Life Change Stories

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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!

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When The Earth Shook

The first time that I was in Ecuador with Carlos I watched with great amusement as he taught a bunch of rural village kids the nuances of the great Canada game of “hockey! hockey! hockey!” for that is what they exclaimed each time their stick touched the bouncing ball.

Much has changed. Now my friend Carlos, 3 years removed from his journalism studies at Carleton University in Ottawa lives in Guayaquil, Ecuador and journeys alongside of many of people who live along the Onzole River in the northern province of Esmeraldas, Ecuador. Yes, that is center of Saturday’s earthquake.

Carlos relayed to me his story of riding in a taxi on the streets of Guayaquil when the earthquake struck. “It felt as if a bunch of hooligans were rocking our car’ he said. “But then we pulled over and I could see windows and cement falling from the buildings. Suddenly the lights went out, the entire city pitched into darkness.” He described the alarm and the masses of people cascading from the building and into the street; some injured, others frightened, and still others crying and overwhelmed.

Life Change Adventures invites people to become engaged in the process of change. Start now, start in your local context; work, school, neighbourhood. Just start!

Carlos did and now he finds himself in the very centre where the entire earth is shook. Change is inevitable. Sometimes it enters our life almost imperceptibly, other times we contribute, and then, other times it just plummets into our world without warning.

A life well lived simply must be a life that cares for others and embracing the care that will be returned; investing in change and being changed in the process.

Carlos observes; “It is absolutely amazing how disaster that literally tears the earth apart has brought people together in solidarity for one another.”

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The people of Life Change: so many stars!

12196327_10206488994776829_3850142852123554984_nWe truly believe that the spark of real positive change is within each one of us. This evening Meaghan Sheppard, a beautiful young woman who we have had the great fortune of journeying with for many years, brought the audience at SVP Waterloo to tears with her passionate appeal to be understood and experienced as a real person. If you have ever heard me talk about Meaghan ‘never under estimate me ‘ Sheppard you will know that all of us involved in LCA are massive fans. All of us are convinced that this lady will make a significant contribution to her world. Meaghan simply does not see her physical challenges as a handicap, but as an inspiration. Each day Meaghan faces hurdles that most would be entirely stymied by, yet she refuses to give in… a hurdle for Meaghan is little more than another opportunity.

A link to Meaghan’s speech will be posted here when made available. Watch this space!

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Running and Reading meets The Korirs

23327022886_ce7df209ec_oThe people involved with Life Change work hard to help others establish greater hope and vitality in their lives.  Along the way, we encounter a wide variety of significant challenges, so it is always an immense encouragement when we encounter others seeking to invest in this process of change.

Last week Tara and Wesley Korir joined us for the launch of one of our after school programs. First, we sat in the gym and they encouraged our kids to take seriously the importance of running and literacy. After, everyone went out on the field and ran together. What a thrill to watch our kids gallop beside this very neat couple.

I watched Wesley’s feet flow effortlessly over the blades of grass. This man who won the 2012 Boston Marathon and last week finished 6th in Chicago, demonstrated for me a chief characteristic of a leader; he slowed his pace so that he stayed a few paces ahead of the kids, all the time smiling and encouraging them to push harder and to stay in touch with him.  It is a good picture of what LCA attempts to do; enable those we serve to go a little further, believe more and strive for a better future.

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Beyond the Fun: How LCA is transforming lives and communities

The summer sun hangs overhead, mercilessly beating down upon plant and pavement alike. The thermometer reads somewhere in the high 20s, but it feels twice that. In the open parking lot, it’s swelteringly hot, but no one seems to mind. All around, kids are running with paper airplanes, playing tug-of-war, getting sprayed with water guns and carefully tie-dying t-shirts. It’s the first day of Life Change Adventures’ 5 Fun Days camp, and this eighth annual iteration is already living up to its name.
article cover picture From August 17-21, Life Change Adventures, a project of the Navigators dedicated to transforming communities by helping individuals discover their potential, brought 25 youth leaders and nearly 100 kids together for a week of fun activities in Waterloo, ON. These participants come from LCA’s area of focus, which includes the Sunnydale community as well as residential complexes near and on Albert and High streets.

In putting on this camp, however, the goal is more than simply having a fun time. “It directs children into the idea that you can do more than you think you can,” says Courtney Curzon, a senior youth leader who has been involved with LCA for the past nine years. “When they see us, the leaders and youth leaders, the kids look up to us as role models and sometimes that can change their whole idea of who they are and what they want to do.”

The youth leaders she mentions come from a group called Sunnydale Connect, an LCA program that runs out of the Sunnydale Community Centre for those in Grade 7 to 12 who want to get more involved in the community. This was where Jeremy Horne, LCA’s founder, first started his involvement in Sunnydale and is also how Courtney and Meaghan Sheppard, another senior youth leader, first became involved with the 5 Fun Days camp.
Having the Sunnydale Connect youth take on leadership roles in the camp has a dual purpose. In addition to teaching them valuable leadership skills, they develop relationships with the younger children that serve to strengthen the bond of community within their neighbourhoods. “If [the children] see [the youth leaders] walking down the street, they can go up to them and talk about issues they’re having at home or other things like that,” says Meaghan.

Priscilla Owusu-Amoah, an LCA team member, echoes this sentiment, saying she’s noticed the kids realizing that “this program is not available just so they can bring all their friends to make the group bigger. It’s available so the youth volunteers can spend time with each kid and get to know them. They know they are not just another number in the LCA books, but they are a person worth getting to know.”second within article

Meaghan and Courtney are both youth who have experienced LCA as campers and as leaders. Meaghan says that as a result of the love she was shown and the value she was given, “you go through it and you want to help the leaders who helped you and help the kids you’ve seen grow up with you.”

Speaking from what she has seen, Priscilla says that “when the kids come through all these programs, it doesn’t just end there. They take on responsibility and then give back to their community, so it’s this same investment in youth and youth development, which you don’t usually see. What we have is a kind of recycling of people, where our kids are coming back and leading the things that they went through.”

As an example of this, Priscilla and Meaghan both point to Courtney. “She has about five or six siblings,” says Priscilla, “and she started out doing things like Running and Reading and doing 5 Fun Days [as a participant] with us. Now she has the opportunity to lead her little siblings through that same thing. She has spent countless hours coming up with little outlines of pictures and themes to go into our programming so that it’s the best experience for her and her siblings as well.”

Courtney says her experience with LCA has also helped shape her career path, guiding her towards studying Early Childhood Education, which she will begin this September. She says her experiences working with kids in the 5 Fun Days camps helped to affirm this direction and gave her the confidence to know this was what she wanted to do.
third within article In Meaghan’s case, leadership and learning to be a leader among those her own age have been two significant areas of growth. Especially because she was born with a condition that has left her without fully developed limbs. She says her experiences with LCA have “given me the ability to talk to kids about it a little easier. It used to be a lot harder for me because I couldn’t wrap my brain around why kids wouldn’t understand when I said I was born this way. They just kind of looked at me like, ‘what does that mean?’ Having those leadership opportunities has given me a little bit of an easier time to explain to kids and [helping them] to understand it a bit better.”

Over the years, LCA has had a significant impact on the communities these kids live in. It’s to a point now, says Courtney, where the kids and youth leaders are asking in January about when the next 5 Fun Days will be. The answer, as always, is late August. Based on what she has seen, she also says that “when the kids in that community make friends at the camp, they’ll go home and hang out with each other, and the parents will see and you won’t have to worry as much whether it’s an unsafe community. It feels more welcoming.”

Courtney says her experience with LCA has also helped shape her career path, guiding her towards studying Early Childhood Education, which she will begin this September. She says her experiences working with kids in the 5 Fun Days camps helped to affirm this direction and gave her the confidence to know this was what she wanted to do.

“They know they are not just another number in the LCA books, but they are a person worth getting to know.”

In Meaghan’s case, leadership and learning to be a leader among those her own age have been two significant areas of growth. Especially because she was born with a condition that has left her without fully developed limbs. She says her experiences with LCA have “given me the ability to talk to kids about it a little easier. It used to be a lot harder for me because I couldn’t wrap my brain around why kids wouldn’t understand when I said I was born this way. They just kind of looked at me like, ‘what does that mean?’ Having those leadership opportunities has given me a little bit of an easier time to explain to kids and [helping them] to understand it a bit better.”

Over the years, LCA has had a significant impact on the communities these kids live in. It’s to a point now, says Courtney, where the kids and youth leaders are asking in January about when the next 5 Fun Days will be. The answer, as always, is late August. Based on what she has seen, she also says that “when the kids in that community make friends at the camp, they’ll go home and hang out with each other, and the parents will see and you won’t have to worry as much whether it’s an unsafe community. It feels more welcoming.”
fourth within article In addition, 5 Fun Days also provides opportunities for LCA team members to provide support to the families in the neighbourhoods they focus on. Priscilla says this can be in a variety of ways, such as running programs like 5 Fun Days, meeting people in their struggles and helping immigrant families, most of who are refugees from North Africa, adapt to Canadian society. “I think that’s what really makes a difference,” she says, “We go beyond what is expected and really get to know people and really get to do life with them.”

Ultimately though, in everything they do, Life Change Adventures works to be exactly what their name implies. “It gives us the opportunity to have those adventures that can change anybody’s life, for the better,” Meaghan says. “Everything we do in LCA strives to change children’s lives, in order to help them have a better family life and a better life overall and give them the opportunities they need to succeed in life.”

5 Fun Days 2015