Monday, 19 November 2007

Charity Begins At Home

Since I have been out of the house all day working on a charity auction, I have not got my Monday Mission post up. Sincere apologies, and here it is. No stats, no references (although I have them). Just banged up. More sincere apologies.

When I first thought of this topic, I intended to write a humourous post. Something about sending out letters with appeals to send me to camp or at least build me a hole to hide in when all the Christmas appeals start to pour into my mailbox. But I find that I don't want to be funny. The first waves of the tsunami have in fact landed in my mailbox, and I am being urged to buy a kid in Africa a goat or support health research or the city's Hospital Foundation (three different hospitals!). All of these are worthy. All are needed. But my local community is full of children who need help just as much.

These kids are in trouble right from the start. Their parents have only seasonal income if any and so use the food bank regularly; this means that the children's' food is starchy and lacking in protein and vitamins. The children aren't thin. They are pudgy and lethargic and have bad teeth, skin problems, poor eyesight among their problems. Unfortunately, far too many of them are bottle fed as their very young mothers don't care for the idea of breast feeding and have little support if they do attempt it.

Many of them live in isolation, on marginal farms or in the bush a long way from anywhere or anyone else. Because their parents are tired and very, very poor, most of them live in dirt and squalor, maybe in an old school bus or half finished, poorly insulated cabin. They don't go anywhere very often because their parents can't afford to buy gas or their decrepit vehicles are not running. Some of them have only one parent, a teenaged girl living with her mother and a succession of boyfriends -- hers and her mother's. There is sometimes domestic violence.

There are no books. If there are toys, they are cheap plastic and they break. What is always present is a television. And the television is on all the time. By the time these children are school age, some of them have up to a year of developmental delay and a significant further number of them have speech delays. Their teeth have caries. Some of them are wild -- 'behaviour problems'. Some of them are terrified of school and other children and adults. They are dirty and badly dressed and they don't smell very good, either.

In my local community are many caring, giving teachers who work their hearts out to give these kids a chance. Some of them have started a program called 'Grow With Books', which sends a book home to registered children every two months from birth to age five. It runs on fundraising. There's a program called 'Children's Resources on Wheels' which runs play programs and buses with toys and books that can be borrowed, among other things. It runs on a shoestring. There's a program called 'Healthy Young Families' which has a nurse practitioner, a social worker and other dedicated staff and starts with prenatal health and nutrition and works up to age six or so. It gets government funding, thank goodness! There are other good programs with wonderful people working their hearts out to provide assistance. A lot of them are partly supported by fundraising or Trillium grants.*

In the cities there are children as needy as these. The special problem here is getting the children to the programs and the programs to the children. In time. By the time they are school aged, the help is often remedial help. In a country as rich as Canada, that's sickening.

A part of the problem is that these children are off the radar and hard to reach. The Community Health Centre that I volunteer for is a major player in helping these children. As well as a primary care function, the CHC is mandated to do 'health promotion' and client support. Much as I grumble about the fundraising and running around, it's a worthwhile thing to do.

*For readers not from Ontario, the Trillium Foundation is a government run body that hands out funds raised by government run lotteries and government sponsored casinos.


  1. beautiful and heartfelt. heartbreaking, too.

    you're doing good work there, Mary. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Some days, Mary, I look at my kids and think of those who don't have and my eyes well up as evidence my heart has broken, again.

    Where's that magic wand.

    Using My Words

  3. There's a lot of this kind of thing in this largely rural province as well. It is hard to even get one's mind around. I returned more books to the library today than a lot of kids will see in their first 5 years of life.

  4. P.S. This is based on a friend who has taken an emergency foster child, child of a child, a 13 year old child.

    Who is fostering the child-mother?

    Using My Words