2010 Canadian Tour

Thank you Toronto……so far

Posted by: ChrisH

Our opening day in Toronto, yesterday, saw 1,531 visitors. A new record. It was a busy day, but the team are all super excited that so many people are taking the time to see the camp.

Michelle talking about water in Toronto

Haiti, Toronto

Posted by: ChrisH

Our mock refugee camp exhibition takes place every 2 years in Canada.  Other MSF offices, including USA and Australia also regularly bring the show to the public.  One of the new aspects to the roadshow this year is the Haiti shelter.  It was created by a friend of MSF in his living room.  The shelter is a cubed frame, made of sticks.  The walls and roof are formed of plastic tarpaulin and bed sheets, and the structure is held together by string, also tied to rocks for support in the wind.

It was quite windy in Ottawa so I was curious as to how the shelter would survive the elements.  In fact, it resisted the wind and rain quite well.  Sadly, back in the real Haiti, it’s the middle of the rainy season and the hurricanes are about to hit and I don’t think real shelters will survive very well.

We talk about Haiti, not because it is any more important than the 60 or so other countries where we work, but because it is one that the local population might be more familiar with.  Although my own perspective is that the media is losing interest in Haiti.  I’ve struggled to take most of the media seriously when I see the attention it gives to local non-news items and disregards atrocities that happen overseas.  Haiti is also dropping from the media’s interest.  Some places we work, including Papua New Guinea, where I used to work, rarely make the news.

We had 4 medical centres in Haiti at the time the earthquake struck.  All were instantly destroyed.  Today we have 19 medical centres plus mobile clinics.  The media might be losing interest in Haiti, but we are not.  Please come and visit our refugee camp and see what we have to say about Haiti and the other 60 countries that we work.  Each tour guide has personal experience of working for MSF overseas and has a different story to tell.

We are open in Toronto from Thursday 27th to Sunday 30th.

Behind the scenes, water and Montreal

Posted by: ChrisH

The camp is open in each city from Thursday to Sunday inclusive. On the Monday we are busy taking down the structures and loading them into the truck. Then it’s a drive to the next location. Tuesday is a break for most of us followed by a busy Wednesday unloading the truck and building all the structures again.

Loading the truck in Ottawa

Getting water can be difficult – and that applies to our mock refugee camp as well as real ones. Upon arrival at Montreal there was a mix up. At 3pm Wednesday a tanker of water was due to arrive. By 5pm it had not. Our unlucky logistical coordinator agreed to meet them at 6am Thursday (3 hours before open). They told him then that they didn’t have a tanker and that they would use a long hose to connect the municipal supply to our 950 litre water bladder. By the way, 950 litres is what the average Canadian would use in 3 days or what the average refugee would make last 190 days in an emergency. The hose pipes couldn’t connect and around 15 minutes before opening they located a tanker and we had water for our mock-camp.

Trucking water in Montreal

So finding water in Montreal wasn’t easy. In the desert, you might imagine, it’s even more tough. When I asked the lady from Rwanda last week what she thought of our camp, it was the queuing for water that she remembered most vividly. People say that you never forget not having enough water.

Otto fills the bladder tank

Like Ottawa our camp has been busy – we have had over 1,000 visitors every day in both locations, partly due to the invitations we sent to donors and schools, but also due to the media coverage. I’ve been spotted on the TV news already. The fame hasn’t gone to my head so far.

We are still in Montreal today and Sunday, so stop by and see our valuable water and the other commodities that millions of refugees are currently risking their lives to find elsewhere.

Ottawa closes, Chris gets emotional and Matt’s invention

Posted by: ChrisH

At the end of Day 4 Wendy, or project coordinator, was frantically adding up the visitor numbers.  I was about to close the gate on the final tour when we realised that if I did, our visitor numbers would be around 4,995.  Unacceptable.  So we rolled out our secret PR weapon of the cutest baby in the world with her mom the guide to invite a few more visitors to join us and got our visitors numbers up, past 5,000.  Success.

Ottawa was great, so many volunteers turned up to help us with the behind the scenes and so many guides donated their time to talk to the public about their experiences.  Some visitors did the whole tour twice they enjoyed it so much – although perhaps “enjoy” isn’t the right word.  It’s not exactly Disney World in the refugee camp.  But people are getting an emotional experience from it.  After my last tour, I was taking some questions from the group about how much of an impact NGOs can have on the world, why there is so much conflict, neglect and hatred…………a lady asked me “Do you get discouraged?”  “No” I replied “I get encouraged”.  An interesting question that made me think.  And made me slightly emotional.  Even our mock refugee camp is relatively sanitised compared to a real one, but it is difficult not to get emotional about the subject matter and I too had to take a moment to compose myself and get a glass of water.

I’m pretty sure I speak on behalf of the team when I say - thanks to the volunteers who turned up to help us load and unload the truck and to run errands for us.  Thanks to the guides, all experienced MSF staff, who did tour after tour, many of them for 4 days in a row – I know it’s not easy.  And thanks to the 5,027 people who took the time to hear our stories.

So, to end Ottawa on a slightly lighter note  - one of the reasons that I get encouraged is the dedication of MSF staff to making things better, as aptly illustrated by Matt, another one of the project logisticians:

Ottawa grade school students speak about refugees

Posted by: KevinB

Security and Rwanda

Posted by: ChrisH

So I spent most of today doing my usual evil border guard act, extracting bribes from slightly terrified “refugees”. Other interesting activities included baby-sitting the cutest baby in the world (daughter of a guide) and doing a tour. A lady who hadn’t said very much during the tour spoke up at the end, telling the group that she had been in Pakistan during the earthquake and that the tour gave a realistic insight into the problems that were faced and that she was very impressed with the work that MSF had done there which had saved many lives, notably of young children. It made me very proud. Her story is posted below.

At the end of the day I was briefly asked to be a real guard before our contracted night security turned up. Walking around the perimeter I met a beautiful and well dressed middle aged lady with her son. She was trying to get a photo of one of the tukuls, which are typical temporary shelters in Africa. She explained that her son had been born in one, but he was too young to remember. I asked where she was from – Rwanda. I’m in the middle of reading a book by James Orbinski, the former international president of MSF, and recently finished a part that I will never forget. He talked about how during the massacre there, rather than kill people, the militia would chop of people’s hands and feet and push them into the pit latrines. People would slowly bleed to death, unable to climb out. Parents begged or paid machete-wielding mobs to shoot their children rather than them face this horrible death. I invited her son to jump the fence and take a quick peek into a tukul similar to the one in which he was born.

Chris interviews aid worker visiting the event

Posted by: ChrisH

In the news, and crossing borders at Ottawa

Posted by: ChrisH

We’re just starting Day 3 of Ottawa. Day 1 saw 1,394 visitors pass through our mock-refugee camp, Day 2 saw 1,472. The team are all very happy that so many people are coming to see and hear what we want to tell them. And the response from the public has been fantastic. We have had newspaper and television reporters most of the time. “I’ll make sure I do justice to this message” the man with the magnificent moustache from the Ottawa Citizen said – and he did, the same day there was a report on the camp and a video of me being an evil border guard on the front page.

The public too have been quite moved. Notably at the malnutrition tent where we have had 2 people fainting so far. Also the mental health exhibit – actually the most basic, it is simply photos of the drawings that Columbian children have made of their war experiences – has been a difficult emotional experience for some people. A middle aged man had to take a moment to compose himself as I talked them around the exhibit yesterday. “It’s just [difficult] trying to imagine how people live in these conditions” his wife explained.

Our “evil border” guard routine has also raised a few eyebrows. Someone asked a guide yesterday if I was actually MSF staff. She was half convinced that MSF had allowed a rude rebel to hassle people from passing a makeshift check-point. The guide explained that having bribes extracted is part a sad reality for refugees. A few visitors (one journalist and two older people with accents suggesting that they might know something about the process) commented that harsh words and demands for payments is all too common for people wanting to pass.

Kids these days.

Posted by: KevinB

First I talk about it all day, then I feel like it… pooped. I can’t say it is so much exhaustion caused by the providing tours, but it is recovering from my Toronto life. Nurses at St. Michael’s Hospital are constantly telling me: “I could never work with all those sick people over seas… it’s too sad, stressful, and exhausting”. I’d like to argue, that if they can work a nursing shift work schedule -with poor breaks and multiple demands… MSF work is not too far fetched.

Today I gave a few tours. One was an international law class: High school grade twelve! Wow, high schools have come a long way, I had not heard of such a topic until when I was their age. I also spoke to a cynical French class, they didn’t feel french was a priority in their education… and they live in Ottawa!!! Well… did I have words for them. Sadly, they were not French words- but I mentioned all the countries, and opportunities I have missed out on while work with MSF because my French is so poor. I also mentioned the surprise that people in other countries have when they learn that I am a non-french speaking Canadian… In all countries I’ve worked in people speak at least 3 languages between local dialects, English, Arabic etc.

These classes asked some very good questions. I love giving tours of the exhibit to students. They seem to be a little more new the world have more hope for seemingly impossible problems. I am also surprised at their genuine interest in this rather morbid and hopeless topic matter. It is difficult balances optimistic stories with the realities of the countries I’ve worked in.

I’m looking forward to providing plenty more tours tomorrow. Tonight I’m hosting a movie called “living in an emergency”- I’ll have some explaining to do.

Setting up Ottawa

Posted by: ChrisH

It’s 10pm and I’m just home from setting up the camp. We started at 830 and the core team, the guides and a bunch of friendly local volunteers turned up in force……….to wait for the truck from Chicago to arrive around 10am.

We worked hard in the sun, erecting tents and all manner of temporary shelters plus a variety of exhibits on subjects including nutrition, medical care, cholera, security and water.

Then it was time for rehearsal and for some lessons in vocal warming up from Jodie, the guide team leader. Jodie’s “ha ha ha” warming up lessons are free to view below.

Ottawa Panoramic