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This tag is associated with 22 posts

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

What would you do?
Really?
Would you change your job?
Go back to school?
Go on a trip?
Do something that you have always wanted to do?
What?
Say it.
Better yet do it.
We all spend a lot of time here on the computer.
Surfing.
Reading.
Looking.
Watching.
For what?
Since I started The Social Effect I have done a lot of things I never thought I would do.
Things I thought I was too afraid to do is the real answer.
I have learned that there really is nothing to be afraid of.
Nothing.
It has also taught me that if I let go of my fears then I help others.
Givers gain. Always.
That’s all we have to do.
Is give.
Of ourselves.
Why be afraid of that?

Lest we forget

AIDS is a strange disease isn’t it? It descended on the world and took so many lives back in the eighties. Many of us watched as friends died a horrible and painful death. We did not stand by quietly. Some of us stood up and marched to fight for money for new drugs. Some of us stood up and fought to teach people about prevention and what could be done to stop the spread of AIDS. Some of us stood up to stop the discrimination that went with AIDS. And some of us stood up to help people living with AIDS. Ron Farha was one of those people. With the help of his family and those in the community he started the Farha Foundation to help people less fortunate than he was so that they could live out the end of their lives in as comfortable and humane a way as possible. He did whatever he could and did not stop until he had no choice and physically he could do no more. His short-term dream was to be able to help others; his long-term dream was of course to see the end of this horrible plague.

When Ron died, there were not the drugs and organizations to help people that there are today. AIDS was a death sentence. Period. It pushed people like Ron and his family, and many others to face things they did not want to face. It taught people about life as much as it taught people about death. It separated some families and it brought others closer together. Through the constant battles with governments, pharmaceutical companies, and with the help of the medical community, our society was able to change and grow to not only help the individual living with AIDS, but to build a structure and community of organizations that now deal with prevention and long term care. Ron’s dream to help has in many ways come true, but it does not mean we can stop the work that he started.

The war of AIDS is not over. If anything, the war is getting worse. Lest we forget is a phrase that comes from a war where hundreds of thousands died. Today we are fighting a different war, a war that has claimed over 20 million souls since 1981. Lest we forget why Ron started the Farha Foundation. Lest we forget that people are still becoming HIV+ every day. Lest we forget that this war is not over. If anything, the battlefield has only grown larger as the disease has spread across the world. Most important of all, lest we forget that we can make a difference.
Today, Sunday, September 18, 2011 is ÇA MARCHE, the AIDS walk in Montreal and it starts in a few hours in Parc Emlie-Gamelin. For any of you who knew Ron, I ask you to stop for a minute, just one minute at 10:30 when the walk starts and there is a moment of silence and remember him and all the others that have fought for this cause and for all those that have died from this disease. For any of you like me, who didn’t know Ron, take that same minute to be thankful for a man who has helped so many in our community, and again, remember those we have lost.

Then, let us all take another minute to take a step to do something in this fight against AIDS, for it is a fight that we have yet to win. Talk about this disease openly and honestly, protect yourselves always, and let Ron by your inspiration, as he has been mine, and do something to prevent this preventable disease. It is not too late to come and walk with us today.
For more information on the Foundation that Ron created or to make a donation, click here: Farha Foundation

Why me?

We did it Carl and I. We went out and took the photos for US versus THEM Friday morning for our group action in the INSIDE OUT Project.
We met for breakfast and stayed to have a few more cups of coffee so we didn’t have to leave. Didn’t have to start what we set out to do: take photos of the homeless.
But we did it. And it wasn’t photos of the homeless in the end. It was just photos of people. At least that was what we realized after we got going. We started with the owner of the diner where we had breakfast. She was ready to be part of this project. It made it easier. It let Carl figure out how he wanted to take the shots. And we got in the car and we headed out.

THERE’S ONE!

As we drove down Ste. Catherine street in Montreal we were on the look out for homeless people.
“He looks like one!”
“Where?”
“There – in front of the grocery store!”
We parked and got out. I carried the camera bag with the extra batteries and lenses. Something to hold, make me feel part of the experience. But I was the talker and I had to get my elevator speech down for what I was going to say.
By the time we got to the corner where I had seen the guy, he was gone. Carl took a few shots of me.
A girl walked by.
“Excuse me….we are taking photos for a project called INSIDE OUT. Have you heard of it? No? Well it was started by this guy in Paris and…..well, we are taking photos to show people that there is no difference between us and the homeless and I wondered if we could take your photo?”
“I am not homeless.”
“I know but….sure, sure….I understand. Thanks anyway.”

WHY NOT?

We get back in the car and kept going. We saw more homeless people and we parked.
I don’t have my words. I don’t understand what this is all about I realize. Not really. I thought I did, but I don’t.
We see a young guy sitting on the sidewalk with his dog.
“Hey bud, what’s up?” I say as I crouch down next to him and stick out my hand. My name is Simon, this is Carl.”
“Sebastien,” he says with a smile.
“We are taking photos of people for a project called INSIDE OUT. It was started by this guy in Paris name JR. We are going to take photos, send them off to them. They will blow them up into black and white photos that we can put up outside somewhere. They may end up on the net, in my blog, you cool with that? Can we take your photo? Just your face.”
We had the release forms in our bag.
“Sure man. Why not?”

RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW

And so we started. We walked west on Ste. Catherine and we asked people to take their photos. I got my speech down.
“Hey bud, my name is Simon, this is Carl. We are taking photos, photos of all kinds of people here in Montreal between 9:30 and 12. The name of the project is INSIDE OUT, started in Paris by a guy named JR. We want to take a photo of your face, just your face. We will send all the photos to INSIDE OUT and they will send us back big posters that we will put up somewhere for a few days. We don’t know where yet. The idea behind this is that we are all the same. Our project is called US versus THEM, comment vois-tu le monde? How do you see the world? It’s all about our attitude. Can we take your photo?”
The responses were different and the same. The people living on the street said, “Sure, no problem. Cool idea. “ They heard what we were saying. They listened. They were right there with us. Present.
Those walking down the street were afraid, distrustful: “If I knew you maybe I would.”
Then we got lucky and a few people did say yes.
Half of the photos we took are of people that live on the street. Half are of people that don’t. If you notice, I am not writing “homeless” anymore. These people aren’t homeless; they are just people. Attitude matters for me too I learned.
We continued on. We were moved by what we saw in these people’s eyes and we were excited that we were doing what we had set out to do. We were touched by all those that said yes, we had to be.

PANIC IN EMILIE-GAMELIN PARK

Then we continued east to Emilie-Gamelin park and the world changed.
We parked the car and asked the first guy sitting on the steps of the bus station, “Hey bud….”
We looked into his eyes and the ‘no’ did not surprise us. The pain we saw only hurt us.
We crossed the street to the park and that excitement changed back to fear and then panic as we looked across the grass and saw groups of twos and threes with their sleeping bags. I took a deep breath and said, “Let’s go, let’s do it.”
We went up to the first two guys and I explained what we were doing. “I think I have seen you around,” Neuron said to me. That was his name he said: Neuron. I watched as he tried to tie a scarf around his wrist, his friend looking on to see what we were all about. “Can we take your photo?”
“Why me?”
I could only tell him the truth, “You were the first one in the park.”
Neuron was not in great shape. Neither was his friend. Neither were any of the people living in that park. Neuron didn’t say yes, he couldn’t have his photo out there like that. We kept going.
Carl and I walked around the park and we didn’t say too much to each other. We just walked and took it all in and we found it hard to breathe.
“I don’t think we can do this here,” I said.

INSIDE OUT

Why was this place different?
Was it because there were so many people all living here together? I think “hurting” together would be a better way of putting it.
We stopped in front of an old man and Carl started talking to him.
“How is your day going?”
I have to stop here. I had to stop there too. I had sat down next to Chamberland on the bench and reached out to shake his hand.
“Not too good,” he said.
We didn’t explain what we were doing at first, about the project, about INSIDE OUT. It didn’t matter. Not to him. At that point I don’t think either of us thought this project really mattered to anyone.
I said, “Can we take your photo?”
“Sure, no problem.”
Carl took his photo and I turned away and looked up at the sky. If you are ever in a situation where you are going to cry, raise your eyes up to the sky and it helps to stop the tears.
I went back and gave him a couple of bucks. He hadn’t asked for it. He thanked me and smiled. Not one of the people we took a photo of asked for money. Not once.
We continued to walk through the park. The air was gone in the park for us. We walked by a series of benches. Each one filled with groups of people. Some of them were talking, some of them were just sitting. The last guy lying there, asleep, was wet from pissing himself.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
“Me neither.”
We got back in the car.
We didn’t say much on the ride back.
We drove back to Carl’s office to download the photos and I could only say to myself, “Why me?”

For more information on the INSIDE OUT Project, click here.
If you would like to know when US versus THEM will be up in Montreal, please sign up for The Social Effect Newsletter: Sign up.

US versus THEM

This morning I am off to the streets with my friend Carl. We are off to take photos for INSIDE OUT. What is INSIDE OUT?
INSIDE OUT is a large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work. Upload a portrait. Receive a poster. Paste it for the world to see.
Watch this video and then you will get it. That’s what happened to me. That is why I am hitting the streets this morning. (The video is 24 minutes so find the time and take the time.)

It seems really simple to do this. You go to the site for INSIDE OUT, come up with a group name, a statement and a tag.
So here is ours:

Group name: US versus THEM
Statement: Comment vois-tu le monde? (How do you see the world?)
Tag: ATTITUDE

Our idea is to show that there is no difference between the homeless and the rest of us; only our circumstances are different and that inside of us we are all the same. It is really our attitude that makes the difference in how we look at the world and each other.

Cool right? It is not feeling so cool this morning. Carl and I are meeting for breakfast at 8:30 and then hitting the streets to ask people that live on the streets if we can take their photos. Then we are going to ask people like you if we can take yours. Then one day soon you will see your photo next to a homeless persons and people will hopefully ask……? Actually, what will people ask?

The idea was that in laying the photos up side by side we would not know who was living on the street and who wasn’t. Make us wonder who is the “US” and who is the “THEM”.
All I know is right now I am not looking forward to asking anybody to take their photo because I think I am the who is creating the division of “US” versus “THEM” by taking “THEIR” photo.
Let’s see what this morning teaches us.

For more information on INSIDE OUT, click here.
If you would like to participate and have your photo taken, please contact me at simon@thesocialeffect.ca. (You must live in Montreal to participate.)

Walk with me

I am really tired of writing this blog post. I have been writing one now at this time of year since 1998. Then it wasn’t a blog, it was a letter to my friends. Then it was a fax. Then it was an e-mail. Now, for the last few years it has been a blog.
It always says the same thing:
1. Come walk with me in the AIDS walk
2. Please donate to help the Farha Foundation
3. If you have your own charity you support, then donate to them.
4. Protect yourself: HIV can happen to you.

There are over 33 million people that live with HIV throughout the world
This is not an epidemic this is a pandemic. This is not something we can ignore, put aside, or try to hide from. It is here and it is real and there is no cure. But it is preventable. We must talk about it; we must treat it like any other disease. We must forget the moral implications that surround it and we must reach out to those who have it and embrace them as much as we must ensure that everyone else knows the realities of HIV and AIDS.

Every minute a child dies from AIDS somewhere in the world
This disease is everywhere. We just don’t see it, especially in developed nations. With the stigma attached to this disease, everyone makes sure to keep it well hidden. Or most everyone. Thankfully there are people that speak up. Ron Farha was one of those people. He started the Farha Foundation. But he is only one man in one city. There are many like him all over the world who found the courage and did the same thing. If there hadn’t been men and women like Ron, we would not have the resources that we have today to help those living with HIV.


[Carl Ruscica and I made this video last year for MASKARADE 2011]

There are medications for HIV.
What does that mean to someone who has to take those pills?
What does it really mean?

I work in a clinic that practices aesthetic medicine. I don’t want to tell you how many patients we see each week coming in for treatments so that those around them won’t know that they have HIV because of the side effects from some of the drugs they take.
On Friday night I had dinner with a friend, someone that has had HIV for years and when I went to give him a hug, he said, “Not too hard.” He lives in constant pain. Chronic pain. Sure the drugs are keeping him alive but what most of us don’t understand at what cost. When I say, most of us, I should be saying: anyone out there that is still having unprotected sex and thinks that there are medications to take if you get HIV. There are, but do you want to take them everyday for the rest of your life with all of the side effects that they can have?

It doesn’t seem to matter what we do, people keep getting HIV
I have marched in the streets, and talked on the radio and done interviews in newspapers and written more letters than I care to think about. And so have many of you. And we have to keep doing it. We have to keep doing what we have been doing and finding new ways to get the message out.
So here I go again. On Sunday, September 18th, please walk with me in Ça Marche. If you would like to join our team, please click here.
If you would like to sponsor me, please click here.
If you would like to find out more about the Farha Foundation, please click here.

There but for the grace of God go I

Last Wednesday I did something that I have wanted to do for a long time, I spent the day volunteering at Dans la rue.
What is Dans la rue?
It is an organization that helps street kids. It provides food, shelter, support and guidance when they need it most, providing a consistent source of support and giving youths the confidence to move forward and make positive changes in their lives.
Why have I wanted to do this for so long?
Because I have always felt: There but for the grace of God go I.
What?
No, thankfully with the parents, family and friends that I have I don’t think that I could ever have ended up on the street, but I have learned through being on the board at l’Anonyme a few years ago and the habit I have of stopping and talking with street people, that there are many reasons that people end up on the street and some of them are not at all what you would think.

Get a job!

Homelessness encompasses a range of economic and social factors that have negative impact upon health and well-being. Such factors include poverty, lack of affordable housing, lack of health care supports and social supports — all of which may be understood as problems of social inequality and social exclusion.  The chronic nature of these problems is perpetuated by ideological stances that are significantly different at the community, provincial and national levels.  While many communities across the country are working to develop and maintain homelessness initiatives, these initiatives are difficult to sustain in the absence of adequate awareness and funding. Dealing with homelessness necessitates collective action, and truly effective collective action demands a pragmatic shift in how homelessness is viewed. With estimates between 150,000 to as many as 300,000 Canadians living on the streets, a movement beyond ideological fixations on “self-reliance” is necessary.  It requires an emphasis on equality and inclusivity in the social contract, in civil society, and in the community. (Via Intraspec.ca)

Holding Back the Tears

I arrived at the Dans la rue facility in the east end of Montreal and was given the tour and the history of the place before I was put to work. Sue Medleg, the Development Co-ordinator, told me the story of how Father Emmett Johns, “Pops” – as he is known, started it all back in 1988. She walked me through the place and watched as I did all that I could to hold back the tears as I heard the stories of what they do and what kids do who end up on the street. There is nothing that I did not know or had not heard before, but it doesn’t seem to matter how often I hear these stories that it hurts, it makes me angry, and it makes me sad, and it reminds that that I can still feel.

Hotdog anyone?

After getting the walk through and hearing about the front-line services, I was put to work in the basement. My job was to help get ready a few thousand hotdogs that would get handed out to kids on the street between the ages of 12 and 25 (yes, I said 12) over the next week on The Van. At first it was just me, Jordan and Chris and then Mike that work there. Then, as part of how the program works, kids would come down to help out. We put on our rubber gloves and we took hotdogs and put them in buns, and put them in wrappers and then packed plastic boxes that then got stored in the fridge to be used over the next five nights when The Van went out staffed with volunteers to give out hotdogs, hot chocolate and the services Dans la rue has to help kids living on the streets.
I am not sure that I will ever eat another hotdog. I am not sure that the kids that depend on them each night really want to either.

I can’t stand the pain

For me it was just a few hours. I got pretty good at putting the hotdogs in the buns, into the wrappers and then packing the boxes. They do this every Wednesday to get ready for the week. Often there are volunteers that come in from different companies as part of initiatives to give back to the community. I was lucky as there was no group and so it was just me and the guys that work there and the kids. We talked. We sang along to the words in the music playing in the background. We talked about dogs and tattoos. They asked me if I had a tattoo and I laughed and said, “No, I couldn’t stand the pain.” They laughed with me and told me it wasn’t so bad. They talked and I listened.  I fit right in standing there in my shorts and t-shirt except when it was all over I was going to get in my car and go home. For the people that work there they deal with this day in and day out. For the kids that live on the street, this is part of their life. I think it was at that point that I started to go a little numb.
At noon we took a break for lunch. We went upstairs to the cafeteria and lined up and had a burger and a baked potato. All the staff and the kids who are doing some work there get to eat first. Then they open the doors and the kids from the street come in through the side door and they can get a hot meal. I sat and talked with the staff and watched as the kids came in. They were dirty and tattooed and pierced and hungry. They lined up and they got their food. They sat with their friends and they were polite and respectful of those around them and they ate. I watched as a girl took her baked potato, wrapped it up and put it in her pocket for later. I got a little number.

How long is long when you are living on the street?

We sat and we talked, Chris, Jordan, and Mike. I asked a lot of questions. I asked what was the hardest thing they did. The answer was always a version of, “can’t give enough or can’t help enough.” I heard a lot of caring and a lot of compassion in a place where it must be easy to get hard, to put the walls up to protect yourself.
Then I remembered a kid I had met a few years back one night when I was out on the bus with l’Anonyme. It was a Sunday night about 3 AM and this kid had got on the bus and he was a mess. He had piercing blue eyes that I remember to this day, and dreads, blond dreads. He was upset because his best friend had just died of a drug overdoes. What shocked me was not that his friend had died, but that this kid had a friend that he was so close to and he was so upset about. I didn’t think that people that lived on the streets really had friends. I realized, that I didn’t think that people on the streets were people.
I asked if anyone knew him, I still remembered his name. “It depends who’s asking,” a young woman said who had just sat down beside me. I explained who I was and why I was there. “Yes, he’s still around, he works sometimes in the garden project that I look after. He is doing okay.” I had met him back in 2006 and he is still on the street. That is a long time to still be on the streets.

Don’t you see it?

I have an innocent belief that deep down inside each of us there is a good person full of love. I believe that with all my heart and you will never convince me to think otherwise. What I was reminded of in seeing these kids and in listening to the staff that work at Dans la rue is that for many of these kids, it is pretty hard to see good. Their lives have taken so many twists and turns that it is hard to believe that there is good in anything or anyone. What hit me the hardest is that they very often cannot see that good exists in themselves.

Imagine that for whatever reason, and there are so many, that you are a kid on the street. It may start with a feeling of freedom those first few days, freedom from the situation you were living in, until the money runs out. Until you aren’t able to eat when you are hungry, or have a place to sleep and then you resort to things you never thought you would do. Things that no child should ever have to do. But you do them. And then the good is gone. And it is very hard to get it back. Trust becomes a word you don’t know the meaning of. You become someone you don’t know anymore. You have to hide that person that you used to know. The person that had a chance. That knew deep down inside that there was good, in yourself and in those around you. But that is gone now.

Back to work

We went back down after lunch and we finished getting all the hotdogs ready. There were a few more kids that came down to help. We cleaned up and my day as a volunteer was over. I was going to go home. The people that worked there were going to continue on and then go back tomorrow. And next Wednesday they would be packing hot dogs with someone else. The kids were going to go back on the streets for now. Or some of them that had started to get involved in the different programs of music, or art, or the school that Dans la rue has, would be back and start to build a future. That is what Dans la rue does, it gives any kid who wants it, a chance again, and a real chance.

Hope

As I was leaving I got a tour of The Van and saw where all those hotdogs will get passed out. I saw where the kids sit and talk and get warm in the winter and have a hot chocolate. I saw the window at the back of The Van where the street people over 25 get served because Pops knows that you can’t refuse anyone in need. Or at least he can’t. And perhaps that is why this organization works, and these kids trust it and the people that work there. I know I certainly do.
I walked back to my car now completely numb with no real idea of how to deal with what I had just seen. Except then I remembered the hope that was there everywhere I turned. It was there if you wanted to see it, to take it, to have it. And there were people willing to help you see it if you couldn’t.

If you would like more info on Dans la rue, click here.
There are many ways to give to Dans la rue, to find out more, click here.

Silence is Golden

Every morning I get on my iPad and I read the newspapers, go through Twitter and then check Facebook – first my personal page and then the other pages that I am administrator for, one of which is The Social Effect. About a week ago, as I was scrolling through the Newsfeed for The Social Effect I came across a post about a Flash Mob Meditation in London. I happen to be a fan of Flash Mobs. I have wanted to take part in one or stage one for years. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched the Oprah Flash Mob in Chicago or the Sound of Music Flash Mob in the train station in Belgium. I am not sure exactly what it is about them, the reference to old style musicals when everyone would break into dance, the simple joy of the onlookers, or is it just that they are a lot of fun! When I saw this idea of meditation and a flash mob THAT caught my intention. Yes, meditation is part of my life. When I am consistent it is morning and night, and when I am not, it is when it is. That simple. To put the two together seemed genius to me. I checked out the site for Med Mob Inquire Within that was the parent organization to see if there was a Meditation Flash Mob in Montreal and found there was only one in Ottawa.
It was almost before I knew it that I had typed and posted an inquiry on the MedMob page to ask how I could go about setting this up in Montreal. By noon that day I had spoken to Patrick in Austin Texas and heard his story about how the first Mediation Flash Mob had started, and by noon the next day, with Patrick’s help, I had a Facebook page and a Facebook event set up. If that does not show you the power of the Internet when we are willing to take action, I don’t know what does!

Is this not the time to create the world we choose to live in?

On July 28th, over 94 cities around the world will meditate in highly visible public spaces. The intention is to expose the world to meditation and expand positivity to every walk of life.
It is an event that is open to everyone, from every path, experienced or not. This is a movement that is happening throughout the entire world so we come together as one unified force to set the momentum for the future of our planet.

Right Here Right Now

Meditation Flash Mob - Montreal

The future of our planet?
Those are big words.
Huge words.
But think about it.
What if.
All over the world.
At the same time.
Everywhere.
We just.
STOPPED.
All of us.
Just for an hour.
And we sat in meditation.
Or silence.
Or as quietly as we could.
What would happen?
What would we hear?
We will never know until we do it will we?

“I can’t meditate!”

That is what I thought. But that is why they call it the practice of meditation. It is not something we perfect; it is something that we do.  And when I do it, I am surprised at what I hear or learn about myself. Not always what I want to hear, and often I don’t learn anything. I always do come away a little quieter, with a little more space and patience and a lot more love for whom and what is around me.  I started meditation as I went down a Buddhist path a few years ago, but mediation is part of all religions, some of our western religions just hide it better than others.  Now it is part of my life and has no religious implications for me. It doesn’t need to for you either.

So why don’t you join us as we mediate on Thursday, July 28thfrom 12 to 1 in Dorchester Square in Montreal?

Dorchester Square - Montreal

You aren’t in Montreal?
Then see if your city is having a Med Mob and mediate there.
There isn’t one?
You are working and can’t make it?
Sit in silence wherever you are. That works too.
Or do what I did: START ONE. Contact Patrick at inquire@medmob.org.

Spread the Word

Now, I have a favour to ask. I would like to get more people out to our first mediation next week. I have shared the event with all of my friends and many of those attending have done the same. If you are on Facebook, would you share it with your friends? Even if they are not in Montreal. Maybe they have a friend that is, or it will pique their interest and they will find the MedMob going on in their city.

Here is how you do it.

  1. Click on this link: Meditation Flash Mob Montreal 28/07/11
  2. On the top right click: I Am Attending
  3. On the left under the photo you will see a box that says +Select Guests to Invite – click on it.
  4. A box will pop up with all of your friends. Click on their photos, add a personal message at the bottom if you like and then click submit. It’s that simple.

Right now we are at 40 Attending, 48 Maybe and 466 Awaiting Reply. It would be amazing to see 100 attending and 1000+ Awaiting Reply!

Silence is Golden

You can bring your kids or you can bring your parents, or: BRING EVERYONE! This is going to be a beautiful event that we will all remember. You are welcome to come to the entire event or for part of it. You can meditate the entire time, or you can sit and bask in the peace.
Come experience the power of collectively exuding peace and feel the impact we are having by sitting together, silently radiating happiness and grace in all directions. Simple acts can stimulate major paradigm shifts in thinking and with all we have going on in our world, I am not sure that would be a bad thing.

If you would like to join the Mediation Flash Mob Event on July 28th, click here.
If you would like to join the Montreal MedMob Facebook page, click here.
If you would like to learn more about MedMob Inquire Within, click here.

Take Action and Inspire Change

Take Action! Inspire Change is the theme this year of the 2nd annual Nelson Mandela International Day. This Day is to honour Mr. Mandela and celebrate his achievements towards a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa, his dedication to the service of humanity in the fields of conflict resolution, race relations, promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, as well as the upliftment of poor and underdeveloped communities. In November 2009 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed July 18th as “Nelson Mandela International Day” to be celebrated each year. It is the first time that the UN has dedicated an International Day to an individual.

It is only 67 minutes out of your whole life

Now here is what we all are being asked to do to celebrate: perform 67 minutes of public service – one minute for every year of the South African leader’s own service to humanity.
They are not asking a lot, or are they? I find it interesting that we need to be asked to perform public service as if it is not something that we would think about it on our own. I am thinking I better put it in my to-do list to make sure that I don’t forget, and that I allow for the whole 67 minutes. Is this not something that I should be doing each day? That is too much time I hear some of you say? Is it?
Forget about how much time it is, what exactly does it mean, perform public service. When I read this I sat there dumbfounded. What could I do this Monday for 67 minutes to help others? I thought about my day and all that I had already planned and thought: “It is just symbolic, I don’t really have to do 67 minutes of service. I do a lot all the time.” Do I? Do I do enough?

What is enough?

I think of Mr. Mandela and wonder if he ever thought: “I have done enough.” He is human after all. If he thought that way I am wondering if he would have accomplished all he did in the fight for freedom, justice and democracy.
After I decided I was going to fit in those 67 minutes I couldn’t figure out what I would do. I sat there staring at the screen thinking, I could not come up with one thing to do,
“What can I do to perform service? I don’t have a project going on, there is no event coming up that I am involved with right now?”
Here I am, someone that truly does believe that if each of us does our part we can affect change in our world, and to me ‘our world’ is what is around us, the same way I am sure Mr. Mandela was thinking of ‘his world’ as he fought for human rights.

67 Ways to Change Our World

Thankfully these days we don’t need to look very far for answers to anything and the answer to how I could spend those 67 minutes found me in a blog post. I don’t think I could come up with a better list than these 67 suggestions from Natalie Govender in her blog on HUDDLEMIND: 67 Ways To Change Our World (posted on July 15th, 2011).

Here is what I am going to do

I am going to make Monday not about ME. I am going to do all those things that I say I am going to do for others that day, those small things, those things that I don’t think matter, that matter to those I do them for. Then I am going to move forward on two projects that I have started – one on meditation and one for the homeless.

What are you going to do to celebrate?

Is it going to be doing the dishes or taking out the garbage?
Is it calling that friend who is going through a rough time and you just don’t want to hear about it?
Is it finally calling that charity to offer to volunteer.
Is it making a donation?
Is it making a conscious decision to speak up for something you believe in?
Is it simply remembering: that giving is doing service and we are able to do that in each of our daily actions no matter how big or small those actions may be.
 Now, what I would love to hear is what YOU are going to do on Monday, July 18th to celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day. I have made the commitment, now it is your turn. There is a comment box down below. Put it in writing. Make it real. And remind yourself as I am reminding myself; we could make this commitment every single day.

For more information on Nelson Mandela International Day, click here
Or join their Facebook page, click here

In the name of love

That is really why I did it, why I signed up to be a volunteer for ONE. It had nothing to do with U2 or Bono or The Edge.
But let’s go back a few months to when I received an e-mail from ONE Campaign asking if, as a member, I would like to volunteer for the Campaign at the U2 360° Tour in Montreal in July. I didn’t hesitate and I sent off an e-mail telling them a little bit about myself and pretty much forgot about it. Then in the middle of June as the buzz about the concert started in full force here in Montreal I remembered I had volunteered and assumed that I must not have been picked. And as seems to happen more often than not, the next day, on June 16th I received an e-mail from Maura telling me that “I would be joining them on Friday, July 8th”. Simple, just like that.
I was told I would receive the info of where to go and to look for an e-mail on the 7th with details. Now I have to tell you, I was not a Bono fan, U2 fan, nor did I even know who The Edge was until I arrived at the site on Friday. You notice I said, was not, because I am now.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I cleared my day on the 8th and on the 7th I found myself checking my e-mails a little more often than usual. Earlier than expected, the e-mail from Maura came in telling me where to go and a follow up e-mail that we needed to be there at 2 pm. There was the usual info for any outdoor event about wearing sunscreen, comfortable shoes and then NOT to bring professional cameras. I guess some people volunteer for different reasons than mine.
It was all over the news about how bad the traffic would be and to take the metro and I of course was late so I hopped in a cab and had no traffic problems and arrived at the corner of the site with the police and the concert goers who were getting off the metro in droves at 1:45 PM. They were expecting 80,000 people and there were some who had been camping out since the day before.

A rock concert virgin

I have to tell you a secret: THIS WAS MY FIRST ROCK CONCERT! Yes, at 48, I had never been to a rock concert so I was not sure what I was in for. I made my way in with all of the fans in their “we love U2” t-shirts”, getting lost, something I am very good at, until I finally found the other volunteers trying unsuccessfully to find some shade under one very thin tree.
As we introduced ourselves I saw that we were certainly a mixed group in age, languages spoken and nationality. Appropriate for an organization that is all over the world with its only goal to fight extreme poverty and preventable diseases. It was not too long before Maura came, introduced herself, and moved us down to our home base near the site.

Maura - our amazing ONE team leader

We’re not asking for your money, we’re asking for your voice

We were given our ONE t-shirts and then given the instructions on why we were there: to sign up new ONE members and what we would be doing over the next few hours
For any of you that don’t know, here is what ONE is all about:

ONE’s mission is to fight extreme poverty and preventable disease in the poorest places on the planet, particularly in Africa. We hold world leaders to account for the commitments they’ve made to fight extreme poverty, and we campaign for better policies, increased and more effective aid, and trade reform. We also work closely with leaders in Africa to support greater democracy, accountability and transparency in how these resources are deployed.

Maura was amazing, not only did she know her stuff and what we would need to know, she knew how to make us feel comfortable and feel part of ONE right away. She also was able to make us see the importance of what we were going to be doing and that each of the inscriptions we got would make a difference. I was reminded again that each of us has a voice and we have to use it. With over 2.5 million members ONE has a real voice in making change in our world.
We were given our elevator speech about ONE as we only had 3 ½ hours to collect as many names, e-mails and postal codes as we could and our goal was to beat Nashville where they had collected 4,000 names. We were also told that we each needed to get at least 100 names to have our place in the Inner Circle for the show. I was laughing to myself as I did not even know that we were going to get to see the show. At least you know what my motives were in being there!  We were also told that the top five, WOULD GET TO GO ON STAGE. You should have seen our faces! What a great incentive to get us all going. It certainly worked for me – a chance to go on stage in front of 80,000 people and see what that was all about? WOW!
We were handed our iPads, yes, we each had an iPad, that had a ONE screen that explained the latest petition, which is about vaccines for pneumonia and diarrhea which are still killing children in Africa – something we cannot even fathom here in North America. The touch screen had three slots to fill in: NAME, E-MAIL, and POSTAL CODE. Easy enough I thought.

GET LOUD and USE YOUR VOICE

Armed with our iPads and a lot of enthusiasm, off went 30 passionate new ONE volunteers to tackle the U2 fans. And tackle them we did!
At 7:30 PM we all headed back, hot, sunburned and feeling like we had not done enough. Feeling like we could have signed up one more, understanding that one more signature on the next petition could make a difference.

ONE Kiosk

I was able to sign up 145 people and I can tell you, for an Anglophone from Winnipeg who must have talked to at least 175 people – no not everyone said yes believe it or not, 165 of them were Francophone. For those of you who know the French language you know how easy it is to mix up ‘G’ and ‘J’  – why couldn’t Quebec have postal codes started with ‘T’! There were some very patients fans out there I can tell you!
We came back with 3,382 new ONE Members! Shy of what our goal was, we were assured that we had helped, and that it really is what ONE is all about. It is the idea that each one of us can make a difference if we speak up, if we assume the voice and place that we have. As the wrist bands that we handed out to new ONE members said: GET LOUD and USE YOUR VOICE!

It’s a beautiful day

We handed in our iPads and gave in our numbers and all of us of course had access to the Inner Circle to watch the show, and the top five and another five drawn at random were picked to go on stage. Did I make it? You bet I did, by the skin of my teeth! David and I tied at 145 and they let us both join the group. I felt a little guilty as not being a true fan I wondered if I should give my place up. But the idea of being on stage in front of so many people intrigued me.
Next stop for us was training for what we would do on stage. Allison was our patient trainer who whipped us in to shape to be ready. Off we went to the Inner Circle to see the show with clear instruction on where to be and when to be there. We were NOT to wear our ONE t-shirts as we would be doing this with the Green Peace members and Amnesty International members who had been on site that day as well. As we really are all one, looking to accomplish similar goals, we did not need to make ourselves different from each other.

The Inner Circle

There was absolutely no better vantage point to see the show than where we were. We were right under the rocket ship and between the main stage and the outer circle stage that I would end up going out on 14 songs later. For a first time rock concertgoer, it was amazing to saw the least.

The Inner Circle under The Rocket Ship

The show started at 9 PM and I watched and listened and started to get into it like the fans around me. I kept waiting for the song that would be the signal for us to go back stage. I watched Bono as he did his thing, as he worked the crowd and as he gave it his all. I have to say I was impressed that he did so much of the show in French, not something that always happens even in Montreal.

Walk On

Finally the signal came and we all made our way over to the backstage area. Security checked and double-checked our wristbands to make sure we had access. We were given our lanterns that we would carry on stage with us. We got in our lines and we waited for our cue.
I felt like I was getting cramps in my legs and the cue came and the cramps were gone and I walked up the stairs to the stage. Then the tap on the shoulder for me to walk on came and I went to the front of the stage. We were told to keep our eyes on the person behind us to be ready for our cue to leave but how could I help but look out at the 80,000 fans with their arms in the air? How could I not feel the power of the words that I heard Bono singing behind me? How could I not then at that moment, truly understand what ONE meant?
The cue came and I placed my lantern on stage and walked off, feeling the power of the energy that was there and more importantly feeling the power of possibility.

Goosebumps and Tears

I looked up at the screens as I got to the back stage area and I saw the messages that were being projected. I looked at Bono and his band and I saw that they got it. I stood there with goose bumps and a few tears in my eyes knowing that I had been part of something bigger than I was.
It was only a concert you say? Was it? I heard that crowd as Bono sang Walk On and I heard the words he sang:

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong

Walk on, walk on
What you got they can’t steal it
No they can’t even feel it
Walk on, walk on…
Stay safe tonight

The song was written about and dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi. It is written in the form of a supporting, uplifting anthem, praising her for her activism and fighting for freedom in Burma. She had been intermittently under house arrest since 1989 for her efforts. If those words touched one more person, if in signing up 3,382 people one of them does something to affect change, if you from reading this decide to do something, then it was certainly more than a rock concert wasn’t it?

For more information about ONE or to become a ONE member, click on the link: ONE.

One to many becomes many to one

Activate Summit - King's Place London

My trip to London ends today and I head home tomorrow. To say that it has been an awesome trip would be an understatement.

awe·some
adjective /ˈôsəm/

    1. Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear

▪       – the awesome power of the atomic bomb

    1. Extremely good; excellent

▪       – the band is truly awesome!

It has definitely been like an atomic bomb going off in my head because of everything that it has released in there. What I would like to do here is give you a short recap of what I learned at the Activate Summit. The idea being that in my sharing what I have learned, something may inspire or encourage you to do something with this information to affect change somewhere in your life, your family, your community, or on a larger scale.

Activate is all about examining the influence of technology on global society in areas as diverse as media, commerce and economics, the environment, energy and sustainability, citizenship, democracy, governance and accountability, the developing world, healthcare, education, science and humanity.

Not a very tall order is it? It succeeded as far as I was concerned because a seed was planted, many seeds, not only for the possibility of change, but also for the possibility of sharing of ideas, successes and failures. The underlying message was: we must do something with what we have learned; at the end of the day that is key.  It is wonderful to have all of this knowledge, but our responsibility is to make it actionable.

Talking and doing

We have all kinds of content out there now, but what is the service that is going to go with it? We have learned to make our physical world accessible to those around us, now we must make this informational world accessible as well. Content for content’s sake has no value.

Life is a story

With all the information that we have, we need to decide what to do with it if we are to affect change with it. This information must be searchable and accessible, but we need to be able to have storytelling around this data so that we may ask the right questions to be able to come up with the right answers. What am I talking about?
Jonathan Simmons from Public Zone explained it very clearly:
Information (data) is fuel.
The technology, apps and social media platforms are the vehicles.
The people (you and me) are the drivers.
This information that is out there is the new oil (the fuel) , and we need to be able to protect and look after it, as in the end, it will be this information that lets us save ourselves and our world.

Anyone can be a Think Tank

The underlying message in each and ever conference or break out session that I went to was that it all comes down to people, you and me, to make a difference. Did I have to come all the way to London to hear that? You are thinking, “I could have told you that!”
I wonder.
It seems to me that these days we are all so tied up with technology, myself included, that we forget that the real power comes from each and every one of us. What I saw here and what I am hoping to be part of is change on a global scale, but let’s step back a little to our own lives and our own small worlds. What if we looked at our individual actions and the power they have to affect change with those around us?  If we remembered to keep our principles and values true to ourselves; the rest will follow.

One to many becomes many to one

Agency is the capacity of an agent (you and me) to act in our world. How we act affects those around us. If we think small, we will live small, if we open ourselves to the possibilities that are out there, the realities become very different.
If technology, the Internet, Social Media, and apps are simply tools to bring us all together, only tools, they will not solve our problems. If we use these tools to connect, to remember we are global citizens, then the opportunities we may create are endless.

For more information on the Activate Summit and to watch the videos of the keynote speakers, here in the link: Activate Summit London 2011

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