January 27, 2010

Ken Graham honoured for humanitarian dedication

As published in The Erin Advocate

When Ken Graham distributes bedkits for Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW), he is bringing more than useful necessities to kids in developing countries. He is delivering a message from caring Canadians.

"It's a gift of love," he said, after receiving a Paul Harris Award from the Erin Rotary Club last Wednesday. "It is important that they realize that someone cares about them."

A farmer from the Coningsby area west of Erin village, Graham has made 16 trips abroad for SCAW. He has helped deliver 78,000 kits that include a mat or mattress, pillow, sheet, blanket, towel, mosquito net where needed, school supplies and clothes.

Each donation of $35 provides one kit, with 100 per cent going to benefit the child (not to administration). That direct link was one of the things that inspired Graham and his late wife Ann to get involved, after hearing the founder of SCAW, Murray Dryden, speak at the Hillsburgh Christian Church (now the Century Church Theatre).

Since 1970, the Toronto-based group has raised more than $20 million, and recently provided its one-millionth bed kit. Countries benefiting include Bangladesh, India, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Togo, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Philippines. Find out more at www.scaw.org.

Graham was at the Rotary Club's annual Charter Night dinner meeting to accept a $1,000 donation from Rotary to SCAW. He was surprised to see his children and grandchildren arriving for the event, and when President Jim Miller announced the award he seemed quite overwhelmed.

"I feel like I'm doing what God wants me to do," he said. "It is an honour – thanks so much."

In a SCAW newsletter, Graham wrote about meeting parents in the Philippines in 2007: "Most parents hope their child will be fortunate enough to go to college. This is a good indication that providing a bedkit that contains things for a good night’s sleep, suitable clothing for school, and school supplies is helping not only the child but the whole family."

Graham is also known for his work with the Erin Agricultural Society, and as a deacon at Ospringe Presbyterian Church.

The certificate for the Harris award (named for a founder of Rotary) cites Graham's promotion of "better understanding and friendly relations between peoples of the world." The award recognizes a shared purpose with the humanitarian mission of the Rotary Foundation. Mayor Rod Finnie was on hand for the presentation at David's Restaurant, and there were letters of congratulation from MPP Ted Arnott and MP Mike Chong.

Rotary Clubs often support Sleeping Children, since both organizations share a dedication to helping people in need, regardless of race or religion. The Erin club is celebrating its 12th year of service, and is looking for new members. Like many groups, Rotary International has established a Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. For more details: www.rotary.org.

As a footnote to my recent column about the Lacan Kwite bead makers of Northern Uganda, I got a message from Mike Simons of Orton, whose wife Miyeko supports similar enterprises in Africa. Her clothing and gift store Noinkee's, at 168B Broadway in Orangeville, carries Mined ReCreations handbags made from recycled fabrics, which provides education funding for young women in South Africa. They also sell woolen animal toy creations from the Kenana Knitters, a women's co-op in Kenya. For more details: www.noinkees.com.

January 20, 2010

If music be the food of literacy, sing on

As published in The Erin Advocate

One of the best ways for children to develop their language skills is an activity that ranks high on the fun scale. Our brains are programmed to respond to music and our voices are voices are built to sing it out – when we get the right opportunity.

Family Literacy Day is coming up on January 27. The theme this year is Sing for Literacy, and there are several Erin events designed to promote better communication skills. Research has shown that music can be an effective tool for developing reading and writing ability, according to the ABC Canada Literacy Foundation.

"Singing together is a fun way to strengthen language skills, and an easy way to involve every family member," said ABC President Margaret Eaton.

Getting people to feel comfortable singing is a specialty for Betty Wise of Erin, a former teacher-librarian who is hosting Sing for Literacy sessions, for people of all ages. She starts out with simple chants and familiar snippets of melody that make it easy for everyone to chime in.

"It doesn't matter what your voice is like," she said. "Music is stimulating, it gets you energized – it gets more of your brain active."

Call to register for the events, to be held at the Erin Library this Saturday, January 23 at 10:30 am (519-833-9762), and at the Hillsburgh Library, January 30 at 10 am (519-855-4010). The libraries are also running the annual Family Literacy Bingo game, in which children complete various activities on the squares of a bingo card to win a prize.

The Bookends used book store, operated by East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) at 45 Main Street, is having a half-price sale on all books, January 23-30. Any child who comes to the store on January 27 will be allowed to choose a free book to take home.

Parents should read to their children from the day they are born, as one of the ways to stimulate their imagination. People develop as communicators, not only by speaking, reading and writing, but through touch, spirituality, visual art, music, academics, theatre and sports. Learning to play a musical instrument helps develop math skills through the study of structure and rhythm.

Music education in the school system is quite variable. It can be good, depending on the school budget, the priorities of the principal and the talents of teachers, but it often falls short of parents' hopes.

EWCS will present the eight-week program, The Moon is Round and Other Rhymes, at the Hillsburgh Library starting March 25. Caregivers will learn songs, rhymes, finger plays and lullabies for babies, birth to twelve months only. Call Marlene MacNevin at 519-833-9696, ext. 223 to register. There is no fee.

School-aged children are invited to the Paws for Literacy event at the Hillsburgh Library this Saturday, January 23, 1-3 pm. With the help of Spirit Ridge K9 Training and Rescue, young people read stories to dogs that have chosen for their calm temperament. Animals, of course, are a non-judgemental audience.

"It is amazing how kids take to the dogs," said Librarian Donna Revell. "It is the only program where boys outnumber the girls."

Boys the world over are slower than girls in improving their language ability, but there is debate about the nature of the problem. Are parents and schools overly concerned with promoting higher levels of skill at younger ages, possibly taking the fun out the process and setting kids up for frustration?

Is it beneficial to make kids sit still for long periods of time, when they might learn more by moving and doing things? Is there an over-emphasis on reading, at the expense of other forms of literacy? Maybe young boys need more things to read that match their interests, like comics, science fiction, sports and adventure.

For more information, try these websites:
county.wellington.on.ca (libraries)

January 13, 2010

Watershed benefits estimated at $371 million

As published in The Erin Advocate

Most people know about financial "capital", the investments that drive our economy, as well as the term "natural resources", which includes timber and minerals that can be sold for a profit. Not in common use though is the concept of "natural capital", the value of services we get from our ecology.

"One of the key aspects of valuing ecological services is the idea that Mother Nature does for free what we would otherwise have to pay millions to do through technology and infrastructure," said Jeff Wilson, Ecological Goods and Services Project Coordinator at Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

He co-authored a recent report by the Pembina Institute and CVC, which found that the Credit River Watershed provides annual services worth more than $371 million to area residents.

The study attaches dollar amounts to various benefits we draw from nature. For example, if our groundwater supply became compromised, it would cost about $100 million per year to pump the required water up from Lake Ontario – just to maintain current water use.

"Because the value of natural capital doesn't show up on anyone's balance sheet, we end up using ecological resources in very inefficient ways," said Mike Kennedy, Senior Resource Economist with the Pembina Institute, a national non-profit think tank that promotes sustainable energy solutions. "We know we are living beyond the limits of nature to sustain our population."

You can download the report at www.creditvalleycons.ca or the Pembina site, www.greeneconomics.ca, but it is mainly a message to the provincial and municipal governments (which fund the conservation authorities).

Politicians should indeed heed the trend by looking at the big, big picture when deciding if and how land should be developed. We need to do a lot more with the land that has already been converted to urban landscape, as well as reforesting and naturalizing degraded lands.

If we had inherited a treasure, and in fact lived on top of it, how would we react if someone wanted to buy pieces of it at less than its true worth? We might simply say it is not for sale, or at least demand full price for the asset. But if we did not realize the value of what lay beneath our feet, or considered it an endless supply of wealth, chances are we would sell it off at a much lower price.

The study is called Natural Credit: Estimating the Value of Natural Capital in the Credit River Watershed. The authors play upon the word "Crédit", the name given to the river by French fur traders who supplied goods to the native Mississaugas in advance (on credit), for furs to be provided the following spring.

The dollar amounts in the study are only rough estimates. The authors admit to "inherent weaknesses" in their methods, but say their estimates are "conservative". They are adamant about the validity of considering the economic consequences before natural features are lost.

"We act as though the bank of nature has unlimited assets, and we keep making withdrawals as if there is no tomorrow," the report says. "By accounting for natural capital we can start to align our economic ambitions with our ethical environmental responsibility – to provide future generations with at least the same benefits from nature that we enjoy."

Here are some examples of the natural capital values (per year):

• $186.8 million provided by wetlands, in the form of climate and water regulation, water supply, soil formation, nutrient cycling and waste treatment.

• $140.6 million provided by various types of forest, including atmospheric, climate and water regulation, recreation, wildlife habitat, pollination and waste treatment.

• $14.5 million provided by waterways, including recreation and benefits similar to wetlands.

• $29.2 million provided by meadows and farmlands, with benefits similar to forests.

The watershed includes all the land drained by the Credit and its tributaries, including the headwaters in Erin and Orangeville, plus parts of Caledon, Brampton, Halton Hills, Milton, Oakville and Mississauga. The watershed covers 1,000 square kilometers and is home to about 800,000 people.

January 06, 2010

Erin gives Olympic torch an enthusiastic welcome

As published in The Erin Advocate

There are many good reasons to be cynical about the Olympic Games, the great spectacle that has us in its grip once again.

Despite the best efforts of TV networks to play up the positive, the Games have a reputation problem. There is a long tradition of corruption in the bidding process and the construction of facilities. So while there are certainly many honest people and organizations involved in the Games, there is a perpetual scent of scandal.

Then there are the controversies over performance-enhancing drugs and the opportunity to cheat. Again, not serious enough to taint all the honest athletes or destroy the Games, but still a serious, on-going problem.

The extreme commercialization of the event was perhaps in reaction to the financial disaster of the 1976 Games in Montreal. It took until 2006 to pay off the $1.5 billion debt. Now the Games make money, but we pay the price by enduring the onslaught of marketing from Coke, McDonald's and so many corporate sponsors. It makes the whole thing seem tacky.

No room here to go into the loss of the amateur ideal in favour of professionalism, with athletes treated as full-time PR agents by some countries. No one seems to be overly concerned about excessive nationalism distorting the ideals of human competition, as nations spend obscene portions of their gross national product to buy some elusive bragging rights on the world stage.

Most people are annoyed when the Olympics become an occasion for political protest, whether it be on apartheid, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (how times have changed) or the current controversies about the Olympic torch crossing Native land in Ontario and the plight of homeless people in Vancouver. The public does not respond well to chants like, "No Olympics on Stolen Native Land."

Whether the protests are valid or not, people are saturated. They have little interest in politics, especially when it interferes with something that is supposed to be entertaining. Despite attempts at reform, the International Olympic Committee is far from an accountable, democratic organization.

There's not much anyone can do, unless they want to protest in the streets, and be portrayed as a wingnut.

I find the politics fascinating, but there comes a time to set it all aside. Cynicism is a crutch I have been trying to do without.

So when the Olympic torch blazed its way through Erin last week, I was out on the street with my camera. I wore the bright red Olympic hoodie I got for Christmas, with the prominent label from the "Official Outfitters".

There were hundreds of people on the route and at Centre 2000, at 9 a.m. on the holiday Monday, and they were happy. The torchbearers were generous with their time, allowing many people to be photographed holding a torch.

I took a picture for The Advocate of the flame being passed from one torch to another. When I was touching it up on my computer, I zoomed in on a torch and was surprised at the slogan etched below the flame, cleverly clipped from the national anthem: "With Glowing Hearts".

The feeling was that Erin was lucky to have the torch pass through the community. Along the route, little kids had an excited gleam in their eyes, there were older folks waving Canadian flags, and though it was all over in less than an hour, it became an event to be remembered.

The torch brought people together and made them feel connected to other Canadians and the whole world, and there is nothing wrong with that. When you are feeling lucky, then of course, you are.