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An accident of birth

At Christmas, I can’t help but to be thankful for the accident of birth that meant that I was born in Canada to a good family and had opportunity available to me at every turn and a social safety net (federal and family) to catch me when I was unemployed. I was born here and not there, and that makes a big, big difference.

I was lucky enough to be born into a good family (not rich, but not living in poverty either) with caring parents in a country with a good human rights record which takes care of its citizens with a a decent health care plan for all and a belief that every child has a right to a fair and worthwhile education.

And that yes, while I did spend almost six months unemployed in 2013, there was enough of a support system built in on both on the federal (EI) and the family level (family members kicking in when funds ran low) to ensure that I did not lose my house, my car, or my family.

This could not be clearer to me as I witnessed two things of great import this year:

The first resonates with me because my wife is Thai and her parents took great pains to bring her to Canada, even if it meant she had to be separated from her son for a few years. (We are working on bringing her son to Canada, but complications arising from her declarations upon entry into Canada are slowing things down.)

My wife spent her life in poverty with some of the same health complications I did (asthma), but for some reason her treatment was different than mine and the results were different (look up Tetracycline). I grew up with a good education system, while she grew up with an OK one. And while I was able to get a few degrees at a Canadian university, I was able to do something with it that results in me being paid an acceptable salary with benefits. While my wife was able to get a degree for which I see people getting paid quite well in Canada (marketing), because her degree was earned in Thailand, it’s not considered to be worth anything here in Canada, and she has been on a constant quest ever since to upgrade her schooling in order to get a good job with good benefits.

And that’s not even going into the history of that whole area of South Asia, which has suffered from bombings (the Vietnam war, which stretched into Laos and whose consequences expanded into Thailand), dictators (Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia), and mass killings of its citizens (Cambodia, the war in Vietnam).

So, yeah, I was really f’ing lucky to be born in Canada.

And I was even luckier to be born into a family who prioritized its kids above all else, and still does.

I got to go to summer camp. I was offered piano lessons, hockey, any kind of activity I wanted. I had lots of toys and when I was old enough to become interested in other, more expensive things, my parents went out of their way to buy me both an electric guitar and a camera. I was able to play freely, make lots of friends, and come home to a stable household every night. I didn’t need anything like Christie Lake Kids, but boy oh boy, did seeing Christie Lake Kids make that clear for me how lucky I was to be born where I was to who I was.

So now, with my Thai wife, and my half-Thai daughter – who just as easily could have been born in the third world and experienced some of the horrors kids go through there, I realize how lucky I am.  After five and a half months of looking for a job, I managed to score a job at one of the best companies in Ottawa with one of the best CEOs in Canada. My pay is at a pretty nice level, I received benefits on day 1, and I’m able to take time out of my working schedule to contribute to charities.

So on this Christmas day, please take a look around and be thankful for what you have. Because a lot of it is just because you happened to be born here and not there.


Christie Lake Kids – Part 2 – Preview

I’m very excited to say that I’ve been asked to visit and photograph the kids of Christie Lake Kids in their off-camp hours. CLK runs an after-school program for at-risk youth during the school year. During this time, they can play sports in the Dempsey Community Centre gym, attend yoga classes, learn to make pottery, and even learn to cook in a fully-stocked kitchen.

Joanne MacGregor, the CLK Inner City STAR Program Supervisor may take me on a pre-tour this week so that I can prep myself for the various lighting and action settings I will encounter during the actual shoot itself.

I look forward to showing you more of what this great charity is up to as I get to know them better over the next few months.

Christie Lake Kids’ heart of gold counters the suckitude of humanity

“People suck.”

That’s what a friend of mine and I used to say to each other when we (yet again) were disappointed by the words and actions of our peers when we were growing up.

As you grow older, you move away from those people who disappointed you, you educate yourself, you hope that the world you encounter is better than the one that turned you off. But sometimes, humanity’s suckitude can be overwhelming.

Telecoms who own a significant chunk of the available Canadian spectrum whine about how they will be unable to compete if the last remaining available bandwidth is tipped a little bit more towards newcomers rather than incumbents while gouging you for unbelievable prices for your cellphone, cable television and internet.  Pipelines spill, polluting once pristine environments and endangering lives and habitats of plants, animals, and humans.

And children living in poverty and abusive environments, unable to participate in activities and receive positive feedback like some of the middle-class kids they go to school with just because they can’t afford to live like they do. Sometimes these kids just barely survive, with parents spending any money they have on drug and alcohol instead of food and clothing and possibly abusing their own kids while they are at it. Put yourself in the shoes of those kids, and you can understand how it can take all of their processing power just to get through a day, nevermind worrying about doing their math and reading homework.

When you grow up in a world like this, it’s hard not to think that the world sucks.  It’s easy to fall off the path and into despair, addiction, and crime.

So it’s heartening to see a charity like Christie Lake Kids in action. It identifies and reaches out to at-risk kids growing up in rough neighborhoods and provides them with a summer camp experience which includes swimming lessons, canoeing, camping, arts and crafts, rock-climbing, a variety of sports, and general overall self-esteem and confidence building.

Full disclosure

One of my aunts is a board member of Christie Lake Kids and she invited me out on August 7th to participate in a donor’s tour of the camp. I brought along my camera and voluntarily took pictures that will likely end up on their website, put into newsletters, and boost their presentations.

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