Archive for July, 2011

Soroptimist Eastern Canada Region

Uber condensed Spring Conference, down from 2 days to 4 hours! There were changes to the by-laws and announcements about membership with the loss of Simcoe County and potential charter of Kawartha Lakes, but the morning highlight was the Soroptimist Foundation of Canada winner. Blanca Haydee Lopez de Brizuela, M.A. in Legal Studies. Her bio is listed below and her story of passion for lead to a standing ovation from the whole room. She was presented with a $7,500 cheque to help her continue her studies as a candidate for Juris Doctor (LLB) at the University of Ottawa.

We had an interesting talk on mentoring young women through S-Club or Sigma Societies as a club program (posted separately) and were then joined by Governor Coleen Schmidt and Western Canada Region to hear Pat Donohue, President-Elect of Soroptimist International of the Americas, speak on Embracing Change. She cited leaders Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat, and Violet Richardson Ward, who quit her job three times on the basis of not getting paid equally as men who worked in the same position, as leaders of change.

“In every crisis there is a message. Crises are nature’s way of forcing change–breaking down old structures, shaking loose negative habits so that something new and better can take their place.”
- Susan Taylor

What’s Working? How can we do more of it? The Renaissance Campaign (Program | Public Awareness | Fundraising | Membership) has fostered cohesion and clarity with focus on women and girls, but more needs to be done. It will be extended for another year. Clubs are being asked to do the following two ac tions across the four areas:

  • Hold at least one recruitment event per year. Conduct the annual club assessment.
  • Participate in the Live Your Dream Campaign. Undertake media correspondence.
  • Donate 10% of club fundraising to SIA. Report the amounts you contribute to local projects
  • Focus on programs that benefit women and girls. Give out a Women’s Opportunity Award.

Pat’s presentation cited our own Dorothy Huhtalo from Humber-Credit Valley dreamed of retiring to her cottage in Kawartha Lakes. She and her husband are now Living their Dream and is spearheading the charter of a new club. “My experience helped me see that change is a good thing. We need to look for it and expect it each day.” We must be that change.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead

May 4-6 in the next Spring Conference: Dirty Thirties and Roaring Twenties in Haldimand Norfolk for the Jubilee Anniversary

Announcement from SIA: it is rare that clubs are impacted by the SI Board. Governance, Oversight and Strategy issues came to fruition this year across the four Federations. There is further discussion to be had.

After the lunch we were delighted to take home three of the four Federation awards for Celebrating Success: Program, Fundraising and Public Relations.

Grants for Women
Blanca Haydee Lopez de Brizuela is a lawyer and a former judge from El Salvador, Blanca completed a Master in Legal Studies at Carleton University. Her research “En-gender-ing Gender Sensitive Decisions: A Challenge for Decision –makers” draws on the issue of the impact of gender discrimination and domestic violence in refugee cases.

Two things are the cornerstones in Blanca’s life: her family and her commitment to social justice for the advancement of women. Blanca is a mother of six sons. She and her family came to Canada seeking protection ten years ago. As a single mother and as a refugee, Blanca knows the struggles women face in order to survive. One good thing about being a survivor has been the development of a deep understanding of other people’s pain. Her experiences have taught her to combine work with compassion and how to balance family and professional life. She believes, without a doubt, that her personal history has shaped the path in her career.

Outside academia, Blanca has had invaluable work experience supporting women. For more than five years Blanca has facilitated an art and sharing discussion group for refugee women. Impressed by the courage of these women and the power of art as a tool of healing, Blanca and her co-workers at SASC were inspired to give voice to women’s experiences. “Our Unspoken Stories: The Stories of Butterflies” is a book that Blanca has co-authored with the Women and War program coordinator at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa (SASC). Some of the stories will be featured at the Women’s World 2011 conference ( in Ottawa. In her capacity as the Women of Colour Outreach Coordinator, for SASC, Blanca has supported women survivors of violence, rape, torture and trauma. She also worked as a settlement counselor for Catholic Immigration Centre and volunteered with the Community Legal Clinics in Ottawa, helping women in their immigration and settlement processes. Her choice of pursuing a law degree in Canada was the result of those experiences.

After living in Canada for a number of years, Blanca realized that having a law degree and work experience from her country was not enough to work as effectively as she wanted for the advancement of women. She believes that being accredited here as a lawyer would be the best way for her to work for women’s equality and access to justice. Upon completion of her law degree Blanca wants to provide legal services from a gender perspective to one of the most disadvantaged and oppressed groups in society: immigrant and refugee women. Blanca’s goal is to work in Immigration and Family Law. Not only is her dream to work for and with marginalized women in need of legal services but also to support them to feel empowered and in control of their lives.

July 13 2011 under SI News

Plenary Panel Discussion

There were three panelists: a doctor, a makeup specialist and a journalist, who lead the discussion.

Anna Maria Tremonti told compelling stories, opening with the analogy that carpets are like our lives – they are stepped on, admired, functional, and each one is unique; a tapestry of woven fabric is like the experiences of our lives. In learning about carpets, she learned about families and politics while living in the Middle East.

There have always been women covering war; Martha Gellhorn smuggled herself on a D-Day ship as a nurse so she could uncover the story of civilians in hospitals.

We need to be role models to our youth, but also to ourselves. If you want a friend, get a puppy; if you want to think, listen to her program: The Current. Now is the time to ask tough questions of those who are of influence. Active participation in a wider society, and our responsibility globally because we live in a civil society. Asking uncomfortable questions and shining light into places of turmoil begins with individuals who are not afraid to share their ideas, and journalists must give a voice to those who would otherwise not be heard.

Lee Graff, president of Cover FX, told the story of their foundation product that was co-created with MAC out of Sunny Brook Health Sciences. Corrective makeup specialists help patients camaflague skin disorders and visible pigments to help themselves regain self-confidence. The product caters to sensitive skin and muli-ethnic skin tones.

Dr. Kirsty Duncan brought photos from her excursion to Norway to demonstrate her research project that exhumed 6 bodies of young men who died 80 years ago from the 1918 Spanish Flu. Preserved by burial in the perma-frost, she set forth with the principles of safety, ethical, with respect and dignity to extract tissue samples; they found the virus in lung, liver and brain. H1N1 was the next major epidemic but it was mild by comparison. She reflected on being asked, how do you want to be treated – as a young woman or a scientist? The questions are not mutually exclusive. She also discussed how scientific behaviour disintegrates when the stakes are high, and the risks of loss in safety and ethics when that occurs.

A drop of 2-4 degrees results in an ice age. An increase of 2-4 degrees will melt the glaciers: Rhone-Glacier in Switzerland has almost disappeared. Smog and heat are killing the elderly and the children. There will be more flooding, storms and tornados. 20% of the world population are already at risk of malaria; mosquito and water borne diseases will increase. Malnutrition and hunger will increase. Past generations had WW I and II, and then went to the moon. Now it’s climate change that is the world’s challenge.

She works with an organization to feed 110,000 children in Toronto; ¼ go to school hungry in Canada and it appalled her. Her passion lead her to Parliament to fight for child hunger and diseases of the brain, such as dementia, which is prevalent in an aging population. Now she is also fighting for MS. After 13 months of petitioning through official channels and being denied, on June 29th the first Clinical Trial for angioplasty as a treatment was approved in Canada.

The most generous people are often the ones who have nothing to give. Find your passions, whatever they are – let them grow and change over time. There is a way around or over the hurdles.

Wilma Rudolph learned to walk at 11 years old after being affected by Polio. She was born premature and had survived scarlet fever, whooping cough, chickenpox, and measles. At age 16, she won the olympic bronze medal in sprinting for the USA. Impossible is a dare and it’s temporary. 4 years later she won three gold medals, the first American woman to do so. All she wanted in celebration was a non-segregated party in her town; it was the first of its kind in her state.

SI commits to leave no woman or girl behind. We all have a gift to give. We are all worthy and all deserve respect and dignity. It is about making a small difference in our little piece of the planet.

Discussion Notes:

  1. Kirsty: what should we do about the small pox virus; should it be kept for scientific research? It is critical for researchers to be safe.
  2. Anne Marie: wiki-leaks provides a plethora of information that is not otherwise available to us. If gov’t were more transparent about their inner workings, sites like that wouldn’t have traction.
  3. Kirsty: MS treatment – is there any signs of it being a treatment of other neurological diseases? By March 31, 12500 liberation procedures have been done across 50 countries; 1/3 are significantly affected, 1/3 have mild improvement and 1/3 seem to not respond. Always talk to your health care provider about treatment options and side effects.
  4. Lee: were there gender differences from business people getting capital funding? Cover FX was self-funded to start but then they went to the bank. Had male bankers and applied for a gov’t grant and to the export bank of Canada. Eventually, the Royal Bank with a female account manager brought other females in to the meeting and the reception was unreal. One was already using the product and loved it – the product liberated her and she advocated for the project. There is a nurturing and encouragement that women have.
  5. Lee: For prepubescent girls who feel compelled to wear make up even though they have no acne or pigment issues, she recommends girls be well rounded in their interests/sports so their energy is not solely focussed on their appearance and have avenues to gain self-confidence.
  6. Anna Maria: Media focus on the bad or difficult, sad things and not enough focus on the celebrations or positive? Seems to be a global phenomena. Challenge for SI to get article coverage of the work we do. The trauma needs to be talked because there is an accountability threat; you need to be told so you can never say you don’t know or made an uninformed decision. Good news doesn’t have to be “light” news but can follow social trends and how they worked against a system to accomplish something. News these days is creating/following stories that don’t matter and that is a significant problem. Have to go in there and insist. Say no on a project and suggest the story you want to cover. They can slow you down, but they can’t stop you.
  7. Kirsty: How do you encourage girls to go into science? Go to primary schools to interact with children about science and environment. Assigned a project to save the world (but without marks) such as purchasing boreal forest or making hats/scarves for homeless shelters.
  8. Lee: Has a summer coop program exists for young women. It’s not about the makeup but counselling and business skills. Donate makeup to young girls or shelters. Try to teach about body image.

Questions to all:

Did you have a struggle to get established in your career?
• Lee’s parents immigrated from Eastern Europe; four daughters ran their family business. Her mother went to school to learn English and worked side-by-side with her husband. It made her an excellent role model – she didn’t give up. The experience of trying and realizing it’s not what you want to do builds the experience to get you on the path.
• Kirsty was influenced by her Grandmother, who was a working single mother, and her mother was the first in their family to ever go to university. Kirsty was teaching at University by 24 and sometimes treated as a secretary by people. She tells her upper year students that women need to learn to negotiate – want $5-8k more than what they offer when you get a job just to make it equitable.
• Anna Maria was taught to try and keep trying. Many more leaders are women at CBC, which is a dramatic change from when she started. Feminist is not a bad word, it has enabled women to do lots of things.

Zimbabwe has an energy shortage. Some of the UN protocols that the country signed for on climate change was to conserve trees, but they are the main source of fuel because they have no gas or electricity to cook with – only firewood. Women are arrested because it is a punishable offence. Can solar energy and wind turbines be made more affordable for 3rd world countries? Fog nets are used to condense the droplets and collect them. Simple solution as an example of changing from no water to 50L per family per day.

July 12 2011 under SI News

Project Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is the quadrennial project for SI (2007 to 20111). Alison Sutherland, International Project Liaison, delivered a celebration of our achievements.

Sierra Leone has seen much peace and improvement since the project began. It is now ranked by the UN as 158/169 countries, up from the very last for quality of life and has show an increase from 42 to 48 years as the average life expectancy for women.

The program targets children living alone, outcast teenage mothers and single grandmothers who are the head of household and delivers tailored education, health, counseling and improved living conditions. The overall goals are respect, community engagement and reuniting families.

Partnered with Hope & Homes for Children and HANSI SL: 57 children completed, 67 currently in the program. 164 teen mothers (165 babies) graduated and 119 mothers (99 babies) are currently enrolled.

200 families with over 1000 children graduated from ACTIVE family support. Community hubs were introduced in January 2011 to support and extend the program to more families and have challenged community traditional practices that are harmful to children and young women. Play activities, informal education and health care are provided broadly to the community; the focus is on strengthening families and engaging local communities. A recent focus has been outreaching mothers of teenage daughters who are at risk of unplanned pregnancy. The program offers day care and nurseries for babies of teenage mothers so they can train – it is the first of it’s kind in the region and government policy now states that that daycare is available to all babies, regardless of the mother’s status. The next project for HANSI SL is conducting a national street children survey to provide data for gov’t policy on the issue.

Project is sustainable at the end of the quadrennial; it advocated for the impact of conflict on women and young girls, as well as the risks of trafficking.

SI set a target of £1M before the financial crisis; about £950,000 (or $1,500,000) is expected as the final tally (£880,000 already submitted to the partner organizations). The presentation concluded with a message by video that ended in two strong rounds of applause (one premature because the emotional message of thanks was so powerful and meaningful).

July 12 2011 under SI News

Leaders in Civil Society

This morning started with a welcome from President Hanne. She noted that a women’s convention is filled with a colorful audience; a distinguishing factor from men in their dark suits. The keynote topic was: Women as Leaders in Civil Society and given by the right honourable Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor of Canada (1999-2005) and who founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.

Mdm. Clarkson was adopted as an honorary member to the Kainai Chieftainship during a traditional ceremony held at Red Crow Park, near Standoff, Alberta. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Governor General was adopted into the Blood Tribe with the name of Grandmother of Many Nations, making her the third woman to be inducted since the creation of the chieftainship. It is a title she is extremely proud of.

A society of difference (not similarities) is founded on the principle that love cannot be the binding factor or resolve disputes. A nation or state that is successful is often unlikeable or loathsome. It is principles of the heart, such as generosity and friendship, that are founded in love but not analysis or curiosity. She showcases this in Heart Matters, her recent book

Canada started with French Catholics followed by Anglo-Saxon Protestants and they founded Canada over the first Nations people who were native to the land. The nation began with union through diversity. Even now, the government targets 1% growth in population by immigration per year with the goal of citizenship within 3-5 years; there is 80% uptake. Yet Canada is not a headline in international papers – it is a hidden gem in the world.

The most powerful thing in a family home is the unrealized dreams of the parents – C. Yung. This concept is a powerful drive behind the desire to immigrate.

Room for us all: surprising stories of transformation is Her newest book – it highlights more on people’s story than simply where they come from.

Strength comes when outsiders finally become part of the mainstream. The ability to join without anyone standing in their way and becoming a full member of society is a hallmark of Canada. Helpful and kind people helped her family when they arrived from Hong Kong, particularly they taught her mother to cook as she previously had servants.

Some citizens became enemy-aliens in a country they were born in, but that changed within their lifetime (i.e. Raymond  Moriyama, a Japanese-Canadian was one of the architects who built the new Canadian Museum of War in Ottawa).

The Global Center of Plurality chose Canada to ask the fundamental question – how do we live with difference – and resides in former Museum of War. It was also redesigned by a Japanese-Canadian architect who was born in camps, Bruce Kuwabara.

Values in a civil society are what you make them in the public institutions, and in Canada one of them is education.

She took four questions: Comments on the maid in NY? People are welcoming of refugees but how do you retain their own but also adopt our traditions? Is the immigration experience necessary for creating new societies and making transformations? What role can young women play in Canada in leadership and immigration?

Then, answered all four questions together: Chinese men came to Canada without wives and often married native women out west; people stay in groups when they don’t feel welcome; teachers play an influential role to welcome the children and people want to be part of the mainstream or at least want their children to be; it should be a choice to attend language schools on Saturdays so the children can still speak to their grandparents but forcing them creates other issues; people keep what they choose to keep (she gave a great story of two sisters – the younger wore a traditional headscarf but when asked, it was not because of tradition, but because she wanted to be different); don’t judge others with your bias and preconceived notions; you know you are a friend with someone when you don’t want to change them; immigration introduces new patterns, ideas and ways of doing things. A wealthy white man in power admits to the sexual encounter – media attacks are targeting the maid’s character, not the implication of sexual harassment.

Mdm Clarkson considers herself part of a 2nd wave of feminism who now see equality becoming the norm, as evidenced by enrolment in professional education programs, but not at the senior or executive level in business because these women are balancing home/work; many don’t want just a career but family as well. She concluded with: remember if you choose to be Elizabeth I, there was only one.

July 11 2011 under SI News

2011 Convention – Friendship Evening

Opening Ceremonies began with an emotional role call of flags for all member countries. Cheers went up across the room as members were recognized for their country. At the end, the flag ceremony began with Canada, Quebec and Montreal amongst cheers and whoops. Past-President Margaret Lobo spoke elequently as she welcomed all the delegates and introduced our local guests: Mdm Jocelyn Ann Campbell, Montreal City Councillor and Christine St-Pierre, Minister for Culture & Communication and the Status of Women. She ended her greetings with a reminder that together we can make change happen.

After adjuring, members and guests filed up the escalator where they greeted by two Mounties (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and a fiddler as they entered in to an evening of delectable finger foods and friendship. The decor of sails, a sugar shack, teepees, a old 50′s style deli counter, and snow touched evergreens set the scene of Canada’s diversity in culture and landscape. Samples of Montreal Smoked meat, maple sugar over ice, and smoked salmon were just a taste of what Canada has to offer, but no poutine was on the menu.

Beautiful costumes from India, Malaysia, French Guiana, Sweden, and Rwanda (just to name a few) showcased the variety of nationalities in attendance this year. Of course the ladies from Eastern and Western Canada Regions stood out in their red and white, adorned in glow sticks, cowboy hats and hockey jerseys. The shrieks of joy at seeing old acquaintances and plentiful hugs was a testament to friendships rekindled, as well as the satisfaction from committees conducted by email and phone committee finally meeting in person.

Caricature artists, typically found in the market square of the Viuex-Port, had attendees lined up to have their faces drawn, while those who gathered to watch laughed out loud and snapped photos of the final pictures. Each piece was a great souvenir and an authentic Montreal experience.

Overall, first time attendees felt welcomed, including several male travel companions, and the resounding sentiment was one of joy and anticipation of the days to come. One reunion of a Kenyan and Canadian, after not seeing each other since Glasgow, said she felt this evening was even warmer and friendlier – a wonderful first impression of Canada.

After a fun evening of fellowship, Brooke continued on with SI-Cambridge to tour Old Montreal on a buggy tour with Catriona, the horse:

July 10 2011 under SI News

Mentoring Young Women

The keynote speaker at the Eastern Conference Region Spring Conference came to share with us an opportunity to mentor young women. Susan Gilbey from SI Westminster in California returned to her home town of Montreal to share with our Region the concepts and process to start an S Club for High School Girls or Sigma Societies for College age women.

These charters are different because there is no need to report to SIA nor dues. Instead, it is considered a service project (program focus reports). Events should be funded by the SIA Club as the sponsor and align with the SIA-overview of programs. Some ideas are: Teen-Dating & Violence as a keynote theme, Self Esteem/Self Defense, Career Day workshop with the English & Career Councillors, Leadership skills, and teaching mentorship by connecting to Girl Guides (Brownies or Sparks).

It is critical to build safety and professionalism through mentoring, particularly in parliamentary procedure and committee decorum. Being a member of the club can be tied to their Ontario requirement of 40 hours of service. There are some critical concepts to keep in mind when starting one of these venture clubs:

  • Be Flexible with Expectations & Requirements (i.e. faculty advisor)
  • Promote Civic Engagement, Activism, Community Involvement & Participation
  • Develop Leadership Skills and Compassion
  • Adapt to Local, Specific Situation (i.e. inclusion of boys in a charter to introduce them to women/gender issues)

The outcomes for sponsoring clubs, and the benefits for SI in general are:

  • Source for Violet Richardson, Women’s Opportunity and Ruby Award nominees
  • Increased public visibility and potential source of new members for your club
  • Assistance with/increase in programs
  • Diversity and fresh ideas
  • Promotes volunteerism

For more information about these Venture clubs, contact your club President to get a copy of Susan’s resource guide.

July 10 2011 under General

Convention: Montreal 2011

This year a group of 7 from our club are attending the SI2011 Convention in Montreal.

The Theme for the Convention is Women: Leaders in Civil Society. We have chosen this theme because Civil Society is the buzz word of our time, quite often used, and often misunderstood. Our own organization, Soroptimist International, is accredited to the Commonwealth as a Civil Society Organization. During the course of the Convention, we will explore this theme in depth through various “Sub-Themes” or subsets that will reflect all aspects of our underlying theme of Civil Society.

It is our desire to have Canadian women leaders in their various fields of endeavor come speak to us and not only teach us how to be leaders but to also showcase Canada and Canadian values to the rest of the world. We have chosen various Canadian women leaders that we feel are role models. We believe these women will be able to share some interesting and pertinent insights on global issues and challenges that women face and innovative solutions that could inform and enlighten our membership.

The following are our Sub-Themes:

Women as Catalysts of Change in Human Rights
Women as Role Models in Arts, Entertainment, and Media
Women as Role Models in Commerce and Entrepreneurship
Women as Leaders in Health & Sciences and Sports
Women as Stewards of the Environment
Women as Catalysts of Change in Government

The kickoff is our ECR Conference on Sunday morning, followed by lunch with Western Canada Region. We’ll keep you posted on updates throughout the conference. Here is the program at a glance »

July 9 2011 under SI News

Caring from a Distance

Former member of Soroptimist, Blanca Pena, is still focussing on outreach. After traveling with Sandy to start a new Soroptimist Club in her native country of Columbia, she is now coordinating a small-scale relief project for flood and mudslide victims.

Pena is appealing to area residents to search through their closets and donate good, used clothing and footwear to the cause. Also needed are blankets and inflatable mattresses. All donations can be dropped off at Pena’s home at 317 Parkside Drive.

For more information, read the full article online »

July 5 2011 under General