So you are done for the summer…Now what?

Have you just finished your exams?  Waiting to start your summer job?  Found yourself with time on your hands and you aren’t sure what to do with it?  Here’s the solution.  Volunteer.  There are plenty of opportunities.  Here are two that I am very excited about.



This organization is dedicated to creating an accurate and up-to-date list of venues in Toronto and how accessible they are.  This is done by auditing businesses across the GTA.  There are lots factors taken into account; signage, lighting, physical accessibility, transit, doors, etc.  Don’t misunderstand me, performing the audit itself isn’t complicated or even take that much time, but it does make you consider all factors of accessibility, not just whether or not there are grab bars in the bathroom or if there is there a ramp.  What makes this project so exciting is that unlike other apps or accessible listings which usually state whether the location is fully accessible, partially accessible or not accessible, Accessible Toronto lists the entire audit.  You can take the information and decide for yourself if the location is accessible to you.  As someone who has tried to call and confirm that a location is accessible only to discover when you arrive that it isn’t, I believe this project is sorely needed in Toronto.  The GTA is a large city and there is a lot of ground to cover to create a complete listing.  So Accessible Toronto is looking for volunteers to audit businesses in their neighbourhoods. This is definitely a project worth supporting.  I know the next time I go for dinner, to a movie, or to the pub I will have the audit forms with me.  And you should too!


Stencil Shot

So now that you are thinking about accessibility, what do you do when you realize you favourite hang has a step in the front?  Simple.  Contact Stopgap.  Stopgap is an organization dedicated to creating a world in which everyone can access a space and removing barriers through community participation.  One aspect of StopGap is the community ramp project.  If you have been through Roncesvalles lately you will have noticed brightly coloured wooden ramps in many of the doorways.  For smaller businesses in Toronto, renovating their storefront to build a permanent ramp which meets city bylaws and does not infringe on the public space of the sidewalk or their neighbours can be tricky and expensive.  A light, wooden portable ramp solves these issues and creates a colourful and accessible space.  There are a lot of ways to become involved with StopGap.  Check out their website and help make your neighbourhood more accessible to everyone!

Volunteering as a professional

When people think of volunteering, they often think it is something that students do to gain experience and build their resumes. We may also think of it as something people do for charitable reasons. These are both excellent reasons to volunteer and I have had the pleasure of doing both of these things. However, after working as a professional for 5 years in the same work environment, I decided to volunteer. The reason I decided to volunteer again is because I was ready for a change and I wanted to learn something new.

Volunteering offers many rewards if you go in with the right intentions and do your best work. –

I came across many of the same obstacles that I faced when I was a student. My goal was to volunteer for a particular organization and so I emailed the contact I had found, but received no answer. This is a very common occurrence especially if you don’t know anyone in the organization. But that did not stop me.

If you have ever tried to secure a volunteer position and have not heard back after making contact, don’t give up. Try, try again. After a week or two, send a friendly reminder to check the status of your inquiry. It took a few friendly reminders before I received a response. But I finally managed to get a meeting and worked out a volunteering schedule.

Volunteering does not have to be a huge investment of your time. I ended up volunteering 3 hours a week for 6 months. The trick is to put your best foot forward when you volunteer. Not only is it a waste of time, but it can damage your reputation if you do a shoddy job of volunteering. Volunteering is your chance to shine. If you are not willing or able to put 110%  into your volunteer position, I would rethink whether or not it is worth your investment.

The return on investment for volunteering ended up being big for me. I was offered a position and ended up working at the place I volunteered at. Although this may not always happen, volunteering offers many rewards if you go in with the right intentions and do your best work. You never know where it may lead.

Standing Out

“You’re unique – just like everyone else”

Almost all of my fellow first year nursing students that I have encountered thus far have said that they want to pursue a career in pediatrics (myself included). Sure, I expect that opinions will change over course of the next three years, but as it stands now, I foresee a high demand for the line of work that does not have the greatest supply. Since coming to university and hearing that most people have the same end goal as I do, I’ve only become more motivated to stand out from the rest in both anticipation of the real world and in hopes to prepare myself (both personally and professionally) for what I am sure that I will one day encounter as a nurse. At this point in time, I’ve really only touched the tip of the professional iceberg with some retail experience, a whole lotta babysitting and as much volunteering as I can handle. As I see it, it’s never too early to start building up your resume or branching out to make contacts in preparation for the real world, and so over the past few years I’ve been trying to do just that.


The other day, one of my fellow students and I were talking about what we envision for ourselves after graduation. I told her that I hoped that my volunteer experience in the health care field would help me to get to where I want to be in my career one day (if not for the experience just being listed on my resume, but for the skills that it will help me to develop) but she thought otherwise. In fact, this person told me that she purposely hasn’t spent any time volunteering or trying to get work in the nursing or health care field because she thought that the nursing degree which we will all graduate with in the end will be enough of a qualification to land a job. At first I thought she was joking, then I realized that I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, we all graduate with the exact same thing and if we’re all going to be going for any jobs at all then going above and beyond is the best (and only) way to stand out. No one’s going to hand you a job – in any field – and getting the degree is only one piece of the puzzle.


A nursing degree does not make a nurse, and it’s up to us to go above and beyond to foster the most personal and professional growth we can in ourselves – for any profession. I don’t see the sense in adopting the “least possible amount of work” attitude throughout university to try and scrape by and hope that a piece of paper and a few letters after your name will do the talking for you. Even if a bachelor of anything was enough to find a job in the real world, why would anyone want to limit their learning to that? I’d like to think that we’re all pursuing something that we’re passionate about but I know that’s not the case for all. I hope that this person smartens up soon enough to realize that when other people raise the bar by doing everything that they can to become the best that they can be, striving for the bare minimum just isn’t going to cut it!

A Different Christmas List

Since we have had children, we make an Advent calendar for the Christmas season each year. While our family does not practice a conventional religion, there are rites, traditions and rituals of the Christmas holiday that we do observe. Our Advent calendar is also not traditional in the sense that it does not count down the days to the birth of Jesus and it does not contain little doors with chocolates behind them, much to my children’s disappointment. The design of the calendar changes each year and this year’s is a paper tree stuck on the wall with flat wooden ornaments on it. The point is to remember to stop and do something meaningful together each day in December which is perfect for us because we close down our family business for a week and I don’t have deadlines for school so December is a quieter month for us to enjoy a low-key holiday together.

This year, one of the tasks are to “Share Something” and another is “Give Something Away”. For my part, I had intended to write a story for my daughter and share it with her. Due to work, school and placement deadlines, there is no way that will happen on time so I will have to re-vision that as a sharing of time or skills I think. Giving something away is easy and I think I’d like to challenge myself to give as many different types of things away as I can. For the children it means donating a toy or some clothing they no longer use. There is no shortage of places to donate your time, your skills, your unused items, your money and so on but in doing my own research, I turned up some that I hadn’t thought of before. I provide a list of some of them here in case they are of interest to you and your families and hope you will google one or two to see what they are all about:

Share a Meal. Foodbanks are an obvious choice but the need has never been greater. Maybe you read my blog on the Hunger Report and maybe you didn’t but there are a lot of people out there who are going hungry. If you can’t get to a food bank, pick up an extra few cans with your shopping and drop them in the bins at Loblaws.

Share Christmas Cheer. My book club participates in the Catholic Children’s Aid Society Hope for Children programme. Last year, we donated a pile of gently used baby items and ticked off every item on the wishlist for a mother of a three month old daughter living in our community. We even had enough left over to buy a grocery card to put her Christmas dinner on the table. As a group effort, it was a nice experience and made sure that among all the things she had to worry about, equipping her nursery wasn’t one of them.

Share the Warmth. If you have hats, mitts and scarves that you don’t use lying around in your front hall or you really don’t think you’ll ever wear the Abominable Snowman hat your uncle gave you last year and you live in Parkdale/High Park, take these items to your local library’s drop box to be redistributed to people on the street.

Share your Warmth. If you aren’t from Toronto and you miss your family’s Sunday night dinners, you might want to consider donating your time to the Out of the Cold programme at St. Patrick’s Church. The programme is non-denominational and offers a hot meal, a movie, a pair of pants and maybe even a haircut to guests.

Fulfill your new year’s resolution to give something back. There are literally tonnes of opportunities to do this and you can shop around on Charity Village to find one that suits your skillset. If you don’t want to do your research, consider becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister for the Year and help mentor a young person at risk.

Strength in Numbers. If you belong to a group or live in residence, you may want to do a food drive. The Stop also offers great group opportunities and even supplies the toolkits to help you devise a smashing event with a good cause behind it. They have programmes geared to everything from deep pockets to empty ones.

If you only have a few pennies to spare, think about tossing some in to a Salvation Army Kettle or buy yourself a White Ribbon to wear in solidarity with men who wish to End Violence Against Women.

Make it Count. If you can scrape together 25 bucks, there are all kinds of opportunities to make that count, including Good Shepherd meals or a gift from Santa for one of the 250 families who will spend Christmas in the Hospital for Sick Children this year. You might also want to consider buying Unicef cards instead of heading to your local Hallmark this year.

Share Your Talent. Rather than boring your family with Christmas carols on your ukelele, check out Volunteer Toronto for opportunities to share your skills with organizations in need.  A quick view turned up opportunities for webmasters, gift wrappers, musicians and people who really just want to handle dead turkeys.

Honour Them. If you have a special teacher or friend or family member you’d like to honour, many agencies are offering opportunities to do so in the name of charity. You can purchase an item of Sick Kids Wish List for someone special and they’ll send out a card in your name or you can buy a hamper from The Stop and they’ll send on a card for you.

Animals Need Love Too. If you like horses better than people, you might be interested in volunteering your time to Heaven Can Wait Equine Rescue (and make yourself a new friend in the process) or to organizations that adopt out ex-racing greyhounds from tracks in Florida to families in Canada.

Don’t Forget Your Momma. If the environment is your cause of choice, consider donating to The High Park Nature Centre or attending their Decorate a Tree for the Birds Event for $5 and maybe make some new friends to go with your stewardship.

There are no shortage of ways to give this year and the need is huge. I am grateful for the opportunity this blog has offered me to explore some of them and really apologize for having nearly doubled my allotted word count!



Choose Your Battles

An interesting topic was brought up in my Social Work Field Practice Seminar class last week: what social movements are worth quitting your job over? In other words, what types of advocacy would the organization you’re working for have to engage in for you to continue working for them?

The root of this question is “what are your passions?” I’m going to make the assumption that most students do not apply to Faculty of Community Services programs with the sole intention of making lots of money. If you did, good luck! Rather, I feel that the majority of students apply due to a particular passion towards a certain area of social service. If you’re passionate about helping solve a problem, chances are that you have opinions on a number of issues related to that problem. Personally, my passion is to see the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate and stigma lowered to non-existent levels, both locally and globally. Practically, this means that I am in full-fledged support of three specific social movements. These movements are “deal breakers” for me, i.e. the organization I’m working for must be advocating for them, or at least recognizing their merit and worth.

The first movement is towards lifting Canada’s Blood Ban, a homophobic policy that prevents a man who has had sex with another man (MSM’s) since 1977 from donating blood. This policy was born out of a contamination of our blood banks that occurred because of inadequate testing procedures on the part of Canadian Blood Services (CBS), not because the donor was gay.

This inherently discriminatory policy implies that MSMs blood cannot be trusted, no matter what, because they are such a high-risk group for HIV/AIDS. While HIV/AIDS has certainly had a major impact on Canada’s homosexual communities, high-risk sexual activity (i.e. intercourse without a condom) is just as likely to transmit HIV between a heterosexual couple as between a homosexual one.

What CBS is saying with this policy is that if you are an MSM, your blood is not good enough. CBS’s testing procedures have increased considerably since the contamination incident. If they can trust their staff to adequately test heterosexual men for HIV/AIDS, they should be able to trust them to do the same for homosexual men. Otherwise, CBS continues to marginalize MSM’s out of an irrational fear, furthering the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.

Secondly, there is a great need for Ontario to implement prosecutorial guidelines around HIV non-disclosure. At present, cases are being heard across Canada (occasionally even by the Supreme Court) in which the plaintiff claims that the defendant did not disclose their HIV-positive status before engaging in sexual acts with the plaintiff. Charges of criminal negligence, aggravated assault, and attempted murder have been levied against the defendants in a number of cases. Yet, there is no codified law to protect the accused. Judges are free to use their own judgment in deciding these cases.

HIV/AIDS is the only transmittable disease in Canada for which criminal charges can be laid. Why? If an individual shows up to work with an airborne illness (such as swine flu), does not disclose and infects another person, are they criminally liable? No. Yet airborne illnesses cause a large number of deaths per year, and people die much quicker from them than they do from HIV/AIDS. People living with HIV that are on anti-retroviral treatment (ARVs) can now live with a similar life expectancy and quality of life as any healthy individual. How can a virus that a person can live with for up to 50 years be part of a murder plot?

The Ontario attorney-general needs to develop guidelines around prosecuting HIV-positive individuals for not disclosing their status. We need to define what counts as a sexual act (because no- and negligible-risk sexual acts have a 0% infection rate), exactly how an HIV-positive person should disclose to their partner (is it a written agreement? Should it be witnessed by a third party?), and the person living with HIV’s medical status should be taken into consideration (if their viral load is undetectable, the infection rate is again 0%).

This movement has seen a considerable amount of action recently, thanks to the great work being done by the HIV/AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO) and supporting partners. However, the progress is slow, largely because of deep-rooted fear and stigma of HIV from people in positions of power.

Thirdly, the Government of Canada needs to revive Bill C-393, which would permit Canada to generically produce ARVs and distribute them globally. Currently, India is the only country to have started this initiative. For most African nations, the price of ARVs from large pharmaceutical companies is too great to afford. Therefore, millions of people living with HIV are not on treatment, and so the epidemic continues to spread and people continue to die.

The movement to get Canada on board with this initiative was spearheaded by the Stephen Lewis Foundation, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Clinic, and supporting partners. It passed through the House of Commons in March, but was waiting on Senate approval when the Federal Election was called this spring. The election killed the Bill, meaning that we have to start at the House of Commons again. Nonetheless, we cannot give up this fight. If we can get every HIV-positive individual on ARVs, we will lower the worldwide viral load to undetectable status. This means that there is a 0% risk that the virus will be transmitted to future generations. We can effectively end HIV/AIDS within a generation, without a cure or a vaccine. We can do this by being the first Western nation to legally state that treating people for HIV is more important than pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of disadvantaged nations.

These are the three movements that I need to see the organizations I am engaged with take an advocate’s stance on. I feel that they are paramount to my professional goal of seeing HIV prevalence and stigma eradicated in my lifetime.

Feel free to comment with movements you’re passionate about! By sharing knowledge, we can create greater awareness and activity towards making our community and the world a better place.

FCS Student Recognition Celebration Coverage

Last Wednesday, Ryerson’s Faculty of Community Services hosted the first annual FCS Student Recognition Open House. The purpose of this event was to showcase the wide variety of research and international work that has been undertaken by Ryerson FCS students.

I was fortunate enough to have been invited to present on my experience, and was inspired to see other students getting involved in interested work all over the world. From South Afirca to India to Costa Rica, Ryerson students took what they’d learned through their FCS program and applied it in an international context.

Usha George, FCS Dean, gave a short speech where she awarded students for exceptional achievements in their fields. She also showed how Ryerson is financially committed to its students, mentioning that Ryerson FCS gave out over $25,000 in grants to support their students’ research and international work in the past year.


The funding is certainly helpful, but so is the support of faculty members. In planning the summer I spent in Swaziland, I worked closely with Susan Preston, Ryerson Social Work’s Associate Director of Field Education. She provided me with helpful tips and suggestions, and guided me from the process of beginning to look for organizations to handing in applications for financial support.

David Begg from Ryerson International (RI) and Purnima George from Ryerson Social Work also provided invaluable support in this experience. David provided practical travel information, and RI researched into the area I was traveling to specifically to help me understand what I was signing up for. Purnima provided one-on-one support via email while I was abroad. Although I did not have any problems, it was reassuring to know that I knew where I could seek support.

To make the process of sending Ryerson students abroad, at least for Social Work field placements, I think it would be invaluable for the school to set up long-term agreements with international organizations. The most difficult part of my international experience was the uncertainty I experienced when looking for organizations and sending them emails. While students should be encouraged to find their own organizations to work with internationally, a few established placements would have certainly eased the anxiety I felt as the deadline to have a confirmed placement neared and I still had not received a positive response.

Otherwise, Ryerson provides students with a well-supported international experience. Funding, personal support, and education are available and easily accessible. I’m excited to see a new group of students presenting on their international experiences at next year’s luncheon. As students continue to positively represent Ryerson abroad, the school is able to increase what it is able to offer students with international ambitions.

Students honoured at FCS Recognition Event – An Outsider’s Perspective

Guest Blogger: Samantha Sim
Ontario Work Study Program (OWSP) employee for the Faculty of Community Services and 2nd-year Journalism student

Last Wednesday’s first-annual FCS Student Achievement Event reminded me just how interconnected our world really is and how important it is to use this interconnectedness to give back to the communities around us who’re in need. The event showcased 23 presentations split into two categories: students presenting on conferences they had attended and students presenting on their experience at an international placement.  Being a journalism student I’m essentially an outsider to the faculty, so it was interesting for me to see the variety of countries students visited and the range of topics that had been presented at conferences. The event showed me that no matter your age you can make an impact on the world around you and it really got me thinking about the one I want to make before I leave this school.

Award recipients Ying-Mei Liang (left) and Marian Mohamud (right) with Dean Dr. Usha George.

The event also honoured three students who were recipients of Faculty of Community Service awards. Nursing student Ying-Mei Liang was the winner of the FCS Full-Time Undergraduate Award. “Thank you to FCS for recognizing students who go the extra mile outside of class,” she said. Disability studies student Stacey Simmons won the FCS Part-Time Undergraduate Award. Social work student Marian Mohamud was the recipient of the RBC Community Services Award. “[FCS] recognizes our hard work. [Winning this award] tells me that I’m doing something good and that I should continue doing it,” said Mohamud.

Here are a few of the presentations that caught my eye:

Tina, a fourth-year ECE student who recently visited Tanzania, Africa.

Tina, a fourth-year early childhood education student, spent three weeks in Tanzania, Africa this past May working as a team lead for Child Reach International, a U.K. based charity that provides community based development to children worldwide. She helped renovate a local school, teach children, and recruit team members for the charity. Her stay also included a cultural experience where she was able to visit and explore local African communities. “It was an incredible experience and I’d recommend other students to go,” she said. “I’ll definitely be going back within the next five years.”

Denice (right) speaking with an event attendee.

Health science graduate Denice Koo showcased her presentation “An examination of knowledge, beliefs and perceptions about the plant-based diet among women attending breast cancer risk assessment clinics” that she presented at the American Institute for Cancer Research Annual Research Conference in October 2010. Koo credits the conference support grant as being a major advantage for helping her to secure her current and past jobs. She currently works as a corporate patient education specialist at St. Michael’s Hospital. “Without [the conference support grant], which allowed me to showcase this level of research, I may not have been able to get the types of employment opportunities I’ve had.”

The New Orleans Project and its participants.

A group of students travelled to New Orleans to work with the St. Bernard Project, which is helping to rebuild the St. Bernard parish after Hurricane Katrina. In addition some of the students travelled to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to volunteer at a donation centre sorting goods for the victims of the recent tornadoes. I spoke with Iryna Muzyka, a fourth-year food and nutrition student, and Daphne Paszterko, a continuing education student, who both agree that the trip really opened their eyes to the scope of the damage these natural disasters inflicted. “Even if you can see these things on T.V., [this project let us see firsthand] the people who’ve been affected,” said Paszterko.

Katarzyna (left) with Dean Dr. Usha George (right).

Katarzyna Tupta, a masters nutrition communication student, presented the findings of her presentation titled “Expectations and perceptions of first-year students in Ontario food and nutrition undergraduate programs” at the Dietitians of Canada National Conference in Edmonton this past July. This was the first conference Tupta attended and she encourages other students to take advantage of the conference support grant. “There’s a whole world outside of school with lots of interesting research going on. The [conference support grant] gave me an opportunity to see this and make lots of professional contacts,” she says. For her project Tupta surveyed 104 first-year nutrition students about what they expected out of their program and whether they were interested in becoming dieticians. She found that 97% of students were in the program with the objective of becoming dieticians.

Restore Gulu: Finding Hope in Northern Uganda

Of the problems facing the African continent – economic destitution, corrupt leadership, high rates of HIV/AIDS and TB, food shortages, gender disparity, illiteracy, and inadequate access to sanitation and water – child soldiers are perhaps the most unsettling.

The notion of a country at war is not difficult to grasp for people from the West. Canada’s current involvement in Afghanistan, and the US’s military movements in Iraq and Libya are just a couple examples of modern wars that have been reported on non-stop by the media since they began. Canada’s military history (War of 1812, World War I & II, etc) is taught in school and our veterans are, rightfully so, commemorated on Remembrance Day every year. The idea of people going to war has been ingrained in us from a young age as a necessary evil. However, the idea of going to war at a young age is unfathomable. Yet, it is a reality.

In Northern Uganda specifically, over 30,000 children have been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and forced into a life of militarism. Some of these children are as young as 10 years old. The world, at large, has either turned a blind eye to these atrocities or has wrung their hands, unable to think of a way to stop this.

However, there is hope. Watoto, an organization that started in Kampala, Uganda and has since reached out to the world, has a comprehensive plan to rebuild lost childhoods.

The plan starts with Trauma Rehabilitation. In its third year now, Watoto is aiming to take this program from being simply an outreach movement into Northern Uganda communities by building a central base where rescued child soldiers, their mothers, and the community at large can come to be empowered with the foundations of life stripped away from them. Watoto is starting with attitudinal change, to ensure that their other initiatives are sustainable.

The next step is to provide education to those that missed their first chance, so Watoto is opening a Technical and Agricultural College to provide former child soldiers with the training necessary to become productive citizens within their communities.

Watoto is also in the process of building Children’s Villages. Akin to the Bulembu project that I have blogged about previously, these villages consist of a number of homes of up to 8 children that have been orphaned or abandoned by their parents. Within each village, Watoto has built schools, a clinic, a sustainable water source, and a community centre. The caregivers and children are both supported through Watoto’s sponsorship program. Providing a child with a stable home environment is key to their development.

Watoto has further initiated a Baby Home, that cares for the youngest children to be orphaned, abandoned, or left vulnerable as a result of child war, poverty, lack of education, and/or HIV/AIDS. These tots, between 0 and 2 years of age, will move on to a CHildren’s Village once they reach the age of 3.

For any soldier, a constant reminder of the past are physical scars and injuries caused from war. Watoto provides Medical Intervention, allowing individuals to undergo reconstructive surgeries. These surgeries don’t just repair a person’s exterior, they help restore dignity and livelihood as well.

Watoto’s Living Hope campaign is reaching out to 900 HIV-positive women in the Northern Uganda area. They are all returnees from abduction or teenage mothers. Again, Watoto is providing them with empowerment, education, and the funding to allow them a second chance at building their lives.

Finally, Watoto is working with the Ugandan government in Town Planning. Children’s Villages are a fantastic initiative, but to see comprehensive transformation happen in the country, all communities need to be focused on fostering life and future leaders. Giving the people of this nation something to look forward to makes up the basis for hope for the future.

I was so inspired by a screening of Watoto’s “Restore Gulu” documentary, that I felt the need to share a project that is both heartwarming and achievable. Sometimes, the search for hope can seem long and fruitless. Whether or not you choose to personally engage with this particular project, I hope that hearing about it invigorates you to keep working in your area of passion towards making a positive difference.

For more information on this project, go here.

Think Globally, Act Locally

Following an inspiring public lecture by Stephen Lewis, Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University, and a panel of local activists from the Ryerson community last Monday, my passion for the ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’ campaign has been reignited. By realizing how marginalization and oppression affect millions of people around the world, we can ignite a sense of urgency within ourselves to act in practical ways within our own communities to combat many of the world’s large, complex problems on a personal level.

Globally speaking, the statistics are dire. There were 1.4 billion people living below the International Poverty Line ($1.25/day) as of 2005, with an additional 64 million pushed into that category by 2010 as a result of the world economic crisis. (UN)

69 million school-age children are not attending school, with only 89% of the developing world’s children being enroled in a primary school (UN, 2008).

As of 2010, there was one women in a parlimentary position for every five men worldwide. In some regions within Southern Asia, Western Asia, and Northern Africa, only 20% of working-age women are employed. (UN)

9 million children die every year before they reach the age of five (UN, 2008).

350,000 women die annually during pregnancy and childbirth. Over 1 million children are left motherless every year (UN).

Every day, 7,400 people are infected with HIV/AIDS. Every day, 5,500 people die from AIDS-related illnesses (UN). Every 45 seconds, a child dies from malaria (UN).

884 million people do not have access to safe drinking water (UN). 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation services (toilets and latrines) (UN).

Developed countries only provide 0.31% of their GDP to foreign aid to help solve these issues (UN). The UN reccomends they give 0.7, more than 100% more than their current statistics, in order to effectively aid the developing world’s needs.

The 8 paragraphs above provide statistics from the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals. The statistics, as you can see, are all from the UN. Field practitioners, working in all of the above areas, have often related to me that the UN is underestimating its stats.

There’s definitely a need for something to be done. But, you may be asking, what can I do? How can I play a part in ending poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, achieving gender equality, increasing child and maternal health, combatting HIV/AIDS, achieving environmental sustainability, and fostering global partnerships?

The answer is simple. You can advocate, volunteer, and/or donate.

1. Advocate

a) Write your parlimentary representative

Know who represents you on specific issues. The Federal Government deals with, among others, issues related to foreign aid, employment insurance, citizenship, money and banking, and national defence. If any of these issues resonate with you, click here to find your Member of Parliment’s (MP) mailing address and email. Send them a letter outlining what you would like to see changed.

The Provincial Government deals with, among others, laws and programs related to the environment, education, property and civil rights, hospitals, and social services. If you would like to see the Ontario Government act in a specific way on any these topics, click here to contact the proper person to hear your opinion.

The Municipal Government is responsible for, among others, such services as public transit, libraries, emergency services, tax collection, social housing, and child care. You can contact your City Councillor to work on improving such services. Find out who your councillor is by clicking here and then find their contact information by clicking “Find out more about [your ward]” at the top of the page that follows.

Remember, these individuals are elected representatives, voted in by you and your community. Their primary purpose is to cater to your needs.

b) Get people talking

One of the simplest ways you can make a difference is by talking with others at work, school, or in your neighbourhood about issues that matter to you. Relay information on how to affect change locally, and you’ll start a movement without even realizing it.

2. Volunteer

Interested in personally getting involved to help improve the situation of other Torontonians, in relation to some of the issues mentioned above? Here are some personal reccomendations for organizations to look into volunteering with:

Poverty and Hunger: United Way

Education: TDSB Adult Literacy Program

Gender Equality: 416 Community Support for Women

Social Services: Family Service Toronto

HIV/AIDS: AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (PWA)

Environmental Sustainability: Greenpeace

Global Partnerships: United Nations’ Association in Canada

General: Volunteer Toronto

3. Donate

All of the above organizations accept donations, and you can find out more about where your money will go through their website or by calling their office. You can also ask at your bank for charity giving options. The biggest misconception I find is that people expect they have to give hundreds of dollars a year to make a difference. Sometimes, $5/month is all that’s needed to affect positive change within your community.

Consider making a difference today, for a brighter future tomorrow.

Ryerson: A History of Social Justice

We’re currently in Ryerson’s Social Justice Week, which boasts a number of of engaging exhibits, workshops, and presentations.

As a Faculty of Community Services student, I’m proud to see my university as a whole take on issues that affect marginalized communities both locally and globally. Such community care from an institution is inspiring to see, and truly instills the sense that I attend a progressive school that cares for the world outside of the classroom.

The question is, how did we get here?

Ryerson was born out of the Toronto Normal School, started by Egerton Ryerson (a member of Canada’s elite in the 19th century). Our focus throughout most of the 20th century was in engineering and technical services. As Ryerson University, our handle since 2001, we’ve been gradually expanding academically, socially, and corporately.

Such a history doesn’t really seem to set the stage for a school of progressive-thinking students questioning social policies and norms. Let’s focus in some more, and take a look at the Faculty of Community Services specifically.

Our undergraduate Disability Studies program is unique compared to similar degrees at other Canadian universities by placing an emphasis on the socio-political context of disability. Ryerson has chosen not to see disability as physical and universal, but as a sliding scale determined by the needs of individuals within a community. What does this mean? It means that the school is challenging stigma and labels around disability, and the misguided notion that a disabled person can never improve their situation or achieve as much as a non-disabled person. It’s an elegantly simple perspective – see the person before you see the disability – but one that is only accepted on an undergraduate level within Canada by Ryerson.

Ryerson also offers Canada’s largest Schools of Nursing and Social Work. Through sheer size, we’re able to achieve and develop much in terms of cutting-edge education. The Faculty of Social Work teach from an Anti-Oppressive Practice (AOP) Perspective, a relatively new theory which aligns with another known as the Strengths-based Perspective. Through personal experience working in the social service field, I have noticed more and more organizations aligning themselves with AOP and/or Strengths-based practice.

Furthermore, we have Ontario’s only Child and Youth Care university program, and Ontario’s only Public Health and Safety program. Our School of Early Childhood Education is Canada’s oldest, which means that we’ve been researching and implementing new ways to teach and practice before some schools even hired faculty.

There’s a lot to be proud of at Ryerson.

The university’s development towards being community-based and focused on issues of social justice has also been fostered by the appointment of the CAW Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy and by the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), which has started such initiatives as Students’ Against Racism.

Ryerson’s commendable emphasis on social justice is, therefore, a partnership between faculty, students, and communities. It is both well-thought out and sustainable, and I’m excited to see it develop further. If you are too, consider going out to a Social Justice Week event and/or getting involved with one of the RSU’s advocacy groups!