Friday, May 13, 2016

Heavy

The past few weeks have been really heavy.

If you haven't heard, there has been a massive wild fire of epic proportions burning in the northern part of the province of Alberta (where I live). They evacuated the entire city of Fort McMurray, with families only having moments to grab a few things before taking their kids on 10 hour car journeys with little food and water. There is a whole host of resources on what transpired last week. I'll let you do your own digging to read about pets left behind and the heroes who stayed to keep fighting the fire ,and, providing water for said battle. Kudos to the excellent journalism over the past few weeks to keep everybody updated and organized as an entire city of residents has been displaced.

I'm so proud of Edmontonians for welcoming our neighbours from the north, and for the generosity of our community. If you're looking to donate to rebuilding efforts, you can go here. If you've got donations or time to volunteer, help the Edmonton Relief Centre.

I was holding up pretty well, donating to red cross and feeling grateful for all the safe families.

Then I went to the Edmonton Eskimos Women's Dinner and was sitting beside the most wonderful woman (Mary) and her daughter (Janine). Little did I know that Mary's eldest daughter has passed, leaving behind a 5 yr old daughter, because of ovarian cancer. Mary is just sitting there, with all the strength and love in the world, advocating on behalf of women's health. Janine, the younger sister, then starts telling me how wonderful her niece is, and how her niece is an exact little clone of the deceased sister. This family has rallied together to work through what I can only imagine is a horrifically difficult time, and are able to so articulately express their love and memory of their sister and daughter. What really got to me was the way Janine was holding her mom's hand when they were watching the video featuring Mary discussing the mutated gene that runs in her family (which they had not seen until that evening). After the video, I was talking to Janine and just started doing the talking and crying thing I think I am being famous for. What an inspiring family.

On Mother's Day I was at the expo here in Edmonton, helping serve up brunch for the evacuees who have yet to find a more permanent living situation. A lot of these residents are temporary foreign workers who may not have the same network of friends and family to lean on. The expo has turned into a village! One of the giant halls is used for recreation, with all these little kids playing floor hockey. There's the insurance and registration hall, and also the food hall. At one point I walked past the sleep hall, and it was pretty sobering to see thousands of cots set up. Just rows and rows of cots. Despite the displacement, the evacuees were in such good spirits. The moms were enjoying flowers that were being handed out by some wonderful Edmonton Oil Kings volunteers. Kids were playing with their balloon animals - It was heartwarming. Everybody was carrying their belongings around in a plastic bag. I held a new mom's very young baby in the bathroom so she could go pee.

Wednesday night was a fundraiser for Alison Azer. This amazing woman has such resilience, as she continues with her campaign to bring her 4 abducted children back to Canada. Listening to her talk about her four children who are being kept a world away just broke my heart. I've never been in a room full of such quietly dignified crying before. Her strength and hope really touched everybody in attendance.

And finally, this morning, I was at the Building Empathy Conquering Apathy symposium to greet attendees. We were treated to hearing award winning filmmaker Leslie Udwin talk about her experience making India's Daughter.

Heavy.

Leslie and I had a separate meeting yesterday, where she let me in on a bunch of the resulting human rights work she's doing at the UN. Amazing woman! Let's just say I'm totally on board. So this morning when I'm introducing her, I think about all the kids I get to meet on my United Way speaking circuit and I couldn't help but feel moved. There is so much sadness everywhere, but also hope. I get to see it every time I meet another student who wants to help their community.

Shed a lot of (non hysterical) tears these past few weeks. So many feelings!

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