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Canadian Politics: Foreign Aid Workers Come To Canada


Save The Children is one of those remarkable agencies that operate without government help to alleviate suffering wherever they find it. Sometimes they are the first on the ground after a disaster strikes assessing the damage and seeing what needs to be done in order to fulfill the obligation of their name; Save The Children.

From New Orleans after Katrina, to Pakistan after the earthquake and of course all through the post Tsunami devastation countries, wherever they go you know people are in desperate need of assistance. So while their latest project is not surprising for people whose eyes are open, it may come as a big shock to some, and a nasty reality check for others. .

Save The Children International has just finished a two-week assessment on the quality of life in Native Canadian reservations in Northern Ontario preparatory to setting up a relief program/fundraising campaign in an effort to help the children of those communities. Webequie and Mishkeegogamang First Nation reserves aren't names that most of us call to mind on a regular basis, but they are two reserves among many facing familiar problems.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, teenage pregnancy, solvent abuse, sexual abuse, suicide, abject poverty, lack of housing, lack of affordable healthy food, and no fresh water or plumbing are always reported on but nothing has ever been done about it. Until now.

Three agencies that have been working with young people and children in Ontario; the provinces official child advocate Judy Finlay, Tikinagan, (a native run children's aid society in Northern Ontario) and The Friends of Tikinagan formed by one of it's former senior management people five years ago, founded the project. They started meeting with other humanitarian, aid groups, and charitable foundations to see what they could come up with to help the natives of Northern Ontario dig out from under years of neglect by governments of all stripes.

The people of the reserves while dealing with the grief of seeing their children destroying themselves one way or another, desperately want to do something about it. But when the government builds you a brand new school, but doesn't supply sufficient money to pay for the teaching of the students, and the kids don't have shoes on their feet that can keep the cold of the schools floors seeping up into their feet, the school just is one more waste of money.

Chief Connie Gray McKay of Mishkeegogamang doesn't want people thinking of them as "poor little Indians". She just wants the same opportunities for her people that everyone else gets down south – descent education and housing that’s safe. Her main objective now she feels is to teach the children who have become parents how to parent their children to give them a chance to break the cycle of endless poverty.

Aside from Save The Children International, other charitable foundations and relief organizations have joined in the effort to pick up the slack left by the governments. Canada Feed The Children, The Laidlaw Charitable Foundation, The Atkinson Charitable Foundation, Kinark Family and Child Services (Ontario's largest child mental-health agency), Ryerson University in Toronto Ontario, and Voices For Children, a child advocacy group are just a few of the thirty organizations that make up what's now known as theNorth-South Partnership For Children

It was through this group that the Save The Children organization became involved, and was taken on the two-week fact finding mission. Based on that trip they came up with a preliminary list of needs and programming that they figure would make a difference. They range from the practical like providing bus service to the nearest grocery store so families don't have to pay $175.00 in taxi fares to make the two and a half hour trip, to the long term of setting up recreational programming based on teaching young people traditional hunting and fishing skills so not only are they kept busy, but they learn about their cultural heritage.

For Nicolas Finney of Britain's Save The Children the whole experience has left him angry and eager to begin working on the assessment report. He says it's clearly a case of humanitarian action being essential. While in no way should the governments responsible be excused of their duties, there are things that can be done to make people's lives better on a daily basis.

The hardest thing for the aid workers to deal with in this situation is that they are used to circumstances where a disaster has suddenly caused havoc. Here Finney says " It's a gradual disaster that has emerged, unfolded, and been propagated, whether it's intentionally or by negligence, by people that should know better, by people in power, over a long period of time."

Instead of dealing with people who are recovering from the horror of a shock as is normal, they are seeing people who have had their will to live gradually sapped out of them generation after generation. To reverse that process is the real challenge for all these people.

They can send food, clothing, sporting equipment, build roads and houses, and supply bus service to the nearest city, but unless something is done to repair the emotional and spiritual havoc created by the years of neglect and abuse caused by successive governments they will only serve as more band-aids and not a permanent solution.

Already though some of their ideas, like the youth recreational program or the development of an eco-tourist industry are the type of innovative suggestions that are needed for this seemingly insoluble problem. They know their typical approach to a disaster is not appropriate in these circumstances but they are used to working under a variety of conditions and making use of available resources.

In the next little while the group, North-South Partnership will be starting a campaign as per advice given by the people from Save The Children. So maybe the next time you think about making a charitable donation why not stick close to home and help our your neighbour by donating to their campaign. It's time for us to show the governments we know how to help each other, and just maybe we can finally awaken them to their own responsibilities.

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