Monday, 24 December 2012

Wishing you were here

Happy Merry Christmas Eve and other holidays from me and the Christmas gecko.  Yes, he made his annual appearance this year, leaping wildly out of the fake Christmas tree as I moved it from behind the couch to in front of the couch (I have a shortage of storage space). He wished everyone the best for the holidays and ran back under the couch.

Today is just a post of a few photos taken along the way.  Wishing you a warm Christmas (although probably not as warm as me) and, dare I say it, enjoy a snowflake or two for me.

I may not have a live Christmas tree, but the poinsettias are bigger than I am!

Corrie and Colin came to visit this month - so lovely to host them again.

Doctor's Cave beach, and the derelict hotel with the best view in town,

It was an end-of-visit feast, with marinated steak and roast vegetables and potatoes.
This picture is from earlier in the year, but most of this crew sailed in the Jammin' International Regatta this month and we placed 4th out of 11 boats - we were very proud! (missing are Lauren and Nigel)

Nat, my fellow Cuso Mobay-er, came sailing on Diva and took some stunning shots, like this one looking back at the city.

I really am helming, you just can't see the wheel.

Look up!

The sky was on fire, I swear.
Just another day in paradise...

Thinking of family and friends at home (wherever that might be). Sending best wishes your way.

Photo credits: 1. me, 2. me, 3. Corrie, 4. Nataleah Hunter-Young, 5. Evelyn Harrington, 6-8. Nataleah, 9. me

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Collective energy

During my Cuso placement, I've spent a lot of time learning to work independently.  I don't have an office to go to each day, much of my work is via email, and although there are occasional visits to different organizations, it can be a bit slow and quiet. Although I am glad that I don't work at the pace that I used to in Toronto, sometimes it feels like not much is going on at all.

So, once in a while, something happens that reminds me that I am part of a bigger picture, and that things ARE happening, and it is inspiring.

On December 6th, Cuso International held a "Volunteers for Development Day".  This was in recognition of international day of the volunteer, and it was an opportunity to inform our partners about Cuso's research and strategic directions, invite potential partners to find out more about working with Cuso, and talk and learn about something that is becoming more and more important in the nonprofit landscape - social enterprise activities.

The event was organized by my colleague, Erin MacLeod, and was definitely a success.  About 50 people attended, and there was a constant buzz in the air after both the morning and afternoon sessions, as people talked about what they had heard, and chatted with each other, networking away.

The event was offically reported on by Cuso International in their online news, and both Erin MacLeod and Kate Chappell offered their own take via personal blogs.

For me, the afternoon session was the most interesting, as I already knew most of the information about Cuso presented in the morning .  Our main speaker was Dr.Knife, a professor at the University of the West Indies, based here in Jamaica.  He is a Rasta, and spoke with a lot of patois thrown in, so I had to listen carefully to understand what he said. With a sense of humour, he describe the context - Jamaica as a country where trust has been lost in the official institutions of the police, the politicians, and the pastors, leaving the grassroots community organizations to pick up the pieces for youth who can be described as "at-risk" - at risk of being unemployed, under-educated, and victims of violence of all kinds.  He put the onus on the people in the room to take action to enable a stronger future for Jamaica.  In effect, he said to all of us, "Your work matters."

Dr. Knife also painted a lively picture of the so-called "at-risk" youth.  According to one of the statistics in his presentation, when IQ testing was done inside of Jamaican's prisons, 13% of the men ranked at genius status. Overall, Jamaicans ranked 5th in terms of entrepreneurial proclivity worldwide, with Jamaican women ranking 3rd internationally.  He made the point that it was unlikely these young people were acquiring their intelligence once inside the prison, but that criminal activity was a logical step for many of these youth, either as a result of survival in gang-controlled territories, or from effective shut-out of the legal marketplace.

The discussion then turned to social enterprise.  In this context, social enterprise includes activities undertaken by an NGO to earn a profit, which in turn goes back to support the organization.  The second part of the afternoon included a presentation with one of our existing partner organizations, who run a social enterprise venture (partially developed by a Cuso volunteer) where the youth who attend the program learn skills in making a craft, and then that product is then sold, with the youth being paid piecework for their time, and profit going back to the organization to support the program. When done well, social enterprise can support a community organization, and teach valuable skills (and provide income) for participants.

There were many in the room who asked follow-up questions to the speakers, and you could see the wheels turning in their heads as to how to make this concept work for them.  I was inspired both by what was already happening and by the opportunities that emerged from the discussion. It was a good day to be a volunteer.

It doesn't matter where you are - a conference room is a conference room is a conference room.

Presenting something deep and meaningful about becoming a partner with Cuso International.

Wendy, on the left, a Cuso volunteer, with her supervisor, Mikel, who spoke about the partner-volunteer experience from both sides of the fence.

Attentive listening.
Dr. Knife, asking a question of the morning presenters - you can see how animated he was even from this picture.

One of the social enterprise products - hanging planters made from old tires. We raffled these two off to participants.

The Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica brought greetings for the event. I enjoyed meeting him, as you can see.

Photo credits all go to Varun Baker, another talented Cuso volunteer, both with the camera and a computer. You can check out his work here.

Friday, 7 December 2012

30 Things

A milestone, a round number, a grown-up age. Today I am 30 years old.  

I recently read "30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know by the Time She’s 30" by Pamela Redmond Satran, first.published in Glamour Magazine in 1997. You can read that list here.  Or you can read my own list below.

30 Things that I may or may not have and may or may not know on my 30th birthday:

  1. An established love of plane tickets (one might even say an addiction.)
  2. Some enduring activities that bring me joy - knitting, walking, boats of all kinds.
  3. A home in a beautiful place - and I have also lived in several ugly places, so I know what it takes.
  4. How to listen to my gut - never trust someone's decisions only on the basis that he or she is older or wiser or more experienced. I once drove all night in a snowstorm because I didn't speak up!
  5. Knowing what looks good on myself - Okay, sometimes I get this right, sometimes I just stay home.
  6. That exercise, eating well, and keeping house are ongoing necessities but do not have to be hellish tasks - a little music might even make it fun.
  7. Some good friends that I can reconnect with as easily the next day or after two years apart.
  8. How little I know. And how little I want to know about what happens next and how it all ends up. And how many opportunities I have to learn and explore and find out.
  9. That it isn't always happy endings.
  10. How it is important to wash my face and brush my teeth each day, but that's about it. And the world won't end if I forget a day.
  11. An adult relationship with my family - the ones I get along with, I see more of, the ones I don't, I try to sit far away from at family dinners.
  12. A good recipe for cooking swiss chard, in spite of my reaction at age 8.
  13. That I believe in the sanctity of life and my God has a sense of humour.
  14. That meals taste better when eaten with others.
  15. How integrity and self-respect are everything, whether I start from the bottom or the top.
  16. How the whole world is better when I've had enough sleep. And on that note, remind me to never make major life decisions during PMS or exam periods.
  17. That I can survive VERY STRESSFUL THINGS, even if it doesn't feel like it going in.
  18. A home is not a home without a bookshelf
  19. A deep pleasure from sunset drinks and appetizers.
  20. That I am not an island - reaching out for support is not weakness, but intelligent.
  21. That I don't like polish on my fingernails, or when they grow too long.
  22. How sharing life with a partner is magnificent.
  23. That listening to other people's stories, particularly those of my relatives, is often fascinating.
  24. How Christmas and birthdays come every year, so it's not worth worrying about making it perfect.
  25. That saying thank-you and smiling goes a long, long way, baby.
  26. That I am fallible and you are too, but that's okay - the pressure is off.
  27. A dislike of beets or poppy seeds, but the ability to eat them with grace nonetheless.
  28. Some voices that have stayed in my head a long time, (yes, I hear voices...) particularly my mother's, my junior high basketball coach, my elementary school swim instructor's.
  29. That "how much is enough" is a more complicated question then you would think.
  30. That I still have more than half of my life left and let the adventures begin!