Ebola outbreak continues in West Africa

Let’s talk about Ebola for a moment.

What a number of people don’t know (and if they did know, they may have forgotten), is that there is still a massive outbreak of Ebola raging in three countries – Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia – in West Africa.

Doctors without Borders (the American version of our Médecins Sans Frontières), the health organization working to stop the outbreak, says it’s out of control and Dr. Peter Piot, the man who discovered it, says the outbreak is unprecedented.

Here’s why this outbreak in particular sucks:

  1. You don’t want Ebola, seriously, up to 90 per cent of people who get it die, there is no treatment, and how you die is particularly unpleasant.
  2. It’s in three countries (the first time an outbreak has spread over multiple borders) and in capital cities – usually it’s found outside major centers. There was an outbreak in Uganda when I was living there and I had no concerns.
  3. It’s actually pretty hard to catch Ebola. You could ride the bus with someone and be fine. Transmission requires very close contact. This means it’s a dysfunctional healthcare system in these countries that allows the outbreak to continue – at least that’s what Dr. Piot is saying in an interview with Christiane Anampour on CNN.
  4. People are so afraid of the virus and the isolation that comes with testing to see if you have it, that they are running away from (or in some cases threatening) health workers. So it continues to spread.

There still isn’t much known about Ebola, in fact researchers still are not 100 per cent sure where the virus originates (the belief is from a bat).

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Journalism is not a crime

This was the news today

“Two Al Jazeera English journalists have been sentenced to seven years in jail and one to 10 years by an Egyptian court on charges including aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news.”

One of them is Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy. Today my government said they were disappointed, but did not demand (or even ask for) his release.

I am a journalist and I want to report on what happens, to help people see what is going on in places where they are not. I want to do this having the support of my government.

Today, we need to remember this: Journalism is not a crime.


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Tag Day

tag dayToday I volunteered for AIDS Saskatoon’s Tag Day. We raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in Saskatoon; talk about what the organization does, hand out red ribbons, and accept donations for the crisis fund.

I spent two hours freezing outside (because naturally it will only be 12 C on June 14), but during that time I saw some of the best and worst of people.

One old man was doing loops around the block with his friend. He had shuffled by us on the corner of 22nd and 2nd a number of times, before I started talking to them and offered a red ribbon.

Both looked dirty, their clothing torn, and my guess is they are homeless. I asked them if they would be willing to wear the ribbon and let people know about AIDS Saskatoon as they walked around. Both nodded. So I passed a ribbon out. Then one man reached deep into the pocket of his baggie, overstretched, grey track pants, to hand me a quarter and dime.

I assured him he didn’t need to make a donation, that talking about AIDS Saskatoon is great. He motioned for me to take the money. I offered to pin the ribbon on him. He gave me a big smile and said thank you.

It was the most moving moment of the day. Someone who hardly has anything for himself was willing to give to others.

I smiled and said “Good morning,” to everyone that passed us.

Most would at least smile back, but some had that smile disappear quickly when they heard the word AIDS. Then their hand came up, they turned their back and said, NO. Other people would completely ignore us. As if by not making eye contact we could be willed away.

But far more people would come and chat. Tell stories of friends and relatives who volunteered with an AIDS organization or work in health care, ask questions. Sometimes they would donate. Others they didn’t. A few people even gave some coins as they walked away, before coming back with $5 saying it really is a good cause and to thank us for being out there are talking.

A couple of really tough looking guys took ribbons … I figured they would be destined for the garbage, but later when they walked past again, they were wearing them on their chests.

It was a really good morning. In the end we raised more than $160 for AIDS Saskatoon and we were only one of many locations around the city talking to people.

Do you want a chance to help out? You can find out more here: http://www.aidssaskatoon.ca/web/content/donate

And thanks Saskatoon, for showing me you are engaged and care.

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One for the whales

People who work with whales say, “when you look into their eyes, you know somebody is home.”

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with whales – for a while I thought I might be a marine biologist, simply to be able to spend my days watching them.

And for years I hated knowing that they were still being killed under the guise of research – but yesterday Japan accepted a ruling by the International Court of Justice (from March 31) that ordered the country to halt its whaling program in the Antarctic Ocean.

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Never Again

This year marks 20 years since the Rwandan genocide began and this week people are remembering their experiences in the country undergoing a mass killing of citizens.

Annie Thomas was a new foreign correspondent for AFP and Rachel worked for MSF.

It was six years ago that I was in Rwanda on April 7, their national day of remembering.

Here is what I wrote that day on my blog Taking You Closer:

14 years ago today was the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda. Hatred incited by propaganda stirred years of discontent and the feeling of inequality. When the violence started it left hundreds of thousands of people dead in 100 days.

I have seen movies, read Shake Hands with the Devil and Sunday by the Pool in Kigali, and heard lectures by Romeo Dallaire. But it didn’t prepare me for the feeling of walking among people in a country where just over a decade ago they were killing each other. It wasn’t a feeling of fear, but that of curiosity. I want to know how each person I meet was affected; I want to ask about scars I see. I want to understand how it can happen.

There is much hope for the future though because Rwandans and most of the world wants to understand too.

IMG_9259Today, memorial services were held at sites all over the country. On the trip from Kigali to Butare we passed entire communities walking together to memorial sites, draped in purple and carrying placards that read ‘never again’.

As I walked to the Murambi memorial site, I passed what must have been all the communities in the surrounding area. There were hundreds, if not thousands of people. As I walked along, many of the people, who likely lost loved ones, stopped to shake my hand and thank me for coming.

It was very humbling. Thanking me because I was coming 14 years later to witness what they experienced.

Murambi was a high school, where Tutsi’s had been told to gather, and it is where they were attacked.

50, 000 people were killed.

Their bodies were preserved with powdered lime so they are still intact. Children sized skeletons with splits in the skulls, adults with missing feet.

There is really not much else to say except, “Never Again” and mean it.

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