David Johnston was the 28th governor-general of Canada.
One of the profound lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic is a stark recognition of our mutual vulnerability, and consequently of our mutual dependence. The result is the individual affirmation of regard for each other. It recalls the adage: “Be kind to one another and be gentle on yourself.”
So many of our fellow Canadians have experienced hardships because of this virus. Almost 13,000 lives have been cut short, and it is a reminder to us all – young and old – that we must do all we can to reduce the health-and-safety impact the virus has on society.
We must also recognize that lockdowns and physical-distancing measures have had serious mental health and economic repercussions across the country, the effects of which are much greater for some than for others. While there is doubtless a role for government to play in mitigating the effects for Canadians, there is a role for the private sector, too. Many charities, companies and private organizations are doing whatever they can to help. It reminds us of the civic duty we all have to help our fellow Canadians.
Hope is a verb and it means rolling up your sleeves. Below are a few illustrations of empathetic responses – empathy in the sense of walking in another person’s shoes – and doing something about the situation to provide hope.
Trivia for kids
When the pandemic first hit and schools were shut down, Ottawa high-school math teacher Nadia Amimi took to Facebook to combine her two passions: trivia and teaching. She started streaming trivia sessions on Facebook Live with questions that would be challenging but fun for young kids. “This all happened when school was closed for two weeks in March. It started with me asking if anyone was interested, and it just took off from there,” Ms. Amimi told me. She went above and beyond, dressing up in costumes for her young audience. At a time when health officials worried about the effects of isolation on school-aged children, Ms. Amimi provided her audience with an extracurricular session of learning, entertainment and family fun. Her decision to turn a passion into community service is commendable and shows how far teachers are willing to go to support their students.
Tech 4 Learning
Tech 4 Learning is a fundraising campaign launched by Venture X Canada in partnership with the Toronto Foundation and the Peel District School Board to solve a very real problem affecting educators: How can you teach students from a distance who don’t have access to resources for remote learning? When the group launched in April, it estimated that 10,000 students in Peel Region alone needed a computing device or internet access to join virtual classrooms. The group appealed to local businesses and residents to donate what they could. Tech 4 Learning raised about $125,000 in donations and computers to help students access materials and lessons. With the help of this group and many others, the Peel District School Board connected families in their jurisdiction with 16,000 computers and internet connectivity devices.
The Horatio Alger Association of Canada
The Horatio Alger Association is an organization of which I’m a proud member. In normal times, the association awards close to $2-million annually to Canadian students who have faced adversity and hardship – including financial need – in the form of scholarships of up to $10,000. But these are not normal times, and as campuses across North America struggle with containing the virus, the association recognized that more needed to be done to support scholarship recipients with the abnormal circumstances they now face. These scholars didn’t just need help paying for their tuition – they needed help finding a home off campus and putting food on the table. So, we asked our scholars what they needed and offered to help. The result is that, over the past seven months, the association has spent more than $265,000 on coronavirus-related support to help 364 of its scholarship recipients across North America. This covered everything from food, learning resources and plane tickets back home. The team has also helped students access other funds available through local, provincial, state and federal governments.
As Canada finds itself in a second wave of the virus, it is important we act to help those struggling the most. There is a great deal for us all to learn from Ms. Amimi, Tech 4 Learning, the Horatio Alger Association and the countless thousands of other groups and individuals doing what they can to help society move beyond the pandemic. And if I can leave you with a personal request, it is to find one of these many civil society organizations that are rolling up their sleeves and “roll up” with them.
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