June 2015

Father’s Day, Aboriginal Day & Solstice

June 21st, 2015 is: Father’s Day; National Aboriginal Day; and it’s also the first official day of summer for those of us in the northern hemisphere. I just checked online and it’s also United Nations International Day of Yoga.

Father’s Day

I am a father and I am not perfect, and neither was my father. Amongst that imperfection in my life, is the perfection of knowing that I love my kids and that my father loves me.  While I do not recall ever hearing my father say he loves me, my kids get annoyed because they think I tell them too often, in both relationships – there is love and (as far as I can tell) it is unconditional.

This year, I am half-way through a three-month absence. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity of completing my MSW with a practicum in St. Lucia and I am also feeling guilty for being away.  I know this time is difficult for my kids and for their mom and I look forward to when we are together again.  I look forward to being a dad who is more in-the-present with my wonderful young children.

I look forward to continuing a tradition of canoeing that started when my own father was young.  As a child, I canoed with my father in Delta Marsh, on lakes, and on a trip down the Assiniboine River. As an adult, I enjoy river tripping and whitewater canoeing. As a father – with my children – I enjoy safer paddles on the Glenmore Reservoir, lakes and slow rivers.

National Aboriginal Day

As written on a Government of Canada webpage, National Aboriginal Day “is a special day to celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada.” June solstice was chosen for this day because it holds significance to many indigenous cultures within and around Canada’s borders.

While celebration is important, I am also thinking of the 200+ years of oppressive colonialism that is too often ignored by way too many Canadians.  I am thinking of the horrible legacy of residential schools, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

There are also issues pertaining to Canada’s ‘Fathers of Confederation‘. While they played important unifying roles for Canada as part of the British Commonwealth and they may have been excellent fathers for their own children, many (maybe all) were sexist racists who established a country that was intended to favour white men (not women and not the people who lived and thrived before European occupation).

Note: I write this with acknowledgement that I am a white male and that I am not merely an innocent  bystander in areas of oppression.

First Day of Summer

I won’t go into this too much, but for us in the northern hemisphere, June 21 is the longest day of the year and it is the first official day of summer. And summer is my favourite Canadian season.

While solstice holds much more significance to cultures and peoples all over the world, right now summer is on my mind.

 International Day of Yoga

I could pretend that I am an enlightened yoga enthusiast but my only experience with yoga is non-spiritual therapeutic yoga for those with back injuries. That experience and the experience of seeing so many lovely people in yoga pants while studying at Phil & Sebastian coffee shop in Marda Loop (sorry folks, I don’t have photos).

Yoga is much more than trendy recreation and here are some resources:


Friends, Confirmation & Love is Love

Eighty-five percent of Lucians are Catholic and and only 5.9% say they have no religion (Sources 1 & 2). The rest are mostly other Christian denominations and a small number are Rastafarian.

I went to a United Church & Sunday School until age eleven and later in my life consciously decided on atheism.  While I always had difficulty believing the stories in both Testaments, the final decision resulted from the homophobia and neoconservatism of the Christian-right in USA and Canada (there’s also matters of evolution and of earth being several billion years older than 6,000 years of age, etc.).

A few weeks ago, we had friends over for dinner and even my non-religious self was enraptured when our friends sang Grace before we ate our meal (Click the box below for a sample of the sound).

I have come to know several community-engaged, accepting, non-judgmental nuns on the island who and have become good friends with one, Sister Anthonia.

When Sister asked if Amanda and I would speak to a group of youth last Sunday, we jumped at the opportunity – I love seeing new places and communities on the island. The youth had anonymously provided questions for us to answer. My questions pertained to parenthood: Why are parents strict? Why do they limit phone use? What are the roles of parents in the lives of their children?

Click for PDF of slides.

Click for PDF of slides.

Sister Anthonia picked us up and then we picked up Sister Elizabeth. We were ready for the hour-plus drive to Laborie with much friendly and informative conversation. Country music was playing on the radio – Sunday’s in St. Lucia are country music days. Every radio station plays country and roadside pubs and restaurants play country – it was everywhere.

We passed the Hewanorra airport  and stopped in a shanty town area where one of the Sisters used to live. She spoke with several people for a while and then drove on to see some sights.

After sightseeing, we went to Sister’s family home where her mom fed us a delicious homemade lunch complete with coconut water (fresh coconut water is nothing like the kind we get in Canada – it is very tasty in St. Lucia).

Afterwards, we headed to the Catholic church in Laborie. We could immediately hear children singing and clapping from the building we were about to enter. When we entered the building some of the young people changed to a song with the line, “Hello Sisters”. For me, it was all very cool and very welcoming.

When I learned then that our presentations were part of Confirmation lessons for this group of young people, I recall thinking of the irony that I was taking part in this process. As a community worker (and as a fellow human), I knew this day was important and that I needed to respect the Church community AND my own values. I also remembered my own Confirmation as a young boy while actively partaking in Scouts in Manitoba circa 1979-ish.

One of the Sisters started off speaking about careers, career development and how she became a Sister. She spoke of a boyfriend when she was younger (before becoming a nun) that brought about some laughter and a series of questions about a nun with a boyfriend. She welcomed all questions even if they were a bit embarrassing for the adult-aged youth leaders in the room.

I learned that nuns and priests take the vow of celibacy so they can better focus on the community. They are not distracted by their own spouses and children and I thought this was commendable – I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

The next Sister spoke about topics like sexuality in relation to the Church. Of course, it was expected that people wait until marriage to have sex but she did mention that God made humans as sexual beings and stated that we all have urges.

When she got to the part about “Homosexuality and the Catholic Church”, I began listening even more intently. This was when she stated that God makes some people homosexual and that all people should be loved. She paraphrased Pope Francis when stating that homosexual people should not be discriminated against and that they should be accepted as members of the Church community (On homosexuality, the Pope once asked, “Who am I to judge?“).

In my outsider’s view of the Church and its stance on non-procreative-sex, it appears that sexual acts between same-sex couples are no greater a sin than those of heterosexual couples engaging in sex outside of marriage.

While I do not subscribe to specifically religious values of right and wrong, I was enlightened (and impressed) with the progressive stance taken by the Catholic Church on lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. On the way home, I even heard the Sister speak the phrase, “love is love” while conversing in the seats behind me.

Once home, I listened to a Blur song from years before “love is love” became used as phrase to defend LGBTQ* rights.


  1. Before (and quite likely now), neither Sister knew of my non-religious self – it never came up in conversation.
  2. If you are wondering what LGBTQ* means, here are a few resources:

Playing Hooky & Social Justice

While I enjoy the important work of the OECS, I also get to ‘play hooky’ once-a-week for five weeks on a side project.  Amanda (my fellow MSW student & 3-month roommate) works at a children’s home and in the community with Human Services.  She and I are co-creating and co-facilitating an arts-based workshop for secondary-school-age youth to create awareness and ways to avoid or get out of of sexual exploitation.  It includes topics like predation, grooming, drugs, alcohol, gangs, social media, masculinity, femininity, and social justice.

While the program is loosely based on Amanda’s work with Children of the Street in Vancouver, we had to make significant changes to adjust to realities in St. Lucia. Through community meetings, we learned that drug use, gang involvement and prostitution work differently here than in Canada. There are also important cultural differences that I won’t get into for this article.

During the mornings of the lessons, we practice and refine strategies and try to get to the school on time.  Since we do not have our own vehicles here and since children from the home are involved in the lessons, we are dependent on  others for rides. It’s kind of a fun because instead of arriving with time to prepare the class, set up the projector, etc., we get there at the time it the lesson is supposed to begin. In Caribbean-time this does not appear to be a big deal.

Last week, Sister Anthonia explained to Amanda that, “It’s more important to be well-fed than to be on time.”

For me, I kind of thrive on lack-of-preparation but Amanda gets a bit more concerned – she is a diligent registered teacher after-all. I also like observing culture and seeing where the experience takes me – I like going along for the ride.

The lessons are going generally well and we are learning where the program will need adjusting when others take over.  Amanda is trained for acting and she has pushed me out of my comfort zone into acting in front of young people. I am definitely not as talented in this skill but it wasn’t so bad – even if I do end up playing the creepy old dude more-often-than-not.


Remember when I said I liked going along for the ride? After the lesson, Sister Anthonia came to pick us up. She asked if we had somewhere we needed to be. When we said, “no”, she asked if we wanted to go for a drive to Dennery where she could drop off food at an seniors home.  Of course we were ready for another excursion.

Amanda took this photo on the way to Dennery.

Amanda took this photo on the way to Dennery, St. Lucia.

When we got to the seniors home, I helped carry boxes of food up the stairs from the van.  While inside, a woman reached out her hand and I sat down with her.  She pulled me close and gave me a kiss on the cheek. We sat there holding each other by the arm and watched cricket on the television.  She spoke to me in Patois so I didn’t understand anything except when she repeatedly said, “Jesus is love”.

This was a special moment for me because I was invited to her space and no longer felt like just another interloping white guy from another country where the weather is cold. Sister sat with a blind woman for a bit and we watched the game.

When it was time to go, I explained that we were leaving – she hugged me tighter and then let me go, I shook the spritely gentleman’s hand on her other side and we walked down the hall. There was a 97-year-old woman in bed that Sister talked to on the way out – she passed away a couple days later.

On the way home, we stopped for fruit on the side of the road. I was amazed at the price Sister was able to get for us.  Where I could not buy more than four passion fruit for less than EC$5.00 near our home, she got us a whole bag of about 15 for EC$5.00. In the end we had a shopping bag of passion fruit, mangoes and plantains for EC$20.00 (about $9 Canadian)!

Tomorrow, we have another excursion to another new location. Two sisters invited us to speak to a 50-person church youth group to answer questions they provided anonymously.  My piece is on parenting including reasons why parents are so strict. I don’t think of myself as strict but my kids do call me “mean” when they’re angry so I guess I do know something about the subject.

Other speakers will discuss sexuality from a Catholic perspective – which should be interesting for me (I’m a secularist and think of myself as sex-positive).

Notes on social work, community development and religion:

As a student of social work and a community developer, I think it is important to understand cultural diversity. For me, working and living in a country with strong religious beliefs involves a respect for those beliefs.

In six weeks I have met more nuns in St. Lucia than during my whole life in Canada, and every nun has been friendly, warm and welcoming.  Sister Anthonia has shown me more of this beautiful country than I would have seen on my own. I consider her to be a valued friend and we haven’t even discussed religion. She displays a non-judgmental quality that I strive to attain. The Sisters know and understand community development and St. Lucian culture in ways that I will never know and understand.  I am here to learn.


Migraine in Paradise

¡Whining while in paradise alert!

I woke up yesterday morning and didn’t want to move my head – it hurt and I was groggy.

I am prone to migraines but always maintained the false belief that I only get them in Canada (especially in Calgary with Chinook pressure changes).

In St. Lucia, I have had a headache about once-a-week that I could loosely attribute to lack of sleep or rain. This one was different.  My head hurt, I was disoriented and groggy – familiar symptoms but not while living on a tropical island!

I felt I needed to get to work for an important meeting with team members from education and social development units. It was to look at current and future programming for youth in Eastern Caribbean countries.

While I was leaving home, a Nazareth song popped into my head, “Woke up this morning…”

On the way to the bus, I met the guy with zero short term memory who makes hats on the beach.

“Where you heading?” he asked as we shook hands.

“To Castries”, I replied without being able to explain.

“Do you have any small change? I’m hungry”, he asked.

All I could say this time was, “No, sorry, I need to get to the bus.”

The bus driver looked at me from across the street and I waved my hand. It’s nice that they will wait for you to get to cross the busy road allowing you to sit down before leaving.

I dropped my coffee mug under the bus, reached down and got grease and dirt all over the shoulder of my white dress shirt – this day was going to suck.

During the morning meeting, I tried to hide my pain and disorientation.  I had trouble following the discussion and will need to follow up to figure out what exactly was covered.

On task I took away from the meeting was that we were going to populate a grid of youth programs and projects in OECS countries funded by governments and by international organizations like UNESCO, UNDP, USAID, etc. I found and created a list of programs but could not deal with the overwhelming nature of looking at, and completing, a grid – it was too much for me that day.

After a discussion with my supervisor, I headed home at lunchtime with my dark sunglasses covering my eyes. My eyes were sore, sunken, red and were steadily streaming with tears. Not tears of emotion or pain, exactly – kind of like the tearing that happens from sleepiness.

Today is a public holiday (Corpus Christi) and even though my supervisor said not to work, I will need to prepare for the first of five 2-hour lessons Amanda and I are teaching at a secondary school to create awareness of sexual exploitation. She has me taking part in skits where I will usually play a bad guy. While the skits are important for learning, acting will be easy for me.

Yesterday I was in bed from about 2:00pm to 5:45am this morning.  Now that I’ve been up for nearly, three hours, the post migraine fog is lifting and I am starting to again enjoy life in the tropics.  Now if only the loud weed-eater could stop…