Life Change Stories

1

You’re My Girl

These are some of my girls. Girls that I’ve come to love oh so much in such a short amount of time. Girls that make me laugh, and help me  especially to love. Girls that also make me cry, but I’ll hold their hands nevertheless when come to me in confidence and share their aching hearts with me with things like:

“I’ve never felt like I was pretty enough” or “I get bullied every day at school and sometimes wish I wasn’t alive,” or even “starving myself for days to lose weight because people tell me I’m overweight.”

WHAT?! Words like these actually come from other ELEVEN year olds?! This just does not make any sense to me!


Conversations like these reaffirm the responsibility we all share and have for one another; to comfort, support and encourage each other when it feels like you’re fighting a battle with a team of one, or because we simply can’t do so for ourselves.

These are the faces of our future women – our future leaders, mothers, activists, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs and the list goes on! But, you see, we must teach them well. We must teach them to not entertain even the idea of hatred, neglect, ignorance, jealousy, envy nor greed, but to be consumed by and operate out of humility, generosity, respect and love. That is not the responsibility of just one person, or that of a few people, but one that we ALL have to each other.

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Seemingly Insignificant, Yet Precious!

        Change rarely comes in like a tidal wave or earthquake. Real, lasting change comes along slowly: one person at a time, the ‘pay it forward’ kind of change, the one drop in the bucket until it becomes an ocean change. Investing in change is an act of faith. You do the right thing for another because you believe in their value and worth, and as you do, you trust that something contagious might be kicked  off,  and yet, if it doesn’t you do it anyway, simply because it is right. And ‘right’ doesn’t need to be perceived or recognized, for right is just right because it is.

“You do the right thing for another because you believe in their value and worth…”

The students of our little high school in Kibombomene, Zambia surprised the group of teachers and volunteers the other day. After drawing them all to a room under false pretences, they commenced to tell each how much they meant to them. With song, words of encouragement, poems and skits they communicated  with sincerity just what these adults meant to them. Their uneven and young efforts of acknowledgment were met with tears of laughter and appreciation, and smiles of satisfaction. Little things. Small expressions. These are the things that people the world over hunger for. These are the things, one by one that change the world.

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Another Journey, Another Adventure!

Every relationship an extraordinary adventure, every person a universe of dreams and ideas. Eight years ago I met a young woman named Marissa who from that first encounter impressed me with her passion for life and people. I often say; “If you have a dream that involves making a better world or changing the world for another, talk with me. Maybe together we can achieve reality.” When Marissa first told me about her dream I was stunned. Now, years later her dream has transformed into a place where young girls are becoming women, where quality education is being delivered to those who otherwise would never have access to it, and where a village(s) is being transformed by hope.

I am at this moment on my way to visit Marissa in Kibombomene, Zambia. Together we will be working with the girls, appointing a Board of Directors, seeking greater Zambian partnership and clarifying the staff team.  It will be a busy few days.  At many places in the world little lighthouses or beacons of light are popping up.  Places where people are working hard to bring about change and growth and to make sure that life is vibrant.

Marissa is a dear ‎friend and a great inspiration, it is a great honour to journey with her.

3

A slice of heaven?

My pal Dave and his good wife Anna bought the farm. No, they actually bought a farm! Really!

And in doing so made it abundantly clear to me that this property with its rolling hills, old barn, fields, sheds and house was to be used in the service of people. “ Bring your students, friends and families!” I clearly remember him telling me.

So I did!

The occasion was the 2014 Canadian Thanksgiving. I invited friends and they came from all over; Chinese MBA students, Ghanaians, Nigerians, Sudanese, South Sudanese,  Kenyans… and together this hotchpotch  of colours and cultures gathered to swap stories, eat food, admire the vivid almost florescent maple leaves, and eat… almost forgot the eat piece!  Many have a concept of heaven… floating on clouds, eternal bliss of some kind, golden streets, gardens and rivers, but for me, as I walked around that old, largely restored farm house I could not help but think of heaven.

“This is what it has be like”, I told someone. “laughter, community, engagements, beauty, peace, some eating, others chattering, some preparing, others kicking a soccer ball… people from each continent together celebrating“… a diverse,  flowing throng of colour, language, heritage, experience, life philosophies.  There we were just people together… how rich, how very rich… we were just people being together. And if that isn’t a slice of heaven, well I really cannot begin to imagine what it might be like!

 

1

A Shining Sun… A Celebrating Community. 

The sun shone, the westerly winds blew delightful warmth that enveloped us.  Leading to that day, for an entire week, the weather had been cool and wet.  Today’s beauty was exceeded though by the wonderful scene that unfolded about us.

Two years prior, while the community children were at school, their playground, determined as unsafe, was, without warning, removed.  For families, as many are, who had journeyed the refugee highway survived bullets, famine and violence the irony was poignant.

Now on this day, after many conversations, much dreaming, and the hard and creative work of the landscaping firm Earthscape, the community was prepared to celebrate. A job well done!  A neighbourhood, that rarely comes together, found common ground through the design, implementation and funding of their new playground.

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” ― Howard Zinn

This day was set apart to celebrate and to say a big thank you to all who worked hard and to those who donated to the project.  With BBQ’s billowing smoke, hamburgers sizzling, and desserts pouring out from the houses… the kids squealed with delight at their chance to show off their new playground.

The community came together. A ribbon was cut by the youngest member, groups huddled on the grass, laughter and chatter filled the air, Jean Claude took the microphone and guided the proceedings.  The community was alive. In time these memories will fade, and even the playground will sadly deteriorate and need to be replaced…. but my hope, my desire is that the realization that change is possible when people band together and work hard for a common goal will stay firmed rooted deep in the hearts and minds of each participant, young and old.

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Four Fun Days: Live Your Adventure

frontEarly Tuesday afternoon, amidst the manageable chaos of registration and organization, I received an email. In the subject line, two words “Brace Yourself!” So I did. I braced myself when I opened up that email and saw attached a photo of our campers: a never-ending kanga line of little smiling faces! I braced myself when this flock of approximately 80 kids bounced over to Church in the Woods this too cool summer afternoon for the first of four fun days to come.

 

I also braced myself (we all did) for on outpour of rain that would drench us all, destroy our fun and coop us indoors with 80 let down kids. Instead, we were met with kids who wouldn’t miss this week for the world, downpour or snowfall; kids who know camp station rotations better than most because they’ve done it 6 times over; dedicated leaders with energy bouncing off the roofs. It was to be a journey through the hopes and dreams of 5-yr olds, teenagers and twenty-somethings: people living their adventure!

 

Our circle is filled with aspiring professional basketball players, child-workers, dentists and beekeepers. “I want to tell you my dream,”  little George says tugging on my shirt, as do many of these guys and gals. This camp provides the space for that: to remind them of their own value and the value of their dreams. I think we’re going to have to brace ourselves when the time comes. Brace ourselves for the amazing leaders, visionaries and life-changers these people are going to be (and are, really!) And some of it starts here, at our yearly Five (four this year) Fun Days Summer Camp!

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1

Albert St. Playspace

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

– Albert Einstein

 

“Tickets! 5 dollars, please?”

A little voice called out from inside the water tower.

Imaginations had already begun to fire; within 24 hours of the opening of our new play space!

I listened and watched as the 5 children, (two from El Salvador, and two from Pakistan and one from South Sudan), pretended that the new slide was a train and the tower a ticket booth. I commented that I thought the charge was a little too steep, but they were having none of that!  Clearly, they had planned it out. Underneath two very younger children playing with the woodchips and a piece of plastic soon baked and served up delicious cake to anyone who would play along.

Imagination! Imagination plays a central role in our lives. Poverty and struggle can dampen and erode the ability to dream.  This is part of what is referred to the “Cycle of poverty”.  Not able to imagine new futures and possibilities the same old issues stunt growth and generation patterns become entrenched. A better future relies so much on our ability to imagine new possibilities. Hope is a powerful force that carries us from the present.  And play is where we learn to dream and where our imaginations are formed and take flight.

So, as little Matthew and his friend bake their cake from woodchips and the 5 in the ticket booth plan exotic train vacations,  wonderful we futures are being created, process that may one day result on the design of new vehicle, or the teaching of classrooms of eager learners or a family hurdle being overcome. The play space is just the beginning.

We are very excited about the new playspace we have assisted the community in designing and building. It you would like to see one of the most creative and interesting play areas n the entire region let me know. I am happy to give you a tour.

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Community Coffee House

Last week they did it again!

Seven years ago, after encountering a young and struggling Sudanese fellow my friend Brian was inspired to start ‘Sunnydale Connect’.  Three youth has become 25 or 30. Our kids come from all sorts of worlds, many encounter significant struggles: language, culture, financial are but a few. Over the years we have journeyed with many through uncertain, tumultuous and even very dark times. These days though, while troubles and challenges continue to abound, we quite frequently find ourselves simply amazed.

The other day they amazed us again!

Months of planning culminated in an wonderful evening of performance and celebration. To support the building of a new play space in a nearby community, they planned and led a coffee house fundraiser; twelve excellent performances, tons of food and drink, silent auction items, and at the end of it all they raised more than $1,000!  There was no bigger highlight on the evening for many of us then watching our grade 12 friend and co-emcee Meaghan, singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.

Meaghan sent me this note:

When I think of Sunnydale Connect I think of all the friends I have met over the years, the connections I’ve made and relationships that have been built, as well as the doors it has opened up for me to become a leader on my own. All these things remind me of just how much connect means to me because without it I would not have the amazing friends and mentors that I do. I would not have a place to go and hang out every week as I do now. And I would not be the leader I am today.

 

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Boys Becoming Men: the magic of partnership

Life Change is a long term admirer of Dave MacNeil and Wildhawk Basketball.

A few years ago our partnership took on deeper levels as we started signing up some of our boys for MacNeil’s basketball programs. It became quickly apparent that a few of our fellows had talent and they qualified for travel teams.  Almost any day this summer if you were to venture into the neighborhood you will see a number of the lads dribbling and a shooting on a nearby court. We have helped create a bunch of basketball fanatics!

It is always fun when one of our fellows gets a write up in a local newspaper.

Check out the article!

We were introduced by a school principal to Gang Martin Gang 18 months ago; a rather imposing 6’3”, grade 7 students. Since this time he has been involved in our Sunnydale Connect programming. Last year he was invited to join a travel basketball team opening up many opportunities for growth and development.  Competitive basketball at Gang’s age can be extremely challenging and he has risen to the challenge.  Winning the Ontario basketball gold medal and graduating from grade 8 have been significant recent milestones. Wildhawk Basketball has again, as it has done so many times before, played a critical role in guiding a boy towards becoming a man.

Last week we have 5 fellows in the high school camp, this week we have 9 boys in the younger one: A truly Life changing partnership!

0

Baby – rants of an AfroEcuadorian girl.

I’m not as poor as they think. They look upon me with pity, and they think I struggle. My family may not have as many cows, our plot of land may be a couple of acres less than others, but it’s not as bad as they think. I have heard of worse.

Okay, so maybe I do struggle a little bit. Maybe I do when mother is unwell and my sisters need to be cared for. I’m not as mature as I look, and it’s a tough job. Who cares for me? Maybe I do when I am only able to go as far as grade 10 with my education. Maybe I do when the eyes of the men at the river port shamelessly follow the 17-18-19 rhythm of my buttocks as I walk past with my family’s laundry on my hips. They all notice it, I know they do. And it’s not just the men either. It’s the wives who consider me competition for the attention of their husbands. It’s the young boys who are looking for some fun or for a little wife to prove their manliness. It is the little girls who wish to look like me when they grow up. They say it is in my African blood: the wide hips, large thighs, the booty, the “coca-cola shape”, they call it. Now that is where my connection with my ancestors end.

I’m nothing like them. My present situation is nothing like theirs. Abuela said many, many years ago they got stranded here, brought in on slave ships from West Africa to work these lands, but they escaped their masters, settled near the Onzole and built a home and a community. Well, I say, lucky them! lucky us! We are this new breed of never before existed Afro-Ecuadorians. One of a kind. Our home is rich in fruit trees of oranges, sugarcane, guanabana. We thrive on our rice and plantains and shrimp. Dare I say, we live quite the life. These Africans, the people of my ancestors, now they, they struggle. I’ve heard stories of their suffering from the radio in Luciano’s house. It is not pretty.

Yesterday, the gringos came back.The one who speaks our language said he would return with more of their kind to help build the school for my sisters. Or at least that is what I understood. Because then I saw her, among the gringos, but she was not their kind. She was more my kind. Skin dark like the cacao beans mother lays out in the sun to dry, large brown eyes, lashes to the heavens, not quite the coca-cola shape, but African descent nonetheless. She even seemed to share my struggle, for it appeared the young boys and the old men at the river port had eyes for her as well. She stood on the desk, silently covering up the thin planks of wood in fresh white paint. I stared. Que es tu nombre? De donde eres? She stared back at me for a couple of seconds. She had not understood. The one who speaks our language came to our rescue. Our precious Spanish-English translator.

As we spoke my eyes dug straight through hers, ready to uncover what secrets she hid. For she admitted that that continent was her home, and she had lived there all her life. Yet, her belly bulged not, neither were her eyes sunken with fear and destitute. It made no sense to me that dark-skinned one eats my plantain in her Africa and squeezes the juice from her oranges straight to her mouth like my people. She even knows that the burnt bottom of the rice pot is the best part of the meal. Yet her last couple of years were spent in school in Canada! How is this ever possibly so?

It seems we are more alike than I thought. If there is one thing I know now it is this: Our people are not all like her, able to travel the world. But they are not all like Luciano’s radio says either, hiking deserts and unable to afford a square meal. They are no lower than me, and I no lower than them. We both experience a poverty that is no fault of ours, but a product of corrupt leadership, unjust hearts, blind eyes and apathy. But we fight, oh do we fight! We fight for lives better than our ancestors’. We fight to be heard and to be educated and successful. We fight out of love and a desire for justice for our people to encourage, impassion and motivate them.

To remind them that They Too Matter.