By Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB
Elsie James (83) pulled into Fernie, British Columbia, with her family when she was seven. The rain-drenched moon raised its Aladdin’s lamp to the stars, conjuring magical shadows into being. The next morning, crimson streaks were smeared across the skyline, mountain topping mountain. Entranced by a magnificent view of the shimmering mountaintops, James — a prairie girl by birth — announced to her mother that she would live among crags when she grew up.
Sure enough, we find her among the mountains, symbols or images of other reality, 74 years later at home in High River, Alberta and, for months at a time, in Nepal — a poor land-locked state between Tibet and India — which features eight of the world’s 10 tallest mountains.
“I’ve been hypnotized by mountain ranges ever since that morning in Fernie, so, when I retired after three decades in banking, I trekked to Mount Everest, Nepal, in 1995,” James said on the phone from her Alberta home. “My metaphysical connection with mountains and the Nepali people led to a second career short on financial compensation, but long on self-fulfillment.”
International charities have been working in Nepal since 1951. Elsie James of Calgary, Medical Mercy Canada (MMC)’s Nepal Country Manager, has been making two trips there every year for a total of five months annually, usually in the spring and fall, the timing depending on needs at the other end.
First encounter with Nepal
Her first official trip to Nepal was for an NGO called PartnerShip Canada in 1996; James was there full-time until early 2000, except for brief visits to Canada. She continued to work with village schools and supported her activities by bringing tour and trekking groups to Nepal after PartnerShip downed shutters until 2007, when Medical Mercy Canada, a registered Canadian charity, adopted her projects, taking them under their wing.
(At right, Elsie James with summer intern, David Bobyn, at the opening of Sanskrit High School in Maidi, Dhading District)
James began working with Kanti Children's Hospital in Kathmandu 2008. She organized a fund-raising trek to the Everest Base Camp on her 75th birthday. New plumbing, electrical wiring, the installation of a new kitchen, painting the building inside and out, and replacing the leaking roof, were needed at the hospital’s Shelter House. This is where family caregivers stay while helping their hospitalized children. Everyone on the trek did fundraising in their communities, and a portion of the trek fee also went to the Shelter House Fund. The trek, called "Trek 4 Kanti Kids" (aka Granny's Grunt), raised approximately $29,000. The work was completed in 2011.
MMC also has an emergency fund that helps families unable to pay for extended treatment, blood transfusions and special diagnostic tests. The Shelter House is managed by a Nepali NGO, Social Action Volunteers-Nepal (SAV-Nepal). In 2015, SAV's annual reports showed 6,801 occupied "bed- nights" in the Shelter House Dormitory and 146 children financially helped to treatment and diagnostic services.
Between 2005 and 2014, they were improving sanitation at village schools, organizing annual medical or dental clinics in remote villages, and operating a mobile medical clinic that employed four Nepali health workers who made the rounds to four remote locations where villagers lacked access to health posts or hospitals. The free clinics were served by Nepali and foreign volunteers.
The last, large medical/dental camp was in 2012. Like its predecessors, it included workshops, teaching villagers the importance of clean water, water treatment options, sanitation and hygiene. By 2012, travel and food costs within Nepal had become too expensive for large mobile clinics to continue to be viable.
Road access to centrally-located District Hospitals had also improved, enabling transportation of patients from villages to District Hospitals for medical care. “We are now concentrating more on health education and prevention than active treatment,” says James.
Providing education and water
Beginning in 2006, MMC trained and paid four village youths in Tipling Village Development Council (VDC) to act as Classroom Assistants in three schools, to help the overworked teachers. The Tipling villages are in a high valley just south of the Tibet border in northern Nepal. The attendance of teachers and students had been irregular, and the villages unable to solve the problem. One teacher had three grades with a total of 105 students in ages ranging from 5 to 14 — and was expected to teach them all. Attendance and parental support of the schools improved with the provision of help for the teachers. “We supported this project for five years until the situation improved, and then moved on with the local government taking more responsibility,” says James.
MMC did its first major water project, bringing water to taps serving 84 homes in Khare Village Development Council, Dhading District, in 2013. Three reservoirs were built, and an electric pump raised the water from a spring 500 feet into a storage tank above the village. Gravity-fed pipelines from the reservoirs distributed the water to 14 tap stands conveniently located to clusters of homes in the local villages.
This was a joint project funded by MMC and a partner, the Bethany Baptist Church in Puyallup, Washington. Before this, the village women carried water cans from the spring in baskets on their backs, 500 vertical feet to their homes over a rough, steep trail. This was a project that made a sustainable difference to everyone in the villages served — especially the women who no longer had to carry water to their families at least twice each day.
School for the deaf
That same year of 2013, MMC joined hands with the founders of the Swabalambi Primary School for Deaf Children in Dhading District. The school opened in 2012 in borrowed quarters, an unfinished farm house, but needed to move from there. There was no educational facility available to children with profound hearing loss anywhere in the District. One was sorely needed.
Today, the school is in new quarters on land donated by a local farmer. A partnership of several donor agencies, including MMC, the local community and municipal government, made this dream come true. The school now has three floors — incomplete, but functional. Its 64 students live full-time at the school while becoming proficient in Nepali sign language and standard curriculum courses. Its 64 students live full-time at the school while becoming proficient in Nepali sign language. There are plans for parents’ sign-language workshops and vocational training for students not wanting to pursue academics.
Much of Nepal, including its capital city Kathmandu, was savaged by earthquakes in 2015. Says James, “The April 25 and May 12 earthquakes of 7.8 & 7.3 magnitudes on the Richter scale, did not physically affect the whole country. About 14 of 75 districts were affected, with the brunt falling on seven districts, including Dhading, where we were working. There were more than 400 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or more since the initial quakes.”
MMC reacted immediately after the quakes. Emergency supplies were gathered and delivered to devastated villages in its service area, putting other projects on hold temporarily. Then, in the following 10 months, with the help of many donors, including Canadian Nepali organizations, nine villages’ schools were rebuilt and ready for occupancy for the new school year, beginning April 2016.
Families hope to vacate their temporary shelters in resettlement camps before another monsoon starts in mid-June, but their future is still a question mark and recovery a long, dark, winding road into the unknown.
A school at Muralibanjyag, the first of nine to be built by MMC, was completed in November 2015 in partnership with the Calgary Nepali Community Association (CNCA). They did not respond to e-mails sent by New Canadian Media.
Another school was inaugurated in Dhading 10 May 2016, in transitory sunshine and clear skies. District, VDC, and political party leaders thanked the sponsors, organizers, volunteers and construction team. The last three speakers had, however, to shout to be heard over thunder and lightning. This project was also in partnership with the CNCA.
Ramesh Dhamala, district president of the Nepali Congress Party, unveiled a donor plaque with James.
Mules were the only carriers that could access many places MMC worked, till recently. That changed with the introduction of jeepable roads.
(At right, micro-enterprise trainer Bimla Dhakal teaching menstrual health education at a typical countryside school in the Himalayan foothills.)
MMC inaugurated the Single Women's Hostel in Dhading Besi in partnership with the local chapter of Women for Human Rights, Single Women's Branch , in May 2014. The hostel provides a temporary dormitory for women in transition, and vocational training rooms. (Micro-enterprise Trainer, Bimala Dhakal, teaching the girls menstrual health education at a typical countryside school in the Himalayan foothills, picture at right)
“Currently, we are sponsoring a start-up program jointly funded with a US NGO, ‘Project for a Village,’ for a micro-enterprise group that is producing menstrual hygiene kits to be distributed in conjunction with an education program for girls in Grades 5 through 10 in the District’s government schools,” continues James: “This program was founded by ‘Days for Girls’ and is being expanded into Nepal.”
The Karuna Girls’ School and Women's College in Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, was a project that was brought to MMC by Trevor Ironside of Calgary, who was sponsoring it, and raising money to establish the school in partnership with a Canadian Engaged Buddhism Association (CEBA). MMC adopted the program. Ironside is now president of its Board and MMC still very involved in the project. “Trevor is the one who manages this one,” continues James: “ It is a great project and they are now hoping to expand on property they have acquired, to build a hospital and nurse training program in conjunction with the school one day.”
Ashoke Dasgupta is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Winnipeg. He has won three journalism awards in Canada and Nepal.
By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC
New Canadians from South Asia, China and the Philippines are more likely to donate to charitable causes than the general population, a new survey has found.
The survey by the Angus Reid Institute and CHIMP or the Charitable Impact Foundation, found this segment of Canadians – many of whom are motivated to give by their personal religious faith – are more likely to donate to charitable causes than the general population, and more likely to say that they should be doing even more than they already are.
The key findings stated:
• From poverty reduction, to faith-based issues, to human rights, people born outside Canada are more likely to have donated to each of the 11 charitable areas canvassed in this survey;
• While three-in-ten respondents from the general population (30%) say they should be “doing more” to contribute to charitable causes, this sentiment increases to four-in-ten (41%) among those born outside Canada
• Seven-in-ten immigrants surveyed (71%) say their religious beliefs have a strong influence on their giving habits, while fewer than half of the general population say this (46%)
• Money sent to family overseas is a significant source of giving for immigrants – one-in-four (27%) are currently sending money in this way
The survey sample was primarily drawn from individuals who were born in the top three emigrating nations – China, India, and the Philippines – though a handful of respondents say they were born in another country outside of Canada.
In addition to the sample of 439 residents born outside the country, this survey also captured a large group of second-generation Canadians.
“With the percentage of Canada’s population who are immigrants expected to grow in coming years, this segment becomes more important to the Canadian story with each passing year,” said Shachi Kurl, the executive director of the Angus Reid Foundation.
The survey authors said in their report that Canadians as a whole population can be divided into four groups in terms of their charitable behaviour: The Non-Donors, The Casual Donors, The Prompted Donors, and The Super Donors.
The Non-Donors (14% of the general population) are just that: People for whom donating money is simply not something they do. At most, members of this group donate less than $100 dollars and support just one charitable cause in a typical year. The vast majority of this group is even less charitably active.
Slightly more active in their charitable activities are the Casual Donors (31%). Members of this group spread their money around, with most donating to at least two different charities each year, but none of them report donating more than $250 annually.
The other two groups – the Prompted Donors (34%) and the Super Donors (21%) – are each significantly more likely than Casual and Non-Donors to support a variety of charities and to spend more than $250 per year.
Those born outside Canada are much more likely to fall into the Super Donor category. More than one-in-three (36%) may be considered members of the most generous segment of the population, compared to one-in-five (21%) within the overall population, said Kurl.
Across each of the 11 donation areas canvassed in this survey, those born outside of Canada are more likely than the general population to have volunteered or donated to all of them, with the exception of animal welfare causes.
Notably, second-generation Canadians as likely as immigrants to volunteer or donate in many charitable areas. This means that they are also much more likely than the general population to be involved. There is however, a large disparity between first and second generation Canadians in two areas – religious causes and involvement in their own ethnic community.
The role of personal faith is evident among Canadians born overseas. While just three-in-ten (31%) among the total population say they are involved with a religious or faith-based cause, this number jumps to six-in-ten (61%) among immigrants and four-in-ten (43%) among second-generation Canadians.
When looking at the impetus to give, faith is again a factor. Seven-in-ten immigrants to Canada (71%) say their own personal faith has a strong influence on their views of charitable activities. Just under half (46%) of the general population says this. Second-generation Canadians fall in between these two groups (55%):
One-in-four immigrants (27%), are also currently sending money to family overseas in the form of remittances. This represents double the number of second-generation Canadians who say the same (13%), while just a handful of general population Canadians say they are currently remitting.
The group remitting in the greatest numbers, by a large margin, are Filipino immigrants. Among this group, 43 per cent say they are sending money back overseas currently, while those from South Asia (25%) and China (15%) report doing so at a much lower rate.
New Canadians also ranked higher in the “should be doing more to support charitable causes” segment when compared to the general population.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional and journalist based in Vancouver. Mann is also a member of the NCM Collective and regular contributor for New Canadian Media. This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
VANCOUVER – Two Vancouver-based South Asian tax consultant brothers are headed to jail for running a scheme which saw them give out millions in fake charitable receipts.
Fareed Mohammed Raza, 42, and Saheem Mohammed Raza, 35, have been sentenced to 51 months each after being found guilty of using a real charity as a vehicle to help their clients avoid paying nearly $5 million in taxes.
by Shenaz Kermalli (@ShenazKermalli)
When Michelle Chagpar, an information technology professional from Toronto, told her employers she was taking two weeks leave to travel to Iraq to carry out humanitarian work, they were more than a little taken aback. “They were very surprised,” she says. “But just before leaving, I mentioned it to a client and they asked how they could get involved. For the most part, that’s been the reaction from people.”
Concern over Canadians visiting Iraq right now is far from misplaced. With the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and Iraqi forces still battling over control of Tikrit, and dozens of foreigners – from charity workers to journalists – kidnapped and killed on a daily basis, Iraq remains highly dangerous, particularly for Westerners. Only a handful of international charities remain in the country.
The volunteers from the BC-based charity Global Kindness face an even greater threat. Most of them belong to the Shia sect of Islam – the minority group that has been targeted most brutally by ISIS. ISIS fighters believe that the Shias are heretics and must die in order to forge a pure form of Islam. While Yazidis, Turkmen, Christians and the country’s other minorities have also been singled out, the risk to Shia Muslims is far more widespread. Last year, ISIS claimed on Twitter that it had killed at least 1,700 Shias in one month alone.
But that hasn’t stopped Vancouver dentist Dr. Hasnain Dewji from venturing on a high-risk mission to Iraq with Global Kindness, which he founded in 2002. The charity takes at least two trips each year to provide medical, dental and optical services to people in impoverished countries. It has run missions in Iraq before, but not since the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq in June 2014.
500 Children Treated
This year, 24 Canadians, including nine dentists, an orthodontist, a periodontist, a paediatric dentist and nine other trained volunteers, joined the mission. They left Canada for the southern city of Najaf via Turkey on March 19 and so far have treated about 500 children, most of whom are orphans, in the southern cities of Kazmain, Kerbala and Najaf. Treatments range from preventative care in the form of fissure sealants to fillings, extractions and stainless steel crowns.
“We are so blessed, especially in Canada, that we need to give back as much as possible,” Dewji says. “And the people we help are very appreciative. They tell us that very few people are willing to give their time and skills, and that being treated with dignity and compassion is something they don’t see often.”
“Some of their stories are heart-wrenching,” he adds. “One of the kids we saw last time was known to never smile or laugh. He told me he was sitting in his dad’s lap when his dad was shot dead.”
“I fixed his teeth... But I couldn’t get him to smile.”
Volunteers Impacted Forever
Volunteering overseas is something the Ugandan-born dentist feels so strongly about that he’s turned it into a family experience. His nine-year-old daughter happily joined the Iraq mission this year. “She likes playing with the kids and giving them the gifts we bring for them after their treatment,” says his wife, and fellow volunteer, Fatemah. Their four other children have also joined Global Kindness on previous trips to Cambodia, Peru and Haiti.
For Chagpar (pictured to the left), a vice-president at a software company, a humanitarian dental mission abroad initially felt far out of her comfort zone. But the Iraq trip this year marks her fourth mission with the charity and she says she comes back to Canada feeling inspired each time. “One time we treated a boy with long hair,” she recalls. “In Iraq, the boys all have really short hair, so it was a bit odd to see. After inquiring, we learnt that the boy has been injured in a bomb blast and had extensive scarring, hence the long hair. Whenever I feel down, or like I’ve lost focus on what’s important, I think of him. Even after everything he had been through he would still be laughing.”
Another pivotal moment for the group came during the long drive from Kazmain to Karbala with a driver who said he was a high-ranking soldier on leave from the army. “He pointed out areas along the way where the army had pushed back against ISIS,” says Chagpar. “You could see the devastation on the country side the war has caused, but you could also see how these people are trying to overcome it. They are slowly, but surely, rebuilding and that is an amazing thing to see – and you see that attitude in the orphaned children as well. They don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Twenty-one other volunteers from Global Kindness’ U.S., U.K. and Africa chapters joined the group on this mission. The Canadian volunteers will be returning on April 3.
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A charity out of Canada - Peterborough, Ontario to be exact - is total...
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