Simon Jones, A Life Dedicated To Helping Rhinos

Simon Jones is the founder and CEO of Helping Rhinos, a charity he established in 2012. Simon’s love for animals began at a very young age. His home in the south of England was often referred to as the ‘local zoo’ as he had a whole range of pets that included dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, and even a tortoise to name a few. Simon also rode horses as a child and would often spend early childhood family holidays on working farms looking after the cattle and pigs.

It takes a lot of work and dedication to run a charity like Helping Rhinos. A typical day for Simon would start at around 6:30am with checking the emails that have been received overnight (with an international charity there is no off time!). Once the emails have been reviewed each day can be very different. Some days will be focused on raising funds to help support Helping Rhinos’ work in the field and others will be more focused around the actual work on the ground and talking to the teams across Africa. Before Covid-19 travel restrictions were imposed Simon would spend at least one or two days a week in face to face meetings with supporters and sponsors. Typically, his day ends anywhere between 7pm and 10pm with more email work.

A popular night raising funds for the charity.

The goal of Helping Rhinos is to provide secure and sustainable environments for all species of rhinos to thrive for generations to come.

In the field, Helping Rhinos will establish secure rhino strongholds through the creation of innovative protection strategies, sustainable land management operations that ensure a rich, biodiverse ecosystem and inspiring local communities to proactively engage in rhino conservation.

Around the world Helping Rhinos will ensure sustainable long term rhino conservation by developing a community of interested and engaged people and donors through international education programmes. Furthermore, to develop an innovative, entrepreneurial approach to funding rhino conservation.

Simon knows in order for rhinos to have a chance at long term survival it is vital for the local African communities to realize the importance of saving the species. Without the cooperation of the local population, it would be impossible to help rhinos.

Simon and his team balance the need to protect the land for wildlife and to sustain a human population. They educate local communities about the benefits of keeping land for wildlife by offering meaningful incentives to protect wildlife and help eliminate poaching. For example, the communities surrounding Ol Pejeta Conservancy, one of Helping Rhinos field projects, benefits from the conservancy building new schools, medical dispensaries and the provision of business management skills training. This is a huge incentive for these communities to work closely with the conservancy and to help protect and keep safe their wildlife.

They also fund anti-poaching units. This is key to protecting rhinos. Rangers need to be trained and provided with the best technology to keep themselves and the animals they protect safe. This all takes money.

Helping Rhinos also knows it is important to work with Governments at all levels to encourage them to implement enforceable legislation and effective penalties to deter poachers from killing rhinos. Simon and his group also lobby for the protection of habitat.

One of the hardest parts of running an NGO such as Helping Rhinos is the remoteness of the organisation to the rhinos on the ground.  Simon and his whole team have a huge passion to protect rhinso in their natural habitat, but it can be tough when times are busy and stressful and you are half a world away from the animals and the nature you are trying to protect.

That is why when Simon is in the field these are the most memorable times for him. Simon says there are too many memorable occasions to pick just one, but a few that stand out are the first time he saw rhino poaching survivor Thandi after her attack. Simon had seen Thandi a few years before the attack (and before she even had a name), but to see her just a few months after her face had been hacked off, looking strong was very emotional. Similarly, spending time with Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, just weeks before his passing due to age related conditions was also very emotional. Saying goodbye to Sudan, knowing he wouldn’t ever see him again was very tough. And finally, seeing the strength of character of the rhino orphans, who have survived the loss of their mothers, often having witnessed their brutal slaughter at the hands of poachers, really does give Simon huge inspiration and motivation to keep fighting every day for these majestic animals.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on conservation. The sector relies largely on income from nature-based tourism, which was abruptly turned off overnight and is unlikely to recover until well into 2021.

One upside however is that the poaching of species like rhinos actually significantly reduced during the lockdown period. With international borders closed and domestic travel a lot more difficult to undertake without being noticed, the risk of being left with an illegally procured rhino horn was too big a risk. However, Simon says that the rhino conservation world is bracing itself for a poaching spike now the borders have opened again. Managing this spike if it does materialize will be a bigger challenge than ever with a lack of available resources that’s due to the pandemic.

September 22nd each year is World Rhino Day, but for Simon and his team, every day is rhino day. Every day, they do what they can to help save these beautiful animals. If you would like to learn more about Helping Rhinos, check out their website. There are many ways to get involved, including donating, ‘adopting’ a rhino, running your own fundraising campaign, trying out one of the many fun rhino activities they have, such as colouring sheets, info sheets, learning to draw a rhino!

I personally am so excited to be collaborating with Helping Rhinos. I will be donating 10% of all royalties earned from my picture book, A Family For Faru, to this wonderful group. Please check out their shop. They have so many amazing items for sale, including links to purchase books that support rhino conservation like A Family For Faru.

https://www.helpingrhinos.org/

Episode 26: Kindness Is Saving Sharks

Thirteen-year old Finlay Pringle, joins Anitha to share his passion about sharks.

Sharks have been cruelly misjudged and wrongly considered ruthless predators of the sea. Finlay dispels these myths and tells us the truth about sharks. He also talks about the reasons 100 million sharks are killed every year and why it is so important to save them.

An incredibly eye-opening episode!

As a thank you for sharing his story, Anitha donated to Bite Back Shark and Marine Conservation. To learn about the wonderful work this organization does to protect sharks, click on the link: https://www.bite-back.com

To learn more about the wonderful work Finlay does to help sharks, check out his website: https://ullapoolsharkambassador.com

Vandana Verma—Creating Kindness One Wish at a Time

Vandana Verma is the kind of teacher every parent wants for their child—enthusiastic, inspiring and full of kindness. She began her career in 2002 and has been teaching at Prince Of Wales Elementary School in Hamilton, Ontario, since 2003.

Vandana was born in India and immigrated to Canada when she was three years old. She moved from Toronto to Brantford and then finally to Hamilton when she was sixteen. Vandana says she was blessed with a wonderful family, great friends and credits some fantastic, caring teachers, who showed her the meaning and importance of kindness.

In 2013, Vandana started a program at her school called Just One Wish Kindness Program. The goal of the program was to show students that everyone has the power to make a positive difference.

The catalyst for this program came to Vandana in a dream, more specifically a poem she dreamt about. Fortunately, for Vandana when she woke up on the morning of January 2, 2013, the entire poem was still with her.

Filled with excitement, Vandana shared the poem and her plan of how it could instigate a movement of kindness within the school. Her Principal and Vice-Principal at the time completely supported the idea.

An assembly was arranged and Vandana introduced her idea to the school. During the next month, every student wrote a wish on a yellow-coloured paper star. These stars were posted all over the school.

Wishes like these:

Paul

Age: 19

Wish: I wish people would stop racism.

Jesse

Age: 9

Wish: I wish they stop all wars.

Kendra

Age: 8

Wish: I wish kids would be nice to people who are different.

Sheldon

Age: 6

Wish: I wish that the world was cleaner.

Frank

Age: 10

Wish: I wish people would stop cutting down trees so we can breathe better – they need to breathe too!

And Vandana’s wish:

Wish: I wish that people who had influence would think before they spoke or acted.

At the end of the month, they had another school-wide assembly. As a group, they decided which wishes they could make happen. These wishes were then transcribed onto blue-coloured paper stars.

Soon after the assembly, the climate of the school changed.  People were holding doors open, smiling at others, playing with others, and the school was a lot cleaner. Students would tell Vandana how another student was kind to them or how they helped another person. Vandana was thrilled to see how the students themselves were able see the change as well as discuss their efforts to make change happen. Visitors to the school would comment on how the school had a very positive, energized feeling.

For the next several years, the Just One Wish Kindness program continued. Vandana worked hard to think up different ways to carry out the program. From individual wishes, they moved to class wishes. They wished for things that would affect their school, the City of Hamilton, and of course, wishes for the entire world.

In addition to The Just One Wish Kindness program, the school is involved in other kindness initiatives. Prince of Wales Elementary celebrates International Pink Day, a day devoted to raising awareness about bullying. They also have a Mental Health Action Team, comprised of teachers and students.

In 2014, a student from the Mental Health Action Team asked why they only celebrate anti-bullying one day of the year. Vandana took this question to heart. She realized that the student had raised an excellent point and decided that people should live a PINK life every day.

PINK became the acronym for Positive Inspiration Noble Kind.

Vandana even created two super-heroes, Pink Power and Pink Passion. Once a week, students from the Mental Health Action Team would dress up as these superheroes. These wonderful pink-caped, pink-masked students would walk around the school and even go into classrooms, praising other students.

Unfortunately, both these initiatives, Just One Wish Kindness and PINK, were discontinued in 2019. But that didn’t stop Vandana from continuing to bring kindness into her school.

In March of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic forced her school, like many others around the world, into lockdown. Vandana took this time to create puppets based on her PINK initiative.

Over the next two months, she sewed 17 puppets by hand, including Pink Power and Pink Passion. Vandana created seven scripts:

Kindness is Strength

Kindness is Knowledge

Kindness is The Little Things

Kindness is Acceptance

Kindness is Respect

Kindness is Helping

Kindness is Standing up

With friends lending their voices, Vandana has recorded these shows. Each video is approximately six to seven minutes long.

The reception for these videos has been great. They are being used by schools other cities in Ontario, such as Sarnia and Ajax. Vandana has even been asked to do a workshop on kindness for educators in Muskoka.

Vandana’s determination to create a community of kindness and empathy continues to expand. Season two of her puppet show is going to be out in September 2021.  It will have nine episodes focusing on kindness to oneself, others and the environment.  Eventually, Vandana would like her puppet show to address issues such as privilege, identity, racism, etc. 

When asked if there was one thing she could change in the world, Vandana said, “I wish I could change all the negative feelings, words and actions into positive ones.”

To learn more about Vandana and her Just One Wish Kindness Program, check out her website: https://www.justonewishkindnessprogram.com/index.php/about-us/about-vandana-verma/

Vandana has shared the poem that started it all on her YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfGKK5GFMgs

Michelle Kadarusman—Author & Animal Lover

It’s always a joy to meet another author. However, connecting with Michelle Kadarusman was an extra thrill, because not only do we share a love of books and writing, we share a love for animals.

Michelle grew up in Melbourne, Australia with her four siblings. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and her mom, now a single mother and raising five kids, didn’t allow the family to have pets.

But this doesn’t appear to have been a hard rule, since Michelle and her siblings still filled their home with strays. To her relief, once the animals were there, her mom fell in love with the new family members as well. Michelle’s menagerie of strays included cats, rabbits and a dog named Charlie.

In 2000 Michelle moved to Canada and adopted her first dog from the Toronto Humane Society. Buddy was a five-year-old beagle mix. Sadly, Buddy died two years later. It happened when Michelle and her children were walking home from school. Buddy saw another dog across the street. He lunged and broke free of his leash, and he got hit by a car.

Devastated by his death, Michelle knew she wanted to bring another dog into their family.

Dogs add colour to our lives,” she says.

In 2003, India, a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, joined Michelle’s family, and then seven years later, they adopted Hannah, a shepherd mix rescued from Aruba.

Given her love of animals, it’s no surprise that in 1996, while living in Surabaya, Indonesia, Michelle’s desire to help animals extended beyond rabbits, cats and dogs. She helped rescue an orangutan.

Her brother, Andre, was also in Indonesia at the time. He was working for an Australian construction company based in Jakarta. His work involved travelling to remote areas. At one of those locations he came upon a captive orangutan, held in a tiny cage, who was being used as an attraction at a restaurant.

Michelle’s brother didn’t know what to do. It is illegal in Indonesia to have an orangutan in captivity. But this was before Google and finding a rescue organization to save the orangutan was very difficult.

Michelle’s brother contacted her, wondering if she could help. Michelle had recently had a baby and belonged to a mom’s group. She told the other mothers about the plight of the orangutan. Luckily, one of the women knew someone who volunteered at an orangutan rescue. She promised to contact her friend at the rescue and get back to Michelle.

A couple of weeks passed and then Michelle received a call from the woman at the rescue. They were in the area that day and needed the location of the restaurant.

Michelle scrambled to contact her brother. Fortunately, she was able to speak with him. Even though he didn’t know the exact address of the restaurant, as it was located in a remote village, he was able to provide enough details for the rescue team to find the orangutan.

Thanks to Michelle and her brother, the orangutan was saved and taken to a sanctuary. Her seven years of being held captive in a tiny cage had finally come to an end.

Michelle never learned exactly what happened to the orangutan, but is hopeful that her life was a lot better having been rescued.

Not only is Michelle an animal lover but she is also an author. This incident with the orangutan has been brewing in Michelle’s mind for almost thirty years. She is now working on transforming it into a fictional story. She plans on telling the story from three points of view: the main character is a girl who is a budding activist, a boy whose uncle owns the restaurant where the orangutan was kept, and the orangutan herself.

As she writes, Michelle is cognisant of the complexities involved in dealing with animal conservation in countries such as Indonesia. She is determined not to vilify the restaurant owners. She says that her brother returned to the restaurant after the orangutan was saved and the owners were relieved she had been rescued. They too, wanted a better life for the orangutan but didn’t know how to make that happen.

Michelle is a gifted writer. Her 2019 middle grade novel, Girl of The Southern Sea was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award. She has written three award- nominated novels. I eagerly await the release of this story based on her real-life experience helping an orangutan.

When asked the question, what is the one thing she would change in the world, Michelle said, “To change the world we have to look at our own actions first. It’s easy to forget to simply be kind. I try and remind myself everyday to lighten my thoughts and just do what I can.

For more information about Michelle, please check out her Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/MichelleKadarusmanAuthor

Kelly Thomas & Google Level Funding

I’m sure many of us have dreamt about what we would do if we had Google level funding. Literary agent, Kelly Thomas was asked this exact question on one of my favorite podcasts—The Manuscript Academy. It is a question the creators of the podcast often pose to guests and the answers are varied. But Kelly’s response had me beaming!

Kelly talked about the dogs she adopted from Animal Lighthouse Rescue (ALR), an organization that rescues dogs in Puerto Rico and brings them to New York City to find their forever homes.

It is a challenge to fly rescue dogs from Puerto Rico to New York City. Each dog must have a designated human escort travelling with them before they are allowed on the plane. Once this hurdle is overcome, the dogs are placed in the cargo section of the plane, which can be very loud and frightening, especially to a dog who has already suffered trauma. But for now, this is the only option available.  

But if Kelly had Google level funding, she would change this. She would buy a plane specifically to fly dogs in need of help to their forever homes. Any dog that didn’t find a family, Kelly would keep as her own.

As soon as I heard Kelly’s answer, I knew I had to find out more about her. The only contact information I had was her literary agency email. This email is normally used for writers submitting material to the agency in hopes of acquiring representation. I took a chance and emailed Kelly on her agency email. I explained who I was and that I was hoping to share her story on my Kindness Is Everything blog. Within minutes, Kelly emailed back, saying she would love to! And not only that, she put me in touch with the founder of Animal Lighthouse Rescue so that I could share their story as well.

It was such a joy to speak with Kelly. Whenever she talked about her dogs, both whom she adopted from Animal Lighthouse Rescue, her voice overflowed with love.

Kelly’s love of animals came from her father and grandmother. At one time, her grandmother had fourteen cats under her care. When Kelly was growing up, dogs and cats were always a part of her family. Her dad even threw her canine sibling birthday parties.

When Kelly left home, she was saddened to discover she’d developed an allergy to dogs.  This sudden onset sometimes happens when people are no longer around pets. As she was living in a small apartment in New York, having a pet wasn’t possible, so the allergy wasn’t much of an issue.  However, in 2013, Kelly moved to a larger, pet-friendly place and was determined to once again have a dog in her life, even if it meant allergy shots or medication.

Her search began.

Kelly started looking for dogs in need of a home on a website called Pet Finder. This led her to connect with Julie Sinaw, the founder of ALR.

Julie had three rescue dogs in NYC at the time. Kelly met them and immediately fell in love with Lila. The feeling was clearly mutual as Lila came up to Kelly and nuzzled right into her.

Kelly’s relationship with the rescue didn’t end once she brought Lila home. Kelly was so impressed by Julie’s dedication and efforts to rescue and find forever homes for the Puerto Rican dogs, that she started to volunteer.

She spent time helping out at dog adoption events. Kelly and the other volunteers would each be partnered with one of the dogs. They would learn everything they could about the dog—their history, special needs, if the dog got along with other dogs, cats, children, and if they were an active dog.

Kelly would then meet people who were interested in adopting the dog to determine whether or not it was a good match—for dog and human. Prospective adopters are thoroughly vetted to make sure they are committed to caring for a dog.

Kelly wanted to make sure each dog she was responsible for found a loving home like her own Lila.

Sadly, Lila passed away in February of 2020. Kelly was devastated. After about a month, she contacted Julie wanting to once again adopt a dog from Puerto Rico. This time it was a dog named Daisy who won Kelly’s heart. Soon after Kelly adopted Daisy, she changed her name to Hazel.

Kelly and Hazel moved to Orlando, Florida, in November of 2020. She even found a place that not only boasts a swimming pool and gym, but also a dog park!

Though living in Orlando means it’s no longer possible for Kelly to volunteer at the adoption events, she is hoping to find other ways to help Animal Lighthouse Rescue. Perhaps one day, she’ll buy them that plane!

When asked if there was only one thing she could change in the world, what that would be—her response: “For more people to be aware of how amazing animals are and to rescue them so that they all have a loving home and enough food. No animal should have to go hungry.”  

To learn more about Animal Lighthouse Rescue, check out their website: https://www.alrcares.com/

Leo—A Special Needs Dog, Loving Life on Two Legs

Almost five years ago, a wonderful thing happened—Poppy joined our family. Not only did we gain an adorable dog, but we also joined an amazing community— the Fetch & Releash dog rescue. Through this incredible group, we get support, advice, and what I most love, hearing inspiring stories from other adopters. One such story came from Chanelle Singer.

Chanelle grew up with dogs and cats, and has always been drawn to animals. She says,“Animals have such beautiful energies and are so loving.”

In 2013, she moved out on her own and adopted Tizrah, a cat. At the time the vet thought Tizrah might be nine years old, but they were unsure as to her exact age, because Tizrah had lost most of her teeth.

The incomparable, Tizrah!

2020 was an eventful year for Chanelle, and not just because of the world-wide pandemic. Chanelle got married in September and a ten-year old Pitbull Mastiff joined their family.

Kirby belonged to a neighbour who could no longer care for him. Chanelle and her husband, Justin, had been thinking about adopting a senior dog, because it’s often difficult to find homes for older dogs. They had gotten to know Kirby for about a year and found him to be a sweet and friendly dog. So, when they heard about their neighbour’s dilemma, Chanelle and Justin stepped in and adopted Kirby.

Chanelle & Justin

Unlike Chanelle and Justin, Tizrah was not as happy about the new addition to the family. Although Kirby had many many pounds on her, Tizrah made it clear she ran the house. When they first met, she gave Kirby a warning swat and that was it. Kirby quickly realized his place. Whenever Tizrah entered the room, no matter where he was, Kirby would move to give her a clear path.

Sadly, Chanelle and Justin had less than six months with Kirby.  Unbeknownst to them, Kirby had a tumor and passed away.

Sweet Kirby

Though the experience of adopting a senior dog left Chanelle and Justin heartbroken, it didn’t sway them from their decision to continue adopting senior dogs. They wanted to give a dog the best life possible for however long the dog had.

When they were once again ready to welcome a dog into their home, Chanelle found Leo on Pet Finder. As soon as she saw his picture and read his profile, she decided, ‘That’s my dog!’

Leo’s Profile Picture

Originally, from India, poor Leo had been hit by a train. Miraculously, he survived, though the accident left him without a front left leg and back left paw.

Fetch & Releash heard about Leo and decided to rescue him. He was supposed to arrive in Canada in March of 2020, but the pandemic delayed his arrival until September.

Chanelle and Justin were a bit nervous about taking on a special needs dog, but decided they were up for the challenge.

The adoption process took about a month. One of the things I love about Fetch & Releash is their commitment to ensuring that each of their dogs is placed in the right home. They screen potential adopters to make sure they can provide for the dog’s emotional, physical and financial needs. 

In November, Chanelle and Justin were approved to adopt Leo and right away they began prepping for his arrival. They installed carpeting over all the floors, because understandably, Leo is afraid of floors. They also made sure to block off all the stairs.

When Leo first arrived, he was nervous and stayed in his bed. He did welcome pets and belly rubs. But after two weeks, Leo was joining in the family cuddles.

Chanelle and Justin are learning what it takes to be a parent of a special needs dog. Having only two legs affects not just Leo’s mobility, it also affects the way he eats. At first, Leo could only eat off a snuffle mat because he needs to lay down when he eats. But recently, he has been able to eat from a bowl, though he still has to lie down.

Leo also suffers from extreme separation anxiety. Even if he is left alone for five or ten minutes, he whines the entire time. He is not good in a crate. Since he hates being in the car, taking Leo along to run errands is not possible. There was one time Justin was out of the house and Chanelle was taking a shower. Leo had become so upset about being left on his own, he chewed a ruler into little bits.

Chanelle and Justin now plan their entire week so that one of them is always with Leo. They both work from home but errands, showers etc. are all scheduled ahead of time.

Though adopting Leo has been an adjustment, Chanelle says the good moments far outweigh the difficult ones.

The most dramatic improvement is Leo’s mobility. When they adopted Leo, Chanelle and Justin were told he wasn’t good on a leash, didn’t like to walk on concrete, and only had the stamina to walk for 10 to 15 minutes at the most.

Following these guidelines, they would take Leo into their big backyard and allow him to walk around on the grass. They soon discovered that the backyard wasn’t enough for Leo. On a snowy day, taking his lead, they brought him into the front yard. Leo loved it! Despite only having two legs, Leo enthusiastically jumped and played in the snow.  

Soon it wasn’t just snow he was walking on— Leo showed interest in walking to the end of the street, even though it meant walking on a concrete sidewalk. Once this goal was accomplished, Chanelle set her sights on Leo being able to walk around the entire cul-de-sac.

They started by walking one-third of the way around and slowly increased the distance. Whenever Leo reached his limit, he would sit and whine, which was Chanelle’s signal to pick him up and carry him home.

In about a week, Leo was walking all the way around the cul-de-sac! He can even walk on a leash. Chanelle says it’s so rewarding to watch Leo defy every limitation put on him.

The legs on Leo’s right side of his body have to bear his entire weight. To help him balance, Leo has been shifting his back, left leg to the centre of his body, which can lead to hip problems among other things. Because of this, Chanelle and Justin decided to have a prosthetic back paw made in hopes that Leo would be able to bear some weight on his left side to give him more balance.

To help pay for the approximate $1,500 price tag, they set up a Go Fund Page. Leo has become quite well known on the street, and the community has been very supportive. Chanelle and Justin had decided that regardless of the amount of funds they raised, they were going to get Leo the prosthetic, even if it meant paying for the entire bill themselves.

Happily, the full $1,500 was raised and Leo will soon be getting his prosthetic paw.

Leo patiently getting his prosthetic paw fitted.

It is such a joy to see Leo’s updates on the Fetch & Releash’s Facebook page. I can’t wait to see more videos of Leo as he continues to enjoy his life with his forever family.

When asked if there was one thing she could change in the world, what that would be, Chanelle’s answer—”I wish people would not overlook special needs animals and elderly animals. They’re just as in need of love as a new puppy, sometimes even more loving and grateful! Adopt. Don’t shop!”

To learn more about Leo, follow him on Instagram @leo.the.pariah 

Marthese Fenech-Creating Love & Empathy In The Classroom

It’s amazing how people come into our lives, in what we believe is for a specific purpose, only to become so much more.

I met Marthese Fenech, Mar as she’s known to her friends, in 2015. We were both part of an online writing group called Kidcrit. I quickly realized that Mar was as gifted with her feedback to others as she was with her own writing.

Mar Fenech

Over the years our relationship has grown from sharing a love of writing to sharing a love of animals.

Mar was born in Toronto and now lives north of the city with her husband, Brad, and their beautiful Siberian husky.

Family Photo

She says her love of animals is something that’s innate. She finds animals pure and without artifice. Her maternal grandfather felt the same way. He was known to take care of a pack of stray dogs. The dogs would follow him around Malta, eager for the delicious scraps of food he carried with him.

Mar is also a devoted high school teacher. She has been teaching for twelve years in a variety of subjects including English, World Religions and Phys. Ed.

This year, Mar has been teaching a wonderful group of students aged 14-18 with developmental delays and multiple exceptionalities. I was thrilled when she told me that not only was she going to buy a copy of my picture book, A Family For Faru, to read to her class, but the students were going to do an art project based on the book.

Inspiration hit!

I asked if she would be willing to auction the art to raise funds for Care For Wild Rhino Sanctuary, the rhino orphanage my daughter volunteered with. Without hesitation, Mar was on board.

She obtained permission from her Principal, involved teachers from other departments, and began the project!

I loved receiving updates of her students thoroughly engaged in their art. Seeing their happy faces, proudly holding up their gorgeous paintings inspired by A Family For Faru, was incredibly moving.

Once the art was complete, Mar moved onto the next step—auctioning the paintings. Due to the restrictions of Covid-19, the auction was held online. Mar’s wonderfully supportive colleagues at Monsignor Percy Johnson, bid on the artwork. Mar and her amazing students raised almost $500 for the rhinos at Care For Wild Rhino Sanctuary.

But equally, if not more important, Mar instilled a love for other species in her students that they will take with them. She showed them they have the ability to make a positive difference in the lives of animals.

When asked if there was only one thing she could change in the world, what that would be. Her answer— to change humans’ inability to co-exist with each other and other species, a failure borne of human greed, which is at the root of the world’s crises.

I am so very grateful to have met Mar. Her compassion to help others has no bounds. She generously supports other writers, is a devoted teacher to her students and has a great love for animals. It was an absolute honour to collaborate with her on this amazing project to help rhinos.

To learn more about Mar, check out her website: https://marthesefenech.com/

Joan and Tiger—Turning Heartache Into Friendship

Many of us have had the privilege of sharing our home with animals. We remember the day we first met them and the great joy and immense love they bring us. Unfortunately, animals don’t live as long as we want or need them to, and eventually we have to say goodbye.

But sometimes an animal outlives their human, and then what happens? Will a relative come forward and care for the dog, cat, rabbit . . .? That is probably the best scenario for the grieving animal—to be taken in by someone they already know.

However, that is not always the case and many animals end up shelters, waiting for another person or family to love again.

This difficult situation happened to Joan Almond back in 2017. She received one of those dreaded phone calls—her brother Brian was in the hospital. Sadly, Brian passed away, leaving behind his beloved cat Tiger. The family not only had to deal with their own loss, but also had to figure out what to do for Tiger.

Tiger

Joan shared her experience with me. Here is her story.

Joan has always loved animals, but like many others, held back from taking on a pet because of the costs and responsibilities. This all changed in 2017 when her brother Brian passed away, just nine months after Joan had lost her mother.

Brian’s celebration of life was packed with friends and family, but there was also someone else represented—a framed photograph of Tiger, Brian’s beloved cat.

Neighbours and friends chipped in and helped take care of Tiger for the first couple of weeks after Brian’s passing. But a more permanent solution was needed.  

“I’m taking him!” Joan said without thinking. 

“Cat hair!” an older sister said.

“I don’t care!” Joan said. “I want him!”

As Joan drove home with Tiger crying in the back seat, she thought, “What did I get myself into?”

That night, Tiger slept at the end of Joan’s bed, on his favourite blanket.

There were adjustments, like the 5am wake up time, lots of scratched furniture and the cost of taking on a pet—vet bills, grooming, boarding, litter, and food.

Regardless, Joan says Tiger is her Best Bud, even though, like most family members, he does frustrate her somedays.

Joan has learned so much from Tiger, including how to share space, how lovely it is to be greeted at the door when she comes home, and of course what it means to be loved unconditionally.  

Joan, like many of us who welcome animals into our homes, often wonder who adopted whom.

I asked Joan if there is one thing she could change about the world, what would it be? Joan’s answer—That we humans learn to love, like Tiger does- unconditionally – not caring what we look like or what the colour of our skin is – what we’re wearing, or how much money we have- or even how successful we are – forgiving each other when we step on each other’s tail (accidentally.) 

The Many Hats of Eric Walters—Author, Speaker & Co-Founder of Care For Hope

One of my favourite parts about this blog, is connecting with people who use their skills or talents to help others. Eric Walters is a prime example of such a person.

Eric was born in Toronto, Canada in 1957. He went on to become a social worker and then in 1992 earned his teaching degree. It was his experiences as a teacher that first drew him into writing.

In 1993 when Eric was teaching a Grade 5 class, he realized many of his students were what he calls “reluctant readers and writers”. In an effort to instil them with a love or at least a willingness to read and write, Eric wrote his first novel, Stand Your Ground. The story was set in the school where Eric taught and many of the characters were named after his students. He hoped by making the story personal and relatable to his students, they would be encouraged to read it.

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Eric’s grade 5 class picture – He’s in the 2nd row from the top, 3rd from the left. His teacher was Miss Gay.  She’s the person who told him he could be a writer when he grew up.

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Miss Gay & Eric at the ‘book launch’ of Fourth Dimension.  She was invited but actually it was a surprise 93rd birthday party for her!

 

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Cover of Eric’s  first book, Stand Your Ground

He was right! His plan was a success and thus began Eric’s career as a writer.

In 2006, Eric transitioned from full-time teacher to full-time writer. To date, he has published 111 novels and picture books. He has won more than 100 awards for his writing, and in 2015 he received the Order of Canada for his contributions to literacy and social justice.

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Eric receiving the Order of Canada

Eric’s novels are available throughout the world: New Zealand, Australia, India and Nepal. He is what some might call a workaholic—although Eric would say, “that when you love what you’re doing it’s never really work.”  In addition to finding time to write, Eric manages to do approximately 500 presentations in schools and libraries each year. So far, he has presented to more than 1,800,000 students across North America and internationally in Japan, Kenya and Germany.

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Cover of Eric’s latest book,  Don’t Stand So Close To Me(Orca, 2020)

 

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Cover of The King of Jam Sandwiches – a semi-autobiography to be released September 2020 by Orca Book Publishers

Most people would find it difficult to maintain this schedule, but Eric found a way to fit in even more.

In 2007, Eric and his son travelled to Kenya to visit with the family of a close Kenyan, Canadian friend. This trip lead to a chance meeting with a young orphan boy – Mutuku – in the marketplace of Kikima, Kenya. Eric discovered that Mutuku was one of more than 500 orphans spread across the Mbooni district in rural Kenya.

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Eric’s wife, Anita, with Mutuku

Kenya has the fourth largest HIV epidemic in the world. The disease has devastated the population, leaving behind approximately 1.1 million orphans; far too many to live in the existing number of orphanages. Thus, many orphans are homeless and forced to live in the streets.

Eric wanted to help Mutuku and discovered the best way would be to pay for the boy to be taken in by an orphanage.

Once Mutuku was settled into a proper orphanage, Eric wanted to help more orphans. And he did exactly that!

Eric, along with his wife and friends, Ruth and Henry Kyatha, founded the Creation of Hope in 2008.

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Anita with Ruth to her right

Hope currently supports close to 200 orphans as well as indirectly helping hundreds of other impoverished children throughout the area.

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Birthday party for the orphans and celebrating Today Is The Day

 

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A little girl named April. A midwife, who HOPE brought over, saved her at birth

Support is provided in the following ways:

  1. Food Distribution.

Many of the orphaned children within the program still live with their guardian families like their aunts, uncles or grandparents. Food distribution allows children to remain in their homestead with their loved ones and ensures they and their family are receiving food. Whenever possible, Creation of Hope tries to keep children within their own homestead as to not take them away from their community, school and family. Monthly distributions of food give families the opportunity to function independently.

  1. Water Projects.

Providing food is necessary to avoid starvation. However, providing a source of water, could prevent the risk of starvation from arising at all.

Creation of Hope has formed partnerships with communities to create water projects. The charity provides many of the supplies and outside expertise, and the community provides supplies such as sand and gravel, as well as labour. The projects are overseen by a local committee.

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Opening a new water project!

This partnership means that community members are not only invested in the project but are intimately involved with how to maintain the project. If there are problems that evolve, they have the expertise and the ownership to fix it. In addition, labourers are paid a fair wage for their contributions.

  1. The Rolling Hills Residence

In 2019, Creation of Hope built The Rolling Hills Residence. It is now home to 79 orphans. These are children who have lost both parents and also have no one within the community who is able to provide support.

There are four separate dormitory rooms in the residence – younger boys, older boys, younger girls and older girls – and a large dining hall, study and gathering area. Additionally, the residence has a large kitchen which has one of the very few ovens in the entire region. They produce cakes, breads, and muffins which are sold to local stores and schools to provide additional income for the project.

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The Rolling Hills Residence

Another unique feature is a community conference room which can be rented out, or used by Hope staff.

All materials to build the residence, wherever possible, came from community sources. This includes locally manufactured bricks, quarried stone, fabricated metals, furniture made in Kikima, and local trees with a replant program to avoid deforestation.

During the almost three years of residence construction, Hope was one of the largest local employers. Hope continues to value and utilize local resources, materials and labour to benefit the community and its people.

 

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Mattress delivery!

Creation of Hope sees itself as more than a charity. It is an opportunity; a way to invest in the future of these children, their community, and ideally Kenya as a whole. The program is run “on the ground.” Decisions are made by a local board of directors. While Eric and his wife are members of the board, they are only two voices on a committee of twelve. The community has embraced the program, and in some years, almost half of the funds come from Kenyan sources.

When I asked Eric about his foundation, he was very humble and made a point of talking about the contributions of others. But when he spoke about the children and their successes, his voice shined with pride.

 

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Willy, one of the many graduates and one of Eric’s favourite kids

Currently, they are 79 children residing in the main building, receiving food, shelter and education. There are a further 64 children/young adults in high school, college and university, also supported by Hope.

Since the project began, 44 people from the Hope project have graduated from post-secondary education and  have gone on to become teachers, hair dressers, carpenters, electricians, auto mechanics, business people, a research assistant, an IT specialist, and a banker.

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Eric, celebrating with some of HOPE’s trade school graduates.

 

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Some of HOPE’s college and university graduates.

One of the most gratifying parts of this foundation must be watching the graduates return to the residence and take on roles of mentoring and tutoring the other children. The graduates give back to the program that gave them a chance to fulfill their dreams and ambitions. Eric says the charity will financially support the children for as long as they need.

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Two of HOPE’s college graduates who married and had a baby. Traditional Kamba is to name first male after paternal grandfather. As they had no fathers, they asked Eric if they could name their baby Hope as Hope has been their parent.

The first child in the program, Mutuku, was also one of the first graduates. He received a business diploma from a college, but went back to his ‘calling.’ Mutuku has created an academy and church, where he is the director and pastor. His inspirational story of being abandoned, orphaned and living in a garbage dump to where he is now and what he has achieved, lifts many spirits.

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Eric and Mutuku

 

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Mutuku proudly standing in front of his building

 

Eric and his wife, Anita are major contributor to the charity. They personally donate their own money in addition to Eric securing donations from the hundreds of schools he visits each year. However, the pandemic has prevented Eric from visiting schools and thus donations have fallen.

Unfortunately, like so many charities, Creation of Hope has suffered due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. There has been a drop in donations from schools, and several other donors and sponsors have also had to back out due to their own financial hardships.

Eric is working hard to secure more sponsors and donors. The children are counting on him and he is committed to helping them.

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The children always make thank you signs for all the donations

He is grateful for the on-going support from sponsors in Canada and the United States. In particular, he would like to thank the people in the writing community for their continued dedication to help these children. People such as: Teresa Toten, Natasha Deen, Lorna Nicholson, Deb Ellis, Valerie Sherrard, Carol Matas, Margriet Ruurs, as well as regular contributions from Martha Martin and Marina Cohen. Eric would also like to thank Amy Black of Penguin Random House and Andrew Wooldridge of Orca Book Publishers for their sponsorships. Plus, a special note of appreciation to Penguin Random House and their on-going donations related to Eric’s novel, Walking Home.

If you would like to learn more about Eric’s books, Creation of Hope and how you can help, please visit his website at http://www.ericwalters.net/

Marilyn Helmer (Part 2)—Unexpected Visitors

One of the great joys in creating this blog post is hearing how these stories of kindness touch and inspire others. I was incredibly heart-warmed when Marilyn Helmer, who had already shared her story, Random Acts of Kindness, told me she enjoyed reading one of my other posts.

 As a dedicated cat lover, Marilyn was particularly taken by the post titled, Kate and Her Cats. 

“Although I haven’t had anywhere near the number of cats Kate has had, I can certainly relate to her love for them. I particularly enjoyed her story about raising the young kittens”

In 2003, Marilyn was blessed with the opportunity to rear a litter of abandoned kittens  her son rescued from inside an air conditioning vent. Chris and his girlfriend brought them home for Marilyn to raise. With the help of her daughter, Sandra, also a devoted cat lover, and advice from the animal clinic where Sandra was working for the summer, all four babies survived and thrived.

Marilyn was delighted to have her story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul  in 2017. With their permission, Marilyn shares that story here for us to enjoy!

Unexpected Visitors

by

Marilyn Helmer

(originally published in Chicken Soup for the Soul—The Cat Really Did That?)

 

The phone rang while I was busy preparing dinner.

“Hi, Mom, we’re heading home now.” It was my son Chris. He and his friend Jenn had been out of town the day before.

“Great,” I replied. “We’ll expect you in a couple of hours.”

“Wait, Mom, I have something to tell you.” Just then my oven timer dinged.

“Tell me when you get here,” I said. “Pie’s ready. Got to go.”

As I started to hang up, I heard Chris say, “We’re bringing some extra company.”

Extra company? Yikes! Would there be enough food to go around? “How many?” I asked.

“Four,” said Chris.

“Four? Chris, I can’t feed four extra people on such short notice!”

“Good news, Mom,” he replied cheerfully. “You don’t have to feed people. The company I’m bringing home is four abandoned kittens.”

“Kittens? Chris…”

“We’re stopping at Sandra’s on the way. She’s getting formula for them.” My animal-loving daughter had a summer job at the local veterinary clinic. “They’ll have to be fed every four hours. Don’t worry, she’ll explain it all to you.”

“Explain? Explain what?” Too late. Chris had hung up.

The timer dinged again. My pie! I yanked the oven door open to a burned-apple smell. Too late for the pie too.

I made a cup of tea to calm my nerves and phoned Sandra.

“What’s up?” she asked.

“Apparently four newborn kittens,” I replied.

“Don’t worry, Mom. I got the formula and bottles. The vet said they’ll have to be fed every four hours. I’ll come and show you what to do.”

Show me what to do? “Sandra, I don’t know anything about caring for newborn kittens.”

“I’ll help,” she said. “But I work all day so I can’t look after them full time.”

And I don’t work all day? I’m a writer. Writers work day and night. Well, sometimes.

“I have to go,” Sandra broke in. “Chris and Jenn just arrived. See you soon.”

I love animals passionately but being caregiver to four newborn kittens was more than I could handle. I resolved then and there to follow that sage advice, “Just say no.”

I was working on it when the front door opened. “Mom? Come see the kittens,” Chris called from the vestibule.

I went downstairs, silently repeating the “Just say no.” mantra.

In a basket in Jenn’s arms lay four tiny kittens, snuggled together.

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(l-r) Chloe, Zoli, Leo & Bailey

“Where did you find them?” I asked.

“We heard cries coming from the roof of our motel,” Jenn said.

“The guy in the office said a pregnant cat had been hanging around,” Chris jumped in. “He kept chasing her away but he thought she’d had her kittens on the roof.”

“He said he hadn’t seen her for several days so he figured she’d been killed on the highway and now he was stuck dealing with them. We knew what he meant by dealing with them,” Jenn said ominously.

“I told him we’d look after them,” Chris said. “I borrowed his ladder and got up on the roof. Somehow the mother cat managed to get inside the air conditioning unit and had her kittens there. She must have been desperate and thought it was a safe place.”

I quickly blocked out the thought of what might have happened to the kittens if Chris and Jenn hadn’t come along.

At that moment, the smallest kitten gave a faint squeal. Before I knew what I was doing, I reached in and picked it up.

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Leo & Bailey

“He’s the runt of the litter,” Jenn said. “He may not survive.”

“Unless he has the best care possible,” Chris added. “Care only a mother can give.”

“I am not a mother cat,” I reminded my son as I wrapped my sweater gently around the unbelievably tiny bit of life in my hands.

The door opened and Sandra came in. Her eyes went to the sweater-wrapped bundle in my arms. I didn’t miss the knowing smile she, Chris and Jenn exchanged.

“I brought everything you’ll need for the kittens – formula, feeding bottles, wipes,” Sandra rhymed off.  “We’ll work out a schedule and we’ll all help. Mom, look at them.” She picked up the white one with orange and black markings. The kitten obligingly wobbled her head and managed to look sweet and pathetic at the same time. “How can you resist?”

The bottom line was, I couldn’t.

In no time the kittens were awake, filling the house with their hungry chorus. My “Just say no.” mantra vanished in the twitch of a whisker.

That afternoon, Sandra walked me through the steps of kitten care. “They have to be fed every four hours. Then there’s the toileting.” I won’t go into details but suffice it to say disposable diapers do not work on kittens.

And so I became a kitty mama. If I thought my children had been messy eaters, the kittens outdid them, hands…er… paws down. And bathing a kitten is no easy job. Imagine a body so small that it fits into the palm of your hand, with twig-like limbs and paws the size of a dime. Imagine toweling them dry, taking care not get tiny claws snagged in the cloth.

When I was on my own that night for the ten o’clock feeding, reality hit. There were four of them and only one of me. When one kitten woke up, its hungry cries woke the others. Suddenly I had four little pink mouths emitting heart-rending pleas. Begging the one I was busy feeding to hurry so the others could have their turn fell on deaf ears. Last but not least, every towel and blanket that lined their basket had to be washed because no one was toilet trained.

Fortunately, as the days went by, I did have help. On alternate days, Sandra took the kittens to the veterinary clinic where the staff argued over who would get look after the adorable quartet. Strangely no one offered to do the night shifts though.

As well as feeding the kittens on schedule, we had to keep track of every gram of formula they drank. I couldn’t bear to list them as Kitten 1, 2, 3 and 4 so I named them – Bailey, Zoli, Chloe and for the littlest one, the biggest name of all – Leo the Lion-hearted.

 

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Chloe, Bailey, Zoli & Leo

Once named, the kittens developed individual personalities overnight. Leo certainly lived up to his name. His heart stopped twice, thankfully when he was in my daughter’s care. Using two fingers, for that was all that would fit on his tiny chest, Sandra managed to massage his heart back into action.

Good news! They all survived and thrived. Zoli and Bailey were adopted by Sandra’s mother-in-law where they are presently living a life of leisure. Chloe went to live with a friend of Chris’s and wee Leo was adopted by a client at the veterinary clinic.

Seventeen years have passed since those four unexpected visitors arrived. Looking back, I am thankful beyond measure that I had the opportunity to play a part in their survival and to observe up close, the miracle of life.

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Zoli & Bailey, 17 years old & living the life of luxury

If you would like to learn more about Marilyn and the wonderful stories she creates, please check out her website at http://marilynhelmer.com/