Friday, December 30, 2005

Trails Youth Initiatives

Becuase of the recent violence that occured in Toronto, there has been a lot of discussion about how some of this city's youth came to be carriers of handguns? How could they be involved in a conflict that requires a gun to resolve it? How did their sense of community and their respect for others disintegrate to the point where they would open fire on each other, and on innocent passersby? How could they not feel a care for the families and lives that they destroy?

My initial reaction to these events was anger and indignation. I was also very resentful of the fact that the society I live in is held responsible for the actions of these handful of youths. Now that I've calmed down, I was able to look through to search for non-profit organizations around Toronto that make it their mission to help youths in underpriviledged communities. Here is one.

Trails Youth Initiatives
Established in 1992 by Peter Dalglish and Jim Hayhurst Sr., this is a wilderness camp program for inner city youths who are vulnerable to become a part of, or victims of "substance abuse, discrimination, sexuality, violence and hopelessness." It is unique because it is a four-year program. The individuals who enroll in this program have to stick with it, and at the end, they also have a chance to "graduate" from it. This program is so successful that it is now recognized by the Ontario Ministry of Education as a legitimate private school.

What struck me about this program is that it is long-term. It is not a band-aid solution like so many of the ones that politicians like to trumpet as if they were their own incredible inventions. Approaching these individuals at a young age, and sticking it out with them for four years requires a lot of commitment from both the organizers, and the participants. From commitment comes a bond, and from a bond, love, and from love anything can happen.

Donations to Trails Youth Initiatives can be made HERE.

Thanks for reading.

Mrs. Thompson's Lesson

I got this in an email from a good friend of mine, Miss Fung.

As she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson
would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X's and then putting a big "F" at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child's past records and she put Teddy's off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. Teddy's first grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners.. he is a joy to be around.."

His second grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is an excellent student, well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle."

His third grade teacher wrote, "His mother's death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn't show much interest, and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren't taken."

Teddy's fourth grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is withdrawn and doesn't show much interest in school. He doesn't have many friends and he sometimes sleeps in class."

By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy's. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of perfume . But she stifled the children's laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on he r wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, "Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to."

After the children left, she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her teacher's pets.."

A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that she was the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.

Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in life.

Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he'd stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had in his whole life.

Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor's degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer.... The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, MD.

The story does not end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he had met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit at the wedding in the place that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom. Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. Moreover, she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together.

They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson's ear, "Thank you Mrs. Thompson for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference."

Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, "Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference I didn't know how to teach until I met you."

(For those of you that don't know, Teddy Stoddard is the Dr. at Iowa Methodist in Des Moines that has the Stoddard Cancer Wing.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Boxing Day Part II

The other day, I started an entry about Boxing Day shopping, but it turned out to be about the shootings.

Today, I want to talk about Jane Creba, and Boxing Day shopping in general.

On Boxing Day, I went to Vaughan Mills Shopping Centre with my best friend, C. We arrived at 11:30, and I thought, "we're so late! Look at how congested it is! We'll never find a parking spot."

After driving around for 10 mins, I had to go to the washroom, so C. dropped me off and when I got to the washroom, the line-up went outside the washroom and into the corridor that connects it to the foodcourt. Insane!

So, we started shopping and fortuantely, we didn't encounter any rude shoppers. Everyone was very courteous, not trying to bud in line and stuff. I thought, this is cool. This isn't too bad. It's crowded, but everyone is getting along.

Later that evening, we went to dinner with some friends, including C.'s boyfriend. He mentioned to us that there was a shooting downtown at the Eaton Centre. So much for my sense of security.

Jane Creba was the 15 year old who was shot in the head, the victim of a volley of indiscriminate bullets fired across Yonge Street by a group of teenagers fighting over what I am sure was completely meaningless. Everything else becomes meaningless when teens start taking up guns and shoot repeatedly into a crowd.

All summer long, all autumn long, everytime I heard of the shootings, I'd listen for the location where these crimes took place. They were almost always in the J/F area of Toronto north. "This doesn't happen everywhere," I thought. Well, now it's starting to happen in places I would least expect. In broad daylight, no less.

I have faith in the Toronto Police that they will catch these criminals soon. When that happens, I don't want to hear friends and family members of those criminals to tell the media how these were nice boys, who they love their sister very much, how they can't believe these boys did something like this.

I would tell them, stop being in denial. Your son did not turn into a gangbanger overnight. There were so many signs that he was dealing drugs, doing drugs, committing all sorts of felonies, and you turned a blind eye to it. Now, someone's daughter is dead. Someone's sister is dead. One Jane Creba is worth 10X more than all of these losers combined.

If they want to claim innocence in all of this, try doing it in front of the victims of the shootings, in front of Jane Creba's family. I dare them to say their sons are good boys in front of all these grieving victims.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Boxing Day Shopping and Shooting

What the hell is going on in Toronto?

How could shoppers on Boxing Day get shot in broad daylight? Or, how could those perpetrators be brazen enough to commit murder on Yonge Street, where there is 3X the volume of pedestrians than normal, and expect to get away with it? What in the world possessed them to do this?

How the hell did they get guns anyway? And what the hell are their parents teaching them? Have their parents taught them anything at all? I'm not one to blame others for one person's mistakes, but hearing about all these crimes that have happened in Toronto this year, I'm really fed up.

These losers grow up in Toronto, with a great chance at getting a good education, with good food and a place to live. Why do they still allow themselves to turn into criminals and murderers? How could entering a life of crime and murder get them ahead to a better life?

Some might argue in their defense that these criminals have grown up in impoverished neighborhoods, without a lot of social or familial support, with being discriminated against becuase of their race, gender, language and whatnot. Well, you know what I would like to say to these people? Many immigrants since the 1960s have arrived in Canada in just a state. They live in impoverished homes. They have to cope with terrible language barriers that prevent them from getting stable employment. They don't have the language skills to go and seek social assistance from the government or the community centres. And do these immigrant children grow up to be criminals and murderers? NO. They grow up to be business people, doctors, dentists, teachers, lawyers, and so on.

The path to leading a good life depends on each step a person takes, not all the obstacles that one has to face. We all have to live through some type of shit or another. Some of us have the decency to make the right decisions, and others don't. For those who don't, don't blame it on lack of social programs or racial discrimination. Take responsibility and stop blaming it on "society."

Saturday, December 24, 2005

CHUMCity Christmas Wish

This year, instead of buying each other gifts, I suggested to my best friends to buy toys to donate to the CHUMCity Christmas Wish. They agreed, and last night, we got together for our Christmas dinner at a Brazilian-Chinese restaurant.

After dinner, we "opened" up our gifts and showed them off. Clare got a pair Minnie Mouse and a Micky Mouse stuffed toys, plus a Snoopy stationary set. J. got an Incredibles toy, and something else which I cannot remember at the moment. E. got some build-your-own car sets. Cat got rubrix cube. Thai bought a huge playdoh set. I got some painting crafts, wood building models and a Moose from Sears. There are a lot more items that I am not able to recall right now, but I'm sure that collectively, we spent over $145 on toys.

We then took them over to the CHUMCity to drop them off. After that, we went and had dessert at Richtree. It was a very good night. I felt very blessed to have the financial means to do something like this, and I am even more blessed to have a group of friends who are so supportive and enthusiastic.

I thank God for all these blessings. I hope that God will help all of us to continue to give generously, to open our hearts and minds to those in need, to continue doing this good work with zeal and never tire of it. Praise the Lord.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Cuisine of India - Restaurant Review

Tonight, I had dinner with my dept. colleagues at the restaurant, Cuisine of India.

We had some rice pelau, some nan bread, and I ordered the ghati ghost (lamb stew). It was so tasty. I love pelau rice becuase it's so fragrant. Nan bread is so soft. Lamb stew...need I say more?

F. ordered a curried fish, which I forgot to try (darn it!). M. ordered the chicken tikka, which was very nice with the shredded cabbage. R. ordered the salmon, which was an aromatic bbq style, but I don't like salmon, so...

The service was mediochre. Normally, they serve you water first thing, and our waiter did not do that. He served the wine orders first. Now, normally, I would not be so picky about this, but the appetizer bread he gave us was so spicy hot! I couldn't believe it when he came with the wine first, and then we had to wait longer for the water.

What I don't like about this restaurant is that you have to pay extra for the nan bread and rice. Usually, other places I've been to serve you rice or nan to go with your main dish. Seriously, who would eat spicy lamb stew alone, or spicy curry fish alone? Honestly!

The dessert was lovely, as we shared an ice cream with pistacios. It's a spicy kind of hard ice cream. The misala chai tea was so creamy and delicious. I've never had tea that I have been able to call delicious, but this chai tea was just that. And, F. tells me that this wasn't even the best misala chai she's ever had. Whoa!!

All in all, it was a great dinner because of the company I shared it with, and because of the conversations we had. I haven't had such a harmonious, and at the same time exciting, dinner in a long time.

Restaurant: 3.5/5 stars

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Good Week

This past week can be characterized as being quite good.

On Monday, my ESLD class went to the library for a workshop that introduced them to Lebanon. We started the workshop with a keynote speaker, one of our V.P.s. She told us about her experience of escaping Vietnam after the war as a boat-refugee with her family. It was one of the most gripping stories I have ever heard. The amount of details in the story made it so real and vivid for me. Afterwards, I told my class, it takes a certain quality of courage to be able to open oneself up and reveal such memories from one's past. Personally, I don't know if I would ever have been able to talk about something so personal to a group of high school students.

After opening with a bang, the students had to go and watch a video, which they found to be a bore. Other students had to create a flag for Freedom. They were all reluctant at first, but once they got going, the teacher's couldn't get them to stop. Some of the flags turned out to look really good!

Then we had some Lebanese snacks, like pitas with hummus, some ginger candies, and some mint tea. The food, surprisingly, was not welcomed with as much zeal as we thought.

After this workshop, the students were introduced to the novel, The Road to Chlifa. It is a novel by a Montreal writer that won the Governor's General Award in 1993. It tells the story of a Lebanese boy who escaped from the civil war, and his journey to freedom.

I am looking forward to this last week before Christmas. It should be an easy week.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe film

This winter, I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the first movie from the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Finally, I got to see it on Saturday. It was such an awesom experience!

What I loved about the movie was the set up. It shows how dangerous it was for the children to be living in London during the bombings. It was necessary for them to move away, into the countryside, to avoid being killed. From the very beginning, the characters and their personalities came through. The eldest, Peter, is practical-minded, responsible and authoritative. He has to be this way because he is the eldest. Susan, is gentle and understanding. Lucy is young, impressionable and eager. Edmund, the third child, is a bit reckless, although he means well.

Throughout the movie, what captivated me was the acting by the children actors. Their facial expressions were lively, but not overwrought. I don't recall a single moment when any one of them over-acted.

Story-writing-wise, I was impressed with how some changes were made from book to film, and the changes appeared seamlessly done. One of the major action scenes took place on a river, for example, and Peter was given an opportunity to show his cleverness and daring: two very important qualities in a warrior. This is what surprised me because in the book, Peter is quite flat. He's the oldest boy, and therefore he is responsible for getting them out of trouble. The film shows Peter as a credible leader becuase of his intelligence, not because of his gender or the order in which he was born.

As for weaknesses, I felt that the scene of Aslan on the Stone Table falls short of bringing across the monstrosity of the incident, the significance of his actions, and the anguish of his suffering. Don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for more graphic violence. What I did expect was for the scene to make the viewer feel the pain and the injustice of his sacrifice. I did not get that.

Overall, I give the film 4/5 stars.