Environment & Diversity Blog

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The experience of watching an inspiring documentary: Living Downstream

I got this wonderful opportunity the other day to attend the screening of the documentary Living Downstream. It was truly an engaging and an inspiring experience. The reason for it being so I felt was because it went beyond the technical investigation about the connection between cancer and environmental toxins and rather raised the banner to an inspiring depiction of a scientific inquiry.

The documentary is based on the acclaimed book Living Downstream by ecologist and cancer survivor Dr. Sandra Steingraber. Her journey as depicted in the documentary was to break the silence about connections between cancer and environment which is not only inspiring but provokes one to question the endless stream of “developmental activities” outside us that may lead us to a point where one might end up paying more cost than reap any fleeting short term benefits. The documentary beyond the scientific inquiry into the relationship between cancer and environmental toxins was an exquisite blend of biology, science, poetry and the power of human spirit.

As someone really passionate about environment and its dynamic interaction with people I was really motivated with the theme as to how one person as a cancer survivor takes the bold step on the journey to bring home some of the very serious issues about relationship between living beings and the environment we live in that we can no longer afford to ignore. The documentary depicts various studies that reveal the existence and the extent to which so many chemicals and poisons have become so pervasive into our environment. One can no longer ignore these venomous chemicals that have the ability to spread their claws through the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. So where does one locate the roots of the problem? Is it one terrible chemical being used here and there or rather is it the cycle of developmental activities and its impact on the environmental system that needs to be addressed?

The documentary mirrors the dynamic interaction of our genes and the environment we reside in. The genes that are not only triggered because of the genetic changes that might run in the family but also the changes that might get triggered as an effect to what is happening within the environmental system; slow but definite. Our endless reliance and increased usage of chemicals into the environment to reap short term benefits is actually leading us downstream, the path that leads to devastating effects on the environment and health of the species. Henceforth, the inquiry that needs to be dealt with is: If the Cost that might have to be paid with our well-being is it worth it?

As a newcomer to Toronto and indeed to Canada the documentary brought home to me once again an example of the environmental problems and its impact to the populace that live in the developed world. Beyond the larger debate my take from living Downstream was the power of human spirit, which moves beyond the misery of one’s personal experience and reaches out to many others out there through ones determination, effort and the spirit. The way Sandra Steingraber puts it: ‘What we love we must protect’ and that there will be a definite way where each one of us can contribute and make a difference in our own unique way. After the documentary I indeed asked myself can I do it? Yes indeed I can, finding my own niche and contributing in my own unique way to protect our environment, to protect what we love.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Environment & Diversity Project Intern Training Workshops in Full Swing

The Environment & Diversity Project internship program is in full swing, with six interns working in each of our six collaborative member (partner) organizations, workplans in place and a training schedule organized. We've placed these passionate and bright young professionals into each of the partner environmental NGOs to work with under represented communities and help them focus on reaching new audiences; at the same time, the interns benefit from capacity building activities led by Sustainability Network such as a customized professional development training program and networking opportunities with sector leaders. In addition, project leads in each of the six collaborative member organizations provide mentorship and guidance to our new young team.

So far our training program has included some great workshops specifically tailored project goals and to the interns' needs. In February we held a full-day orientation and team-building event with interns and their supervisors; in April we had our first project check-in and a social media training session with Cassie Barker; and just today interns participated in a facilitation workshop led by Nidhi Tandon and Kathleen Padulo. Next month we'll be hosting a First Nations Awareness training workshop with Kathleen and the second workshop on social media with Cassie. A summer workshop is also in the works, and will focus on anti-racism.

And don't worry - we haven't forgotten about workshops for our network! Last year we held two board diversity training sessions and and ethnic media and communications workshop, and in January we held a First Nations Awareness workshop - click on the links to find some valuable resources!

Plans are in the works for a new workshop series this fall - stay tuned!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Looking at Things from a New Perspective

In our Environmental Diversity Project, we talk a lot about looking at the environment from a different perspective - a more diverse perspective. When I began working as the Diversity Coordinator for the Bay Area Restoration Council, I quickly learned the benefits of looking at things differently.

Our four busy staff sit in the small and chilly basement known as the Bay Area Restoration Council’s head office. The location is a major advantage for our organization’s outreach. Why? This tiny office is located in the heart of Hamilton’s thriving, multicultural university, McMaster.

I soon learned how beneficial such a location can be when I tried to tackle one of my first assignments on the job. I had to find a way to reach out to non-Anglophones who enjoy our waterfront parks and beaches.

For the last few years, we’ve been handing out flyers that warn people of the issues associated with feeding geese and gulls near Hamilton Harbour. Besides the more obvious problem of possibly getting your fingers nipped, these fed birds will hang around the beaches and ‘expel’ more ‘feces’. Their feces have nasty bacteria in it that often causes our beaches to be closed. It’s gross, but true.

Unfortunately, these flyers were missing a big segment of the ‘geese feeders’. Many of whom are folks not fully literate in English.

I needed to figure out a way to easily and effectively translate our flyer and reach out to this multilingual group on a limited budget. One quick look at the campus life whirling around me, told me to look no further! I had an extremely well-educated, diverse, multi-lingual group of students surrounding the BARC offices, ready to lend a hand.

Within a few hours of e-mailing all the leaders of culturally-based student groups on campus, I had the text I needed eloquently translated into four new languages.

Please Don’t Feed the Birds!


Xin đừng cho chim ăn!

!Por favor no alimente a las aves!


Prosimy nie karmić ptaków!

(Many thanks to Omar and Kasim for helping translate this text into Urdu and Spanish as well.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reports Highlight Unique Challenges, Experiences and Perspectives of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada

Two reports about Aboriginal peoples in Canada recently came across my desk that I'd like to recommend to our network:

Aboriginal Communities in Profile: Ontario

This is a report from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) that provides in-depth analysis of the demographic trends of Aboriginal communities in Ontario. For highlights, check out OTF's press release; and click here for the full report.

Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study

Published by Environics Institute and also supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, this study is a departure from a reporting of the "facts" and instead focuses on the "values, experiences, identities and aspirations of urban Aboriginal peoples." Read the report and visit the project website if you want to learn more about and understand the experiences and perspectives of Aboriginal peoples living in urban centres.

Looking for more resources? Access facilitator presentations, handouts and web links by checking out Sustainability Network's First Nations Awareness Workshop held this past January.

Do you have resources to share? Post a comment and include a link!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Telling Wild Animal Stories

A couple of years ago I had the honour of working with an indigenous community that lives in the Amazon jungle. The forest and rivers surrounding their community was an enchanting place that deserved being protected. You could feel the place was special by walking into the jungle and immersing yourself in the multitude of sounds, smells, and sights. The stories that the elders of the community told us at night accentuated the magic of the place. In getting to know people there, I got the sense that the stories held deep significance upon their lives and their relationship to their environment.

Electronic media has probably made a significant contributing factor to the demise of oral storytelling in society, but nonetheless I have heard storytellers among different cultural and religious groups through-out Toronto. Humans are storytelling creatures. We love to hear stories and tell stories. So when I was given the challenge to engage diverse communities in the Greater Toronto Area in wildlife conservation, I thought of using storytelling as way to invoke wild animals in the imagination of diverse communities.

Some of the most prominent conservationists, such as Grey Owl, have used storytelling as their medium for educating the public. In the 1930s, Grey Owl raised awareness about the importance of protecting wilderness in Canada. He captivated his readers and audiences through storytelling, where he would recount animal tales or tell stories about his experience living in the wild, which provided an accessible and engaging medium for teaching a conservation ethic.

The focus of my diversity outreach in working with Wildlands League will begin with the South Asian community, which in itself consists of a diversity of cultural and religious communities. In reaching out to the Muslim-South Asian community I am preparing a contemporary retelling of the 10th Century Islamic tale The Animals’ Complaint Against Humanity. In the original version of the story, a group of humans become shipwrecked upon an island uninhabited by humans. The humans make a settlement upon the island and quickly begin to oppress and abuse the animals. The animals make a complaint against the humans to the King of the Spirits. What follows is a fascinating story about the meaning of being human and our responsibility towards nature. In my retelling, the story is relocated to Ontario’s Boreal Forest to help us reflect how this medieval story can inform perspectives on wildlife conservation in this region.