Category Archives: Campaigns

Holding Court on Mental Health

Before now, had you ever heard of a member of royalty talking openly about mental health issues – exposing very personal struggles – in order to help others?

Yesterday, a British charity posted a video of a Facetime call between two well-known royals: the Duke of Cambridge and the Lady of Gaga – er, rather, Lady Gaga.

It appeared to be a comfortable, convivial chinwag. Lady Gaga sipped from a teacup at her kitchen counter, while Prince William leaned forward earnestly in his Victorian upholstered chair.

They were there to chat about mental health. Lady G discussed how it feels to experience anxiety and depression, even in the midst of ostensible success and fame – and why talking about it makes it better. It raises awareness and stamps out stigma. Ultimately, it means more people will reach out for help.

“We have to make the strongest, most relentless attempt we can to normalize mental health issues, so that people feel like they can come forward,” LG explained.

Prince William agreed. “It’s so important to break open that fear and that taboo.”

The Facetime call was arranged through Heads Together, a British charity overseen by Prince William, his Duchess Kate and little bro Harry. The trio say their previous work with vulnerable people has taught them that all too often, fear and shame are stopping people from seeking essential mental health treatment.

“We shouldn’t be ashamed of it,” Prince William said. “Just having a conversation with a friend or family member can really make such a difference.”

In an interview the same day for the suicide-prevention organization CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), the Duke of Cambridge elaborated very Britishly: “There may be a time and a place for the ‘stiff upper lip,’ but not at the expense of your health.”

The call ended with cute little waves at each other, and a promise to chat more when Lady Gaga tours the U.K. A royal friendship has been forged. And surely it will have a positive impact.

Fun fact: 83% of men and women surveyed say they find it helpful to talk about their mental health issues. Another 2% said they find it almost as therapeutic to sip from a teacup.

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It’s uncanny how similar this room is to my own home office. (Photo by Heads Together)

Ugly is the New Nice

Perhaps we can’t count on Sami the cat to win a feline beauty pageant anytime soon. But if there were a contest for inner beauty, Sami would surely wear the crown. At least Sami’s owners, roommates Jay Telegdi and Peter Fortna, are convinced of it.

Sami, an unsightly Persian cat with a malformed tear duct, puffy face and crooked teeth, was originally rescued from Romania, where he was unwanted. Since he arrived to live in Canada, though, people everywhere have felt compelled to cuddle him. As Jay says in a news story, “The cat really does have a heart of gold, and it is super-sweet, affectionate and unique in many ways.”

That’s why the roommates were inspired to design a T-shirt printed with Sami’s monstrous mug, along with a note prompting people to “Be Kind.” They’re supporting a fundraiser for people from war-torn Aleppo by giving away Sami shirts to the first 200 donors. (Want yours? Get instructions here.)

Jay, Peter – and presumably Sami, too – all feel some kinship toward the displaced Syrians. That’s because they themselves are from Fort McMurray, Alberta, and were forced out of their home during last year’s sweeping wildfires. The house was eventually destroyed. Before that, in 2013, they were evacuated from the Calgary floods.

The experiences opened their eyes, and prompted them to find a way to help others.

“For better or for worse, Sami does look kind of ridiculous, whether in person or on a T-shirt,” Peter told a CBC reporter. “But he’s also very lovable, and just reminds people to be kind.”

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Sami, if you’re reading this: I don’t actually think you’re all that hideous. There’s a certain nobility to your one-of-a-kind looks. (Photo courtesy of Jay Telegdi and Peter Fortna)

Zombies for Good, Not Evil

Grawwll arrgghh yeeergggh… That’s zombie-talk for: “We’re not all of us heartless, brain-eating monsters.” Guess what? The undead can do good work. In five Quebec communities yesterday, zombies – or, rather, students enrolled in various healthcare-related programs – doused themselves in fake blood and entrails. (Hey, they’re med students. They’re not squeamish.) They then went door-to-door promoting the importance of organ donation.

And over the weekend in Cambridge, Ontario, zombies marched – or, rather, lurched and staggered – through the local farmer’s market. They didn’t mean to put you off your fresh red tomatoes. They, too, only aspired to raise awareness about donating organs.

Now for the public service announcement you knew was coming. Organ donation saves lives. A single donor can rescue eight people from certain death, and improve the quality of life for 75 others in need.

In Canada, we’re on board with the idea. We’ve been polled; ninety percent of us support organ donation… in theory. We just don’t seem to put our money where our guts are. Only one in five of us has actually made arrangements to donate our organs after we’re done with them, such as signing a donor card or registering online as a donor. The consequence? Many Canadians die waiting for the transplant they critically need.

And since, of course, zombies are the stuff of science fiction, these people don’t actually come back.

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If you look real close, you’ll notice that cell phone users can sometimes also be zombies. (Wait, isn’t that the classic definition of a modern-day teenager?)

Hold Your Water

Two nights ago, in Toronto where I live, a miracle fell from the sky. I’d almost forgotten what a soft summer rain feels like. We’ve had an uncharacteristically dry month. I know my perennials were desperate for a few precious drops of water. Despite my best efforts with the garden hose, a newly planted hedge was showing signs of distress. Certainly my lawn had retreated into a self-induced catatonia. And then, suddenly, wondrously, we were presented with precipitation. All became right again in the world.

Our part of the world, anyway. I’m fully aware that I belong to a privileged few who can actually count on clean water to fall, fairly often, from the clouds. And if it doesn’t, all we have to do is turn a tap. At our command, clean water conveniently flows inside our house. We can have as much as we want, at whatever temperature we desire. My households enjoys two outdoor faucets and eight indoor ones, in addition to multiple fresh-water hookups for toilets and appliances. The rest of my community is similarly fortunate.

In the rest of the world, there are people going without every day. The World Health Organization estimates that 663 million people are without access to suitable drinking water. That means for every single Canadian, there are 19 people somewhere in the world (and sometimes closer to home than you realize) who need clean water.

Yesterday a crew of four cyclists concluded their five-day, 1,000-km fundraising route from Calgary to Vancouver (that’s 620 miles for you imperialists). In order to raise awareness about Wheels for Wells, a charity that contributes to sustainable water projects around the world, the team completed their endurance event through the Rocky Mountains without drinking any bottled or tap water. The cyclists only drank from natural fresh water sources, like streams and lakes.

It may sound like they ought to have had water aplenty, and of course they did. We are in Canada, after all, where we enjoy a full fifth of all the fresh water in the world. But tell me, when’s the last time you drank from a pond? I mean, personally, I live close to a creek, but I also live close to urban runoff, and you wouldn’t catch me dipping into that murky stuff.

See how water-spoiled I am?

Props to the cycling team for their achievement. It wasn’t an easy road (no, really, there were a ton of hills), but their dedication helped an important cause. To them I raise a glass – of clean, fresh water, of course.

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Cheers. (Photo by khunaspix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

This is How He Scores

Here in Canada, we take our hockey seriously. If a kid is so passionate about the sport that he practises his goalie moves for hours on a patch of ice not much bigger than a welcome mat, well, he ought to play on a team. That’s how 14-year-old Bailey Monteith felt, anyhow, when he saw a Facebook video of Markus Stewart skating on a frozen puddle outside his home in Abbotsford, British Columbia. The 25-second video shows Markus guarding an invisible net and lunging to save imaginary pucks in very real, full-on goalie gear. By the time the CBC shared Markus’s story, his cutie clip had been watched more than 300,000 times. Four days later, it’s at well over half a million views.

The CBC interviewed Markus’s mom and reported that the family, which has five kids, found it a tad financially intimidating to sign everyone up for hockey. (A follow-up story explained that since Markus has epilepsy and has been advised to avoid full-contact sports, joining a hockey team would have meant shelling out for steep fees just to “sit on the bench and… play a little bit.”)

Bailey, who’s as smitten with hockey as Markus, felt driven to help. He started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for registration fees or even a session of goalie camp, noting: “Affordability shouldn’t stop a kid from his or her dreams.” Bailey, who lives in Kamloops, B.C., and has been playing on hockey teams since he was five, told the CBC he wanted Markus to have that same opportunity: “Markus hasn’t had a chance to feel that yet, and I want to give him a chance to feel it.”

The crowdfunding page reached half its $2,000 goal in just half a day, and almost topped $3,500 two days later. That should be more than enough to cover Markus’s ice time. “Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity!” Bailey wrote on the page yesterday. “This experience has been one we will never forget and hopefully inspires others to work hard, practise every chance you get and never abandon a dream.”

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There’s no puck, no rink and no opponents, but if you dream big enough, your imagination will fill in the blanks. (Facebook)

From Paradise, Nova Scotia, to Champagne, Yukon… We Welcome You

I mostly avoid discussing things like politics, religion and sebaceous glands on this blog. Some topics are simply too divisive, and this is a place for connection. But I don’t know anyone who is untouched by the stories of anguished families in desperate need, no matter where they come from or whom they pray to.

I’m gladdened by the open-hearted response of the Canadian community in the midst of a global crisis. We want people to be safe. We want them to feel welcome. And we want them to be able to cope with our challenging, yes-blizzards-do-blow-sideways Canadian winter.

I’m also impressed by the boundless creativity of Canadians when it comes to finding original ways to support the cause. For instance, a newlywed couple called off their fancy wedding reception, used the money to support a family of refugees, and asked wedding guests to do the same in lieu of eight-piece bakeware sets. Writer colleagues of mine have organized an upcoming evening of readings, music and silent auction. Two women in my community are offering surprise grab bags of novels – guaranteed to be good reads, they promise. (I’ve ordered two. If you’re itching to know the titles, I’ll report back.) My daughter’s class is collecting warm coats to distribute to new families, in the hopes that icy blasts of snow need not be another burden for them to bear. Here’s one that sounds even more fun than the surprise books: surprise dinner. That event was put together by a youth group in Stratford, Ontario.

Why are Canadians such divergent thinkers? Is it because we’re accustomed to outsmarting snowdrifts, or planning just the right angle for that slapshot, or tracking down the nearest Tim Hortons, or [insert another Canadian stereotype here]?

Fun fact: In a report called (rather unoriginally, I think) the Global Creativity Index, Canada just ranked fourth in the world. Apparently we score well because our country is good at embracing diversity, which in turn helps our productivity, competitiveness and economy.

I say it also helps our capacity to support newcomers. Canada, you go.

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A donated coat: Sharing the warmth, literally. (Using the word “literally,” correctly.)

Not in My Backyard… or the One Next to That

It got a lot of people hot under the collar. Which was the point.

It started one Friday morning in a certain Toronto neighbourhood populated by a lot of, let’s say, fairly comfortable people. An empty store was boarded up as though in preparation for new construction. And then a large sign was hung – to announce the new homeless shelter that would soon be built here.

A toll-free number was helpfully added in case of “questions or concerns.”

Concerns is rather an understatement. Residents called and left emotional, angry messages. One caller was “distressed.” Others called this an “awful idea” that would “ruin a neighbourhood” or “affect my business.” Put it somewhere else, they suggested. It was “absolutely absurd” to bring drug addicts into a perfectly fine neighbourhood, said someone else. Said one caller, self-congratulatingly: “I’m a very tolerant person. But this just really is going over the edge.”

A hidden camera captured passersby grabbing information flyers, taking pictures and trying to peer into the construction site. “People were very upset, people were crying,” a journalist in the community told The Toronto Star. Pardon us, did we ruin your Friday?

Next day, the sign was replaced with a new one: “You told us you don’t want a shelter here. Neither do we.” It was followed by an appeal to help solve homelessness.

The brilliant stunt was revealed as an exercise to raise awareness. According to Raising the Roof, the Toronto charity that set this up, at least 35,000 Canadians will have nowhere to go home to tonight. About 235,000 in total will be homeless at some point in the year. That doesn’t even take into account the 50,000 couch-surfing “hidden homeless” Canadians with no place to call their own.

Click here to watch a video showing the community’s negative – nay, completely bitchcakes – reaction. The video ends with a pointed comment:

“What would happen if we were this passionate about ending homelessness?”

Oh, peevish Toronto neighbourhood: Like a campfire marshmallow, you just got burned.

Maybe now these folks, and anyone else who hears about this stunt, will find themselves all fired up for a very worthy cause.

Photo courtesy of Raising the Roof. You nailed it, friends.

Photo courtesy of Raising the Roof (www.raisingtheroof.org). You nailed it, friends.