CanAssist’s investment in African infrastructure boosts local economy

Infrastructure.  In the last few weeks Canadians, during a long election campaign, have heard their now newly-elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal party talking about it. In fact, reporters couldn’t ask Trudeau any question without ending up at his talking point which is ““Every dollar we spend on public infrastructure grows our economy, creates jobs, and strengthens our cities and towns.”

“What time is it, Justin?”  “I’m glad you asked that question, Peter. We think it is time to run a deficit to invest in infrastructure because every dollar we spend … ”

We got the point. I happen to agree with it. And it appears that a majority of Canadians did too. Trudeau’s Liberals were elected with a majority government.

Since its inception In 2008, the CanAssist African Relief Trust has been investing in infrastructure in East Africa for exactly that reason.  We have built school classrooms, bought hospital equipment, constructed toilets, provided clean water catchment and bought school desks and books.

12077310_10154277809299937_1675104093_nWe know, because we visit the communities we help, that this is making a difference to the men, women and children who live there.  Better educated girls are more likely to become self reliant, have better opportunities for employment and be more informed as mothers. Children who learn about the benefits of sanitation, clean water and sexual responsibility will be able to apply that learning to manage themselves, their families and lead in the community.  People who can read and access the Internet will make more informed decisions about their governments.  In short, improving the infrastructure relating to education, health and sanitation will allow the “human capital” any community to flourish.

Another benefit that is not quite so obvious is that by providing funding for these projects, CanAssist donors also have the opportunity to give work to many folks who otherwise are unemployed.  We don’t send goods made in Canada or old books or microscopes.  We send money.  Our African associates tell us what they need and we respond with funding.  Almost all of our money is spent in Africa, our unavoidable Canadian administrative expenses being in the range of five per cent.

When we build a classroom or a latrine in Africa, the project purchases the materials locally and employs local labor. Amuge Akol is one of our associates in Olimai, Uganda where we are currently constructing two latrines at a clinic where previously the toilets were falling apart and full,  (can you imagine no clean toilets at a clinic?) She recently reported that, in addition to improving the sanitation for staff and patients, the project has given several people work. “The project has provided 3 months employment to 12 people who otherwise would probably not send their kids to school this term or have no income for their families.”  The total cost to accomplish this, to CanAssist donors, by the way has been a meagre $6000.

Some of the desks being locally made for the Hope School in Mbita, Kenya.

Some of the desks being locally made for the Hope School in Mbita, Kenya.

In another Kenyan community CanAssist is in the process of having desks constructed for a local school. In 2013, we completed classrooms at the Hope School but the building has been without furnishings.  CanAssist, is having 200 chairs and 100 metal-framed desks locally built to furnish the empty Hope School classrooms as well as others at the school.  This project will provide durable furnishings for the school but it is also employing three workmen over several months and acquire materials locally.  The community benefits twofold – employment and infrastructure.

This is what the Liberals are proposing to boost our Canadian economy…only the money for this will come by running a deficit rather than from well-wishers from Uganda.

“Why should individual Canadians support projects like this in Africa through organizations like CanAssist?” you ask. “Doesn’t our government give money for development in poor nations?”

The short answer to that is “Not enough.”

ODA 2012In 1969, Canada’s own Lester Pearson headed a commission at the UN that determined and recommended that poverty could be significantly reduced or eliminated in the developing world if the rest of us applied 0.7 percent of our Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Developmental Assistance (ODA). Many countries have achieved that goal.  What has Canada  done?  Despite repeatedly committing to reach this goal, the highest Canada ever reached was about 0.5 per cent in 1986. Over the last few years, as other countries increased their assistance to record highs, Canada’s contribution to ODA has actually dropped below .028 per cent of the GNI.  Not the kind of record internationally to be proud of.

And do you know how the Harper government was able to present, in an election year, a balanced budget? In part, it was by reducing or freezing spending on ODA, and actually not spending over 125 million dollars that were already approved for development work.  It is easier to balance your budget if you simply just don’t honour your commitments to poor countries.

Your gift to CanAssist can help provide tangible resources to East African communities and, at the same time, stimulate the local economy by providing employment.  We welcome your support of the work we do though tax-deductible donations by mail or online.

Getting my Canada back…

Today I am proud to be Canadian. More proud than usual, that is.

Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau carries a young Justin into 24 Sussex, where he will soon end up again as our Prime Minister. How cool is that?

Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau carries a young Justin into 24 Sussex, where he will soon end up again as our Prime Minister. How cool is that?

The Canadian electorate has resoundingly chosen a new government led by the Liberal party but more pointedly by a vigorous, young, positive and somewhat idealistic leader in Justin Trudeau.

This government will, no doubt, make mistakes along the way and it will take a lot of time and effort and trial and error to get all those jobs done to bring Canada back to who we fundamentally believe we are deep in our hearts.

I am excited to see many capable men and women elected to parliament and particularly pleased to turn the reins over to the generation that will have to deal with the policy decisions made in the next four years. It seemed  like my Liberal vote was giving control over to my kids and that felt very good.

2013-11-16 00.55.23-1

Canada’s House of Commons, Ottawa.

In addition, we have basically overthrown the sitting government in a peaceful, orderly way.  Do you know how significant that is?  I have worked in Bosnia and Kenya and Uganda where voters feel this is impossible.  The despair I have seen from young, frustrated citizens is indeed sad.  In so many countries in the world, where a democratic process is ostensibly in place, the electorate still feels powerless. Governments are corrupt and cling to power with money and threats and manipulation.  As our Canadian election campaign began it appeared that the the Conservatives had much more funding available to them to promote their candidates.  But money did not make the difference.  The groundswell of ABC – Anything But Conservative – and social media posts to encourage people to vote for change proved more powerful than money and scare tactics.  World, take note.  It can be done.

I am not so naive to believe there will not be snags and scandals and missteps by this government but I am eager to give them a chance. One of my friends posted a list of things that this government  will need to do to keep all their promises and it ended with “walk on water”.  At least we are starting out with a leader who appears to be honestly transparent, inclusive and progressive.  You have four plus years, Justin.  We have given you a chance to make us even prouder than we feel today.

I am seeing red in 2015

Barb and I in August 1968. Yes, folks, I was young once too.

Barb and I in August 1968. Yes, folks, I was young once too.

I remember seeing Pierre Trudeau, new leader of the federal Liberal Party at a rally in London Ontario in early June 1968.  He was charismatic. I remember his piercing blue eyes looking up around the crowd and connecting with everyone individually.  He won a majority government, keeping the Liberals, previously led by Lester Pearson, in power.

I couldn’t vote in that election since it occurred two months before my 21st birthday. My girlfriend at the time, later to become my wife, turned 21 nine days before the election and she could vote for Trudeau.  

I was jealous.

Pierre Trudeau in 1968

Pierre Trudeau in 1968

Since that time I have never missed voting in any of the thirteen Federal elections held since. I feel it is both my duty and privilege and I can not complain about government if I don’t exercise my right to vote.

I have never felt as strongly about the outcome as I do in 2015.  I have voted Liberal and Conservative and NDP in various elections since 1968.  Often I don’t feel that the difference between parties is really that great.  When Stephen Harper’s conservatives were first elected, I was willing to give them a chance. (although I didn’t vote for them)  How much damage could they do?

The Conservatives today are not the old “Progressive” conservatives that were led by Diefenbaker and Stanfield and Joe Clark.  The party was taken over by the much more right-wing Reform/Canadian Alliance Party who snuck in during a vulnerable time for the PC’s and cleverly kept the Conservative part of the name to retain voters.  A political Trojan horse.

And after ten years of Harper’s Conservative governance, I want my old Canada back.

When I take the online quizzes to see which party is more in tune with my views on various political issues, I come out pretty evenly balanced between the Liberals and the NDP with a few Green ideas thrown in for good measure.  I would be happier if either or any of those parties had a chance at governing. Or even better, if they could somehow cooperate to form a coalition government.

GerretsonIn Kingston and the Islands, the vote that will count to affect change will be with the Liberal Party and that is how I will mark my ballot on October 19. Mark Gerretson, the Liberal candidate in Kingston, is a bright, progressive 40 year old man who has been Mayor of Kingston. He knows the community and regardless of political party affiliation, he would be the candidate that I think could best represent Kingston in the federal government.

And Justin Trudeau? He makes a lot of promises and, I wonder if he could keep them all if the Liberals get elected. But somehow he makes me feel like he is atuned to  the Canada I want to live in.

If nothing else, listen to the last five minutes of this town hall meeting held October 5. You will have to click on the link as it is not on YouTube (yet).

Although I don’t agree with everything they say or do, I will be happy to give Liberals an opportunity to lead our country again. It is time that Trudeau’s generation – Justin’s, not Pierre’s – that of my own kids, takes some control over the future of Canada.

I hope that we get change and that a new government gets the chance to rebuild some of the erosion that has happened to our respect and influence on the international stage.