What would you do?

Peter Singer starts a recent TED talk with a dramatic video of a small child in China being knocked down by a car on the street. As she lies there, injured, three passers-by totally ignore her. The incident is reminiscent of the Good Samaritan story from the Bible, where a priest and a Levite ignore the plight of the injured traveler on the road before the Samaritan stops to help.

Singer asks the audience – “How many of you would have stopped to help?” Not surprisingly, most of the hands go up.

African Child - can you overlook her needs?

African Child – can you overlook her needs?

Singer then says something like “Well, there are children all around the world who live in poverty, vulnerable to preventable violence and disease – millions of them. Are you paying any attention to them?”

“Unicef reports that in 2011 over 6.5 million children under age 5 died of preventable poverty-related diseases.”

Singer is an Australian philosopher and humanist who writes and speaks out about many ethical issues including poverty and animal rights. In 2009, he wrote a book called “The Life You Can Save”. In the book he encourages readers to commit to helping developing communities with a small portion of their income. If you can afford to pay $2.00 for a bottle of water that is free from the tap, do you not have money to spare – to share, in fact, with others who are living without many of the necessities of life that we take for granted?

His message is not a guilt trip. He encourages us to enjoy the fruits of our labours and our good fortune at living in a community where there is law and order, fresh water, social responsibility and enough food but to share a portion of that with others who must live without those amenities.

We are constantly bombarded in the media with photos of children in North America who have perished in the natural (or unnatural) disasters like the recent tornado in Oklahoma City or the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Our hearts go out to the families of these children and we feel sad and that these deaths seem unfair. These are a very few children whose stories touch us because they are in communities like ours.

Nairobi slum

Nairobi slum

But what about the mothers of the 19,000 children who die in the developing world every day from preventable poverty-related problems? Do we give them much thought? Do we pour money into the developing world to help these 19,000 like we do to help families of the few North American families touched by tragedy?

Think about this for a minute. It is sobering. 19,000 per day.

The CanAssist African Relief Trust is attempting to so something, however small to help these families in East Africa. Rather than pick a few children for special attention, CanAssist funds community infrastructure projects like school classrooms, water and sanitation improvements, food security through local agriculture and health care facilities. We have funded around $300,000 in projects since 2008. Our Canadian community helping communities in Africa.

If you are interested in what we do, please look at our website http://canassistafrica.ca We are always happy to receive support, moral or financial, for the work we are committed to do to lessen the effects of poverty for vulnerable East African families.

(If you would like to participate in what CanAssist is doing to help communities in East Africa you can donate using the Canada Helps link below.)


Here is a link to the Peter Singer TED talk. If you have 15 minutes please listen to what he has to say.

CanAssist announces its upcoming project season…

In an effort to simplify the process whereby CanAssist selects new projects to fund, we set up a six-week application period this spring during which we received 81 very worthy applications for infrastructure funding in communities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Our resources are limited. We could only promise to fund 14 of these projects in the upcoming year. Nevertheless we chose a variety of projects throughout East Africa ranging from rainwater catchment to latrines to classrooms to hospital beds. Here is the list of projects CanAssist will implement in the next several months. (*Canadian dollar estimates may vary slightly depending on International exchange and bank rates)

  •  Twekembe Association Centre for Rural Systems and Development, Nakiwaate Village, Uganda. Rainwater collection tanks for a community school. $4600
  •  Action for Research and Development (AFORD), Rambira Community, Kenya. School furnishings for three schools. 535,200 KSh ($6500).
  •  Rieko Kenya, St Gorety School, Mikei, Kenya. Completion of a computer training building. 800,000 KSh ($9200)
  •   Tom Mboya Peer Support Group, Rusinga Island, Kenya. Irriga6on of an agriculture plot. 506,000 KSh ($6000)
  •  Stewart Geddes Kamin Oningo Early Childhood Development Centre. Osiri Village, Kenya. Repair of classrooms and school furnishings. 378,288 KSh ($4500)
  •  Nyandema Water and Sanitation project, Nyandema Village, Kenya. 4x 10,000 litre rainwater catchment tanks. 400,000 KSh ($4800)
  •   Gombe District Hospital., Butambala District, Uganda. Repair of Hospital Beds, replacement of matresses and bedding. 12,030,000 USh ($5000)
  •   Kamin Oningo Beach Management Unit, Osiri, Kenya. Community Latrine. 140,789 KSh ($1800)
  •   Olimai Clinic, Olimai, Uganda. Hospital beds and rainwater catchment . (6,685,000 USh and 24,289,456 USh) ($9500 and $2650)
  •  Oltaraja School, Nguruman, Kenya. Permanent Classroom for school. 813,450 KSh ($9800)
  •  TESO Children Chris.an Development Org. Soroti, Uganda. Tailoring equipment for community income generation. $1200
  •   Murera Community Empowerment and Support Organiza.on. Ruriru, Kenya. Sanitation for TWIGA Primary School. 466,700 KSH ($5700)
  •  Badilisha Ecovillage Founda.on, Kaswanga Beach, Kenya. Sanitation. 277,810KSh ($3400)
  •  Kanyala Little Stars Organization. Rusinga Island, Kenya. Conversion of two temporary classrooms to permanent. 357,200 KSh ($4400)

Luckily, we do have some regular supporters who are eager to help. This week we received a donation from one Kingston family that will look after two of our proposed projects. One of these is to supply sanitation facilities to a wonderful little beach community on the shore of Lake Victoria in Kenya.

Over the next few months, I will provide updates and challenges and successes as CanAssist looks ever forward to help communities in East Africa. Stay tuned.

This short video outlines the need at the Kamin Oningo fishing village … one we are now ready to move ahead with, thanks to generous and caring supporters.

What famous figure, alive or dead …

I am sure that you have all played this game. “What famous figure, alive or dead, would you like to meet?”

I keep this at “famous” figure as there are many deceased relatives that I would like to visit with again. I would really love to meet my grandparents, now, as an adult. How different it would be to relate to these people and see them for who they really are rather than through a child’s eyes.

And when I look online at the choices people make they range from Jesus Christ to Lady GaGa.

Today my choice is Angelina Jolie.

Apart from being incredibly beautiful, this woman intrigues me. I know very little about the Brangelina stuff that I see on the tabloids as I check out of the grocery store. I have not seen the Lara Croft movies (or any of her movies, in fact) nor do I have any desire to do so. I have, however, seen television interviews in which she has surprised me with her insight, intelligence, eloquence and general “down to earth” demeanour.

I have been impressed that Angelina Jolie has used her celebrity to promote awareness of problems in the developing world and has even adopted children from these areas. She is a United Nations Special Envoy for Refugees and has worked for the UNHCR for some time. In some ways her adoptions have followed the principles espoused by Peter Singer in “The Life You Can Save”. Enjoy the fruits of your work and privilege but also share some of that with others less fortunate. She has three kids of her own and has balanced that with three more that were adopted from the developing world. She has struck a chord with me as I think she has made a genuine effort to use her celebrity to help others.

I am anxious to see In The Land of Milk and Honey, a film that will be released in North America next month – one that Jolie wrote and directed. The plot revolves around a love story of a Serb and a Muslim in Bosnia during the war in that country. I worked in Bosnia for several years and heard horrible stories of violence, rape and ethnic hatred that tore families apart. The film is fictional but the setting real. So real, in fact, that Jolie ran into problems getting permission to shoot the film in Bosnia as originally planned and had to move filming location to Hungary. The film was shot in both Bosnian (with subtitles) and English. I want to see the Bosnian version. I admire Jolie’s gutsy decision to tackle this subject and put her reputation on the line at the same time as writer/director rather than actor with a film that will not be a blockbuster but will explore a delicate topic.

But today’s news was the topper. Angelina Jolie has revealed in the New York Times that she has had a bilateral mastectomy in order to reduce the risk of her acquiring breast cancer after finding that she carries the BRCA1 gene for the disease. Her mother died of breast cancer in 2007 and she is at significantly increased risk herself, being found to carry the genetic mutation that will elevate her lifetime risk of breast cancer significantly. She has made this decision so she can reduce her risk and be available for her children. This must have been a huge decision for a movie celebrity to make. By being open with this Angelina Jolie has also done a great service to other women who face the same risks. Once again today’s revelation by this celebrity also strikes home to me as my wife died of breast cancer at age 48 and one of my daughters, already touched by breast cancer at a young age, has elected bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction to minimize her risk of recurrence. I was proud my daughter for making this difficult life choice and I can relate to the angst that Angelina Jolie must have suffered as she made the same decision (at almost the same age).

We often look at celebrity through a very tainted lens. We see them through Hollywood gossip columnists and papparazzi. But under the movie star veneer live real people who live with personal challenges just like the rest of us.

Today my celebrity hero is Angelina Jolie. I am free for lunch tomorrow if she is.

Renovations at the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre

Here is a letter that I have sent out today to friends and family of my 93 year old Dad.

Dear friends and family of S.P. Geddes,

As you may know, I have been very actively promoting infrastructure support in needy communities in East Africa through the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Dad’s example of being supportive of charitable work through the Alzheimer’s Society, CNIB and CanAssist has certainly provided an example to me of how sharing our good-fortune with others is not only a responsibility but a privilege.

Dad has generously been specifically sponsoring a small school in a rural lakeside village in Kenya called Osiri. Prior to Dad’s sponsorship through CanAssist, the small children in this community had no way of acquiring any early education as the nearest school was several kilometers away. This left young children without the basics and when they were eventually able to enter school they were behind and often dropped out.

Children outside the gate of the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre in Kenya

Children outside the gate of the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre in Kenya

Dad’s donations to CanAssist have allowed this small school to develop a fenced school-yard (the children are young who attend and supervision is important), latrines for the school and a two-classroom structure. Last year, the community named this school the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre. Remarkably, one of

the children of the community, the grandson of one of the teachers, was also named Stewart Geddes and I was able to meet little “Geddes” last February. What a delight. You can read more about this encounter and see a brief video of the school in a blog article that I wrote when I visited the school in February  http:// wp.me/p2wvIq-oz.

The original three school classrooms, tin structures with dirt floors, are in poor repair. The school has asked CanAssist for financial support to cement the flooring (providing cleaner, more comfortable foundation to the classrooms and also helpful in reducing the Jigger problem that is made worse by dirt floors in a school)

See this success story of combating jiggers through CanAssist work in this short Youtube video

They have also requested money to provide some rudimentary classroom furnishings for the school. The cost of the renovations to improve safety and stability of the classrooms will be approximately $3400 Can and the school furnishings will cost about $1300.

One way or another, CanAssist has agreed to fund these improvements. Our ability to do this work, however, depends on donations to the CanAssist African Relief Trust. I know that Dad would be supportive again of this school but I am hoping that some of his friends and family will take his example of outgoing generosity to a small needy African community and share in supporting this CanAssist Project.

Donations over $25 are eligible for a Canadian Income Tax receipt and can be made by check to; The CanAssist African Relief Trust, 562 Sycamore Street, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7M7L8

OR you can donate right now securely online using a credit card at this direct Canada Helps link: http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d95557

Be sure to specify with your donation that it is to be allocated to the SP Geddes school.

Thanks for considering this specific request and I know that both Dad and the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre in Osiri Village, Kenya will greatly appreciate any support you can muster for this work. Please pass this on to anyone you think may find this an appealing request.



Little Stewart Geddes with a plaque acknowledging the contribution of his namesake to the school in Osiri Village Kenya.

Little Stewart Geddes with a plaque acknowledging the contribution of his namesake to the school in Osiri Village Kenya.