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How Are You Making a Difference?

Have you ever been involved in an international development project that made a difference in a developing country or that changed someone's life for the better? We want to know your story and what you helped achieve!

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Feature Story

Alberta Community is helping farmers in developing countries

Leo Seguin, Westlock, Alberta

Leo Seguin was a young farmer in the eighties when news about the Ethiopian famine flashed across his television screen. To help, he contacted the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and organized grain drives with other farmers of Westlock, Alberta. Every year since, the community is sending grains to the Foodgrains Bank, which sells it on the Canadian market and used the proceeds to implement development programs in developing countries.

In 1996, Leo participated in a Foodgrains Bank study tour to Ethiopia. One irrigation project stands out in his mind. “We’d travelled mile after mile through a particularly dry and desolate landscape,” he recalled “But then we came to an oasis where bananas and papayas were growing.” Seguin saw how this initiative increased food production and convinced his fellows from Westlock to get involved. Since then, people in Westlock have sponsored 18 irrigation projects in the Afar region of Ethiopia, helping between 300,000 to 400,000 people lead healthier and more productive lives.

* Data provided as of June 2015

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Educational resources for children in Ghana

Heather Aku Fancourt from Okotoks, Alberta

Heather’s work in Ghana helped establish a library called Aku’s Place for Kids for the benefit of more than 500 children who do not have easy access to educational resources. After visiting the country in 2012, Heather took notice of the needs of the village of Sogakope. She worked with a local organization, Young Adults of Ghana, to build and set up the library. Heather was also responsible for collecting and sending children’s items donated by Canadians in her native region of Alberta.

Aku’s Place for Kids, which opened its doors in 2014, now offers more than 1,000 books, a variety of educational toys and hundreds of movies for children. Among the services offered by the centre are awareness-raising activities for children on such subjects as the importance of handwashing.

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Sharing the power of new technologies in Tanzania

Cyril Ochola

Cyril Ochola from Toronto, Ontario

While Cyril was a student at Humber College, he spent six months as an Internet technology specialist at the University of Moshi in Tanzania.

The ratio of students to computers was 3:1 when Cyril arrived in Moshi, but the university's administration rolled out a project to add more than 200 computers for student use. Cyril assisted in networking and configuring the new computers and uninterrupted power supply devices.

In addition, Cyril helped to improve the university's Web site, which reduced the administration's workload. He also helped complete connecting all buildings on the campus to the Internet.

Cyril returned home "convinced that information and communications technologies will provide growth in developing countries."

More information:

  • Global Affairs Canada's work in Tanzania

Teachers Teaching Teachers in Bolivia

Cathie Aalders-Taylor

Cathie Aalders-Taylor from Calgary, Alberta

In 2010, Cathie implemented an English learning program in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, for residents working in the tourism industry. Since then, she has been coordinating the participation of Canadian volunteer teachers who are interested in going to Bolivia to share their knowledge. In 2013, she also developed a specific program for Canadian teachers to teach English to Bolivian teachers and how to effectively teach English to their students. As a result, the local teachers continue to provide English-language training when the Canadian teachers are gone and the sustainability of the program is ensured. In addition to teaching English this year (2014), Cathie and her volunteers are offering workshops on using dominoes, cards, and dice for teaching mathematics.

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Supporting Women's Rights Organizations in Ghana

Kelsey Parsons

Kelsey Parsons from Oakville, Ontario

While creating and implementing the first communications strategy of an organization in Ghana focused on educating women about their legal rights, Kelsey came across a rural girl's vocational school in need of help. With support from generous donors, she raised enough money to bring electricity and running water back to the school, allowing the girls to continue learning how to support themselves in their community.

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Helping children in Nicaragua to achieve primary education

Tom Affleck

Tom Affleck from Almonte, Ontario

In 2006, Tom travelled to rural Nicaragua and gave notebooks and pencils to two young girls. One of their fathers smiled and said, "Now you can go to school." With this simple act Tom realized he had given these girls so much more than a notebook and a pencil.

Back home, with the support of the small town of Almonte, Ontario, he founded SchoolBOX. Since then, they have built schools, helped implement soccer programs, and provided school supplies and books for libraries. The organization has now helped about 15,000 children to go to primary school, improved the quality of the education they receive, and at the same time encouraged them to stay in school.

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Improving children's education in Rwanda

Courtesy of Elizabeth Johnson

Elizabeth Johnson from Langley, British Columbia

Elizabeth, originally from Rwanda but now living in Canada, raised $150,000 to improve the school, which she herself had attended as a child. Canadian donors helped build two buildings (8 classrooms), 16 latrines and a new kitchen serving lunch to 1,500 children; and are creating mini-libraries in other rural schools, which have reached more than 5,000 children so far.

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Training teachers in Mali

Courtesy of Anna-Gina Bazinet

Anna-Gina Bazinet from Montreal, Quebec

Anna-Gina helped train more than 30 Malian teachers in Sikasso and organized community awareness-raising sessions for more than 100 people about the importance of education.

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Improving children's lives in Kenya

Courtesy of Thomas Conant

Thomas Conant from Burlington, Ontario

Tom worked with 18 high schools in Kakamega district in Kenya, teaching English and life skills. He also helped to build a new dormitory and a library, and organized a marathon to spread messages of peace before the 2013 national elections.

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Better food, more satisfied customers in Guyana

Courtesy of Ralph Graham

Ralph Graham from Victoria, British Columbia

Ralph, a renowned chef who has cooked for the Queen of England, helped employees of the Surama Eco-lodge, a community-based eco-tourism enterprise, improve their food preparation and hospitality skills, and potentially grow their business.

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Building indigenous tourism in Argentina

Courtesy of Diane Tisdall

Diane Tisdall from Toronto, Ontario

Through an internship program with Niagara College, Diane is organizing workshops to train indigenous people in business, computers and first aid, and helping develop community-managed tourism in Yryapu.

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Training farmers in organic sustainable agriculture in Zambia

Courtesy of Brother Paul Desmarais

Brother Paul Desmarais from Stoney Point, Ontario

Brother Paul created a centre for organic farming and helped train 1500 small-scale farmers and their families to increase crop yields, reduce hunger and become self- sufficient in Kasisi.

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Training health managers to improve health care in Haiti

Jean-François Labadie

Jean-François Labadie from Montreal, Quebec

Jean-François Labadie took part in a project by Université de Montréal that enabled 275 Haitians to complete their university studies in health and human resources management. Some graduates were involved in developing a national midwifery training program to meet international standards. Others helped to put an information system in place to manage staff attendance and expertise. These new management practices are helping to improve health care provided throughout Haiti, especially maternal and child care.

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Maternal, newborn and child health

Better health for children and remote communities in Kenya

Kaitlin Atkinson

Kaitlin Atkinson from Penticton, British Columbia

Kaitlin took part in a pilot project aimed at destroying parasites and controlling worms in children under five. The project has since been taken over by the Government of Kenya and is now available at nine public primary schools.

Kaitlin also managed the implementation of two mobile health clinics to provide health care and prevention workshops to residents of two rural communities far removed from major cities. As a result, some 452 people were able to consult a health professional, most of them for the first time in their lives.

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Courtesy of Cynthia Fallu

Measuring babies more accurately using PDAs in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe

Cynthia Fallu from Montreal, Quebec

As a volunteer with Health Bridge, Cynthia developed a survey that allowed Care Canada to establish a baseline for its project to improve the health of mothers and children in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. She also trained 20 local enumerators to use personal digital assistants (PDAs)—palm-held data-gathering devices similar to today's smartphones—to gather the data, including measuring and weighing babies and transmitting the data in “real time”, providing vital information about children's health and nutrition.

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Reducing preventable child deaths in Sierra Leone

Courtesy of Wes Strickland

Wes Strickland from Nanaimo, British Columbia

With his Sierra Leonean friend Aiah Gbakima, Wes founded the Village Medical Project for Sierra Leone Society which has provided free medical treatment to villagers and reduced mortality rates for children under five by 82 percent since 2007 in Kono District.

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One little iron fish is making a big difference

Christopher Charles and Gavin Armstrong from Guelph, Ontario

Christopher Charles spent five years in the villages of Lvea Aem and Preak Khmeng in Cambodia. He saw first-hand the effects of anemia among pregnant women. This deficiency causes premature labour, hemorrhaging during childbirth and the impaired brain development of their babies.

Charles knew that a small chunk of iron added to water would release a life-saving iron supplement but this idea wasn’t popular with women, who do most of the cooking. They were much more receptive to his idea to use a piece of iron shaped like a local fish believed to bring good luck—the Lucky Iron Fish (LIF)—and lo and behold, anemia in the village fell dramatically.

To help put a fish in every cooking pot, another Canadian, Gavin Armstrong, formed a social enterprise named ‘The Lucky Iron Fish’ (LIF). With the support of Grand Challenges Canada, this enterprise has produced and distributed 6,600 LIFs in Cambodia as of February 2015, potentially benefiting over 30,000 men, women and children.

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A RANDSTAD volunteer in Tanzania

Hélène Paradis

Hélène Paradis from Québec, Quebec

Hélène Paradis spent six weeks in Tanzania as a corporate volunteer. The company she works for in Canada, RANDSTAD, gave her leave so she could share her business skills. Hélène chose to work with employees of the Tanzanian AIDS Forum (TAF), a network of 57 HIV/AIDS organizations.

During her stay, Hélène assessed the strategic plan of TAF, advised employees on how to improve the services provided to network members, found ways to help them secure funding and suggested that the organization send out a daily newsletter to its members.

TAF employees will from now on have the tools they need to better manage the organization and to communicate more effectively with members. This will also allow the TAF to conduct more HIV/AIDS prevention and education activities, and to provide better care to people living with HIV/AIDS who have access to the network's services.

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Helping children live a normal healthy life in Africa

Rhoda Lee

Rhoda Lee from Edmonton, Alberta

Rhoda Lee volunteered on two occasions to work as a nurse for Mercy Ships, the world's largest charity hospital ship delivering free transformational health care. She delivered medical care and assisted with patients of all ages, including Kadiatu, who lost the middle of her face to noma, an infectious disease predominantly affecting children. Though preventable and treatable, most of those afflicted with this flesh-eating disease have no access to the health care needed and thousands die from the condition each year. With the support of Rhoda, Kadiatu received appropriate treatments and now have a chance to live a normal, healthy life.

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Working to improve the treatment of children's cancer in Bangladesh

Megan Doherty

Megan Doherty from Ottawa, Ontario

Many physicians in Bangladesh have no specific training to treat pain or to prescribe pain medications for patients afflict by cancer. By developing simple training materials and providing clinical mentorship to staff, Dr. Megan Doherty is working to change this. She has also developed a play therapy program for children who require inpatient treatment for cancer, recognizing that play is instrumental in helping children cope psychologically with severe illness and stress.

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Educating youth about reproductive health in Belize

Avneet Dhillon

Avneet Dhillon from Oakville, Ontario

Avneet worked with the Belize Family Life Association to help implement training of peer educators in five local high schools. She taught more than 2,000 students aged 12 to 20 about sexual and reproductive health. She organized 12 community outreach activities such as health fairs, weekly radio and television shows, World AIDS Day youth rallies, and school visits to increase awareness about sexual health issues. As a result, the community became more educated about safe sex practices and common myths and misconceptions were clarified.

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An engineer solves technical problems and helps to improve the health of children and the entire population

Pierre Rivard

Pierre Rivard from Nominingue, Quebec

Pierre modified salt iodization equipment and thereby reduced mechanical breakdowns by 40 percent. He also gave technical training to 100 operators and wrote a user manual for them. His contribution made it possible to boost the production of quality iodized salt and to improve people's health.

Iodine deficiency affects brain development and reduces the IQ (intelligence quotient) of entire communities. Providing quality iodized salt prevents child developmental disorders.

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Water and sanitation

Building a well in Kenya

Kinsey Brockie, Mississauga, Ontario

Kinsey and her fellow McGill University students are working to raise $15,000 to build a well in Utoo, which will provide clean drinking water to 1,000 families who currently have to walk six hours to get water.

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Canadian invention redesigned to provide clean water to Cambodians

Carolyn Truong

Carolyn Truong from Toronto, Ontario

Carolyn Truong, an environmental engineer-in-training of mixed Cambodian heritage, volunteered for seven months with local NGO Clear Cambodia to help improve access to safe water in rural Cambodia. The challenge was to adapt Canadian biosand filter technology, typically used for small households applications, to provide enough clean water for large facilities such as schools.

After months of testing and community consultation, Carolyn and a team of Canadian and Cambodian colleagues not only redesigned a new technology, but also developed a user manual and an entire program to bring clean water, sanitation and hygiene to the classroom. Carolyn participated in the direct implementation of two prototypes. One was installed in a school of more than 300 students; the other was at the Clear Cambodia staff facility serving 25 workers. Since Carolyn returned to Canada, Clear Cambodia has implemented the new system at 72 schools.

“This has been an incredible learning experience. International work requires a unique skill set of creativity, adaptability and critical thinking, which I have just begun to develop and which I hope to continue developing in the future.” Carolyn said.

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Carolyn participated in this project as a young Canadian professional as part of the Global Affairs Canada's International Youth Internship Project.

Clean Water for Remote Community in El Salvador

Shelley DeCoste

Shelley DeCoste from Calgary, Alberta

Shelley travelled to the rural village of Hoja de Sal in El Salvador to construct, install and monitor water filters.

Shelley's Canadian team from Samaritan's Purse Canada, along with the local Agua Viva team, constructed and installed approximately 100 filters and monitored another 200. While working to install the filters, she had the opportunity to visit families and children, and to see their difficult living conditions. To thank the leader of the community and their host families for their hospitality, Shelley came up with the idea to paint the local community centre during their visit, so that it would be enjoyed by the community for many years to come.

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Involving a Canadian classroom in development

Courtesy of Paul Stinson

Paul Stinson from Craik, Saskatchewan

A teacher at Davidson School, Paul encouraged his students to make a difference globally and locally. The students participated in Free the Children's Pennies for Change program, collecting more than $200 to bring clean drinking water for life to 15 people living in Kenya. They also created a small vegetable garden and shared their tomatoes, beans, carrots, cucumbers and strawberries with the Davidson community.

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Economic growth and innovations

Sharing communications expertise in Honduras

Jody Paterson

Jody Paterson from Victoria, British Columbia

Jody worked in Honduras for two years as a communications officer. She prepared and implemented a communications plan and tools for the Comisión de Acción Social Menonita (CASM), a local organization partnering with CUSO International. The plan was designed to publicize the work of CASM, which helps poor communities to prevent food insecurity, exercise human rights, increase household incomes and build the capacity to mitigate against natural disasters.

Thanks to Ms. Paterson's help, CASM now has websites and Facebook pages for each of its seven regions, videos and a database containing about 500 photos of its projects. The organization's members have also acquired a new knowledge of communications. In addition, they are able to update the tools that enable them to share their work, thus helping to reduce poverty and raise public awareness.

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Empowering Youth in Uganda with Local Solutions

Daphne Nederhorst

Daphne Nederhorst from Vancouver, British Columbia

Since the age of seven, Daphne Nederhorst has dedicated herself to giving a voice to unsung champions who, despite living in extreme poverty, found simple solutions to lift themselves and their communities out of that impoverished environment. Daphne founded Sawa World to share locally created and practical solutions that thrive independent of charity or foreign aid. These solutions to poverty are documented on short videos, then shared with vulnerable, unemployed youth. From 2011 till 2014, Sawa Youth Reporters in Uganda have produced more than 150 videos, reaching more than 15,032 impoverished people and inspiring them to replicate the solutions in their own communities.

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Empowering Zambian beekeepers through an innovative partnership

Liz Connell and Paul Whitney

Liz Connell and Paul Whitney from Ottawa, Ontario

Liz and Paul created the African Bronze Honey Project in 2013. Inspired by a friend, Dan Ball, who trained 6,000 people as beekeepers in Zambia, Liz and Paul now market Zambian honey in Canada, and aim to generate enough profit to train another 6,000 beekeepers.

They partner with Canadian schools and not-for-profit organizations to sell the honey as a fundraiser. The beekeepers are paid the world price for their honey and 25 percent of the selling price goes to the beekeeper training program or to Canadian not-for-profit partners. About 10 percent goes toward developing new products.

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Empowering women in Burkina Faso

Courtesy of Oumou Nomoko

Oumou Nomoko from Gatineau, Quebec

Oumou is helping the Association Munyu des Femmes de la Comoé in Burkina Faso launch four microbusinesses to increase women's income by 20 percent. She is also helping to train women belonging to the association and empower them financially.

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Sharing expertise with Tanzania

Courtesy of Kelly Galloway-Sealock

Kelly Galloway-Sealock from Kitchener, Ontario

Kelly is working with the city of Morogoro on local economic development initiatives such as creating economic corridors linking rural and urban communities.

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Food security

Local "model families" leading the way to better nutrition

Diane Baik

Diane Baik from Waterloo, Ontario

Nutritionist, Diane Baik, trains facilitators in Zambia on the implementation of a nutrition program based on the premise that in every community, despite the challenges of poverty, there are some families who are raising well-nourished children. Trained facilitators share with the community what these "model" families are doing differently and help them create nutritious meals. The program leads to sustained improvements in child nutrition and healthier families.

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Improving organic vegetable production in Haiti

Mathieu Roy

Mathieu Roy from Montreal, Quebec

Agronomy adviser Mathieu Roy spent nearly one year in Haiti and trained a team consisting of an agronomist-coordinator and six Haitian agricultural technicians. He developed nine training gardens to teach them new techniques for producing organic vegetables and improving overall productivity (composting, fertilization, size, crop rotation, etc.). The Haitian team is now responsible for managing these gardens, in cooperation with representatives from the Marigot commune's nine farmers' associations, which provided the plots of land needed for this project.

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Inland valley swamp rehabilitation for food production

Vasile Klaassen

Vasile Klaassen from Calgary, Alberta

Vasile worked in Sierra Leone in 11 communities as a CUSO volunteer where she helped improve rice and vegetable production in the Kenema District. Vasile trained 22 local youth to improve sustainable agricultural practices by building water management structures for better use of cropping systems throughout the year. These practices have since been adopted country-wide, and today, more food is being produced and more families are able to pay their school fees as a result of being able to sell surplus production.

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Gardening improves child nutrition in Bolivia

Courtesy of Jean Beaudry

Jean Beaudry from Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Quebec

Jean helped 80 families in eight poor neighbourhoods in the city of Riberalta develop home gardens and grow the fruit and vegetables they needed to protect their children from malnutrition in just one year.

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Increasing food security in Mozambique

Courtesy of Lise Hamilton

Lise Hamilton from Calgary, Alberta

Lise is helping monitor and evaluate projects to improve farmers' planting and conservation methods, increase productivity and provide more food for their families in Pemba.

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Nova Scotia intern promotes international development involvement

Paul Manning

Paul Manning from Bible Hill, Nova Scotia

In 2010, Paul travelled to Ethiopia to work on an international development project with the Dalhousie University, to increase the quantity of food available for the local population.

Upon returning in Nova Scotia, Paul presented about 20 conferences to share his experience and invite the participants to engage in international development. Paul is now studying in the United Kingdom and remains actively involved in international development initiatives.

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A forest engineer is developing sustainable forests in Zambia

Garry Brooks from Victoria, British Columbia

When Garry Brooks went to Zambia in 2002, he got quite a shock. How could he talk about reforestation with people who had no drinking water, or schools, or health care? In spite of everything, the next year he launched the African Community Project to help rural communities plant sustainable community forests.

In the beginning, Garry and his team were planting about 5,000 trees per year, but the villagers did not understand how trees that take more than 50 years to mature could be of use to them. So the team opted for fast-growing trees, ready to be cut in roughly three years and able to be used in the short term for combustion, the manufacturing of baskets and various other uses. Since then, the villagers have been interested in the work and have gotten involved.

Millions of trees have since been planted. Dams have been built to create water reservoirs to irrigate the plantations, tree nurseries have been developed and educational programs on the environment have been set up. In addition, as the project also aimed to provide solutions to local issues, it paved the way to build schools, improve basic health services and create small agricultural businesses.

To date, 11 community forests have been created, benefiting more than 20,000 people.

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Teaching children to protect the environment in Nicaragua

Kelsie Wright along with three other Canadian interns

Kelsie Wright from Orillia, Ontario

Kelsie, along with three other Canadian interns, organized an Environmental Awareness Day that reached some 200 Nicaraguan children in three communities: Pearl Lagoon, Raitipura, and Haulover. Through various activities – a video, a giant book, games, and art creations – students in Grades 1 and 2 learned as much as they laughed. They are now better equipped to protect the environment, sea turtles, and natural resources in their communities.

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Preventing natural disasters in Benin

Courtesy of Geneviève Sylvestre

Geneviève Sylvestre from Berthierville (Lanaudière), Quebec

Geneviève is helping to build the capacities of local partners to better prevent and manage natural disasters such as the floods that affected the 42 villages of the Sô-Ava Commune and a fire and cholera epidemic that hit one of the villages.

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Turning waste into treasure in Nicaragua

Courtesy of Gary Buchanan

Gary Buchanan from Athabasca County, Alberta

Gary is providing economic development advice and helping to convert waste paper into cooking briquettes which will reduce deforestation and create new jobs in Somoto.

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Providing climate change knowledge to farmers with quality radio programs

Sylvie Harrison

Sylvie Harrison from Ottawa, Ontario

Sylvie, who specializes in broadcasting, worked on the Climate Change Adaptation in Northern Ghana Enhanced project in partnership with four radio stations in three regions in Ghana. The objective of the project was to develop more informative and higher quality radio programs by using vox pops and short dramas to help capture the interest of listeners. These programs helped provide farmers with knowledge of climate change and climate-friendly agricultural technologies. With these new techniques, both women and men farmers are able to make informed choices about sustainable agricultural practices.

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Humanitarian assistance

Helping the Nepalese…before and after the earthquake

Elsie James, High River, Alberta

In 2009, Elsie James celebrated her 75th birthday at Everest Base Camp after a 23-day trek aimed at raising funds to renovate a respite centre in Kathmandu for families with sick children.

Elsie has been a volunteer for more than seven years with Medical Mercy Canada (MCC) and is currently Nepal Project Manager. Her notable achievements include helping to establish an orphanage in Kathmandu and to implement an agricultural mentoring program for youth in Dhading Besi.

The April 25, 2015, earthquake caused significant damage to MMC projects in Nepal. Although Elsie knows that reconstruction work will take a long time, she has no intention of slowing down! She will continue her efforts to help the people of Nepal.

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Ebola Crisis: Turning fear around in Sierra Leone

Garth Tohms, Winnipeg, Manitoba

As a humanitarian worker with the Canadian Red Cross, Garth Tohms has helped people in various places. He worked as a water and sanitation technician with the Emergency Response Unit to the Philippines and South Sudan, and, most recently, with the Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone.

For a month, Garth worked closely with local staff, ensuring reliable water supply and electricity for the 60-bed emergency hospital. He formed strong bonds with his Sierra Leonean co-workers who confided their fears of being in contact with the virus, but Garth assured them that their safety was his “number one concern”. True to his word, none of Garths’ co-workers became infected, and to show their gratitude they presented him with a special plaque on his departure day.

“It was very emotional for me, more so than any other mission I have been on,” remarked Garth. Would he go back? “Definitely,” he says.

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Working in remote locations to reach the most vulnerable people

Mathieu Roy

Brett Hanley from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia

Brett began her humanitarian assistance career in Tajikistan as an intern under the International Youth Internship Programme. After that she completed her master's in International Humanitarian Action before joining the Word Food Programme (WFP).

Until recently, she was delivering WFP food assistance programs in Ethiopia to help about 44,000 vulnerable people and 38,000 refugees from neighbouring South Sudan. She is now working for the WFP in Lebanon in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

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