Staci Kentish’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

I like to check out every day. It’s a site where anyone can post content, readers up or down vote each post and you see content in order of what’s been upvoted the most, so readers play a role in what content reaches the most people. There are subreddits, which divide content by themes that you can subscribe to to further curate the content you see on your home feed, sort of like a Facebook feed but instead of the posts of people you have as friends it’s the popular posts from the themes (subreddits) you’ve subscribed to.

One of the subreddits I subscribe to is TwoXXChromosomes, “a subreddit for both serious and silly content, and intended for women’s perspectives.” The subjects don’t always catch my attention, but lately I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about women who have noticed other women, women they don’t know, in dangerous situations and they step in to help. An example might be a woman notices that another woman is being followed or harassed and so she steps in and pretends to know the woman and either walks her away from the situation or stays until the harasser leaves. The posts are by the women who were helped, thanking the women who stepped in, whose names they usually don’t get and who ask nothing in return, who simply help them out of a tough situation and carry on.

I love knowing that not only are women out there, being aware and present for each other when we’re vulnerable, but that those stories are being acknowledged and shared on the internet, a place that can be so cruel and inhuman at times, but in this case being used to share these stories of simple kindness/great courage and inspiring others to be aware of each other’s needs and the ways we can show the same level of care in kind.

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Scott Russell’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

One story that I heard not long ago speaks to me in a profound way about the way people impact others through small gestures – ones that acknowledge what is good and offer encouragement.

This is a story about a small act of kindness, one person sharing and teaching another, but through that act changes everything. This is an almost imperceptible moment that has rippled out into the world. The teacher has no idea, which is all the more reason I think it’s important to tell this story. We change the world without knowing it – everyone of us – with every act of kindness.

The protagonist of this story has become a woman of profound change in our community. She is a mentor, a friend, and a force that has changed my own life. I have seen her do remarkable things. She is courageous and bold. I have seen her work improve life for tens of thousands. I’ve seen her hold the hand of the suffering, unable to take their pain away, but willing to stand in witness of that moment.

There are enormous triumphs that could be written involving the unfolding work of this woman’s life. However, when asked she would tell you this is the moment that made it all possible.

The Girl Who Chops Wood By Scott Russell

Kate’s fingernails were shellacked and painted a dark forest green that set off her eyes. Her eyes were a deep blue that morning but could easily show-up as an unexpected emerald, or anything in between, depending on her mood or the light.

Her outfit was carefully picked out. A cute flannel shirt over long sleeves, a white tank top, and her jeans were tucked into new hiking books. It was a late summer trip, with seasonal temperatures expected. “Dress in layers,” was the first bullet point under “Dressing for Your Adventure.”

A new rucksack, the same one recommended by the adventure tour company, was filled with all the other items on the packing list they gave her. Each item of clothing carefully selected, rolled tightly and tucked into the pack. They even recommend an order to it, what to pack first so that it’s at the bottom – perhaps an item least likely to be required on the first day. It was all very orderly which appealed to Kate.

She loved a good checklist.

There didn’t seem to be quite enough “stuff” for three nights and four days in the woods. Her own camping trips with her husband and young family always entailed so much stuff, so many bags, toys, inflatables, cooking equipment, boat accessories, all manner of items to tame the wild and recreate some of the creature comforts of home. This was a different approach, counter-intuitive to her, but one she embraced. It reminded her of summers at the lake with her grandparents. It seemed so simple as a child, but maybe there was just as much stuff then, being fretted over by her grandmother, and lugged from the car to cottage each time by her grandfather.

This trip was going to be different for her in many ways. It was the first time away without the kids. It was the first time without her husband, Reid, since they were married 10 years earlier. At first, she wasn’t sure about the trip, signing up somewhat impulsively.

It was organized by a group of other nurses at work, imagined as part team building, part return to nature exploration. All the clinical staff on her team would have an opportunity to spend the four days getting to know each other without the daily distractions and cold institutional confines of the hospital. They would work together to build a camp, portage through the woods – they would be free of intercom systems, buzzers, bells, phones, emails and fax machines.

There would be none of the creature comforts of home. The bare simplicity of the experience promised something between a Tolkien-like heroic quest and solitary enlightenment on the mountaintop. The glossy brochure stuck in her mind for days. “Discover yourself out here,” it beckoned with images of grand landscapes, deep green foliage and people working together, smiling as they hiked and cooked over an open fire and crossed rivers in the glorious sunshine.

But something else lurked beneath the surface for Kate. One image she kept coming back to: a young woman, early twenties, maybe the same age Kate was just before she married Reid. Before the children, before she became a dance mom and dutiful wife. Before the house and the boat, the trips to Disney. Before she put her own career on hold to support Reid. The young woman in the picture was looking straight into the camera, a small streak of mud smeared down her right cheek, hair wet and sticking to her forehead.  The hood of a poncho framed her face, beads of rain dripping and running over the hood frozen in the photograph. To Kate, it was the most captivating photo. She thought she knew what the young woman was thinking, feeling. She was cold and wet, yet strong and confident, holding a whole world of possibilities in her gaze.

The brochure wasn’t all sunshine. Like life, this trip was going to go on rain or shine. “Discovery yourself out here,” it invited. She signed up as soon as the first follow-up email hit her inbox. Over dinner that night she shared the idea with Reid.

 “Do you think you can handle that, Kate?” Reid mocked. “There won’t be anywhere to plug in your curling iron.”

The joke stung a little. Since returning to nursing part-time after 6 years and 2 kids, there had been a number of occasions when Reid’s humour carried an edge of disdain. He was the breadwinner. Her work was a ‘hobby’ he would jokingly remind her when there was ever a conflict between the demands of his job and her schedule.

 “Do you think you can handle it?” Kate shot back, “you’ll be outnumbered by the kids.”

She immediately regretted reacting, demonstrating she wasn’t as confident as she let on. He only smiled, no doubt knowing his mother would be available to help with the kids in her absence. They talked about the trip very little after that conversation.

Kate went about preparing for the adventure. Procuring new clothes, new equipment – even a new pocket knife. She read all the materials in the prep package twice. Each reading brought new unknowns and new challenges – new possibilities. She grew more excited and more apprehensive at the same time.

“Perhaps I should have thought about this or that before I signed up,” she would confess nervously to one co-worker or another.

Reid grew quiet about the adventure. Kate had resolved to go, and perhaps he sensed his kidding only served to strengthen that resolve. He decided to sit back and wait for the call, certain she’d give up on the trip and come home by day two.

The weeks flew by.

She went over the checklist one last time. The adventure of a lifetime was about to begin, she thought. She was ready, in her cute flannel shirt, and eyes of blue glazing anxiously at an unknown world emerging before her.


Wendel loved the woods. He began working as a wilderness guide after his undergrad years. He travelled up and down the west coast, but gravitated back to Ontario, when he started graduate studies. Summers in the wilderness, guiding people through the wilderness, it was a passion.  He loved it. It was his calling.

“It is amazing the change you can see in humans when they unplug,” he would tell friends. “They are changed. They go back to their urban landscapes but begin to hear the pigeons that were always there but that they had forgotten because they stopped listening.”

This group, the staff team of a clinic at some hospital in the city, he forgot which one, was a good example. Twenty-four hours into the tour, Wendel was beginning to see the signs that the wilderness experience was stripping away the sanitized protective coating most people wrap themselves in. Some embrace the wild with abandon. Others confront the limits they thought were the absolute boundaries of who they are – a terrifying and sometimes paralyzing experience.

Wendel saw his job as a teacher and educator. He shared his vast knowledge of the natural world with everyone. His deepest hope was that he was facilitating a connection to the earth, source of all life, so people could find ways to reconnect to their own humanity.

The natural world is unpredictable.

Kate relished the experience. The sun on her face. The foliage, just like the brochure promised. The air, crispy and fragrant.

The first day began as planned. The group was in good spirits, eight people including Wendel, three fiberglass canoes overhead, carrying their packs and equipment about 4 kilometers. The hike took most of the morning. After a brief meal at the side of the river, they glided upriver in their canoes.

Along the way, Wendel shared stories and insights about the wildlife along the river, the plants, the changes the seasons brought. Deep into the quiet and solitude of the woods, they made camp.

It was late in the afternoon. Working as a team they made dinner. Kate led the women, 4 women in total, while her 3 male co-workers were assigned the task of securing fire wood and building the fire.  They had unconsciously divided themselves into “the boys” and the “the girls.”

Wendel led “the boys” into the woods – another opportunity to educate on what should and should not be cut down to make fire.

Following dinner, they huddled around the fire, reflecting on the day, laughing and cajoling each other. Kate found herself wondering about the kids, thinking about Reid. Her worries about the trip into the wild seemed far away. She could do this, she thought. It was a long day and she was tired. But she was happy. She slept soundly in the dark confines of her tent, her anxieties disappearing into the night.

The sun rose and for a couple hours it seemed like this would be the perfect late summer day. Then the temperature began to drop, like a sinking stone, and the clouds moved in with haste. They had already broken camp and begun the next leg of their journey. They were caught with nowhere to hunker down.

The group pushed on. Wendel’s cheerful anecdotes silenced as the group’s mood sank in the storm. By late afternoon the rains finally let up. They had made it to their next site, but everyone was in a much more somber mood. And they were behind schedule. As they made camp, day light was starting to wane. Jobs were divided out with greater specialization, in the hope of settling in before nightfall.

Kate volunteered to get fire wood. Wendel led Kate out along the trail and then through a small thicket partially sheltered by the ridge that ran above the trail.

“Here he said, we can take down this tree,” his explanation trailing off as he dug out the equipment. “We don’t have much time Kate, it’ll be dark soon. We need a fire.”

Kate watched as Wendel demonstrated how to wield the axe. Two whacks and a generous chunk of wood popped out of the tree. He passed the axe to Kate.

“After we get it down, we’ll use the saw and remove the limbs,” he said. “We’ll use all the tree tonight and tomorrow. That’s important, no waste.”

He paused. Kate looked at him. He looked at the tree and back at her.

“Oh ok,” Kate said realizing for the first time she had the axe. Clearly it was her turn.

She grabbed the axe with both hands. It felt heavy and a bit awkward as she pulled it back. Then she let it fly. But the blade struck the tree at an awkward angle and turned flat against the trunk. A jolt reverberated up her arm and the handle twisted free of her grip removing the perfectly shellacked nail on her left index finger.

Kate winced in pain and dropped the axe.

“Are you ok?” Wendel asked.

“I’m ok,” Kate said, nursing her finger and trying to shake off the tingling up and down her arm.

“Good,” Wendel said. “We have to hurry.”

“Oh, you go ahead,” Kate said. “It’ll be quicker.”

“No, no, give it another shot,” Wendel said. “That’s how you’ll learn how to do it. Loosen your grip just a bit, focus on keeping the blade flat through the swing.”

Kate picked up the axe, figuring the sooner she showed him she understood the lesson the sooner they could get back. She swung again. This time the blade dug into the tree. She struggled to wrench it free and pass it back to Wendel. He put his hands in his pockets.

“Wendel, it’s your turn,” Kate said, slightly agitated. The tingling from the first swing was still dancing up and down her arm. He refused to take the axe.

“It’s not my turn, you volunteered for fire wood. I’m just here to show you how,” he said. “That swing was much better.”

Kate was uncertain what this meant, but recognized it was genuine encouragement. Kate took the axe into both hands again as she looked back at the tree. She struck again. A small wedge popped loose. She struck again, again. Another awkward angle. Tingling pain up and down both arms. She swung again. Again she struggled to wrench the blade free. Another small wedge of wood.

This is going to take all night at this rate, she thought to herself. She can’t do this. All doubts about the trip came rushing back. What was she doing here? Her feet were wet, neck and shoulders tired. She looked up at Wendel.

“You’re doing great,” he said. “But we need to move faster.”

“I can’t do it,” she said.

“You already are doing it,” he responded. “We need a fire Kate, everyone’s counting on you.”

She chopped away at the tree, enlivened with her sense of duty to the tribe, until finally it fell. She was exhausted. Her hands blistered and soar. A stabbing pain had wound its way up her arm and planted itself behind her right ear. She was exhausted.

“Great work, Kate,” Wendel beamed taking the axe off her hands, “now, let me show you how to take the limbs off.”

Kate’s felt nauseous at the thought of taking the rest of the tree apart. It was impossible. The sky was grey as twilight descended. There was a looming sense of time running out.

She watched Wendel demonstrate with the saw. It seemed so easy. She was envious. His self-assured approach to the tree, the saw in hand. She wanted some of that – the confidence that comes from being fully in the moment, unafraid of life. Isn’t that what she had come out here for? Wendel finished demonstrating how to remove the branches and passed her the saw.

“Do you think you can handle it, Kate?” Isn’t that what Reid asked, she thought as a wave of doubts washed over her. But Wendel asked the question innocently, no derision, with only empathy. He could sense her vulnerability in that moment, her fragility.

Can she handle it? She wondered. Tears welled in her eyes but she pushed them down.

“We need to hurry.  Go get the others to help carry,” she said. “I can do this.”

Gripping the saw she went to work dismantling the tree as night fell. Wendel watched as she worked with fierce determination. She barely noticed as he slipped away, moving back down the trail to recruit a few more hands to collect the wood.

In the dim glow of the day’s remaining light she stood over the now fallen tree, in pieces at her feet, her blade in hand. Hands burning, arms exhausted, she surveyed what she had done, knowing something had happened to her in this moment. Something changed. She had become a girl who chops wood.

There was a fire that night, more laughter, and in the morning a world of possibilities awaited.

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 are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out in the next few weeks: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Sandy Powell’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

I want to highlight the work of two women here in Costa Rica. 

Leticia began a small NGO in a town in the resort area of Guanacaste (not far from the Nicaraguan border). She’s been doing excellent work the past few years with delinquent teenagers and local women, focused on vocational training and opening future options that were unavailable to them before. She has a small thrift store with donated goods, after-school care and other programs that she runs on a shoestring budget.

Leonor is working in an area near Turrialba, an agricultural region that also caters to tourists from cruise ships that stop in Limon. She recently left a well-paying job here in San Jose, prompted in part by the plight of refugees from Nicaragua.

In case you’re unaware, Nicaragua is in melt-down with demonstrations, strikes and Ortega’s refusal to abdicate. He is encouraging the ongoing murder of peaceful demonstrators. Many shops are empty, so food is scarce; large resorts have closed, usually in areas where they employ 200-1000+ local people. Thus, unemployment, especially in already poor areas, is increasing rapidly. It’s a desperate situation with no sign of relief in the future. This has led to a large influx of Nicaraguan immigrants into Costa Rica.

Both of these women have begun efforts to provide housing, health care, work and education to these refugees. They’re creating networks of care from their personal contacts. It’s like a phone tree—-they know someone who knows another someone and another until there’s a web of doctors, teachers, people with space in their houses or money or food or whatever is needed. One refugee fled without adequate medication for a chronic illness, and a doctor was found who could provide it. Children are getting instruction that will keep their education on track. Families are finding a safe space to recuperate before returning – and it appears that many have a vision they’ll be able to go home. 

We celebrate ordinary people making extraordinary interventions!

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Sandra Pace’s Story of Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

From Patricia Pain, one of the most wonderful teachers I’ve ever known:

I’d like to share this beautifully serendipitous experience between myself, a friend, and a perfect stranger….

One of my closest friends works for a company called Beauty Counter and she posted an intriguing article about how snake plants help to remove impurities from the air. Every year I buy plants for my students and I place one on every table group as one of the ways I create opportunities for my students to be responsible for and care for something other than themselves. It becomes a common ground, a bind that ties them. Something they can take pride in. It’s also something they can solve when one of their peers has a bad day, or a bad morning, or a bad evening the night before and snips off a leaf out of anger and silent words. It’s an opportunity to strategize and/or to forgive.

Shortly after I saw that article, I was scrolling through Facebook Marketplace and I came across someone who was selling snake plants. I messaged him and he eventually asked me what I was buying them for. I explained it all to him. I also explained how this year our class composition is especially in need of this opportunity, so finding these had come at the perfect time.

He responded by saying that he would look to see what else he had at the nursery that he could donate. After much back and forth, this kind man–this perfect stranger– had 12 plants for myself, my teaching partner, and Heather, who posted that intriguing article. Not only did he gift us these additional plants, but he gifted us with these words:

“I am very thankful to educators like yourself who give 100 percent, it is a very tough job, no doubt in my mind. On the tough days just remember, there are many out there who see and appreciate the effort and sacrifices you make on a daily basis. I know it is sometimes a thankless job, so THANK YOU and I hope these plants do well for you and your students. 😁 I sent 12 plants: there are sansevieria, pothos, aglaonema, and one schefflera trinette. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me 😁👍”

Thank you, Adam. Your kindness is not just in these plants, but your sincere words and appreciation. You are part of the village that helps our students see beyond themselves. You selflessly contributed to this “heartwork” we call teaching.

It is in moments like these, where it’s almost as though perfect strangers seem to have been waiting for years to meet…and this was our time.

I can’t wait to show the kids tomorrow ♥️

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 are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run soon: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Rosemary Cairns’ Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

I have been collecting stories of people changing the world for (can it be) almost two decades now. It really grew out of my Human Security and Peacebuilding thesis, when I explored how people built peace for themselves in Brcko (northern Bosnia) and Somaliland. When I was thinking about how to share my research, the university said I could use Moodle (which we use for teaching) or a wiki.

I wasn’t familiar with a wiki, but figured if I was going to learn how to use it, I might as well use it for something practical. So all those stories I had been coming across – stories of how people were doing something extraordinary in their community, or their country – came to mind. Here was the way to share peoples’ achievements – and by sharing that knowledge, encouraging others elsewhere to do the same thing, or something similar.

The very first story I ever put on Hopebuilding wiki was this one:

Molly Letela was principal of a school in the tiny state of Lesotho, nestled inside South Africa’s borders. She was getting repeated complaints from some of her teachers about how their students couldn’t concentrate, and so weren’t learning. But she knew that most of the problem was that her students were hungry – not unruly or deliberately disruptive – and she had, for a while, dreamed a dream about how to address that.

On the empty land around her school, she imagined crops that would feed her hungry students. But she was a wise woman, and knew that if she told the parents what to do, it wouldn’t work nearly as well as if they thought of the idea themselves. So gradually, in conversations, she subtly helped the parents realize the possibilities that came from all the land around the school, and their agricultural knowledge. And one day, they came and proposed to her that they create a garden in the empty land around the school.

Once the parents shared her vision, she found a small South African NGO that specialized in how to multi-crop on land, so that the school could grow more than one crop in a season, and that knew how to work respectfully with the local farmers and parents to build on what they already knew.

The parents planted the new crops, the home economics class made breakfasts and lunches, and the students were well-fed and able to work. The community’s health and food security improved, too, as people used the new ideas in their own farming at home.

Soon, a nearby community came to see what their neighbours had accomplished. And the knowledge spread, in what the Community Development Resource Association in Cape Town, South Africa, describes as “horizontal learning” – neighbours learning from neighbours. Soon, there were hundreds of similar school meal programs in the district – without any donor funding or aid agencies being involved, apart from the small amount of funding Mrs. Letela used to bring in the small South African NGO at the very beginning.

I love this idea of ‘horizontal learning’. It is so different from how people have often conceptualized ‘learning’ as being a process where neophytes learn from ‘experts’ – ‘vertical learning.’

The second story begins with a South African couple who used to collect tiny glass ornaments that depicted African animals. But then one day, they realized that they hadn’t seen any of the ornaments for a while. So they decided to find out what had happened to their favourite collectibles.

Their journey took them to Swaziland, where they discovered that the glass factory (started eight years earlier with funding from a Scandinavian aid agency) had shut down. So they decided – even though they knew nothing about glassblowing or factory operation – to find a way to restart the factory, and thus continue to create work for local people.

The factory, which had been started in 1979, had been quite successful. From 1981 til 1985, when it closed down, the factory was run entirely by local people. Two local people had learned glassblowing from some of the world’s experts.

The Prettejohn family re-opened the Ngwenya factory in June 1987. They use only recycled glass, and they pay local school teams and citizens for used glass bottles. So people from all over Swaziland collect old bottles and are paid per kilo for clean glass. As well as providing raw materials for the factory, this also (of course) makes the area much tidier.

The factory now employs 70 people, which includes two of the original blowers (who teach new apprentices) and four of the other original staff. Every piece of glasswork is handmade and mouth blown.

Not only is the factory concerned about the small animal figurines it sells – it also cares for the real animals and their environment. The company organizes regular cleanup days along main roads in their area, and it launched the Kingdom’s most successful wildlife conservation fund – the Ngwenya Glass Rhino and Elephant Fund – which is dedicated to saving endangered rhinos and elephants. A percentage of Ngwenya Glass’s worldwide sales are donated to the Fund.

I love this story because, for me, it shows that if the developmental focus is local, people can see all kinds of linkages between things that outsiders would never see. And it also suggests the power of curiosity and serendipity – this couple loved the small glass figurines they collected and then became curious enough, when the figures stopped coming, to find out what had happened. And their curiosity, and determination, led to all kinds of things they never could have imagined.

Using recycled glass means that, as well as making figurines for sale and creating jobs in the community and attracting tourists to the factory and its local shop, the factory inspires people to keep the area clean by collecting and delivering all local bottles and glasses. A project that was created using the kind of ‘silos’ that so many projects fall within, would have been so much less likely to do three or four things simultaneously. People locally see these kind of connections, and act on them. This is ‘win-win-win-win-win’….. 🙂


And finally, because I am at the ‘granny’ age these days, a third story that I have always loved…….the story of the Wakefield Grannies and the joy of serendipity.

The Wakefield Grannies have been supporting grandmothers in one South African township since 2002. Wakefield is a small, historic village of about 4,000 people located in western Quebec just half an hour’s drive from the Canadian capital city, Ottawa. It began in 1830 as a village of immigrants – from Ireland, Scotland and England – and while its focus is now tourism and art, rather than timber, its well-traveled residents know they live in an interdependent world. Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson, whose invention of international peacekeeping in 1956 found a creative way to resolve world conflicts, is buried in the village. Like him, Wakefield’s grandmothers know that changing the world begins with small steps.

The story of how they developed a strong friendship with 40 South African grandmothers living in a crowded township near the South African capital of Johannesburg began with film-makers Brenda and Robert Rooney, who had worked with the Canadian International Development Agency and Vision TV in 2002 to make a documentary film entitled Condoms Fish and Circus Tricks. Shot in Malawi, South Africa, and Zambia, the film offered an intimate look at the people who are dying, those who are caring for them and why AIDS has had such a devastating impact on African society. They screened the film at Wakefield’s United Church and raised $1,000 for the church’s AIDS campaign.

In the audience was Thomas Minde, a doctor at Wakefield’s hospital, whose parents had just returned from a year in South Africa. His mother, Nina, a child psychologist, had volunteered at a children’s mental health clinic in Alexandra township, a tightly packed ghetto that is home to nearly 340,000 people. Shocked to see more and more children being brought to the clinic by their grandmothers because their parents were dead or dying from AIDS, and herself a grandmother, Nina offered to run a support group with clinic head nurse Rose Letwaba.

While not much attention was being paid to grandparents in 2002, Rose saw them as the silent victims of AIDS. She invited three grannies to a meeting and they told their stories and everyone cried a lot. The next week, there were five, and then there were 10 and there was no more room in Rose’s office. The grannies said they needed help in getting over the loss of their daughters and raising their grandchildren, who were often sad and angry; many of them had been plunged back into poverty. But as they met, and became more confident in their own abilities and shared their knowledge, they started to blossom and become more joyful.

Thomas told the story to minister Gisele Gilfillen, who invited Nina to speak at a morning service. She showed pictures of the East Bank Clinic and told the congregation about Rose, who soon would be attending a conference in Canada. Nina promised to bring Rose to Wakefield. And so, one Saturday night in October 2004, Rose painted a picture of a whole generation of South Africans lost to AIDS and grieving mothers left to carry the burden of raising their grandchildren to be healthy, educated, socially responsible adults. Rose described the 40 Grannies who were meeting at her clinic for sewing classes, gardening and moral support. An impromptu collection raised about $900, but that didn’t seem enough to 81-year-old Norma Geggie. She wanted to do more.

When Norma happened to meet Nina and Rose the next day, she asked “what if a group of women in Wakefield were to partner with these women?” They exchanged e-mail addresses, and Norma began making phone calls. When the Wakefield Grannies met for the first time in November 2004, each drew the name of an Alex Gogo – the Zulu word for grandmother – from a jar. It was the start of a relationship that was both personal, and collective.

The whole community was behind the grannies. They supported fundraising events, sent cheques, and businesses donated money, which was sent to Rose, who decided how it should be spent – for food, sewing equipment, winter blankets and track suits for HIV positive children who are highly susceptible to cold, and occasionally, overnight and weekend breaks for gogos and Alex teens who were heads of their households.

Knowing that grannies on the other side of the world cared so much about them gave the Alex Gogos tremendous hope, and helped dissolve the stigma that often affects such families. Within a year, as people heard about the Wakefield Grannies, other granny groups began in Canada and the United States. In the spring of 2006, the Stephen Lewis Foundation launched a Grandmother to Grandmother campaign that inspired the creation of hundreds of granny groups across Canada, and Lewis came to meet the Wakefield Grannies.

Robert Rooney had been filming the story from the start and soon realized it was a story about women, not about AIDS. In 2006, the Rooneys travelled to South Africa to film the Alex Gogos and then filmed several Wakefield Grannies at the Grandmother to Grandmother gathering. The story came full circle when Rose and three of the Alex gogos visited Wakefield on August 15, 2006. The resulting 80-minute documentary, The Great Granny Revolution, fittingly, had its world premiere in Wakefield on May 5, 2007.

This work is inspiring many younger people. Says one: “If grey-haired old women believe they can impact a change in the world, then why can’t our generation?” Near the end of the film, Rose Letwaba is speaking at the Wakefield United Church. “If everyone was like the people of Wakefield,” she says, “the world would be a better place to live in.”

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 in November 2018.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out. There are about 7 more to go! If you have others to add, please send them to me soon!

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Ray Baril’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

As you know, I live in a small prairie farming town. A small town of ordinary people (+/- 800 of us) who do ordinary things. About the most exciting event in our town is the Volunteer Fire Department’s drive through town around Christmas, flashing lights and all, to distribute candy canes and fire safety reminders to each home. Small towns have their own ways of making things happen. News gets around very quickly through an ancient form of social media – neighbours talking to each other. It is common courtesy in town for motorists and pedestrians to acknowledge each other as they pass by – just a brief wave does the trick. Our local food bank and associated thrift store are volunteer-operated. The seniors’ lodge and long-term care facilities have strong local volunteer support. An accessible playground was erected this year with the help of 40 volunteers working for 3 days in 30 C degree weather. Ordinary people doing ordinary things make this an extraordinary community. But people don’t seem to think about it very much. They just do what needs to be done. Small things make a big 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 are 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.

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Peter Woodcock’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

I like to find my inspiration in everyday life, through ordinary people doing extraordinary things, which then makes those people far from ordinary.

One person who has given me great inspiration and who makes me strive to be a better citizen is my Boss, my Neighbour, my Friend, Mary-Margaret McMahon.

My inspiration started when I realized how much the current City Councillor had done years before when she was an ordinary citizen.  On a big scale, with 2 young kids in tow, MMM was working to save the environment.  Ona smaller scale, she was working to make her community a better place.  She was involved in her children’s school .  She was involved in creating one of the best Resident’s Associations in Toronto, Danforth East Community Association (DECA) and was instrumental in starting a wonderful Farmer’s Market, that is still going strong today.

There are far too many accomplishments since winning her seat as Councillor to list.  But trust me, they are amazing.

But it is the accomplishments that this powerhouse neighbour, mother, friend did on her own that inspire me to be the best I can be in my community.

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 are 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.

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Peter Taylor’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Peter Taylor, Boston, USA, 19 November 2018

I am grateful for the influence of ICA Toronto. ICA has informed and inspired my running of events that affirm Ordinary-People-Making-a-Difference principles, especially: “There is insight in every response. We know more than we are, at first, prepared or able to acknowledge. When we are heard, we can better hear others and hear ourselves.” Here are two relevant stories; both about processes that followed the death of a family member.

Twenty years ago, at a wake for a family member who suicided, I took the opportunity to lead a go-around in which everyone said one thing they appreciated about the person and one thing they had difficulty with. Even the youngest relative there, a 9-year old, had clear things to say on both counts. Speaking and listening allowed us to acknowledge the ambiguity of losing someone whose mental health issues had challenged each of us: when and how do we stay involved and when do we step back and care for ourselves?

Three years ago, after my wife, Ann, died from ovarian cancer, we had a pot-luck party, which is what she had requested instead of a funeral. I asked guests to “introduce yourself to someone you don’t know and share what it meant to have Ann in your lives.” Each hour, starting at 11 in the morning and going into the evening, I rang a bell and for ten minutes people took turns to reflect or share a simple story “that captures how having Ann in your life has influenced you.” I had actually started this process nine months earlier so friends and family members could write when visits weren’t possible. But Ann thought the notes sounded like eulogies—“I am not dead yet!” was her retort—so I archived them on a private blog. After her death, I asked for permission to make the blog contributions public then added condolence notes and audio recordings from the party and two memorial events. At some point I wondered if blogs could be downloaded into a word file—yes. I realized the steady assembling of small contributions was adding up to material for a book. A few months later, audio recordings transcribed, cover and interior style designed by a former student, photos selected, and copies scanned of 14 years of letters Ann had written to a friend as young adults while they both worked to become writers (and etc.) became Ann(ie) Blum in Our Lives

At first, I called it a “memorial book” for Ann, but then I saw that the blog from which the book emerged was my way of allowing many people to have their voice. And for that voice to be one heard by a community, not only by the immediate family receiving the condolence notes. But why do people need to have their voice heard in a community? At first I thought I was giving recognition to the fact that many people were grieving Ann, not just me, her partner of 30 years.

But then I saw that the value of people having their voice heard in a community is that we—this includes me—have very partial narratives about what the loss of someone means for their lives. We say something—such as “I so miss her” or “Cancer sucks” or “I’m doing as well as can be expected”—but we know there’s more to what we are feeling. Things that are hard to articulate, things that are hard to know whether this is the person and the time to explore it with. So those things often get left un(der) explored; we just carry on. The book allowed, however, readers to bring their own thoughts to the surface through hearing the partial things others were able to say, to give voice to. And also to learn more, which adds to those thoughts. In that way, there is more play, more processing of what each reader wants to carry forward as part of their own lives.

Although these two stories revolve around deaths, they are also stories in which allowing everyone’s voices to be raised contributes to people making a difference to the life-direction-making of themselves and others.

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Nadine Bell’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Linda Evans got involved in organ donation efforts when her husband needed a transplant 10 years ago or he would die. The hospital he was in said they could not get him the organ he needed and he should write his will and make funeral arrangements . Rather than stand by and let that happen, Linda moved heaven and earth to find a viable alternative. Mayo Clinic in Florida gave Gary a second chance at life and the transplant was successful. Ever since that time, Linda has dedicated some of her efforts to enlisting people to donate organs so that no one ever has to go through what she and Gary did.

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 are 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.

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Melody Scherubel’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is a story one of my hospice clients told me.

She and her husband took in a young (around 7-8 yrs old) multi-racial boy.  He was around the age of her grandchildren, so she told him he was one of her grandsons.

She found out he was being made fun of and bullied on the school bus.   So the next day she escorted him to the school bus and got on with him.  She faced the children and said:  “hi kids (small town, they all knew her)—this is my grandson, Johnny (not real name).   Will you all be friends with him and include him in your games.”

No more problems.  A beautiful solution.

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 are 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.

Posted in Stories of Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference | Tagged , | Leave a comment