Ekta and Josh Bromley’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

Story #1:

In 1993, an amendment to India’s Constitution formally established ‘Panchayati Raj’ (local democracy) to provide representation for small rural communities.

38% of representatives in every Indian village council must be women.

In Maharashtra state, women officials have lobbied for medical clinics and facilitated significant reductions in polio cases, among other accomplishments.

One specific and especially shining example of results is evident in Wanoja village in Maharashtra state. Here, a woman official named Nirmala has displayed inspiring leadership.

Rural India is heavily dependent on agriculture, and there is a 4 month (and sometimes longer) intense monsoon season. While this season is a gift to the farmers in terms of providing much-needed water to the crops, it often also wreaks havoc by washing away the fertile and necessary topsoil. In the absence of any sophisticated irrigation systems and other ways to prevent this from happening, Nirmala started to experiment by collecting and placing small stones all around her farmland. She gradually created a high-enough makeshift dam that did, in fact, help stop the strong currents during the next rainfall. Seeing the results of her work moved the other farmers to action – including those who previously watched with some confusion and amusement as she had worked to create her individual stone piles. Thus, Nirmala’s action-oriented leadership has led to the construction of small stone dams all around Wanoja village and saved many-a-yield from destruction.

A second example of inspiring leadership is seen in the case of Chavvi Rajawat. Hailing from a village in the Rajasthan state, Chavvi left home to earn an MBA in the ‘big city’. She went on to work for multi-national companies for a few years to gain some hands-on work experience. In 2018, Chavvi gave up city life and her cushy job prospects, and moved back to her village, going on to become India’s youngest Sarpanch (head of the village council). Under her leadership, the village council has found solutions for building roads and toilets, and has lobbied to bring water and power to the 7000 residents of the village.

Story #2:

In 2010, a young gentleman named Roman Gaus happened upon a ‘farm’ in his town in Switzerland.

In 2011, drawing inspiration from that farm, and based on his vision for sustainable, real, robust and scalable feeding solutions, Roman co-founded a company called Urban Farmers. The organization’s key mission was to increase food security and resilience to climate change, while respecting local ecosystems and creating an ‘urban oasis’ within cities and communities.

Urban Farmers was founded based on the principles of aquaponics – a method of combining fish and vegetable farming in a self-sustainable way that requires no soil.

In 2017, based on ‘environmental scans’, Roman came to realize that the communities he was operating within were beginning to want a different interaction with their urban farm. People wanted an experience where dialogue and gatherings became the norm. With this in mind, Roman is currently revamping his purpose and organizational structure to include intentionally designed events and gatherings.

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Helen Break’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

My Friend Gail

November 2018

Gail is married with two children in their 20’s. With degrees in Environmental Studies and Adult Education, she is an independent consultant who has been involved in the residential energy efficiency industry for over 30 years in a variety of capacities including as an air sealing contractor, energy and indoor air quality auditor, retailer, researcher, consultant and trainer.

If that is not enough, she is also a tireless volunteer for her neighbourhood, which she moved to in 1989 with her husband, but also her school, her church and her municipality – connecting the dots and people to develop, fundraise and implement community improvement projects. Gail, and her family, have also taken in, and are caring for, an elderly aunt.

To my bewilderment, she does all this without seeming to run short of energy, inspiration, smiles and laughter.

We all know the type. She enters a room of strangers yet manages to connect with many of them. She rarely lets an emotional cloud darken her sunny outlook on life. She remembers faces, names and facts. She maintains a high level of energy and engagement even in the most trying circumstances She delights in every encounter, and feels a sense of connectedness with her surroundings, both social and natural.

Gail’s professional career is breathtaking with leading edge research and a number of “firsts”. Here is just a sampling of her many achievements.

Right out of university, Gail had the privilege of working on the development of Ontario’s very first blue box program. This led to her helping to set up the world’s first sporting event recycling program at the Special Olympics in Minneapolis St. Paul in 1991, and her developing and delivering a training program for 200 recycling volunteers and cleaning staff at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

In 1999, she produced a ‘Household Guide to Water Efficiency’ for Durham Region, which was so well received she was asked to produce a national version for CMHC. Gail developed and delivered North America’s first Green Roof Design 101 course (2004). She also delivered CMHC’s indoor air quality courses across Canada for over a decade (2000 – 2011), and researched and produced publications for CMHC on Carbon Monoxide (2000), House as a System (2014), Making your Home Alternative Water Ready (2014) and Net Zero Energy Homes (2014).

She has been a sustainability consultant to the City of Pickering (2005 – 2010), was the coordinator of York Region’s Max Day Outdoor Water Reduction Program for three years, and has been a professor at both Durham College and Seneca College. She has prepared energy management plans and Partners for Climate Protection reports for the Township of Uxbridge (2014) and the City of Oshawa (2014).

Between 2007 -2008 Gail piloted Ontario’s first Aboriginal Energy Retrofit Pilot for five northern First Nation communities, which led her to her present work on the western shore of James Bay where she is working with three First Nations
communities (Attawapiskat, Kashechewan and Fort Albany) on major energy retrofits to reduce energy use and improve the comfort and health of the occupants. She has just completed Community Energy Plans for the communities, which help guide them towards a more sustainable future. As a sidebar to demonstrate Gail’s resiliency, while working in a remote FN community on James Bay she recently fell, dislocated and broke three bones in her foot and despite incredible pain, she

managed to take pictures of her 6 day journey to get home that included three hospitals, two surgeries, 8 road/2 air/2 water ambulances, and you guessed it – all with a big smile!

Gail has also been on the leading edge when it comes to her volunteer efforts.

Being an avid environmentalist, Gail spearheaded the creation of Durham Environmental Network (DEN). From 1988 to 2005, DEN held regular and inspiring community meetings throughout Durham Region on a variety of environmental topics. The group created wonderful environmental products including A Household Guide to Waste Reduction and Recycling (1992 and 1999), a Pesticide Information Kit, an Environmental Resource Directory (1994 and 2001) and a full-colour, 2 sided Durham Region State of the Environment Poster Map (1997).  It was through DEN that I met Gail in 1991.

Gail helped DEN morph into Durham Sustain Ability in 2005, a not-for-profit social enterprise that carried on providing environmental expertise and consulting services on energy and environmental matters. Gail served as a volunteer director through to its closure in 2018.

From 2007 – 2013 Gail volunteered on the Smart Commute Award Committee for Durham Region, reviewing company submissions demonstrating their efforts to encourage carpooling, public transit and cycling. Today, Gail is a recognized expert in her field andpart of the invited list of community stakeholders that have contributed to the creation of the Durham Community Climate Adaptation Plan.

Gail’s goal over the years has been to create a sense of community within the boundaries of her neighbourhood. The neighbourhood group she spearheaded is reflective of her leadership style. Everything they do helps community members come together and get to know each other. It is not run like a typical ratepayers group with a president, a secretary and monthly meetings. It works much more organically than that with individuals coming up with an idea, running with it and bringing along others who are keen to help out.

Here is just a brief sampling of how Gail gives freely of her time to her community, either directly or by helping those who have an idea get projects up and running.

In the late 1990’s, as a parent volunteer at her local school, Gail volunteered to update and maintain a large garden. She and another parent planted drought tolerant, pollinator-friendly native species with the students’ help. They created a curriculum that encouraged the teachers to explore the garden with their students. To celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary, they worked with the graduating Grade 8 class and created an outdoor classroom space under a large maple tree at the front of the school.

A few years later another graduating Grade 8 class agreed to fundraise with Gail to design and commission a piece of neighourhood art to acknowledge the efforts of a member of the community who was instrumental in the school garden design and maintenance, and who died very young from breast cancer. The woman’s daughter designed a ladybug crawling up a piece of grass. A metal artist recreated Rosie the Ladybug with repurposed metal including the round bottom of an old BBQ to make the ladybug’s body. This beautiful piece of art is over six feet tall and proudly stands in the middle of the school garden greeting everyone as they enter.

Speeders in her neighbourhood were a concern to Gail as a dog walker and later as a mother, so working with her municipality and Durham Police, she initiated petitions for speed reduction measures to slow down vehicles. The neighbourhood borrowed radar guns from the police and submitted license plates of speeders who, in turn, received letters of warning. After all of that effort the main recommendation from the Traffic Officer was to create opportunities for community members to get to know each other – “put a face to each home” so to
speak, so that is exactly what Gail has set her sights on. If people know their neighbours they are less likely to speed and be disrespectful when driving through the community.

Gail was instrumental in the creation of a community-wide Neighbourhood Watch program, the largest one in Durham Region and, she is told, perhaps Ontario. Around 80% of the community are connected by email to a Street Captain. Neighbourhood Watch signs and magnets, a branded neighbourhood tent (that anyone in the neighourhood may borrow) with the neighbourhood nameand logo were made possible through fundraising, of which Gail is a master.

Gail was instrumental in adding more seating and shade, as well as a pollinator- friendly garden to a neighbourhood park, and in developing several annual community events including Family Fun Day, Earth Day cleanups, Paint and Sips, Crime Prevention meetings with Durham Police and a charity yard sale supporting Joanne’s House, the local teen shelter. Volunteers also keep flower boxes on a bridge entering the neighbourhood, installed and planted by the municipality, looking great all summer long.

Gail’s family has hosted a neighbourhood Easter Egg Hunt for the past 21 years on Easter Sunday morning. It started with just a few families and has grown to over 125 childrenand spreads across 9 yards! Families drop off items to hide ahead of time and bring food or cash donations for Joanne’s House. Local teens earn volunteer hours at this event and at all of the other community activities.

This fall, Gail, along with others, introduced ‘kindness rocks’ to her neighbourhood. Painted by students at the local school, you write a message on a rock and leave it in a public space for someone to pick up. The idea being that one kind message at just the right time can change your entire day, your outlook and maybe even your life.

Random findings of the rocks are posted on the community’s Facebook page.

Recently approached by a community member to create more community art, Gail got people together to brainstorm. As a result, the group applied for a small grant to create a neighbourhood website and a local business directory, which will complement the well-used neighbourhood Facebook page and provide an opportunity to raise money for more community art projects and to offset the cost to host other community events.

Gail, rightly so, is a proud but never boastful recipient of the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Confederation of Canada award in 1993 and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee award in 2012 , both for community service. She received the Volunteer of Distinction Award from the local public school in 2008 and from the high school in 2012 and 2014. She received the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade’s Business Excellence, Sustainability Champion Award in 2015, and the Durham Environmental Advisory Committee’s Evylin Stroud Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

In closing, Gail is an absolute wonder to me. She lives by a motto by Margaret Mead that has guided her throughout her life. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

But, I think Gail also lives by another motto, much shorter and simpler… “Let’s make it happen.” And, she does.

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Barb MacKay’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

Two of us set out on a camping trip on Vancouver Island- it was September 2017 and the campground was beautiful, deserted and near the Juan de Fuca trail. We were excited as we had not camped for a few years. We had hauled out all our gear, made sure it all worked, and packed the car exquisitely to accommodate several camping trips on the island, interspersed with stops at friends and Airbnb’s.

At this first camp site, we set up our tent, and in filling our water bucket, noticed the sign “unpotable water- boil two minutes”. No problem- we had our stove! However, minutes later, it was apparent that we did NOT have the stove. We had left it on the floor of the garage. We had the propane canister but no way to use it.

The only commercial business within 25 km was a tiny cafe. So we hopped back in car, hoping to 1) beg for a bit of free water 2) buy something to make up for begging and 3) get a cup of coffee in our thermos to have lukewarm the next morning. Overhearing our story to the cafe owner, a local man, Wayne, we learned later, approached us and said I have a stove I can give you. Astonished we said, “could we pay you for it?”. He said “no, it’s really old, and I don’t use it anymore”. He asked where we were camping and when we returned to our site two hours later after a hike, a workable stove was sitting on the picnic table with a note from Wayne. He had gone looking for the plastic base to hold the propane canister. Sure enough, he showed up 5 minutes later and we offered him a beer. We learned about his community and how much he loved it.

When we went back to the cafe the next day to buy him a coffee, he was not there. The cafe person laughed when she heard our story. She said she was not surprised. “we call Wayne the mayor of Jordan River (population~35). He is always helping people out.”

We had the good fortune of being recipients of “Mayor Wayne’s” simple act of kindness generosity and kindness. He reminded us that life is always better when you can give and receive generously each and every day. What he did was normal for him, but an act of extraordinary kindness for us which we will never forget. The stove by the way, works much better than any camp stove we have ever owned.

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Antoinette Hubbard’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

I met Kristina on the plane coming back from NZ in July.  We started to talk and not only does she do this wonderful work, she is also the director here in NZ of a program called Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, which, to be “serendipitous”, was highly supported in its beginnings and still is, by my daughter’s father-in-law, Michael Maccoby.  And she had volunteered in the Dominican Republic and was well acquainted with the goddaughter that I have supported for several years now.  Talk about a small world. 

Kristina Cavit, MNZM

Kristina is the Founder & Director of The Kindness Institute. She has spent the past 9 years working with marginalised communities facing stress and trauma in New Zealand and around the world. She has trained with world leading organisations including Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Center for Mindfulness through the University Of Massachusetts Medical School, The Holistic Life Foundation, supported by Harvard and John Hopkins Medical School, and The Institute of The Work of Byron Katie.

Kristina is also the founder of NPH New Zealand, which supports almost 4,000 orphaned and abandoned children in Latin America. She lived at the NPH home in the Dominican Republic for two years in management, education and development. In 2018 Kristina was named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to youth and community. Kristina has been nominated for Young New Zealander of The Year 2018, received a Kiwibank Local Hero Award for her work in 2014 and a Womens Fund 2018 Champion of Change award.

Kristina is an experienced and dynamic public speaker and delivers inspirational talks to support people to explore mindful leadership, stress management, volunteerism and social change. 

As a Mindfulness educator and coach, Kristina is passionate about sharing practical strategies on how each of us can manage stress. Her point of difference is her ability to make challenging concepts accessible, highly engaging, transformative and fun. Based in Auckland, Kristina works with clients globally via Skype and all around New Zealand.

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Sheleena Jinnah’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

The story I want to share is actually from Mumbai. It is from my last visit 2 years ago.

When I visit Mumbai, I stay with a close friend of mine in her apartment in Juhu. As is customary in India, the families stay together. In this instance, the building is made up of three floors and each floor is a separate apartment housing the 3 brothers’ families. 

One morning I was leaving fairly early for an appointment and I noticed several children entering the building. They all took off their slippers and put on a pair that was laid out for them at the bottom of the stairs. 

I was curious as to who these children were and why they had to change their slippers to go upstairs. 

Upon enquiring, I found out that an elderly aunt who lived upstairs had taken it upon herself to teach children from the slums how to read and write. This would then allow them to secure better paying jobs in shops etc.

She taught children from the ages of 6 to 15 from 7am to 10am as then they had to go to work. She expected nothing in return from them. Apparently she had been doing this for the past 5 years and continues to do this to this day.

Children have come back to tell her of how their lives have improved because of her help. It was amazing to me how one person could touch so many lives. 

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Eileen Howard’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

PICKING UP THE TRASH  

By Eileen Howard

I’d like to introduce you to Allen and Ken.  Allen lost his job and so he and his partner Ken ended up buying a house on the “wrong side” of Parsons Avenue on the Columbus South side.  The East side of Parsons is an area known for high crime and low incomes.  Allen decided that he was not going to live in a trashy neighborhood.  So.. he did something about it.

Allen and Ken have started a revolution in their neighborhood by doing one simple thing:  Picking up trash.

Every day Allen spends part of his day walking through his neighborhood picking up trash.  When he first started doing so, people thought he was a little crazy.   Then they started asking him why he picked up trash.  He would share with them his vision for a safe clean neighborhood.  Before long, other people also picked up trash or at least didn’t throw it on the street.

Allen and Ken and some other concerned neighbors started the Ganther’s Place Garden Club and Block Watch.  Allen and Ken transformed the empty lot next to their house into a spectacular “pocket park” with community art, a greenhouse, green space, flowers and benches. 

Then, the drug dealers started noticing that the people who lived around there cared about their neighborhood and they moved their operation.

Now Ganther’s Place has two pocket parks with a gazebo stage, beautification efforts throughout the streets, annual garden tours and an arts festival, a large colorful mural at the entrance to their neighborhood, cleaner and safer streets, a gardening program with the local elementary school, and many other successes.  They have spearheaded a larger effort, in partnership with Keep Columbus Beautiful, to put flower planters up and down Parsons Avenue and hold community cleanups twice a year.  

And it all started with picking up trash – an effort that required no money, no organization, and only one person.

One great story from this effort concerns a missing tree.   Allen had bought two trees to plant in the pocket park.  He went outside and one was missing.  He followed the trail of dirt down to a house and banged on the door.  The woman who answered said she didn’t know anything about it.  Allen pointed out the tree was in her back yard.  Her grandson had apparently taken it.  

Allen carried it back to his house.  The next day it went missing again.  Allen was really steamed now, and he went back down and banged on the door.  This time the grandson was home.  Allen made the teen carry it back and help plant it.  He asked him, “Why did you take the tree?”   The boy replied, “It was nice, and I wanted to have nice trees and shade at my house, too.”

Allen then went and bought the boy a tree and took it down to their house.   Since then, that teenager has been involved in other efforts by Ganther’s Place and he and Allen are friends.

This story delights me because it shows how returning evil with good can be transformative.  It also shows how we can start with just our own resources and assets and end up transforming the world.    And, according to Allen, even losing your job can turn out to be your greatest asset. 

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Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference: Olorunwa (Wellington) Sanlola’s Story

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

TOPIC: ME AND MY LIFE

You might think that the difference you can make is insignificant, I too had that belief some years back. I thought to myself “what can someone like me living in  Igbekebo an area without any economic value with an average financial  means do to make a difference in this world”?

Many years back during my secondary school, though I never gave up schooling, I was doing my bit and also going for fishing with my father and brother after school.

After my secondary school education I wanted to forward my education by getting into a tertiary institution but nobody is ready to assist me because nobody ever believed in me, I remember vividly the statement directed to me by the entire member of my family that “No one would want to invest in bad product”.

The statement got to me angry and I had nobody to discuss it with because I was very young and stubborn.

The fish farming went on for a long time until I became a man that could stand and take responsibility of his actions or inactions.

June 12, 1995 my mother travelled to check up on me and when she was leaving back to Lagos I told her I was going with her; that my heart was no more in the village. After seeing a lot of tears rolling out of my eyes, my mother agreed to take me with her to Lagos.

After spending a month at home, I told my mum that I can’t continue sitting at home that I want to learn something that will forever put smile on my face and food on my table. Mum asked me “What is it that you love to do”? My response was Radionic (Radio and Television repairer).

That same week I was enrolled into an institution where I can learn how to repair Electronic device with the money I saved while in the village some years ago.

I walk a long distance to work because I don’t have money to board a cab for so many years. This hard situation kept on but I was focused, determined and ready to face anything life throws at me because I know it’s just for a moment: “Sorrow may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning”.

At a point in time I became the eye of my master because of the faith and trust he had on me, one day he called in his office and said to me, “Wellington, greatness is all over you.” I asked him why he said so, he replied by saying you are honest, patient and hard working, anybody who possesses these qualities will definitely soar high and make difference. This is how my Boss gave me the mantle of leadership and became the general just because I was hardworking and a fast learner. I became the one making all repairs because I had strong belief in what I do.

My patience, hardworking, zeal, tenacity, dedication and honesty to what I believed in made me, an ordinary assistant fisher boy in a remote village of Igbekebo in Ondo State to become an MD/CEO of three leading registered organizations in Nigeria, and mingle with Who and Who in Nigeria. Like the Formal President of Nigeria, Formal Navy Auditor General of Nigeria, Senators e.t.c

In Nigeria today among the three (3) organizations that I am the CEO, Olorunwa Electronic Service is the leading and rated best broadcasting engineering company, that deals in servicing, repairs and sales of all kinds of visual and audio broadcasting equipment. And DeLowatech Nig. LTD. Deals with installation of all kinds of CCTV and solar energy lights.

And OYLESN International Limited deals with automobiles and farming products.

Now it was an ordinary person, a bad product that nobody wants to invest in, that is now the CEO of three (3) Organizations and paying salaries to staff of the organizations and now making a positive difference by bringing long lasting solutions to all form of electronic device and broadcasting equipment in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

As I always remember my late father’s words, “Don’t allow what people say to destroy your life, live your life to be fruitful.”

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