Tuesday, September 30, 2014

People told me I'd be changed after travelling to Colombia with World Vision Canada. I guess that's fair to say. But it's trite. It's cliche. And it doesn't begin to capture the depth or range of emotions that I felt when walking through Asimiflor, a brand new area development program in Bucaramanga, the saddest place I'd ever seen children living. My week in Colombia with World Vision Canada was jam packed with big adventures and interviews and so many stories shared that I will be recounting them for a decade or more. Eye opening? Yes. Exciting? Yes. Exhausting and heartbreaking and sad and beautiful and inspiring and so many words. So many feelings.

But here's the thing. As I left the country where I was so warmly welcomed I couldn't help but feel words are not enough. Not even close. On my last night there after such an emotional journey I sat in my room repacking and crying. I was overtired, drained, overwhelmed and sad. But I got to leave. I was feeling guilty in some ways because of that I suppose. I make my home in this place of privilege, this country of massive wide open spaces and roads that are magnificent by comparison to what we drove on that week. I got to visit and then I got to leave.

I love my home. I love Canada more every time I travel. We are a fortunate country rich with resources and mostly peaceful people. We are a melting pot of beautiful cultures and traditions. We are beyond privileged in so many ways. I will return home and tell the stories and I will sponsor a child from Colombia ( a boy 9 or up because I see that that age group is in dire need.) and I will buy some gifts from the World Vision gift catalogue and I will hope to come back and see Asimiflor flourishing one day. But then what?

There are so many reasons Not to act.
So many excuses. I hear them often. 

Excuse one: "I was planning to sponsor a child but it's too expensive." 
No, it's not actually. $39 a month is not much at all for something so big. The return on investment is massive. Read my other posts to see how one child sponsored by World Vision Canada ends up changing an entire community.

Excuse two: "I don't get how the gift catalogue works."
You purchase a gift like fruit trees or soccer balls, or medicine and you request that a card is sent to someone you love. Then you are gifting something that gives back and creating a very meaningful present for someone. (Please friends and family who read my blog if you are going to buy me anything this year I want it to be something from the World Vision gift catalogue.)

Excuse three: "We have kids living in poverty at home. Shouldn't we take care of them first?"
Yes, we do and we are. World Vision Canada also has a section for that. But the experience of poverty in Canada is dramatically different than that in a place like Asimiflor. Where sewage still overflows when it rains and homes are built with a tarp and slats that leave big gaps in the kitchen floor large enough to fall through and slide down a steep mountain. Where kids dodge dirt and dog feces and vultures to play. Where small earthquakes happen almost daily and people barely notice any more. Where one truly hard rain could easily wash the entire settlement away because it is that fragile and built into the edge of a mountain. In a space like this, sponsorship and help is essential. 

In Canada and the United States we are a culture that sometimes frames help and support in terms of Hand outs.

Everyone has an aunt or uncle who rants at Thanksgiving dinner:
"I built a business, a family, a career and I own my home and I did it all myself. Nobody helped me. So why should I help someone looking for a handout?"

Hand out is a hateful term weighted with hints of you don't deserve my support.

Today I found this quote (not sure who said it)
And I liked it, so I wanted to share.

There's a reason you have two hands.
One is for you and the other is for helping.

Please remember this especially this holiday season. In spaces like Santander De Quilichao where an ADP is now done (each area development program lasts 15 to 18 years and then World Vision Canada moves somewhere else they are needed.) even the children understand the concept of support and dignity. High school students spend two hours each day at Policarpa school building a field, that will some day be the play area, the yard or gymnasium space for an elementary school. A teacher who is also an engineer uses his time and skills to help make this work. The mothers in the area have taken everything they have learned from World Vision Canada and World Vision Colombia and built sustainable food projects and small businesses to help single mothers succeed. I believe World Vision Canada calls it a difference development model. Essentially it means -  I will support you and teach you how to do this and soon you will be able to do it yourself as a community working together for each other. That's a hand up, support, and kindness.

It's the right thing to do any time of the year.

I am sharing my journey to Colombia with World Vision Canada here on the blog in a series.

You can read 
Part 1: The Briefing
tomorrow read more about the women of this community.....
Sponsor a child and change a community. Or you can buy something for someone this year that makes a difference to an entire community like this one. Visit the gift catalogue here: http://bit.ly/1pbSZpV

For more information visit the main World Vision site. 
You can also follow World Vision on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/worldvisioncan/
and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WorldVisionCan

I travelled with World Vision Canada as a guest so I could tell these stories. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

It's the time of year when updating Individualized Education Plans and getting all the specialists lined up again takes a front seat here at my house. This past week I spent a few hours juggling the numerous doctors and people I want sitting at the table when my daughter's new IEP is revised. She has been identified now with a learning disability in one area of math. It took me four years of pushing the school to believe that and it also took a private educational assessment that cost us a lot of money this summer. But it's all good because I am certain we will each have the proper tools to work in my daughter's best interests.

So what are the proper tools exactly? Well, there are a few new gadgets I have been hunting around for because I think the educational assessment clearly indicates she needs a couple of special products that might help her focus and do her best. This weekend I spent time figuring out what I need. Luckily I can get a lot of these things on line at Learning Resources. If you want to browse their current sales and special needs items click on the affiliate ad below. 

My child's needs are clear. She has some issues with time management and one small area of math that I think they call numeration. Both of my children need tactile objects and fidgets to help them focus. 

This time teacher is on sale for a great price and I think it could work potentially for younger kids having trouble with timing concepts and telling time too. There are definite mathematical concepts that could be taught and highlighted with this one. But this is my favourite one below. 

This timer is not on sale. But I need it anyways and it's not a bad price at $39.99. I have seen several versions of timers priced at higher starting points that this one. Time Tracker visual timer and clock counts down the minutes left and provides visual clues to help kids with attention difficulties discover how much longer they have to do their test, or write that assignment. I think it will be handy for us. Plus it will take a lot of the constant arguing out of our house. That happens when people aren;t ready for school or auditions, or rehearsals or lessons. It's aggravating. So this is an investment in my sanity. 

These Gears are on sale right now for a great price and they are great fidgets. They could also be a good Christmas present. 

I am a Learning Resources affiliate. My opinion is my own.

1 in 6 people struggle with infertility. I talk about that often here in this space. Why? Because I believe in a Canadian health care system that is accessible and great. And because infertility is a hard emotional and financial journey. It is devastating to far too many. 

Couples, and singles, who are diagnosed with infertility, are sometimes prescribed In vitro fertilization as the best course of action. In Vitro Fertilization is a process by which sperm and egg are introduced in a lab and left to do their magic. The resulting embryo is then placed into the waiting uterus. The IVF procedure itself is not covered in Alberta at all. In fact it costs anywhere between $8,000 to $14,000 including drugs. That cost is a crazy burden to place on anyone requiring medical treatment just to conceive. Infertility is, in fact, a complex medical condition as outlined by the World Health Organization. So how do people pay for IVF in Alberta?

Well, Brooke Berry worked three jobs to scrimp for the money to pay for health care treatment. She writes about her infertility journey on her beautiful blog, Brooklyn Berry Designs.
Many people take out a second mortgage. Some use credit cards and others crowd fund. A few borrow from parents. Many give up. And that's not right or good for the province.

In Alberta right now we are at a critical juncture for infertility advocates and public funding advocates. This fall, the province chose a new premier, Jim Prentice. A report by the University of Alberta (The Assisted Reproductive Technologies report) has been under review by the Alberta government for months now. That review is expected to be finished soon. That report found that the province of Alberta can save up to $97 million by coupling public funding with single embryo transfer for those who need IVF. In Canada, now Quebec has public funding for IVF and Ontario soon will have funding. Their program is expected to be up and running by 2015. In Manitoba there is a tax credit process that helps alleviate some of the costs of IVF. And this year New Brunswick implemented a one time $5,000 rebate for IVF treatment. More provinces are understanding the benefits to funding IVF with SET.

  That means this is an extremely important time for advocating and making your voice heard. How can you do that? 

Here are Three Things You Can Do to Help Advocate for Public Funding for IVF.

1. Call Your MLA: IN PERSON MEETING - set up a time to go in and share your story. Personal stories are powerful and they make a difference. MLAs actually want to hear from their constituents on important issues. Healthy family building in this province is extremely important. 

You can find your local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) by visiting: http://streetkey.elections.ab.ca. Here, you will also find their email address, local constituency office location and phone number.

In person meetings are the most powerful way to affect change. But you can still make a difference and make your opinion known..in other ways too. This guide can walk you through all the details. http://www.generationsofhope.ca/meetingyourmla.pdf

2. Call Your MLA: Phone If you can't get in to see the MLA in person a phone call can be valuable too. Remind them you are a constituent and that this is important to you. As well, remember to point out that the best outcome for maternal and infant health is single embryo transfer with public funding for IVF. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada has stated this in a position paper. And several other countries that fund IVF know this to be true as well.

3. Tweet and Share your Message Via Social Media:
Social media and social change go hand in hand. Politicians and journalists all pay attention to twitter. It is their news source. So get tweeting. Follow http://www.twitter.com/gensofhope and always tweet with these two hashtags #abhc4ivf #abpoli. You can attach the hashtags to the end of your tweets. Remember to be polite. Simple tweets with factual information are perfect. 
"Did you know Alberta could save $97 million by funding IVF with SET #abhc4ivf #abpoli"

I am community manager for Generations of Hope and I wholeheartedly support public funding for IVF because it builds healthy families. I am also a member of the blog team for Generations of Hope and as such I am compensated. My opinion is all mine.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Every new parent is nervous, I think. But new adoptive parents are a whole different level of nervous and anxious. We are crazy from the waiting sometimes and so grateful for our precious gift of parenthood that we can be hyper vigilant about our new roles and responsibilities. I can easily recall how we (mostly I) spent many nights hovering outside the door of Payton's nursery. I remember how I didn't trust that Payton would keep breathing all night long on her own. I read a lot about SIDS and I worried about the things that could go wrong. I would tippy toe into her room, which was right beside ours, and check on her over and over, especially that first few months. A lot of you know we adopted our kids and I can tell you that after nine years of marriage, infertility and several horrible health care issues, the fact that Payton's birthparents chose us to be her parents for life meant that I was overly vigilant and out to prove we were deserving of this child. That went on for at least the first eight years of her life. We had waited so long and I couldn't risk taking any chances with our precious gift. Plus she really was such a treat as a baby. She was a happy, healthy bit of heaven.

Over time I grew more confident in the strength of her little body to keep doing what she needed it to do. After we adopted Ainsley, I was a bit more confident, but still there were health issues we were keeping an eye on with our youngest child and so she required some close attention. We were blessed to be given so many great tools and toys and baby furniture items from friends and relatives. Grandparents spoiled our two little princesses too. One of those gifts was a baby monitor. It's on every baby shower wish list. I can't recall the brand, but suffice it to say that 13 years ago baby monitors did not look quite this sleek. What I wouldn't have done to have one like the Sophia Video Baby Monitor.

Sophia, meaning “Wisdom,” features 48 hour battery life battery life in power saving PEEP mode, temperature monitoring to ensure your child is comfortable, night vision up to 15 feet, and 500-foot ClearVu® digital signal. The Sophia Video Baby Monitor also includes Talk to Baby™ two-way communication, invisible night vision LED’s, a soothing nightlight that can be controlled from the parent unit and is expandable up to four cameras.

The Sophia Video Baby Monitor will be available on Amazon.com and MyLevana.com at the suggested retail price of $89.99. The Ayden Video Baby Monitor can be purchased directly from the Levana website at MyLevana.com for $119.99. 

About Levana:
Levana is a brand of easy-to-use, stylish and high value baby video, audio and movement monitors that give parents the freedom to worry less and do more, knowing their child is safe. Named after the ancient Roman goddess who kept a watchful eye over sleeping children, Levana is dedicated to baby safety. Levana monitors have all the state-of-the-art features that parents want, which gives them peace of mind to do more without worry.

The Sophia Baby Monitor is extremely light. I kind of can't get over that. At first it seemed like it was so light it might not be able to do the job required. But then I realized the lightness of the gadget itself is largely because the device is digital. Our old baby monitors were heavy because of all the plugs and wires attached. Thank goodness for new technology. The Sophia allows you to keep an eye on baby and might even provide a good opportunity for sleep training as well. As long as you can see your baby on the video monitor then you know they are okay, even if they are crying. The video monitor also means you can gently talk to your child and calm them down even from your room. Sometimes they just need to hear your voice. This device is an expandable system. You can add four extra cameras if you need them. The light is adjustable as well. But don't just take my word for it. You can enter to win one right now. Or you can skip the wait and buy one now.

I am giving away a Sophia Video Baby Monitor to one lucky reader. Follow the instructions and Good Luck!

Friday, September 26, 2014

When I sponsor a child with World Vision Canada does my money really go to them?
This is the number one question I am asked most in the days leading up to my trip to Colombia. I spent a week finding the answer to this question inside many impoverished Colombian cities where violence and drugs are a threat to childhood and family health. I hope these posts help answer that question and many others too.

Meet Miguel and Juan. I introduced you to them briefly yesterday in a post about soccer balls and World Vision Gifts from the holiday gift catalogue. This week I have been sharing several posts about my time spent with World Vision Canada touring several of their ADPS (area development programs.) in Colombia. Today I want to spend a bit more time sharing these two Peace Keepers and sponsored children.

Miguel and Juan are both 20. They live in a spot called Taminango. They were sponsored as children by someone in Canada through World Vision. They were roughly 5 and 3 when they were first sponsored by World Vision Canada. I know a bit about this area Taminango and Santander De Quilichao, Colombia. We have been briefed on the struggles here, the history. This morning we visited a school called Policarpa in an area of Santander De Quilichao where violence, guns, drugs and poverty are very real threats. Taminango is a bit more remote than the area we visited in the morning and we have found Miguel and Juan in a dusty dirt field coaching a group of about 40 boys after school. It is late afternoon. They come here three days a week for two hours to help coach soccer.

ON Sponsorship: I want to know what sponsorship felt like to these two young men. I want to know if they felt a connection with their sponsor, if they got the letters. I also want to know what all that meant to them.

Juan (on the right) starts:
"Sponsorship has been very important to me. I have always said the tool we received here was education. That tool is very important to our success."

Both Juan and Miguel are now students at a University in Cali. They are studying sports and training to be Phys ed teachers when they are done. They were both sponsored as children and now they each have received a World Vision Canada scholarship to attend university. In these areas, where there is a lot of poverty, and the country is spread out, access to higher education can be very difficult. There are some public universities and colleges, both public and private. There are three entry level exams. Our translator Astrid, a World Vision Colombia communications worker says the entry level exams can be difficult to pass and the cost for higher education also is an issue for many.

"We didn't ever think we would be at university studying, but now we are. We have seen that our dreams can come true," says Juan.

Juan has clear recollection of writing his sponsor and receiving the letters regularly. He remembers reading each one, and says he enjoyed knowing who else was in his sponsor's family and what they were doing. That was important to him.

"It taught me that no matter the distance, people can support each other. You can support people who need you."

Miguel doesn't remember as much. He is quieter than Juan, but he has no hesitation recalling how sponsorship shaped him and how being sponsored made him feel.
"It was important to me to get that support and to know also that people lived in different conditions than we did, and that they cared. It was important to know there were people who supported us and believed in us."

What I witnessed repeatedly throughout my trip with World Vision Canada was that children and youth who are sponsored are deeply committed to community and building relationships. Whether they intend to or not, they live purposefully and they pay it forward. Sponsorship helps children get through public school. That can be a hurdle in areas where you sometimes must walk an hour up a mountain to get to the school itself. It can also be a massive challenge if you have a family that are farmers or underemployed and your children need uniforms to attend school. Sponsorship often buys the uniforms and the books. 

81 % of Word Vision revenue goes to help children and communities in need. In fact World Vision Canada has received awards for accountability and financial responsibility.

On Mentoring Younger Children and what being a Peace Keeper and a Coach Means:

These young men, attending university in Cali, also coach a group of boys three days a week after school. They are all boys living in a vulnerable area still struggling with poverty. Both Juan and Miguel approach this coaching activity with maturity and insight.

"We have learned so much responsibility with this group because they are children," says Juan. "They  look at you to see that you are a good example." 

Miguel speaks to a spiritual component of being a coach, mentor and Peace Keeper. "They see there is a life spirit inside each of us. We try to do our best so that the others will feel good and safe and learn." 

Juan smiles easily and often. He is calm, composed and polite. "This group is a challenge because I learn more every day with them and I am inspired to learn more every day so I can help them. Every time I work with them I think back to my childhood. I didn't have the chance to be part of a club. Most of the teams were far from here and the games would mean I had to get to another place like Cali or Santander."

Teams need uniforms and equipment and often competition is a distance from where the actual club practices. These are the same issues we sometimes have in areas of Canada perhaps. But here the roads are longer and less reliable, sometimes through highways patrolled by police and paramilitary. For children the obstacles to play, to health and education too, are bigger here. It would be so easy to be dispirited, disillusioned, disenfranchised too. But these two young men lead by example, building a team and a future for many.

I am sharing my journey to Colombia with World Vision Canada here on the blog in a series.

You can read 
Part 1: The Briefing
tomorrow read more about the women of this community.....
Sponsor a child and change a community. Or you can buy something for someone this year that makes a difference to an entire community like this one. Visit the gift catalogue here: http://bit.ly/1pbSZpV

For more information visit the main World Vision site. 
You can also follow World Vision on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/worldvisioncan/
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