Where I fit in the box of crayons....

Do you ever get that feeling like there's more out there? That's the feeling that brought me to beyond borders. The global community is growing, and I have not yet become a part of it. I want to be a contributing citizen to the global community through participation and action. Over the years, I have developed an appreciation for diversity and difference, and look for other ways that people are doing things. There’s a whole world out there beyond our North American perspective that has the potential to change the way I see things, and to change my life. Gahndi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I think we should not only find the change within ourselves, but also take part in the change we want to see in the world. I hope that Beyond Borders will offer a medium in which I can be the change I want to see in the world, and also take part in that change.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stronger than the sum of its parts...

I sometimes forget that a reflection can be a positive thing, and does not necessarily have to relate to fears and reservations. I'm going to give positive reflection a shot: something has touched my heart and it deserves a voice...

I got involved with Beyond Borders to engage in "community development". I remember saying I want to participate in this program to do AIDS relief work and community development somewhere in Africa. I might not be going to Africa (this time around), but I am learning more than I had hoped to about "community development".

I am, in living flesh, and example of the Nigerian proverb "Ora na azu nwa" which means it takes the community to raise a child. I believe in the importance of strong, positive, functional communities. It is because of this belief that I seek out a path that will lead me to take part in creation and enjoyment of such communities - both through my education as well as extra curricular activities like Beyond Borders.

As a privileged citizen, I do my best to make sure that I am always working with the interest of less privileged close to my heart. I work for the community so that the community can work for those less fortunate than I am. I consider myself privileged and unbelievably fortunate, and so I think that it is my place to be a giver to the community, and not a taker from.

A curious thing has happened over the last 6 months: I have found myself relying on the community! I have been touched by the number of people who have reached out to help me on my journey beyond borders. People who have donated time, or printing, donated containers, or groceries, people who have offered kind words of encouragement, or expressed their pride and gratitude for my dedication, and especially people who have supported Cookies with a Cause, it is a humbling experience to be able to take from such a wonderful entity. I am forever grateful for the wonderful help and support I have received from my community(ies). I have come to the realization that I am really doing community development because I am reaching out to my community and receiving their support in return. (look at that I didn’t even have to go to Africa!!)

I am still not comfortable in the taking role, and I find myself looking for ways to give back that which I have taken from the community. I can not, however, discount the wonderful experience of being at the mercy of others, and being involved in the development of genuine community. It feels good to be supported, and I am glad I can share my experiences with my community.

I exist because of my community. Thank you.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Cookies with a Cause

Cookies with a Cause updates!

I wanted to post for you news and updates as well as the new orderform, and new pictures.

First of all - Cookies with a Cause in the News!! here is an article From the Bloor West Villager Newspaper about Beyond Borders and Cookies with a Cause.

We have developed a website: www.cookieswithacause.webs.com. You can find ordering info, contact information, pictures, and bios on the site. Check it out!

Heres the order form...

And click here for pictures of the Spring Cookies.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bubble Girl: Learnng a lesson about Personal Space

Last Friday I visited Lucy McCormick again ( I will from here on refer affectionately to the school as “Lucy”), but this time I identified a new lesson that I am going to have to learn during my time there: Personal space.

Let me start by backing up two weeks... on the first day of class we did a personality workshop to get to know ourselves and the Beyond Borders team a little bit better. I swore I was not going to write about this experience, but here I am. The personality analysis broke down into 4 categories: Inquiring Green, Organized Gold, Authentic Blue, and Resourceful Orange. Through a series of questions and activities, one could tally up a score and rank themselves in each colour category. I ranked highest in Authentic Blue and Resourceful Orange (see Tina, I told you!), and I also scored a 7/7 on the extroverted scale (who knew?!).

What all this means: Authentic Blue means that I am people oriented, enthusiastic, supportive, ethical, and optimistic. Resourceful Orange means that I am action oriented, independent, creative, multi-tasker, out of the box. Scoring a 7/7 on an extroverted scale means that I get my energy through interacting with people, and essentially that I have no concept of personal space - well I have a personal space but I prefer that you, and you, and you, and you are sharing it with me, all the time!

So back to my lesson… All of the students at Lucy face challenges in their everyday lives. Many of them have to deal with the exacerbated challenges of a dual diagnosis, which can sometimes cause unique issues. As a brand new volunteer I am not privy to information about their various mental/physical/or health diagnoses. The challenge this presents is that I am not always aware of how to interact with one student as opposed to another – Especially in the case of personal space.

Many of the students are leery of strangers, and it takes them much longer to warm up to new faces. I am a new face, and I’m not there everyday, and when I am there I don’t get to see all the students all day long. I find that because I lack a real understanding of personal space I was sometimes inadvertently overstepping boundaries and agitating some of the students. I find myself getting frustrated in situations where my approach is not working. I get angry at myself for not being able to form immediate connections with all of the students. I have to learn to be patient, and I must develop a concrete understanding for what personal space means to others.

It was a challenge for me to be open and honest about my lack of understanding. its hard for me to admit incompetencies (see last week's post). But generally teachers and support workers were helpful in pointing out who I should and shouldn’t be too close to, and were great in terms of providing suggestions on how to work with various students. Facilitating harmony and connecting with others is an “Authentic Blue” thing. What I have to learn is how to connect with someone in their comfort zone, and not impose mine, so that we can create harmonious bonds that are positive, sincere and helpful.

Each one of these lessons is another step in the steep learning curve that this experience has presented to me. Realizing the many lessons I still need to learn is a welcomed ego deflator – I don’t know EVERYTHING. I am really beginning to comprehend how unprepared for a life “out there” I am (academia and western licing can be soooo comfortable). The learning curve is steep, and not without its challenges, but this is much better than stagnation. I’m enjoying this.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Acceptance, and Excitement, gained through Reflection

In my last post I told you about my Ukraine placement, and ended by telling you how excited I am for the challenge. This excitement did not come quickly, or easily. I alluded to this in the previous post:
On November 16, I received an e-mail with a placement suggestion: The Ukraine to work in an orphanage/group home for girls and women with mental and physical disabilities. I hated the idea: not only was I vehemently opposed to traveling to the Ukraine, I was also not particularly keen on working in a mental health forum. It took two and a half weeks for me to sit with the idea, and tentatively decide that I would give it a shot.

It has taken me nearly two months to tease apart why I was so adverse to the idea of this particular placement. The epiphany came from my first introduction to my volunteer position at Lucy McCormack - a secondary school in Toronto for students with varying abilities.

Let me tell you a little bit about my first day… I arrived and was greeted (perhaps welcomed is a better word) by staff and students alike. The school administrator remembered who I was, and the school principal, Sheena, was excited to see me again. After completing the announcements – including and Elvis tribute (it was his 75th birthday that day), Sheena put everything on hold to take me on a tour of the school, and acquaint me with daily life at Lucy McCormack. We walked around the small building for well over an hour. I was introduced to their various programs: horticulture, library learning, shop class, life skills cooking, health hustle, Snuselyn therapy, and art. Sheena took great care in introducing me to the differences of life inside the school and how it compares to life outside the school. We talked about the challenges of being able-bodied and how this can hinder our ability to understand the processes of differently-abled people. I was able to meet and interact with some of the students, but also unabashedly observe the interactions between students and adults (I say adults because there are many different types of people working at Lucky McCormak: teachers, educational assistants, occupational therapists, nurses, physiotherapists, personal support workers, child and youth workers, social workers etc) at the school.

During my visit, and during my reflection period after, I was struck, and overwhelmed with the positivity, compassion and love that emanated from the environment and the people at the school. This feeling, as well as the cooking program, and art program intensified my excitement for my placement! I really felt like “I can do this!” It was this statement of competency sparked the epiphany, and the understanding of my initial hostility.

It is a rare occurrence for me to talk about my fears. I’m going to – get ready. Embarking on an experience like Beyond Borders necessitates an acceptance that things will be uncomfortable, and different. Going into a new job placement is scary enough, but is exacerbated when you add the variables of different language, different culture, different customs and brand new skill set into the mix. I had my heart set on doing AIDS relief work in Africa at the outset of the program. I had thought about, talked about and reflected on the challenges that that type of experience would bring, and I was ready. I was ready for the heat, and the bugs, and the food, and the culture, and all other things I could prepare myself for. I told people that was what I was going to be doing, and had an arsenal of answers for anyone who asked why I wanted to do such a thing. Then, on November 16 my world was turned upside down by the Ukrainian placement suggestion. What I used to call opposition, I now know better as fear, perhaps even terror.

Much of my fear (in all aspects of my life) stems from feeling incompetent and losing control. This was no different. I hadn’t prepared myself for the challenges of the Ukraine: I didn’t know the language, I knew very little about the culture, people or climate, I couldn’t even find it on a map if you asked me to – PANIC! And on top of those issues, I was going to work with people with disabilities? Me? I don’t know how to do that. I’ve never done that before! I was terrified that I wasn’t going to be able to make a difference, and was going to fail at this experience that I was so looking forward to. I went through a process of questioning whether I would actually gain from this type of placement, and debated the prospect of dropping out of the program because the placement was not going to fit with my outcome goals. Furthermore I was angry. I was angry that the program organizers paid no attention to what I had said I wanted – how could they!

I am glad that am able to give a proper name to my initial hostility: Terror, and through doing so have been able to fully accept the exhilaration of what is to come. It took a little while to acquaint myself with the potential challenges of a Ukrainian placement. As I got more comfortable with the challenges, I became more comfortable with accepting the placement. Now that I have identified competency, I am overjoyed with the placement. I look forward to spending more time at Lucy McCormak, and seeing what doors it opens for me along this journey.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

a New Beginning

Where we are in the space-time continuum: it's January 5th 2010 the beginning of a new term, the start of a new year, and the commencement of a new decade. Toronto is the place I call home, for now, but I can see that changing as 2010 unfolds.

I want to make sure that we are all on the same page, so I wanted to spend some time doing a catch-up, a whats on the go, and a look to the future.

First and foremost - I have a Placement!!! On November 16, I received an e-mail with a placement suggestion: The Ukraine to work in an orphanage/group home for girls and women with mental and physical disabilities. I hated the idea: not only was I vehemently opposed to travelling to the Ukraine, I was also not particularly keen on working in a mental health forum. It took two and a half weeks for me to sit with the idea, and tentatively decide that I would give it a shot. Now, having sat with the idea for a while longer I am unbelievably excited!! We don't have many details, but from what I do know I will be travelling with Tina to a Western city called Ternopil (see photo, left), population ~225,000. We will be working at the Ternopil Internat for Women. Tina and I have big plans in the works, and can't wait to get there and get to work. I'll keep you posted on details.

In other news, the Christmas season is over, and so too is the Christmas cookie season (finally)! We took orders for, baked, and sold nearly 4500 cookies in two months. Our gross profits are sitting above $4100! what a wonderful success. The down side is that I never want to look at another cookie again, but I know that won't last long...

It it really has been touching to connect with so many people who have taken an interest in my life. People who handed out cookie forms, helped me to get donations, shared their expertise and experience, donated time or money and especially those who bought cookies. I think we live in a culture that socializes most of us to be shy of asking people for money, but this experience has taught me that it is acceptable, especially if you believe in what you are doing. I have learned that we are not asking for money, out right, we are sharing our stories with people, and they are (willingly, even happily) providing the support we need. This is a valuable lesson, and something I expect to carry with me.

What's on the go
There always seems to be something on the go. The beginning of a new term always inspires new direction and fresh motivation and initiative, this term is no different.

Volunteering. as part of the mandatory Beyond borders required course, RS 383, I must complete 20 hours of volunteering at a community organization. As I have never worked with people with varying abilities, I thought it might be good to get some experience in the field before heading off to the Internat. I am in contact with the principal of a high school (in Toronto) that runs special programming for students with varying abilities. I am hoping to set up a volunteer placement at Lucy McCormack for the duration of the term to fulfill my required hours, but also to gain useful skills and knowledge. My only reservation is that I do not want to approach the Internat from a "Canadian" perspective, so I will have to be careful what I transfer from my experiences here to my experiences there.

Language. I am apprehensive about going to a country to work without any knowledge of the language - this is a competency issue for me, and I am looking to guard against the utter discomfort of total disorientation upon arrival. I have found a Ukrainian language school that runs on Saturdays out of an Orthodox Church in Toronto. I have e-mailed the director in hopes of getting in at the kindergarten level to develop a foundation of the Ukrainian language. If I don't hear back by the middle of the week, I will call and see what I can arrange.

Class. We started class as of yesterday. Got off to a great start with personality testing, fundraising ideas and self defense class. I noticed a distinct difference in our interactions as a group this time around as compared to the first seminar. I wondered yesterday haw I have some this far in my life without some of these people! it got me thinking about community - how important community is, what it means to me, and how we develop and change based on the communities we are a part of. the Beyond Borders community was thrust together by chance, but I think we are now all inextricably linked to one another. After 8 months of relying on one another I'm curious as to what will happen when we are forced apart during our time abroad...

A look to the future

Most importantly: in less than four months, I depart!!! Four months sounds like a long time, but I need to keep reminding myself that it really ISN'T, and the end of April is going to be here much quicker than I expect.

Cookies. I told you being sick of cookies wasn't going to last long! The new and improved order form is on its way to being finalized, prices are set. I'm going to do a test run this weekend (I think), and then I'm back to being a baker! we have switched over the product line to cater to the Valentines/Easter/St Patrick's day buyers. I'll post information, and an order form, soon.

Marketing. One of my big focuses this term is going to be getting some attention. I would like to bring more attention to Cookies with a Cause, and shed some more light on Beyond Borders as a whole. I have contacted several news papers about doing an article, and am looking for other outlets.

Funding. It is scholarship and bursary time! I will be applying for every grant, scholarship, and bursary I can find, as well as taking another kick at the AEF can...

I think we are all caught up now (phew!). there's lots happening already, and it's only the 5th day of the year. the next four months is going to be quite the ride.

Stay tuned in as there will be a posting every week - I promise not nearly this long. I encourage you to comment, question and interact with me through this medium; it's good practice now for when I'm away!