Linda's Story :
When I was in my early teens, I worked at various camps for youth as a counsellor. Eventually I was hired to work at Bolton Camp for “underprivileged” youth from Toronto. It was a challenge; I had never seen or experienced systemic poverty but here I met kids who visibly suffered from chronic abuse, poverty, sexual exploitation, poor health, gender and racial inequity, the class structure, etc. These experiences taught me much about the integrated analysis and government interventions needed if we were to tackle systemic abuse successfully.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I worked at the Kawartha World Issues Centre, I spent some of each summer visiting a part of the world that we were featuring in our Peterborough work. I was lucky enough to be able to self-fund travel to Vietnam and Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mozambique. Later through Trent University I worked in Mexico and Ecuador in a watershed ecosystem project. Each time in a new place was a challenge with language, culture and history all forcing me to make better connections. The women kept me going back to reconnect, made me feel like I could accomplish something by creating space for them to tell their stories.
In El Salvador during their civil war, I connected with a number of women’s safe houses, and was encouraged to stay in one of them. There, women were learning to take care of infants born in trauma, from incest or rape. The organizations were offering education through doctors tending their physical pain, psychiatrists helping them with emotional problems, social workers who explained that the women were not responsible for their troubles, and then gave them a chance at serious job training — in car maintenance, computer training, etc. – so they could obtain jobs with good wages. There were no women’s shelters in Canada that had that level of integrated training for residents. Later at Elizabeth Fry Peterborough, I found an integrated analysis being practiced so I got involved in helping to set up a new board and ensuring good staff.
In 1994, in South Africa, I was part of an Oxfam team monitoring the first election that included blacks and people of colour. I can still see the lines of black voters who sat for days to vote. Women were the ones who asked me questions, who connected with my life. I felt privileged to touch theirs, even briefly. In Peterborough, I helped set up “Voters for a Sustainable Peterborough” (V4SP) which helped elect more women, and more environmentalists.
The INSTRUCT programme out of Trent University helped to rejuvenate watershed ecosystems in Mexico and Ecuador. Women sought me out – it was important to them that a woman was managing the project. We set gender objectives which they knew I could enforce; they got funding for day care, eco-tourism and other projects. Indomitable women everywhere! The overlapping issues between countries and cultures are striking.
It was in El Salvador that the words came which governed the rest of my life. A Lutheran Priest and his female assistant, just released from jail because they were fighting for fair elections, said “In Canada, you have ballot-box democracy, once every four years. But you do not have social or economic democracy.”
That statement spurred me further into local and international action on integrated issues for the next 30 plus years. Our COVID-19 crisis gives us a rare chance to promote economic, social and environmental sustainability by caring for each other and the earth as we move into the recovery. We cannot miss this opportunity.