Friday, January 29, 2010

Haiti's story

Volunteers at Dunnville’s Calvary Pentecostal Church pack medical supplies in preparation for a week-long mission to Dominican Republic. See their story in part 2 of Dunnville's efforts in Haiti. ⓒ Allison Smith 2010

Last week, I had the incredibly honourable, interesting and daunting task of telling the story of people who were involved in some aspect of helping Haitian citizens after the earthquake that destroyed their country January 12. I and another reporter at the Dunnville Chronicle took on writing five stories within one. The experience had a big enough impact on me that I decided I most definitely wanted to post my contribution to my blog. 
I, like many others, have been quite removed from the travesty that is happening a world away from us. Seeing the odd commercial on TV appealing to people here to adopt children for $1 a day in the poorest countries of the world simply in no way prepares you to hear the stories of people directly involved in the efforts to help those people who are so much in need right now, and who will be for decades to come. I got to talk to a volunteer paramedic who walked through crowds and crowds of people screaming in pain. She said there was no rhyme or reason to who was helped because there were just so many of them. The ones who are healthy are fending off looters, desperate themselves, from taking what little the earthquake has left untouched. She spoke of people following her asking if she had forgotten about them, using a scalpel and razor blade to perform amputations and helping another doctor pull muscles and bones fractured by collapsing buildings back into place. 
When I asked her how she stayed sane as a fellow human being in that situation, she replied she stayed calm out of necessity. "It's your job, so you do it. You pull yourself together and off you go."
I was shocked at how matter-of-factly this 21-year-old talked about her experience. There are lesser people including myself who simply would not have had the fortitude to keep it together. I told her people like her are picking up after the mess our developed countries have made, before the earthquake happened and the efforts to send relief in cash and people started to flow. Millions of people across the world have donated to the effort. But like many problems, the poverty in developed countries is complex and many-sided. I don't pretend to understand it or know all the solutions. But we developed countries have to realize the disparity between us and the people in Haiti can't be ignored anymore. Our resolve has to endure beyond the charity telethons, media coverage and initial hype. It disturbs me that in 2010 there are still countless numbers of our fellow human beings who are considered "non people," with no rights to the justice, education and healthcare/other services essential to us and every civilized society. Our mindset as a society and global culture must dramatically shift not just about this one disaster in this one country but about the many that happen around the world every day. 
The words of Dr. Reza Kazemi ring in my mind.

Dr. Kazemi said long-term change needs to happen in third world countries and that the “tragedy” is that though there is much attention given to the nation now, “we just don’t learn. Our heart bleeds, we open our hearts, we give what we can, the news reports these poor people are having their legs and arms amputated…our approach is based on our bleeding hearts for the moment, not long term.” Citizens of developed countries must make better choices in the long term, he said, looking at their “effect on the environment and the effect on people. People give with one hand, buy a t-shirt made by a Haitian sweatshop, and they take away that help with the other hand. They contribute to the poverty in Haiti.”

What one hand giveth, the other taketh away. Imagine how early in life these people find that out and how jaded and hopeless they become waiting to live, or die, at the behest of forces they cannot control. Before talking to the many people I've spoken to about their experiences, I thought I knew what it felt like to feel hopeless at times. Their relaying of what they went through and the things they saw made me at least get an outsider's view of what 'hopeless' really is.
 Since the initial earthquake January 12, Haiti has also been through an aftershock, setting back further the rebuild of a country that already has so much devastation and hopelessness burdening its shoulders. Canada and the United Nations are calling on developed nations to forgive the country's $1 billion foreign debt. 
UN trade body calls for write-off of Haiti's debt
Flaherty wants creditors to forgive Haiti's debt

This quote is from a UK paper called the Telegraph. See the full article here.

Jean-Max Bellerive told an emergency meeting of ministers in Montreal, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that the "colossal" effort would take "at least five to 10 years."   
He said: "The people of Haiti will need more and more and more in order to complete the reconstruction. What we're looking for is a long-term commitment. Haiti needs the massive support of its partners in the international community in the medium and long term." Responding to criticism that the Haitian government had been almost invisible during relief efforts he said it was working in "precarious conditions". 
"We are fully conscious that the prime responsibility for our future lies in the hands of the Haitian government and the Haitian people." 
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "It was not an exaggeration to say that at least 10 years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti. 
Officials from a dozen countries, the United Nations, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund attended the talks to discuss the aid effort and make initial rebuilding plans. 
They looked at whether to relocate the capital Port-au-Prince away from its present site. Around 235,000 survivors have already fled the blighted city. 
The Montreal talks were expected to lay the groundwork for a full-fledged donors conference in the coming weeks at which pledges of money for reconstruction will be made.  
Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and groups including Oxfam and The World Council of Churches called on ministers to immediately cancel its full $890 million (£550 million) international debt. 
They also asked for delivery on the IMF's previous pledge to turn a $100 million (£62 million) interest-free loan to into a grant.

This is the sensible thing to do, and would be the first of many steps in rebuilding what many say is a country that must be built better than it was before the earthquake hit if it has any hope at all.

Dunnville's efforts in Haiti, Part 1

(Find this article online at the Dunnville Chronicle)


The earthquake that rocked Haiti January 12 is being felt a world away, in the hearts and minds of Dunnville residents rising to the challenge of providing relief to the bereaved, severely injured and displaced.
While a local paramedic arrives home from the ravaged region this week, a team of 20 from Calvary Pentecostal Church prepares to arrive in Haiti. Haiti Water for Life plans to deliver much-needed medical supplies, while local businesses do their part at home.
Deanna Oosterhoff is part of a GlobalMedic relief team from Ontario bringing aid and supplies to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, as thousands of Haitians fled the area after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit the region January 12. GlobalMedic also brought 30 water purification units to the area.
GlobalMedic co-ordinates volunteer disaster response teams made up of paramedics, firefighters and police officers. The 21-year-old, who works at Dunnville’s Marish Greenhouses, first met a recruiter for the organization while attending Niagara College. Eventually, she took training and grew excited to be part of a mission.
The GlobalMedic team were the first responders to arrive. Jane said last week Deanna was to arrive home over the weekend, and doctors from across the world would take over in Haiti where GlobalMedic left off.
“They go in very quickly and get there before all the other (agencies),” said Deanna’s mother Jane, a resident of Wainfleet who said she’s “proud” of the Niagara College graduate.
Oosterhoff returned to Canada about 2 a.m. Monday January 25. She said she was glad to have made a difference in the disaster area.
“People have to fend for themselves…there is no real justice system,” Deanna said, adding 300 criminals housed in a prison there had escaped and gone back to Cite Soleil. Looting is a common problem and Haitians are using vigilante justice to protect themselves, she said. Deanna spent time travelling throughout the ravaged area with a doctor, and worked in a hospital where hundreds of people were camped outside waiting for healthcare for the first several days.
 “There were people everywhere. We’d be walking along and people would be following us, saying, ‘Come see’ and ‘Did you forget about me?’ There was no rhyme or reason to who you go to (to give care). Hundreds of people needed amputations. There were enough doctors but not enough equipment and turnaround time was so long because the equipment we were using had to be sterilized. We were doing amputations with nothing but a scalpel and a razor blade, no anesthetic, no freezing, no nothing.”
Deanna got a disturbing introduction her first day as she walked out of her tent to see the dead bodies of two people who had been shot. More dead bodies littered the streets and rubble, and many survivors presented nasty injuries and resulting infections such as gangrene as a result of buildings collapsing. Though 200 people a day needed medical treatment, there were only resources available to treat 10, she said. Deanna told stories of pulling muscles back into place, standing at patient’s feet while the doctor stood at their head.
Asked how she kept calm she said she was told upon entering the Dominican that that “was the last day of normal. We were there to help…you can’t really feel their pain because then we would also be in pain. We had to be calm for them. As long as we’re positive, they can still be positive. If we get negative, they lose all hope. It’s your job, so you do it…you pull yourself together and off you go.”
Not that Deanna didn’t feel emotional seeing people in pain. “You pray for strength,” she said, admitting the situation was nothing short of “chaos.”
Chaos was a good word to describe the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of Haitian Canadians attempting to come back to Canada were stuck outside and not being let in, some for as long as seven days.
Jane has learned an important lesson first-hand from her daughter’s experience. While Deanna will come home feeling she has made a difference, the relief efforts in Haiti and the long journey to come for the residents there is “all about getting people to help themselves.”

Dunnville's efforts in Haiti, Part 2

Rev. Jonathan Strutt (middle) poses with two volunteers and items being packaged for Calvary Pentecostal Church’s week-long mission trip to Dominican Republic to help Haitians. 
ⓒ Allison Smith 2010

Faith also guides the team of 20 volunteers from Dunnville’s Calvary Pentecostal Church, who are partnering with the Canadian charity Servant’s Heart Ministries, leave January 30 to spend a week in the Dominican Republic helping the three to five million Haitians there.
“They are considered non-people,” explained Rev. Jonathan Strutt.. “They have no rights to education, no rights to healthcare, government or social services.”
The team has been taking missions to help Haitians in the Dominican Republic for years and had planned to before the earthquake. This time, they are adding the delivery of dental, medical and hygiene supplies and children’s clothing (donated by community members and organizations) for Haitians and equipment for workers going into Haiti to their mandate. Items workers will receive include air mattresses (purchased with cash raised by congregation members) and tents. A cash donation will also be delivered. “We’re privileged to be able to help,” said Rev. Strutt, who called the team “dedicated and selfless.”
Joan McQuillen, the church’s secretary, said she was excited to leave. “When I heard (the news of the earthquake), I immediately thought about the impact it was going to have on our mission, and the impact on the Haitian people. This is God’s timing,” she said, adding the mission would now have a greater impact. It’s exciting. I can’t wait. What 20 of us can accomplish in one week is going to be incredible.”
The mission will be about many things, and the challenge is to look at the “big picture,” she said.

Dunnville's efforts in Haiti, Part 3

Before that happens, Haitians must have enough water to sustain them. That’s where Ancaster Rotarian Roy Sheldrick comes in. He has worked in Haiti for more than 15 years as leader of Haiti Water for Life, building wells to provide Haitians with clean drinking water, which is especially crucial to survival after disaster. While destruction and chaos abound, “water can keep you going,” said Sheldrick, adding not one of the 189 wells he had helped build previous to the earthquake was destroyed. “I’m so pleased,” he said. “That’s wonderful.”
But there is much work to be done to help the Haitian people, whose situation is “heartwrenching” to Sheldrick, who worked with many Haitians in Artibonite Valley, about 70 miles from the earthquake zone. The Albert Schweitzer hospital has become a point of refuge for Haitians, but is low on medical supplies. Sheldrick said doctors performing surgeries had run out of morphine and that proceeds would go to purchasing supplies and helping earthquake victims at the hospital. Though no one he knew died in the earthquake, 10 students sponsored by the Rotary Club survived. Two were missing, but were found and are expected to survive.
“I have no idea how they’re going to rebuild the lives of over one million people or what they’re going to do to replace (infrastructure).”
As for his contacts in Haiti, “they’re working 24 hours a day.”
The Canadian government is matching donations made between January 12 and February 12. Any donations handed to the Ancaster Rotary Club or other organizations dedicated to assisting disaster relief in Haiti will be eligible. Donors can give online through or writing a cheque to the Rotary Club of Ancaster, 3-35 Stone Church Road, Ancaster, L9K 1S5. Contact Sheldrick at 905-648-4339.

Dunnville's efforts in Haiti, Part 4

Local businesses are getting in on the effort by donating equipment and encouraging their customers to donate cash.
Dunnville Rotarian Dr. Reza Kazemi said Grandview Lodge, Haldimand War Memorial Hospital and Dunnville and District Credit Union are taking donations to Doctors Without Borders, the Canadian Red Cross and the Albert Schweitzer hospital. They are offering fair trade products, including coffee and hot chocolate, free, to raise awareness about the importance of making the choice to support fair trade companies. Dr. Kazemi said long-term change needs to happen in third world countries and that the “tragedy” is that though there is much attention given to the nation now, “we just don’t learn. Our heart bleeds, we open our hearts, we give what we can, the news reports these poor people are having their legs and arms amputated…our approach is based on our bleeding hearts for the moment, not long term.” Citizens of developed countries must make better choices in the long term, he said, looking at their “effect on the environment and the effect on people. People give with one hand, buy a t-shirt made by a Haitian sweatshop, and they take away that help with the other hand. They contribute to the poverty in Haiti.”
Dunnville’s Canadian Tire store is joining its chain across Canada in donating outdoor living supplies, including hundreds of four-person tents, sleeping bags, flashlights and batteries and has agreed to supply outdoor living equipment and merchandise at cost through ONEXONE, a non-profit foundation whose mission is to preserve a basic quality of life for children locally and globally. 
John Macdonald, the owner of Cayuga’s Pizzazz Pizza and Wings, donated 25 per cent of Monday’s (January 25) sales to relief efforts, while Darnell Case, owner of Dunnville’s Squires Pizza, collected donations at his store the same day in the spirit of friendly competition to raise the most money to hand over to the Salvation Army, said Kathy Milligan, acting manager of Dunnville’s Salvation Army. Milligan said the organization has become a trusted drop-off point for people wanting to donate. The funds “go directly to people who need help,” she said, adding she has seen much local support from individuals and businesses for the cause. As for the fundraising effort of the two restaurants, Milligan said, “it’s nice to see Cayuga and Dunnville connect.”
The Salvation Army is still seeking donations of money, she said. “Every penny helps.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Olympic Spirit Arrives in Thorold

Watch in full screen

Come the beginning of December, excitement was brewing as the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay made its way across the country and finally, into Niagara December 20 and 21. I was lucky enough to not only watch the event first-hand in Thorold and be part of a great day, but also get some great shots.
Thorold being such a small town, it can sometimes fall through the cracks of local media here that have seen drastic cutbacks on staff and resources recently. But that doesn't mean it isn't worthy of as much recognition as larger cities, such as St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, receive. Thorold rarely gets its due despite the many volunteer committees (and in this case the organizing committee of the city's torch relay) who work hard here planning events year in and year out. It was a great place to be that Sunday. For many of us, including myself, it was a first opportunity to watch Olympic history up close. You can do grade school projects about the Olympics and watch them on TV a half-world away, but you really only experience the true meaning of Canadian pride after seeing the torch come to your town, in our case Canada's most patriotic city. Watching the bearers light the torch among a sea of Canadian flags is not something I'll soon forget. Much thanks go to the relay's organizing committee and tourism co-ordinator Terry Dow for accepting my offer to volunteer. Also thanks to the good people at the City of Thorold who showed my video at a council meeting tonight.
At the end of the video is a dedication to our current and past Olympic athletes and to the citizens of Thorold. Canada needs your support in 2010!
What does Canadian/Olympic pride mean to you? Is it watching the torch relay, buying the mittens and jerseys or just gathering 'round the TV to cheer on our athletes?
Find a couple of my pics on these links of the Niagara Economic Development website:
Thorold Economic Development - Quality of Life
Thorold Economic Development - Data Centre
Note: Comments are moderated, meaning they will be reviewed by me first before being posted, only to avoid spamming. But take a minute to tell me what you think and I will post!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Local Listings

Popular Posts

Photos, My Work, etc.

Published in The Tribune (Welland) Wednesday January 13, 2010

Published in The Tribune (Welland)
Friday November 20, 2009

September 23, 2009

November 26, 2008

Published in Niagara News (Thorold)
June 13, 2007

Stuff I Like

The Gods of Rock
Thorold Community Theatre
Thorold Tourism
Community Care of St. Catharines & Thorold
Thorold Murals on Welland Canal Parkway (Canada's largest mural project)

Courage My Love
The Good Lovelies
dream - futures without borders
Flyers Bakery and Cafe

Welland/Pelham/Fonthill/Port Colborne
Essential Collective Theatre
Vince Thompson
Redfish Entertainment
Community Artists Niagara
Niagara Gallery

Me to We

About this blog

Most of what you see on these pages are my photos, taken both in my career as a journalist and on the many days I've had the desire to snap a few candid shots. All are taken with what friends and most acquaintances know is my prized possession - a Canon Rebel XSI. It's a rare day that I don't have it hanging around my neck.
My reason for starting this blog was originally to promote my first venture into multimedia/movie making, a seven-minute video of photos taken at Thorold's Olympic Torch Route event. I needed an effective way to get this out to as many people as possible without it being lost in the sea that is YouTube. Since then, the purpose of Mind's Mural has expanded to promote not just my own work but that of the many talented people I've met in my career. Who couldn't use a little free advertising? Visit Stuff I Like to find a mass of local (Niagara-based, mostly covering the Thorold/Welland/Dunnville and sometimes St. Catharines areas) non-profits, individuals, musicians/bands and artists I've had the pleasure of meeting and events I've attended.
If you are a Niagara-based non-profit, band, etc. (especially from Thorold!) and/or have an upcoming event or cause you'd like help promoting, leave a comment here or contact me at and I will review and feature in Local Listings. Admittedly, this results in my blog serving a dual purpose, which I understand is a no-no, but I am far too lazy to manage two blogs.
The name Mind's Mural owes its inspiration to a local attraction in my favourite city Thorold (in case you couldn't tell). There, a group of volunteers is working on Canada's largest mural project. It runs along the Welland Canal Parkway and provided many a story during my time at the Thorold Niagara News. As I thought about names for my blog, I got thinking of how that project expresses the achievements, character, growth and history of the city, its tragedies and triumphs epitomized, personified and painted on a wall. I'm hoping this blog will do the same for me!


Don't ask for help...
Can You Blame Them?
(courtesy of Oddly Specific)

...or lick the windows.
Funny Signs - But How Else Will We Keep Them Clean?
(Oddly Specific)

Get this lady some alcohol.
omg i so need a glass of wine or i'm gonna sell my kids
Courtesy of Autocomplete Me

RMR: Rick and Bobsledding
I love Rick Mercer and his weekly exploits. This Tuesday, he was off to Calgary's Canada Olympic Park to bobsled with Olympian Kaillie Humphries. View the ensuing hilarity and find out why visiting Koreans are hurling themselves down a hill @ 130 clicks. According to one, "they signed a waiver, and there you go."

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