone
Down on their luck
Please offer some kind words
And not just a buck
By: Nicole Luongo
Winner: The Shalom Alechem Prize
The following is an introduction to a book that is not yet written:
It’s freezing. The basement window is wide open, and the wind has blown the bedcovers off of my body and onto the floor. It’s mid-December, and all I’m wearing is unbalanced it feels, having on only one sock, but I don’t want to bother searching for its partner. Trying to find anything amid the heaps of dirty clothing, rotten food scraps, and empty liquor bottles on the floor would be futile and I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to be able to stand, anyways. I reach down and remove the sock. Much better. Now I need a drink. I vaguely recall that I have left a half-full bottle of vodka at my feet. Having to go get more later will be agonizing – the nearest liquor stores is blocks away, and I can barely crawl, let alone walk – but for now I’m ok. For now I have all I need. Emptying the bottle, I lay my head on the pillow and sigh with relief. The sense of euphoria that accompanies the alcohol is both instantaneous and sublime. Curling into a tight ball, I let go of my loose grip on consciousness. I drift, fantasizing about down quilts and warmth.
That month – December of 2008 – was the worst of my life. I spent Christmas Eve in an emergency shelter, sneaking nips of the whisky that I had snuck in and hidden in a toilet tank. Each time I went to the bathroom I emerged flushed and wild-eyed, growing more intoxicated as the night wore on. I was nineteen years old and knew that I was going to die. Years spent battling an eating disorder, mental illness, and eventually addiction had left me beaten, broken, and completely exhausted. Death, with its finality and the promise of undisturbed quiet, was almost alluring. I was barely existing as it was, each day spent seeking something – anything – to fill the yawning hole in my chest. Every moment revolved around the search for food or booze or whatever it was that could provide temporary relief from the emptiness I felt.
As a child I had been born with a vivid imagination. I envisioned myself becoming an artist, an athlete, a politician, my dreams not yet limited by the banal sensibilities that characterize adulthood. What I didn’t predict was that before I entered my twenties I would be homeless and barely clinging onto life by a thread. What follows is an account of my first two decades. My story won’t be completely linear – I can’t guarantee that dates will be exact or that my memory won’t distort some recollections. So much of my time was spent either drunk or in some sort of altered state. Events blur at the seams and bleed into one another, and what I’m left with is a patchy, disjointed motif of pain and trauma intermingled with brief bursts of unequivocal joy.
What I do know is that when I was diagnosed as bipolar, it made perfect sense. What else could explain the fits of glee, followed always by the crushing, crippling despair? Sadly, being told that you have a mental illness isn’t all it takes to get better. In fact, some may argue that it’s akin to receiving a life sentence. What I was given, however, was a name for what I felt. And if what I felt had a name, maybe I wasn’t crazy after all. Some people dislike the label; they feel that having it is an automatic qualifier, an invitation for judgment. Realistically, I’m more apt to be judged when my condition goes untreated. When I’m drunk off my face, for example, and wreaking havoc in society. I realized that I could live if I wanted to. And, oddly enough, I did want to. So began my journey back from the abyss.
My body is conditioned with the memory of what alcohol has done to it. A single whiff of rum or vodka is all my stomach needs to automatically begin contracting – a visceral refusal of the noxious substance that nearly cost me my life. While my body is sure that alcohol is poison, there are times when my mind is still unconvinced. This is largely due to the fact that being a functioning human being is highly stressful. I marvel at the people who do function, without ever stopping to acknowledge the logic, diligence, and sanity that it requires. How remarkable it would be to wake up each morning and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am not crazy. I think that it would be wonderful but ultimately less fulfilling than the life I currently lead. Learning how to exist in the world has been interesting, to say the least. It’s messy and awkward and I tend to damage things (and people) more than I would like to. Regardless, this life is mine, and I’m beginning to understand the necessity, and sometimes even the joys, of reclaiming it as such. I’m 21 years old and I am a paradox made manifest – a strange dichotomy of feeling like I’ve experienced a lifetime’s worth of pain while still embodying the awe and wonderment of a small child who is being exposed to the world for the first time. I’ve begun to pick up the pieces of my shattered life. I’m still not completely whole, but I’m growing closer every day. This is my story:
Thanks again for the prize and the opportunity to show off my writing. I felt that I’ve been slacking in the writing department, but this has been truely inspiring, It has once again proven that my sobriety is paying off. I’m excited to get to work with my new computer and to get some screenwriting programs downloaded. I was in the company of some wicked talented people yesterday, and I felt honoured to even be in the top ten.
My only prior experience with Ve’ahavta was getting a smoke off of someone while sleeping under the Bathurst bridge years ago, and it was nice to know the type of things you folks are up to in the city. Meeg’ wetch for everything.
- Jamie C. Rhiness, Winner: People of the Book, CWC 2010
Jamie Rhiness is the 2nd prize winner of our 2010 Creative Writing contest. The prize, sponsored by Board member Henry Greisman and family, was a Netbook computer and an 18 month Internet connection. At the awards presentation, Jamie was inspired by the opportunity to present his writing and looks forward to increasing his screenwriting output with the use of this new-for-him technology.
We all wish Jamie the best of success in his writing endeavours.
By: Jamie Rhiness
Winner: The People of the Book
So you wake up to the street cars rattling above you, as they cross the bridge keeping you sheltered from the rain or snow.
Pigeons painfully cry in vein as they are pecked at by others. The dusty ground is contaminated with PCB’s. You don’t know if it’s this or the exhaust fumes billowing down that cause your nagging morning cough.
If you’re lucky, you have a cigarette, or a swallow of something to keep you from regretting surviving yet another lonely winter night. Your frozen, shaking hands clumsily load your pack. You’re in a hurry to use the bathroom, and to hydrate yourself before a monster headache begins to catch up with you. The quicker you can get this done, the sooner you can start the whole miserable routine once again. You figure you would be used to it by now. That you’d have toughened over the years. Instead, the cold is hitting you harder. The alcohol is proving much more difficult to keep down, and illness comes upon you more frequently and sticks around longer.
Where is everyone else this winter?
Am I the last of the bridge trolls?
You cast a glance around the bridge to see the ghost shanty town that you once shared with dozens of other kids. Now you share it with three stray cats, and some terminally tortured pigeons.
You take your time walking to the drop in. It’ll be another forty five minutes until it opens and the cold has a harder time sinking into your bones when you’re mobile. As slow as you may be moving with that heavy pack strapped to your shoulders, some citizen is in even less of a rush to get to the office. He or She knows you’re behind them, but they are having some argument with a spouse over bills. They’re stressed about being down to their last few grand, and might have to cut that trip to the Caribbean short this year.
It must be rough living under a roof.
You play up the pariah “Excuse me, body bugs coming through….” The citizen makes way post-haste and you pounce at your chance to get ahead.
On your way, you check the parking meters for the time, dreading your inevitable early arrival. You grab the city’s free dailies to assist you in passing the time. You skip past the bad news for the horoscopes to find out that you’ll soon find romance with a co-worker, and that finances will shortly take a turn for the better. Good news. The plus seven sleeping bag could always use some help warming up for the night, and you would always enjoy some bank leftover for beer the next day, before the DT’s kick in. Something tells you that this isn’t what the astrologer had in mind, but eh, a guy can dream.
A panhandler sees the butt you’ve found in a frozen snow bank, between your fingers, and asks you for a smoke. You politely inform him that you’re in a like situation, although you consider yourself superior for actually braving the elements, instead of sleeping in some shelter.
Doesn’t he see my pack? Do I not look dirty enough?
You’ve just been mistaken for a middle-class backpacker and not the hard core, hard drinking, hitch hiker you think you are. This irks you. Sure, you’ve shed the punk rock uniform. The patch pants, the piercings, the Mohawk. But shouldn’t something still shine through?
Your mind wanders to more pressing concerns. It’s too cold to use soap and water on the wind shields, so you’ll have to grab a bottle of washer fluid. Jesus might have been able to turn water into wine, but you’re the only one around that can turn washer fluid into a bottle of malt liquor.
At last you find your way to the colourful alley that is home to the Youth Link Inner City. One of the places that has kept you alive throughout the years, even at the times you didn’t care to be. Inside is food, a shower, and dry socks. You can keep in touch with friends and family over the internet, and give someone a call. Still, outside stands a group of shaking shelter kids, using language just as colourful to describe their disdain for the “cold hearted” staff, blatantly refusing to open the shelter twenty minutes early.
You shake your head at the fact that they awoke with a warm toilet readily available. They spent a night in a bed that would be more comfortable if a guy could sleep through the whining, or the fighting. The feeble shoving matches and tough talk sparked by shady drug deals, or some kid with something to prove. You think about the squeegee punks. Hitchhikers and train hoppers fighting for fun. We call it sparring. Of course, where are they now? We were the bullied, not the bullies, so nothing about this kid impresses. It’s all drama, street soap opera. The mindless distraction that keeps a person from knowing their real enemies, the courts, the cops, the government, and the rich trying their best to get out of paying their wages.
The clicking sound of a lock unlatching signals that staff is now prepared for another thankless day of complaints and verbal abuse.
The two quickest on the draw rush to the computer. Another set, to spend a solid half hour in the washrooms. Staff plead with the rest to sign the stats sheet, explaining that this is how the drop-in keeps its doors open. A handful of people may listen.
Inside you have all kinds of people from all sorts of backgrounds, punks, metal heads, hip hoppers. Former dealers , former users trying to stay away from making money or current users trying to sleep off days of making money. There are kids killing time until the shelter opens, and kids killing time until a dealer turns on their phone.
Then there’s the odd squeegee kid waiting for the cops to leave the Queen-Spadina corner. It’s a mismatch of people that on the street shouldn’t work, but for survival sake does. Staff tries their best to keep our personal prejudices and old beefs from escalating into full-out physical conflict; on most days they miraculously succeed.
I tried to spend as little time in these drop-in’s as possible. If you can’t already tell, I have a lot of pride. By ten or eleven, I’d be out the door, making a couple more bottles, than getting drunk in a park or alleyway, until all could be forgotten. Then I’d wake up under a bridge to start it all over again.
I started as a teen in a small town drinking, thumbing, or just doing anything at my disposal to kill the boredom. By winter ’07, nothing cut it, and I just couldn’t take another night under the bridge, or another run down the Trans-Canada.
Still, an extreme transition like this would take six months for me to grow into. I’m leaving a life I’ve travelled tens of thousands of kilometers for, had three lifetimes worth of fun, but also lost ten years and more friends and loved ones than I can count.
I had to give trust a try, and I had to give shelters a try (now I realize that shelters can be a lot worse than any bridge I’ve stayed under. As a matter of fact, I’ve been in correctional facilities with more personality and less restrictions). It’s within this time that I took part in the peer program at Youth Link Inner City. It’s because of this that I got to actually know some of the kids that I had been misjudging all of these years.
I learned a lot about myself and a bit about the world outside the one I’ve been living for so long. I’ve even been meditating on the fact that those citizens might actually have genuine problems, regardless of the size and location of roofs they live under.
I’ve hung up my squeegee, and shed my ambivalence about wanting no more than some company to share my misery with, and some leftover bank for the ten o’clock beer run.
So now I lay on our new couch by the window, on a humid Sunday afternoon. After my girlfriend and I make supper and do the dishes, we’ll take in a movie, and eat ice cream, before turning in for the night.
Tomorrow, I’ll probably head in for my shift a bit early to grab the free dailies that will tell me to expect a new budding romance and that my finances will take a turn for the worse. I’ll ignore this as always, choosing instead to strike up a conversation with some of the folks waiting out front, who always ask me how the new place is coming along, and that they are happy for my girlfriend and I.
They’ll tell me about their new job or apartment and I’ll continue to be amazed at how hard we all try, no matter how hopeless the papers or charity advertisements at times makes us sound. I’ll start one of my few remaining shifts a little saddened that a part of my life is ending, but I’ll be comforted with the fact that a place like Youth Link Inner City exists to help keep the street kids fed, clothed, safe, and sometimes even alive, even at the times we didn’t care to be.
By: Heather-Ann Michie
Grand Prize Winner
Like a leaf trembling in the breeze, I find the courage to get off my mattress, leave my empty place, and head out into another cold wintry day, even though I feel down.
This day, I have change for the bus. People are staring at me. Maybe my coat needs cleaning or my clothes need freshening. I look down. But, I get to go to my “home-away-from-home,” my “family-away-from-family, “The Office”, the A.C.S.A. [Agincourt Community Service Association] drop-in shelter.
As a baby bird is pushed from its nest by its parents, I find the courage to come by myself as a young female from a Mediterranean climate into cold “Scarberia”. Was it too much, too soon?
As usual, staff greets me and I greet the guys and my gal pal, “Hi.” I check my voicemail, leave Easter messages for my three kids and call my other gal pal. I get some cereal, toast, and a hot drink, sit on the couch and read my Metro. I play solitaire to focus, check my e-mail, and send an Easter e-card to my mom back home. I watch a movie, if there is one, while I wait for a hot lunch. We had chocolate ice cream for dessert. Strange, but I seem to be thawing out inside.
Like the matchbox girl freezing in the cold, I find the courage to reach out to connect somehow. This day, the guys have all had a hard night – some on the streets, some in their empty places – as check day is a few days away.
Suddenly, I watch as one guy buys two cigarettes for two quarters from a second guy. The second guy needs the quarters for a phone call to his mom later on tonight. This exchange makes them both happy. I hope the new staff member, Melanie, comes in soon. She always has a generous smile, a warm hug, and a kind word to give [if wanted]. She’s here! I feel as if I am warming up inside.
As a canvas is being filled with colours from the artist’s palette forming an oil painting, I find the courage to send out an e-resume, make some cold calls, and prepare for a job fair.
Now, a stable influence, Christina works away quietly, calmly and with a Mona Lisa smile in the food bank. Maybe I will ask her if she can spare a few tea bags. I am uncertain about getting a free flu shot. What if I get sick? I will not be able to leave my mattress, or eat, or see anyone. A visiting staff, Sandy, helps me begin to apply for OW [Ontario Works] on-line. I am so tired of hiding from my children that I have no real income as my partner would not let me work. Recently, he left for parts unknown so I can start over again, starting with OW and some training.
Like a ballerina gliding across the stage, I find the courage to hold myself erect and float over to the ladies room. The soap is nice – soft, fragrant, and luxuriously bubbly – like hand cream. It feels so good to wash my hands and my “undies.” I always have clean hands and nails, no matter what else I have to let go of. I wish ACSA had a washer and a dryer to go with the shower.
This past Christmas, somebody left a box of toys. One toy was a beautiful, new, fluffy, white, stuffed animal. I grabbed it and took it home to put away as a gift for my little grandchild’s upcoming birthday. I did not like my children to know what I go through. They have their own lives to live. They think everything is fine, the same as when their dad – the accountant – and I were married, had a four-bedroom house, two cars, and they went to a private academy. I just want all of them to be happy and feel normal. [Is that just a setting on a washer?]
As a warrior after inspection, mess hall, and going off on maneuvers, I am motivated, fed, and strengthened to face the rest of my day, whatever that might bring my way.
Today, I find the courage to smile, hold my head up high and look strangers in their eyes. I find the courage to try, learn, and grow. I find the courage to succeed.
By: Leif Hernborg
Winner: The Ahad Ha’am Prize
My name is Leif. I am 43 years old and homeless for the second time in my life.
I am currently fortunate enough to be in residence at a city-run shelter called “Fort York” which gives 60-90 males opportunities to work and save money and keeps a lot of us from falling through the cracks to darker venues in homelessness. I became officially homeless on November 3, 2009, yet knew inside the hallways of my soul long before.
I have now been separated for six years with two children, which I proudly support, living with my ex-wife. For five years, I lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment. After I was laid off in the construction industry and without income to pay rent, I politely received a pre-eviction notice under my door. I soon realized that I could not survive much longer and instead of fighting with my landlord, I tried vainly to look at the positives of living out of a hockey bag, hoping to recapture some vigor to a defeated heart.
I almost looked forward to escaping the quickness and insanity of today’s information-obsessive throngs and disappear to anywhere but here, pretending to be somewhere I could be someone else.
Reality can be a stomach-churning event rushing feelings and emotions like the residuals of an unexpected punch to the stomach. The evening I left my barren apartment, I did so late in the evening depositing my worn-out key into the broken mailbox, pausing to pull free the name tag I had placed above my mail slot, my name printed in subdued awkward-typed letters. I placed this in my top pocket as though officially erasing my five years of occupancy by hiding the evidence.
Closing the front door, the squeaking hinges bid me farewell as I threw my heavy hockey bag, oddly emblazed with the word “champion”, over my left shoulder, and sucked in the cold November air which I nervously exhaled through my warm nose. And without looking behind me, I stepped into a cold November night and for once forgot all about rent. Homelessness can be different for those of us not really encumbered by addictions, nor too cruelly reduced to depressed states of shock.
I have come to enjoy life’s curveballs as they seem to exist to improve my catching and pitching skills.
But I must impart that I have lived an interesting life and as odd as all the years have been I have always viewed the world before me with great curiosity.
Such are the ever-winding flows of the mighty river of our lives. We have no way to sway her course though we try by building walls strong and solid to bend her to our will. And as we grasp at our plunder greedily, it pours from between our fingers and escapes at our very feet, carelessly pooling and returning from whence it came, driving us to the brink of madness as we collapse into the river maiden’s outstretched hands and be swallowed by her wet embrace. Sometimes we rest for eternity entangled in her dark arms among the roots and ebbs of the river floor.
And so it has been for me today as I stop fighting and start seeing our daily miracle of the arrival of the sun and of it returning to rest. And through the cracks I fall afraid and eager to see another new day. I see the world go by my bespeckled eyes, and I see an ocean of faces before me each so very unique. And in each I see a grain of true measure. In the darkness of our lives the sun’s miraculous displacement of moving shadows permits us to move on to safer pastures and to escape all of this, daydreams offer us sanctuaries of wishes we can share with few, if any.
Oh how I wish I could daydream in reality a day away from all this craziness, seated upon a quiet lake, thoughts wandering freely in an old canoe as loons swim below my paddle teasing me to join them. I hear the rustling of fall leaves so orange and yellow that float past me so closely that they kiss my cheeks with faint smooches. Oh how I wish I could daydream away a day with my children as I catch glimpses of their smiling faces through flashes of sunlight that reflect like tiny mirrors from the ripples of a tickled lake. Oh to walk a forest trail and to be nowhere, the deer tiptoe upon the forest floor as though in velvet slippers, parting the ferns with their soft noses.
Thus I ventured forth from my ghostly dark and dusty neighbourhood, my boots silently leading the way, as I headed off to the safety of a $50 a night hotel room. To keep reality at bay long enough to close a new door behind me to face myself, to feel alone and wishing for once things could be different instead of disappearing into the vastness of this city as it once again engulfed me completely. I had two days in a room that hadn’t changed since 1973. Even the cockroaches wore flared jeans and spaceboots.
My hockey bag on the single bed was my only lover, possessing my disguises to look normal in public. Photographs of my children were concealed inside an old heavy sweater as though their unblinking eyes could witness their father’s unusual attempts at existence. A hidden existence they knew nothing about. Trying to relax, I sat in a multicoloured bathtub, knees folded as it was big enough for my backside and my two feet. I reviewed my Tom Sawyer fantasies that have exited with me my whole life. Mark Twain unraveled a life I wished I could encapsulate through well-thumbed books which I read and re-read over and over, a dream I have tried to capture in times where I was crumbling apart like this day. Wonderful ideals of traveling life on the road, skipping from town to town, surviving on sheer guts and carelessness, tending the ever-present evening fire while warm sustenance simmered upon lazy flames. In all its true glory life sometimes introduces you to the unknown consequences of our answers to being alive.
Rebellion, rejection, addictions, mental illness, abuse, isolation, fear, cheat, thief, grief, and reality. Although I did try and try hard at keeping under the radar, there have been but fleeting moments of success, then it seems a slide ride into the arms of a society that wanted to break me apart. And at 43 years of age, I have acquired a cynical look into the world I see beyond my tired feet. I see everyone moving about as though on some divine mission, wrapped up in cell phone conversations, cars effortlessly negotiating streets in elegant technology adding to the background noise and vibrations of a city so full of life, yet with so many closed doors. The thought of succumbing to a shelter once again had me frozen in disbelief. The stuffy hotel room pushed me to the cold streets to wander aimlessly. Those who begged for spare change from motley corners paused to look at me as my face betrayed the sorrows I imparted whilst my heart beat out the rhythm of a poker stare.
The blanket of semi-security that once hung upon my fettered shoulders was now gone. And quickly.
And so appropriately, it began to rain in light cold spurts. I could feel the intrusiveness of the wet melting drops as they explored my neck causing an ever so slight chill to the pit of my stomach. It awakened in my elastic soul the recognition that I have so much to be truly grateful for, as I pass the beggar whose hollows eyes and sunken cheeks humble my awkward stares.
And yet he smiles a broken smile as I drop my last free toonies into possibly one of my own recently discarded Tim Horton’s to-go cups. We look at each other and as our true eyes meet, I am frightened to find that I have always been a step away from desperation and oddly electrified by the chances I have been blessed to receive on the roulette wheel I call life, be they good or bad. Everyday, I am blessed to be alive.
We are proud to announce the inauguration of The Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA), a school for people living on or near the street. VSA was designed and will be overseen by the talented, Theresa Schrader, the winner of Ve’ahavta’s Creative Writing Contest for the Homeless in 2005.
Ve’ahavta is interested in presenting our vision of VSA to a family or individual interested in endowing this unique educational program. Please call Kirill Zaretsky at
416-964-7698 ext. 22.
We are also interested in hearing from passionate, creative and innovative teachers (Philosophy, Art, Life Skills). Please call Avrum Rosensweig at 416-964-7698 ext. 13.
Click here for more information about VSA.
Is it better to make a difference on your own or with a group? Does one make more of an impact?
Thank you to all the participants, donors, and volunteers of the 2010 Great T.O. Challenge! With your support this year’s event raised over $50,000 for Ve’ahavta’s homeless outreach initiatives.
A special thank you to the organizing committee of the GTO Challenge: Fran Grundman & David Taras (Co-Chairs), Maura Cooperberg, Shauna Merkur, Lisa Richman, Nancy Soberano, Mark Stein, Karen Stern, Sherri Taras, Carolyn Tucker (Committee Members).
Ve’ahavta would like to express our gratitude to all the community members and groups for their enthusiasm and support for the Kinder Kit Project. In April and May we collected supplies and donations to send 3,000 Kinder Kits to Israel. The kits are now on their way to Israel so that needy children will be able to receive the educational supplies before the next school year.
In 2010, our goal is to distribute 15,000 Kinder Kits to children in need locally and internationally. To help us achieve this goal, please consider sponsoring a Kinder Kit for $18 or collecting school supplies to donate to the project.
Please contact email@example.com for further details.
Click here to sponsor a Kinder Kit today!
Thank you to all of the organizations who supported the Israel Kinder Kit Project:
Gena Kontakos was in Zimbabwe in April to help deliver 1,500 Kinder Kits to children through the Salvation Army Howard Hospital in Glendale, Zimbabwe. As you can see from the pictures below, the students loved the educational supplies they received!
We are experiencing a higher than usual volume of donations and supplies. We need volunteers to sign-up for our on-call volunteer list to help with deliveries of supplies to us and shipments of donations out.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.
Ve’ahavta will be recruiting up to 4 volunteers and 1 site coordinator for a two week placement in Israel this June as part of our Kinder Kit distribution project. Volunteers will also be volunteering with Hazon Yeshaya Humanitarian Network in Jerusalem, assisting with programs that provide support to Israel’s poorest citizens. We are looking for volunteers to be in Israel between June 15 and 30th, 2010.
Volunteer fees are tax deductible and will be subsidized. Ve’ahavta will coordinate flights, accommodations, and volunteer placements.
For more details and to apply, contact email@example.com
It is with great excitement that we announce Ve’ahavta’s Coffee House event for its 9th Annual Creative Writing Contest for People Living On or Near the Streets of Toronto and Vancouver.
Please join us at this *free event, meet our winning contestants, and listen to them read their riveting stories from life on the streets and in shelters. All are welcome so invite your friends and family, and include in your organization’s mailing lists and e-newsletters if applicable!
Event details are included in the event flyer and below:
Date: Sunday May 30th, 2010
Time: 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Location: U of T’s Hart House (Music Room), 7 Hart House Circle. The closest subway station is Queen’s Park, and parking is available on King’s College Circle and Tower Road.
Please don’t hesitate to e-mail or call me with any inquiries. I look forward to seeing you on May 30th!
In the past few months, I have been a volunteer at the Lita and Mikey Homework Club in Regent Park. As a tutor and a mentor, I have developed multiple connections with my students and watched them grow and succeed. One grade five student I was working with brought an assignment to the Homework Club which was to deliver a public speech to his classmates. For several weeks, we polished the speech together and talked about ideas. The end result was a speech about sneakers, and the role they play in the experience of his peers. My student talked about shoes as status symbols, how they must not be a way to make friends, about powerful advertising and child labour practices. I was very proud of him. In our next meeting, he was excited and told me that he won first place in his class and will now deliver his speech in front of the whole school. A shy but bright kid has gained confidence that will sustain him for years to come.
- Ve’ahavta tutor, The Lita and Mikey Newcomers Homework Club in Regent Park
I now know that in Cuba, there lives a vibrant and passionate Jewish community. With less than 1,500 Jewish people across the entire country, the Cuban Jews show the meaning of Tikun Olam. On Wednesday afternoon, the women in the community join together to make Challah for each family, while on Friday night the community gathers to share in a Shabbat, followed by a Havadallah ceremony on Saturday.
Our group has been lucky enough to witness Yom Hashoa in Cuba. The young people in the community organized a memorial which included readings of the memoirs of Anne Frank and dancing. Prior to leaving for Cuba, I participated in a Toronto memorial for Yom Hashoa. In that ceremony, in a community with approximately 200,000 Jews, a few hundred people attended. While Havana, a community with 900 had almost as many participants.
The Cuban community has further revealed the true meaning of unity. Their passion and dedication to daily Mitzvot is contagious. Whether they are providing medication, encouraging the youth to partake in traditions or providing nurturing care to the elderly, this community enables each other and protects one another. It is truly inspiring.
- Alexandra Bronfman, 23, Toronto, ON
Mission Chair of Yaldeinu’s Emerging Leaders Development Mission to Cuba