By: Gloria Galloway
Read this article on The Globe and Mail website here
A Toronto doctor who received money from the sale of his father’s generic drug company has given $10-million toward improving the health of Canada’s indigenous people.
The University of Toronto announced on Friday, National Aboriginal Day, that Michael Dan and his wife, Amira, made the donation to its Dalla Lana School of Public Health to create an institute that will study the health issues among the country’s aboriginal population.
“This is the single most important issue facing my generation, and if people like me don’t do something about it, then I wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night,” Dr. Dan said in a telephone call from Bosnia, where he was visiting his in-laws.
“The opportunity to do something about it is here,” he said. “The university is ready to tackle something like this.”
Dr. Dan, a former neurosurgeon, shared in the proceeds of the sale of Novopharm Ltd., a generic drug company founded by his father, Leslie. He used $17-million to create the Paloma Foundation in 2002, and has given millions to charities around Toronto.
The institute created by the Dans will operate with the input of indigenous people and will bring together scholars in public health, medicine, nursing, social work, education, law, anthropology and many other disciplines. It will tackle a complex and difficult issue.
The life expectancy of First Nations people is five to seven years shorter than that of the general population. Among the Inuit, it is 15 years shorter. Indigenous newborns have a mortality rate that is 1.5 times that of babies in the rest of Canada, and they have more birth defects.
People living on reserves are 31 times more likely than other Canadians to contract tuberculosis. They are three to five times as likely to develop diabetes. They bear a disproportionate risk of traumatic injury. And their rates of infectious disease and suicide are significantly higher.
“If you look at it in totality, it’s completely overwhelming,” Dr. Dan said. “But I think it’s possible, working on a community-by-community basis, to just make a little dent in some of these big issues. You’ll never achieve anything unless you sit down with a community and ask, ‘What are your health problems, how can we help you?’”
The University of Toronto will host Canada’s first indigenous health conference later this year.
Among Dr. Dan’s other philanthropic ventures was the creation in 2006 of Gemini Power, a hydroelectric corporation that finances the construction of power stations that are turned over to First Nations to operate.
By Kim Hughes | www.samaritanmag.com
Read the full article on SamaritanMag here.
The transformative power of education has inspired many great quotes from many great minds. Don’t be surprised when Theresa Schrader – and other previously marginalized people from Toronto – one day add their own heartfelt aphorisms to that list.
Schrader is the program coordinator with the Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA) which uses a unique eight-week program (now in partnership with George Brown College) to elevate those living on the streets, in shelters or in otherwise challenging circumstances through education, serving as a gateway to formal academic study.
More than that, the VSA offers its students hope.
As the VSA site says, “This program is for everyone who thought they would like to go back to school, but didn’t think it was possible. The Street Academy is designed to motivate and empower individuals to explore education as a way out of poverty or off the street. We believe that post-secondary education in a city such as Toronto opens the door for the future.
“VSA offers communication skills, life skills, diversity training, conflict resolution, self-awareness, leadership workshop, career exploration, volunteerism, as well as actual academic lectures. The purpose of the program is to bridge students to other programs and show them the way to post-secondary education.”
Nobody knows more about building bridges to successful new lives than the 38-year-old Schrader, who — as a former homeless crack addict — is VSA’s most vocal champion. She is also its lifeblood.
As Schrader explains to Samaritanmag, “In 2005, I won a creative writing contest for the homeless held by Ve’ahavta,” the 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,” according to its site.
Schrader continues: “I stayed in touch with the organization after that. I started moving forward with my life. In 2009 I started college studying social work, and after my first year I had to go back on welfare, which was pretty daunting. So I called Avrum (Ve’ahavta president and CEO Avrum Rosensweig) and asked him if he had any jobs. He said no.
“I cajoled him and he finally said he always had this idea of starting philosophy classes on the streets of Toronto which was already happening in New York. I said, ‘Why don’t we have a school for the homeless but indoors, not outdoors?’ He liked the idea and suggested I put together a proposal with a budget. I had no clue how to do that, but I outlined the idea, Avrum took the proposal to his board and they approved a pilot of the project.”
In summer 2010, the Ve’ahavta Street Academy was born. Since then, 65 students have gone through the program with 23 percent (or about 15 students) going onto further schooling.
Word of mouth is key to the program’s outreach. “We hand out flyers at social service organizations plus I network with social service workers I have connections with in the community,” Schrader says, adding that “Funding is always an issue.”
The VSA receives no government assistance, relying exclusively on private foundations and donor dollars. “We feel if we had the resources to do better follow-up support we would have higher numbers. But with the marginalized population we’re working with, 23 percent is still really good.”
As Schrader explains, the curriculum – led by working professors and professionals from various fields who volunteer their services — focuses on skills that will make assimilation into a classroom setting easier.
“The first week is about communication,” she says. “The second week is about life skills or problem-solving behaviour in your everyday living. The third week is about awareness about oneself and the community around you.
“Week four is career exploration. Week five is diversity. Weeks six and seven are academic — actual academic classes such as mapping out and writing an essay, social policy, creative writing, leadership and world religion — and week eight is hope and inspiration.”
Carlos Lopes knows just how impactful the VSA program can be. Though he doesn’t elaborate, 38-year-old Lopes — who completed the program last summer after seeing a poster for it at the Daily Bread Food Bank where he was volunteering — tells Samaritanmag, “Considering the state I was in at the time, the course couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I wasn’t homeless but I was close it, and down and out for sure,” he says, noting that he also served as an assistant to Schrader. “I had been very anxious to get back into a classroom setting and to see how I would perform. This seemed like a good place to start.”
This fall, Lopes — who is currently building lighting consoles for a company that supplies lights to the movie industry — hopes to attend Bridges to Ryerson, “a one-year, part-time transitional program for mature students who have the motivation, potential, and stability required to be successful at post-secondary education, but who have foundational educational gaps and lack the formal admissions requirements,” according to the Ryerson site.
“Prior to the VSA I might have been qualified to do lots of jobs physically but not mentally,” Lopes says. “I mean, my self-esteem was so low that I would keep forgetting what I could do. The program reminded me of my self-worth and allowed me to go forward,” he says, citing the VSA’s creative writing class as especially inspiring.
“And not only was the program free to attend, they gave us no reason not to go. They provided transportation, lunch, a weekly honorarium. We started with 13 students and finished with nine,” Lopes says. “It was difficult – there were some personality clashes and people going through very difficult times.”
Schrader confirms that the Ve’ahavta Street Academy is a pioneering program, and although it’s her full-time job — she serves as a “one-woman show” with “a colleague helping with the follow-up two days a week” — it is also clearly a passion project.
“For 10 years of my life I lived on the street and was addicted to drugs. It was very difficult for me to change my life but once I did, I did it through education,” Schrader says. “I know I am a darn-tooting smart girl. And I know there are a lot of smart people on the streets. If I can help other people like me to see they have talent and gifts and the ability to move forward with their life, I think that’s amazing.
“I look at each homeless person as a wealth of opportunities. I tell potential students that I am not asking them to do anything I haven’t done myself. We want to give people an opportunity to change their lives, and to show them there is a better way.”
Providing housing to people who are homeless and suffering mental illness improves outcomes — and saves money, a Toronto study suggests.
The At Home/Chez Soi research project tracked nearly 600 people in Toronto over two years. Roughly half received treatment as usual, relying on the city’s network of services, while the other half received “housing first” treatment.
“Intervention can make a real, tangible difference,” said Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos, one of the lead researchers. “The quality of service and the coordination of service made all the difference.”
Those in the Housing First treatment stream received help finding a place to live, as well as subsidies to cover rent. Once the person was securely housed, an intervention team worked closely with them to attend to other needs, such as medical care or mental health treatment.
Those who received Housing First were, after two years, stably housed 80 per cent of the time, compared to 54 per cent of those who had treatment as usual.
The Housing First model costs just over $21,000 per year to treat a person with high needs, and about $14,700 for someone with moderate needs. When researchers calculated the reduction in hospitalizations, shelter use, criminal justice issues and other publicly funded services, the method resulted in savings of more than $31,000 for high needs people and $4,200 for moderate needs.
“What I hope is that governments at various levels will really, really take this to heart . . . and look at how to implement the principles of Housing First into their communities and really realistically think about what they’re spending now on Band-Aids,” said Faye More, co-ordinator for the Toronto study site.
“The answers are in front of us and now we have the evidence base.”
About 5,000 people are homeless in Toronto on any given night.
The study also measured participants’ quality of life and community functioning and found it improved significantly in those who were provided housing.
“When the problem is solved for them of where they’re going to sleep that night, then they begin to think about other things, then they can begin the journey and they very much want to,” said More.
Otis, a 42-year-old participant in the study who received Housing First treatment, spent about four years on the streets, living under a bridge and going to Union Station to wash up. Referred to the study through CAMH, his case workers helped him find an apartment near Bathurst St. and St. Clair Ave. W. where he’s lived for the past two years.
Having a place to stay has helped him get treatment for physical and mental issues, said Otis.
“You need a place to stay to get treated,” he said. “You got privacy, you got a shower every day, you know where food is coming from.”
The majority of study participants were males and 93 per cent were absolutely homeless. Nearly half were immigrants; two-thirds had two or more mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders.
Toronto was one of five cities across Canada where the impact of using a Housing First approach was studied in the project funded by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
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By: Ruth Schweitzer
Read the full article on the CJN website.
Ve’ahavta is hoping its new $1.5-million fundraising campaign, It Is A Jewish Cause, will stimulate discussion about what responsibility Jews have for communities outside their own.
The money raised by the campaign, which runs until Dec. 31, will be earmarked for four Ve’ahavta programs: its outreach vans for the homeless, its street academy, a Jewish/aboriginal health program in Northern Ontario and a new youth leadership program, said Robyn Segall, director of communications and operations for Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee.
Volunteer and logistical teams distribute food, clothing and hygiene supplies to clients, and provide referrals to self-improvement and counselling facilities.
The Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA) is an eight-week program, in partnership with George Brown College, for people who live on or near the streets of Toronto. VSA helps marginalized people access education as a means to becoming self-sustainable.
Ve’ahavta’s recently announced a health promotion initiative, Bri’ut (Hebrew for “health”), in conjunction with seven First Nation communities in Kenora, Ont. Bri’ut aims to improve the long-term physical and mental health of aboriginal populations in Northern Ontario by strengthening the delivery of community-based health programs.
The campaign It Is A Jewish Cause is “expressing that homelessness and aboriginal health are some of the causes the Jewish community should be concerned with,” Segall said. “As a people, it is our responsibility to help others in need.”
She said that “we have experienced loss of land and culture, just like aboriginal people. It makes sense for us to work closely with our aboriginal brothers and sisters.”
Ve’ahavta, which focuses on poverty alleviation, is strongly based on Jewish values, yet the organization is universal in nature, she said. It helps “all those who are in need, regardless of their faith because we were, too, among strangers. In our history, we would have benefitted greatly from a response from outside our community. We feel we have a duty to respond to people here in Toronto and on a national or international scale.”
Ve’ahavta has provided disaster relief in Haiti, Haifa, the Philippines and Pakistan. In Mali, Ve’ahavta partners with Muso, a group that aims to eliminate preventable deaths in the world’s most impoverished communities. Ve’ahavta distributes Kinder Kits, packs of school supplies, to children in Canada and to countries around the world, including in Israel.
Although Ve’ahavta’s local clientele is mainly non-Jewish, Segall stressed that there are more Jews on the streets than people would like to think. Ve’ahavta holds an annual community Passover seder and operates joint programs with Jewish Family & Child.
Segall pointed out that poverty is relative to where you live. For five days recently, Ve’ahavta staff took up the challenge of trying to eat and drink on $1.75 a day, as part of Live Below the Line, a global movement that raises money to combat extreme poverty.
“[Living on] $1.75 a day is way too low for someone in Toronto,” Segall said. In Toronto, one of the most expensive cities in Canada, “to be able to pay first and last month rent for an apartment, you need a good job.
“Many people in Toronto are at risk of becoming homeless. They could be couch surfing or living in a shelter. They are unable to secure stable housing. It’s easy for people on that shaky line to fall economically quickly.”
Avrum Rosensweig, president and CEO of Ve’ahavta and a CJN columnist, said that by working with the homeless and marginalized, “we live up to the Jewish value of ‘love your neighbour’ and we also introduce ourselves to the world, so they can understand first hand who we are.”
It’s a Jewish responsibility to work with the stranger, he said. “While we’re doing it, it lets non-Jews know who we are and that we are good people, and we break down stereotypes through our work.”
By Robbie Couch
Read the story and watch the video here.
The story of Sir Nicholas Winton is one of the most profound tales of humanitarianism that you’ve probably never heard.
After saving 669 children, most of them Jewish, from likely death at Nazi concentration camps at the onset of World War II, it was announced Monday – on Winton’s 105th birthday – that the heroic Englishman will be awarded the Order of the White Lion, the highest order in the Czech Republic, the Associated Press reported. In the official announcement, Czech President Milos Zeman noted Winton’s example of humanity, selflessness, personal bravery and modesty as reasons for the prestigious honor. The award will be given to Winton this October.
In December 1938, Winton gave up a vacation as a London-based stockbroker to travel to politically turbulent Prague, according to the Guardian. He was curious to see firsthand what was happening to refugees in what was then Czechoslovakia. Nazis had recently invaded the country, and Winton sensed the grave danger refugees there were facing.
He wasn’t an elected official, a high-ranking member of the British military or even someone with a significant background in charitable work. But starting during his three weeks in Prague, Winton made one of the most impactful, single-handed efforts to save children from mass genocide.
He created advertisements for foster homes. He manipulated paperwork to sidestep government red tape that would have gotten in his way, CBS News reported. He even persuaded Germans to go along with his plan. Continuing his efforts from his home in London for the next nine months, Winton coordinated eight train evacuations of 669 children from Czechoslovakia to Britain, saving them from almost certain death.
For decades, Winton’s heroic efforts largely went unnoticed – until 1988, when a BBC program surprised him by planning an emotional reunion with several of the survivors he saved, the Telegraph reported.
So with all things considered, turning 105 years old on May 19 might have been the least of Winton’s achievements.
The hero celebrated his landmark birthday with about 100 guests in attendance, many of whom are offspring of the children who Winton rescued in 1939.
According to the Guardian, there are roughly 6,000 people around the world todaythat owe Winton their lives.
If you ask him, though, the formula to do good is a pretty simple one.
“I work on the motto that if something’s not impossible, there must be a way of doing it,” Winton told CBS News last month.
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Read the article on the Canadian Jewish News Website
TORONTO — Close to 10 per cent of Canadian households live below the international extreme poverty line of $1.75 a day, according to some Children’s Aid Society statistics.
For five days, staff from Ve’ahavta, the humanitarian and relief organization, took up the challenge of trying to eat and drink on that dollar amount, taking part in Live Below the Line, a global movement that raises money to combat extreme poverty.
Participants in the challenge experience the struggle that more than 1.2 billion people face every day.
“When you actually put yourself in an environment where you, on some level, have to feel that level of hunger, it becomes more real,” says Avrum Rosensweig, Ve’ahavta president and CEO and CJN columnist.
For the challenge, Ve’ahavta’s staff participants pooled their money together and strategized how to make the most of their budget. Mornings consisted of half a cup of oatmeal and half a banana, while lunches were lentil potato stew. Cheap fruit and eggs were also available at the office to help those craving a snack.
“You become so conscious of how you’re rationing,” said Robyn Segall, director of communications and operations, when The CJN interviewed her on the first day of the challenge. “I’m already so hungry and cranky. People have foregone their morning coffee.”
Rosensweig said that even though he has shifted his diet to more fruits and vegetables because his son is vegan, Live Below the Line is still challenging.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “You’re also thinking about what people who are truly impoverished go through. Emotionally, that’s a challenge as well.”
The committee raised $14,000 over the April 28 to May 2 period for three initiatives, with the goal of alleviating poverty, locally and around the world. People can still register and take the five-day challenge until June 30. The target goal is to raise $50,000 for these three programs. The organization has an anonymous donor who will match the grand total.
One of the recipients of the funds is the Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA), an eight-week education course for homeless and at-risk Torontonians that prepares them to go back to school and get off the street.
Classes empower these people by teaching them how to take the first steps on the road to a post-secondary education, as well as how to take on volunteer and leadership positions. Two of the original VSA participants will graduate with diplomas this June, Segall said.
The funds raised also went to Br’iut, a new program launched in Northern Ontario to assist with health initiatives on underserved First Nations reserves. The organization places graduate-level social work or public health students in these communities.
The last recipient was Muso, an international organization focused on eradicating disease in vulnerable areas around the world.
Live Below the Line began in Melbourne, Australia, in 2010 and has since spread to four other countries. The Global Poverty Project runs the campaign, as part of the company’s focus on equipping people with the power to combat extreme poverty.
“It’s one thing to live on $1.75 a day for an individual, but if you pool it together with as many people [as possible], it becomes a bit more manageable,” said Danny Richmond, director of youth leadership for Ve’ahavta.
Richmond brought the idea of doing the Live Below the Line challenge to the organization this year. More than 20,000 people worldwide, from Australia to North America, also participated in the challenge last week.
Rosensweig said Live Below the Line reminds him of Passover, when he reads in the Haggadah that people should really feel as if they were among the Israelites coming out of Egypt.
“I think what [the Haggadah is] saying is to metaphorically superimpose what the Jews of Egypt went through over today’s experience,” he said. “Understand what the trials and tribulations are of families here in Toronto… who perhaps have one meal a day, maybe two. There should not be a child in the world who has to go through hunger.”
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