Life Change Stories

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A Small Closed Wooden Box

 

It was the last place I wanted to be.

Whenever it had come up in conversation, I would always tell people that I had never had to spend a night in the hospital. I would say it with that false sense of pride that comes with believing it had more to do with some exaggerated inner strength than just simple luck.

And yet there I was, in a hospital bed with an I.V drip in my arm, right where I had been for the past four nights. That false sense of pride finally, and rightfully, shattered.

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David Marshall

We seldom hear from them. They provide immense insight, vision, effective strategies, investment and even perspectives from all angles. Who are these people? They are simply the ones who work behind the scenes. In other cultures, their name varies but in our context, their title is board director.

In this Championing Change entry, we will focus on David Marshall, CEO of MarshallZehr Real Estate Capital and also a member of the Board for Life Change Adventures (LCA).

David, a man of Faith, alluded to the fact that he is fortunate to not only be able to incite change on the economic foundational landscape at both the micro and macro levels but also in the lives of people, students in particular. “The change I am focus on is using my abilities to work with students and developing a personal faith in Jesus Christ while learning how to use their faith in whatever field they choose. We live in a time where students from diverse backgrounds come to Canada to study and we can meet, interact and build relationships with these people.” A part from his work with Life Change Adventures, David also invests his time, knowledge, and wisdom in providing mentorship as he believes that mentorship can significantly aid character development especially when centered on scripture and its teachings. A recipient of high quality mentorship himself, Dave admitted that he does not see people as projects, “I just want to be their friends. It’s all about relationships.”

In response to the question about his views on what LCA has accomplished and could do going forward, Dave did not hold back. He noted that the selfless approach of the volunteers and staff can be attributed to the Christian faith roots of LCA which are taken from scripture; to serve others and care for the needy is commendable and has replicable qualities. He feels that the efforts of the organization could be maximized if more funding was possible and so, acknowledged the operational need for the division of LCA into two facets which would improve funding access.

I could not resist but ask what was unique about the way LCA does things. There are thousands of charitable organizations which share similar principles so what makes this one special? I thought. “I think it is the people that have brought LCA together; it’s a very grass-root. There is a unique theme is a very specific community and they truly care for everyone in that community. Despite the facts that the leaders have Christian based principles, they are well respected and everyone knows that there is deep care. It’s different from other organizations that jump in, do an event then leave. It’s that this organization has become a part of the DNA of the Sunnydale community. Schools see tremendous value. It’s not about money. You know something is successful when so many people wanting to volunteer. Another thing, it’s not about the leadership which is unique. It’s there to train and equip youth leaders and just provide help when they need it. That’s how you let a leader lead.

Introspectively, Dave went on to state, “As a student, I was mentored by the leadership of LCA. I believe so much of what they are doing to now. It’s a part of my life. The whole DNA of equipping youth people in their own context is what happened to me. I am still mentored by Jeremy and I value him. That mentorship allowed me to mentor others which is like the passing of the torch per se.

As it is my natural proclivity, I inquired about his thoughts, ideas and advice to youth with potential. He made it concise, digestible and lucid. Go to people doing a very good job and ask how you can be involved, learn, be equipped and find your vision.”

David Marshall, member of the LCA Board and a firm proponent of mentorship.

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Nikki Horne

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of good and simple honesty. When people are lucky enough to hear stories of inspiration and/or meet individuals who are creating a beneficial pathway for others; one of the pivotal points of curiosity is, “How did you start doing this?” I do not know about you but I want unfiltered, unpurified and uncontaminated probity. Is it that you were born with the intrinsic desire to help others or is there something else?

I was greatly appreciative when she said how she started out which confirmed my theory, that she is human like you and I. She was told that after graduation, the best way to get a good paying job in her developed country is to go to a developing nation, get some experience and then return. That was the original, untouched intent and so she did. However, there was a twist to her story; a factor she never considered and as a consequence, there was a clear shift in motive, perspectives and life direction.

In this Championing Change Series, we will see mission through the eyes of Nikki Horne. To sweeten the pot, her experience took place in the Spanish corner of the Caribbean, Ecuador where she spent over 8 years.

The factor which flipped her world is what we call, “relationships”. She summed it up perfectly while at the same time acknowledging the selfishness in her original intent. “If you go into a context to sincerely try to serve the people and meet their needs, it becomes hard to leave. It’s terrible to think that I could go there, ride on their back and return to get a great job! When you develop relationships with people, you then really want to cheer for them and before long you become part of their family.”

In Ecuador, Nikki walked along side people in marginalized contexts. These people are usually under very oppressive systems. Kids cannot go to school, health care is limited, food is in short supply and the lure of criminal activities becomes more enticing with each passing day. “I worked in a school which offered free education and learnt that free education has to be coupled with other opportunities to be of any help. I got into health care, counseling and soon found myself acting as a bridge so they can access basic human rights.” Nikki said her job was identifying individual needs and tackling them. This individual based approach is effective but its reach debatable which she consciously acknowledged. People are made up differently and as a result, their situations and requirements are unique. This is the basis of the approach of the Onzole River Project Co-Founder.

I do not know about you, but I want unfiltered, unpurified and uncontaminated probity. Is it that you were born with the intrinsic desire to help others or is there something else?

It is Nikki’s belief that it is our responsibility as humanity to look at other people, share our time, resources and efforts. She spoke passionately about not wanting to be the center of her efforts, as it’s not supposed to benefit her. “To see people step into their true potential, children graduating, and parents finally being able to provide for their families are the only benefits I will accept as I find seeing all these things extremely fulfilling. I believe I am privileged as I get the opportunity to go serve in these communities.”

With regards to amplifying her efforts, Nikki noted skill sharing as being the most valuable resource to development. “People are hungry for skills. We set up vocational training centers so we can professionally develop our community leaders and in turn they can teach others. To give skills require you to give of your time, sacrifice leaving your family, and find funds to travel. People are sadly not willing to embark on this journey of selflessness,” she lamented.

Nikki concurred that change can only happen if we all start working in our own communities and as long as we are working diligently in our own corners of the world, change will happen. Nikki had advice for two audiences. To the adults she insists that a greater mentorship role of the youth has to be played and to the youth she stated so beautifully,

“There will always be pressure from society but it’s important you find pleasure in abandoning everything and pursuing what makes you happy.”

Nikki Horne, the Ecuadorian in her own right, now sets her sights on transitioning to the continent of Africa where she is hoping to contribute.

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Marissa Izma

There’s nothing I love more than a riveting conversation on a topic of grave interest. With that said, I have been fortunate enough to indulge scholars, students, icons and professionals in verbal discourses which at times have become quite animated to say the least. The latest one I had was with this law enforcement officer who resigned his job. My curiosity got the better of me and I inquired and what I got knocked my nice cotton socks off. He said he did not feel like he was being the best version of himself. He did not feel happy and he did not feel that his contribution was sufficient. I was not about to let the ambiguity go and so I asked, “What contribution?” and his reply, “… to the global community; my contribution to make the world a better place.” He now works fulltime at a shelter for financially devastated families; hats off to him indeed.

In this feature of Championing Change, we go back to the continent of Africa but not to Ghana. Now we are in Zambia with Marissa Izma, a Canadian who ended up spending 8 years in the Zambia and to this point is still there. What is she doing? How is she surviving? What is she like? Please do not hate me but I am a spoiler by nature however I will behave this once and only give away one answer. Marissa is very much like the fellow that I started this article talking about.

Marissa is a Laurentian University grad, from Stratford, Ontario who encountered Life Change Adventures when she joined a two week initiative to Ecuador. Soon she became a treasured and inspiring partner. Marissa, a co-founder of the organization Same World Same Chance, is currently deeply involved with another non-profit organization in the African country using tablets to teach kids Math skills. She works with students from grades 4 to 12 but is primarily in the program management domain. Marissa noted that in Zambia, it’s only the wealthy who can afford education but now she is working assiduously to counter that. She believes that education is the key. It was refreshing to hear her say that she is just trying to be herself, to be happy, to be caring, to love, for as she puts it, “What good am I if I am not doing those things?”

I asked Marissa the root reason she is living so selflessly and her answered to a very large extent mirrored that of the law enforcement officer as she said she is here because she believes the world can be a better place and we all have to do our part. She also thinks that everyone around her, family, friends, students and others, including her, benefit when she works to be the best version of herself that she possibly can be. At present, her organization is one of the fortunate ones which have excellent funding, growing at an alarming rate, reaching more kids and providing more jobs. The objective is to have a reach that is felt all across Africa.

Nearing the end of the interview, Marissa had some advice for youth beaming with potential. “Just to follow your hearts, not to let anyone think that what you’re doing is crazy or impossible, because if you truly believe in what you’re doing than it is valuable. it might not work out exactly as you dreamed it to be (as was the case with me), but if you work hard and believe in what you’re doing then good will come out of it, guaranteed”

Marissa Izma, the humanitarian who is striving to make the world a better place.

 

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Championing Change

John Holmes, a 22 year old veteran of both the US Army and National Guard and also editor of the ‘Longest War’ story collection was caught saying, ““There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” This statement, although to a certain extent arguable, is rooted in selflessness, decorated in humility and laminated in love.

Personally, I am in awe when I encounter inspirational, real life people with a story that effortlessly knock the socks off my feet. Some of these people whom I have had the pleasure of meeting are either very well off and have chosen to share their resources while others; in the middle or arguably worse off than we are. Some are just ordinary people like you and I who do what they can, with the little that they have to help those who resource wise, are much more limited and thus restricted to a particular quality of life.

Some of these people are being called philanthropists, saints and even good Samaritans but the thing is, these labels matter not to them and neither should they matter to you. The key fixation is, they are doing good, coining a “Christ-like” character while elevating their fellow brothers and sisters.

In this series, ‘Championing Change’, I will be highlighting persons like you and I who are serving people in their own context. They epitomize dedication, signify aberration and demonstrate unbelievable selflessness.

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Torwomenye Kwasi Azaglo

Author: Tarique Plummer, LCA Writer

May 1, 2016

Meet TK Azaglo, a Ghanaian who studied and worked in Canada but chose to leave it all behind and return to his country. The elephant question at this point is why? Why would this young intelligent individual leave his stable and comfortable future behind in a first world country to return to live in a struggling developing one? The answer, unlike on a Linear Algebra exam, is simple. He went back to serve people which is in essence what he believes leadership to be. The serving leader some might call him. When asked how he would describe what he is doing, TK humbly said, “Helping young people discover their purpose. This basically speaks to helping people see what they can do to improve the life of others and enhance the standard of living within their community. If you are able to add value to someone’s life that impacts how they live, think, and feel, that is exactly what it all boils down to”.

Additionally, he went on to say something even more potent. A line which challenges the common school of thought when it comes on to making a difference. “We are not called to change the world but rather, we are called to change our worlds”. Quite often we render ourselves useless because we only seeing changing the world as making a difference and not inciting change within our own context. This is fundamentally where change is to begin and that is, within your little world which thus leads to a phenomenon similar to the domino effect. Some social activists say this is the only way we can change our planet for the better.

TK’s work extends even deeper. He, with his organization called ‘Future of Africa’ (FOA); instills belief where there is a lack thereof, improves access to opportunities and resources, makes relationships more meaningful while establishing community support networks. The efforts of FOA focuses a great deal on breaking the destructive poverty cycle which he highlights street children as being the root. He has found ingenious ways of getting university students to invest their time and energies in feeding, caring, supporting and pushing these kids to achieve their full potential which is at the moment is yielding great credible results.

“How does this benefit you?” I asked. “Fulfillment and happiness” was all he had to say. Life is about much more than the tangibles we all strive to achieve in this materialistic society. He went on to state that the reason he is doing this is because he wants to be like the man who transformed the world, Jesus. He wants to be able to transform his own world through a kind of leadership defined only through serving. A long term vision is imperative to the success of any organization, even non-profit ones. TK said his vision for FOA after 10 years is to have a movement established in which young people can join and freely live out their purpose.

In concluding, TK had this advice for youth out there with immense potential, “The biggest thing that made my life different was discovering my purpose. Young people are trapped by expectations of society; school, job, making money. There is more to life than that. Invest and discover your purpose. Pursue opportunities to put people ahead. Do things that will solve the social problems around you and not just things that will solve your problems.”

TK Azaglo, the Ghanaian dedicated to changing his world….

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Change Starts Here (and it starts now)

Tiny forgotten corners exist all the world over. Here people go about their lives figuring out all sorts of ingenuous ways to make it work; to put enough food on the table, to stay safe, to ward off threats, to care for their children.

These communities often possess values and practices that inspire us in the west but most often there is a harsh cocktail of realities that play havoc every day. People die younger, are bereft of opportunities, struggle to put adequate food on the table, encounter illnesses of various forms which takes a terrible toll and are bereft education, freedom and opportunity.

Changing my world, my tiny corner, is where it all starts. Where is your Santo Domingo?

Years ago a few of us landed on the muddy shores of Santo Domingo de Onzole; a remote and ignored village in the northern forests of Ecuador. Over those few days we encountered a world so very different than our own. As we departed most of us would have waved goodbye without any sense that we would return… rather a check on the all important bucket list. However in a strange and mysterious way the people of that community staked a claim on our affections. In the years that followed that claim grew considerably. Some of us returned to try and make our contribution. A few Canadians made a deep personal commitment and lived in the village. Many donated. The townsfolk met us, served and cared for us, leaving an indelible impression at the deepest levels. Only the most hardened can walk away after a visit unchanged.

Corners of neglect exist everywhere in our world: wherever people are alone, suffer, and feel abandoned, wherever opportunity is stunted, or people go about their existence wondering if they matter… if anything really matters! Politicians and sales people are extremely artful at preying on these deep feelings of disillusionment. It is into these places, these corners, that Life Change Adventures is compelled to go. This little video helps provide a snap shot of the world of Santo Domingo de Onzole. We hope that it inspires you to invest in change for the people in your tiny corner. Changing the world is an overwhelming task. But changing my world, my tiny corner, is where it all starts. Where is your Santo Domingo? Tell us about it.

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Are We Making a Difference?

Many times I catch myself wondering: “Are we really making a difference?” Last week a group of our guys gathered in a local gym. After a rousing game of basketball and floor hockey we sat down and attempted to start up a ‘more serious’ chat. Nathan did a great job. But the kids were distracted, a few days later one of them could not even remember that a chat had even taken place let alone remember the topic. Did we waste our time?

“Faith” has to be core to what we do: a parent invests in their child with the belief that their efforts will bring about a mature adult, a teacher trusts that their instruction will educate an athlete that training will make them better. Often with little or no guarantee each of us engages in actions that require faith.

Ten years ago we gathered together our first group of Waterloo teens. We are still at it. Some weeks it seems like an utter waste of time! Some weeks it is just blah. But the other weeks we are exhilarating. Some weeks all we hear is grumbling, others everyone seems engaged. We encounter many behaviours; some we do well with, others are enormously frustrating. In all, week after week we show up; week after week, month after month, year after year.

Why?

Because we are crazy! Well, while that may be true there is a greater reason: we trust that by consistently being present, reaching out with genuine interest and building friendships we will make a difference in the life of another. And perhaps that might start a simple movement of people caring. Really caring! But we never really fully know. So we do it because it is right to do. Care always requires action.

So this week we will show up for the drumming circle and next week for something called Laserquest, after that the car wash…

and the week after we will show up…

and when we are tired we will show up again…

and during the week we will engage in relationships…

and…

Why? Simply because it is the right thing to do and because we just trust that we are making a positive difference. Because we are!