Monday, December 29, 2014

And The Winners Are...

2nd Annual St Ann's Father John's Photo Contest

 Last year's photo contest was such a great success, so I thought it would be wonderful to do again.  It should be easier; the 2nd one was great though it certainly was not easier.

I had gotten tired of the girls always asking me if they could have my camera now and right after they had just given it up.   So... I brought TWO cameras this year.   I would cut my headaches in half; wrong again.  I doubled them as they all wanted to use both cameras.   And what I didn't think about was with two cameras there would be twice as many pictures to judge.   In fact, my girls had taken over 2,000 pictures for the photo contest.

I changed the categories this year as I wanted to try and give the smaller girls a better chance of winning one of the prizes.   So the categories this year were: Happy Faces, Work/Study, Play, Abstract/Unusual and Action.   Can you guess which category had the least submissions?

I spent a whole weekend trying to sort out all the photographs and then get each category down to 10 finalists.   I couldn't do it; I had to have 15 finalists and even then it was tough.    Then, I had to go to get them finalists printed as 5x7's so they could be seen from a distance.   Usually, i am out in an hour; however, this time it was over three hours - ugh.  Off to St Ann's to put them up on a wall.

Oh the "weeping and gnashing of teeth" as I put up the finalists, the chorus began:
[They all know who took what pictures and absolutely no fights.]
"Where are my pictures, Father John?".
"I know you missed mine."
"Why didn't you pick mine?"
I have no idea of who took what pictures as the girls go off by themselves and take the pictures.   I couldn't pick my favourites even if I wanted.   This is the reason that I don't want to judge the winners... The non-winners would be unrelenting...  So I bring in some "Ringers".   They don't know the girls and the girls don't know them.     This year I brought in the highly qualified Mercy Corp Volunteers:
The Judges: Annie, Matthew, Monica and Jess
I did have to ensure them there would suffer no injuries from the non-winners and I'd buy them something to eat after at the Everest Cricket Club.     But first, they had to do their job of picking the 6 winners for the prizes.... and face the sadness and moaning of the 38 other girls who were sure that they should have won an iPod Shuffle or one of the "surprise top prizes".

I played security as the judges had some "quiet" time to pick their favourites in each category.   It is amazing that these young girls instinctively know that they should try and influence the judges and were constantly sneaking around to assist the judges with their tasks.

First a stop in Ohio
I have to tell a back story in order for you to appreciate the generosity of my supporters.    I have a chaplaincy colleague, Rev. Deborah Damore, who is now the bishop of Summa Health Systems in Akron, Ohio.  She invited me to come and talk to the Chaplaincy Staff at the hospitals.   And, one of her residents, Rev Shannon Blower, who is the pastor at Church at Stony Hill, Medina, wanted to support my efforts with the St Ann's girls so the children in their Sunday School had raised enough money for five iPod Shuffles for the 2nd Annual.
John with Rev. Deborah Damore and Rev. Shannon Blower
And my friend, Deborah, had paid for an extra iPod Shuffle.   I was going to have six categories for the contest; however, I fell victim to Sister Guilt!   Sister Barbara McLean who was the previous Director of St Ann's and now in Barbados had heard that I had these iPods "wondered" if I had an extra one.  [I can't tell you how many people think that I have an extra anything... tablet, iPod, $1,000...]   One of the older girls at St Ann's had been promoted to the  work as an assistant at Mother Theresa's Sisters of Charity Nursing Home.  Petal has an eye disease and has been legally blind ever since I have known her;  she can read a few letters at a time if she hold the book to her nose.   Sister Barbara was worried about her being in a new place as the only home she had really known was St. Ann's and would be lonely; her only enjoyment would come from music and books on tape; and Barbara reminded me how much she had enjoyed my visits over the years....  STOP... please... I figured that Deborah wouldn't mind.

Then, Sister Mary Peter another Ursuline Sister at St Ann's and one of my heroes.   She is in her late 80's and still teaching mathematics.  Just two years ago she "volunteered" to teach mathematics in the deep interior of Guyana.   [Mary Peter loved it there as they have no real electricity, so she got up with the sun and went to bed when it went down.  No getting up in the middle of the night with the girls.]   She was required to come back to Georgetown and at St. Ann's.   She wanted to come with me when I visited Petal and that was fine with me.  So we set a date for Saturday Morning...

I was working on scoring some exam from the student nurses when the phone rang about noon.  "John, where are you?",,, a familiar Mary Peter's voice inquired.   Holy S---- [Sugar of course.]  I got in a cab and we were off to see Petal.
Petal grateful for her iPod
Cheryl "Teddy Bear" an older St Ann's graduates,
ister Mary Peter and Petal

Petal was so surprised... and it would have been perfect - if I had thought to charge the battery or even put any music on the iPod.   She was not dismayed and Mary Peter brought it back to charge the battery and put her favourite music on it.   

Back to the Judging
The judges had decided on the winners, so we were ready.    The best laid plans of "Mice and John".  I have a rule that on one can win two prizes, so they had to have a second winner in each category.. and they did, but.   Anna won the first category.  In the second category she was selected as the best, so on to the second place pic -and it was Anna's too.   Now the judges had to be a little more spontaneous than they had prepared for...  The contest had now moved from the usual chaos to a new level.    The judges did an excellent job.  I think Anna ended up winning four of the five categories.   However, we did end up with five different winners.   Now who was going to be the Best in Show?   Would you like to guess?   Anna!
Anna with her prize while John consoles
Onisha who can't believe she didn't win

Anna the 2nd Annual 
Best in Show Winner

Anna was simply amazing as a photographer in this year's competition, especially as she was not even selected as a finalist in any category last year.

Her surprise was a android tablet that was an extra one from the ones I needed for my Mercy Student Nurses.   The tablets were donated by an anonymous friend and now Anna has one too.

An Added Surprise
Jerry Bacchus, the owner of Jerries All-Nite Long and a long time supporter of St Ann's had offered a dinner for the second place winner and she could bring five of her friends and a chaperone.   This time it was not Anna, but Delly!
Scarboro Fathers Bev chaperones
Delly and her friends at Jerries.
All the Winners
The Winners and Judges
Front: Solomie, Anna, Gabriella, Delly, Malika, Aishona
The reason that Solomie is looking so sad is that - a confession - I only used her
for the picture as the real winner, Makeba, was at a school event.
Solomie still has not forgiven me.
My Partners from The Church at Stony Hill
And then there are the wonderful children from the Church at Stony Hill who made all the prizes possible. Below are the children who represented the Sunday School in presenting me with the iPods.

Winning Pictures
I did want to put the winning pictures next to the girl who took it; however, it was pretty much chaos and I was taking pictures to boot... So rather than pick the category winners, I'll put all the finalists in a slide show... Actually, all the girls were winners and everyone had a great time. And I really have no idea of which  pictures were the actual winners. Thanks.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Light Dawns in a Weary World"

This post is written by Peter Kuhnert, a Lutheran pastor and medical doctor and Guyanese colleague.    He was a leader with both the 2013 exploratory mission and the 2014 Mental Health Team which worked in Guyana for ten days in October-November.  [They have a wonderful FaceBook page, "Transforming Guyana's Mental Health System".  Peter's message serves as an excellent reflection on giving flesh to the incarnating Christian Christmas message.   

Peter bends low to listen to a girl at St. Ann's 

Three years ago, shortly after my first ever visit to Guyana, I was contacted by John.  He asked me if I thought we might do any kind of work together in Guyana.  I told John, emphatically, that I did not think there was any opportunity to do any work in Guyana.  There was no will, no energy, no finances, and no manpower.  There was no Spirit.  I suggested perhaps we talk again in one year.

Two years ago, a dimly burning wick began to splutter to life.  Perhaps a opportunity did exist for some partnership work to strengthen and support existing mental health services in Guyana.  John was now living locally in Ayr.  I had started working at Freeport Hospital.  We had met a couple of local psychiatrists who wanted to explore international mental health care in a culturally and religiously diverse context.  Perhaps this opportunity might bridge the partnership and development work of the ELCiC with that of mental health services, for the betterment of life for the whole people of Guyana.  Perhaps.  Certainly, there was enough enthusiasm to plan a needs assessment visit and begin some relationship development.

One year ago, October 2013, Ram and Brenna and Sujay and I joined John in Guyana for a week of site visits and meetings and discernment. We were graciously received by Dr. Bhiro Harry (Georgetown) and Dr. Mayda ( New Amsterdam), and by the minister of health, Dr. Ramsarran. We saw much and heard much and clearly saw the need for a sustained mental health initiative to support good people and hard work already being done with absolutely minimal resources.  Few in-patient beds.  Few trained staff.  No budgets.  Limited medications with only variable availability.   The needs seemed overwhelming. Yet the Spirit began to blow.  The candle burned brighter.  We knew we would come back.

The past year has been a year of planning and preparation.  An excellent slide show about our 2013 trip, courtesy of Sujay and Brenna, began to peak interest in this initiative amongst the local mental health staff at Grand River hospital, Homewood health centre, and the Kitchener Downtown CHC. Who would have expected that when we called a planning meeting, in March,  for those interested in a self-funded mental health trip to Guyana in October 2014, over 40 people would attend!  And over 20 would commit to this 10 day project!
The Canadian Mental Health Team at the Farewell reception
hosted by the Minister of Health
The project itself was a huge success.  19 individuals divided into two teams, working in both Georgetown and New Amsterdam.  The number of initiatives for  this 10 day trip was astounding. The re-introduction of life-saving ECT technology to the New Amsterdam hospital.  Clinical visits to community hospitals in Linden and Suddie ( including an awesome speedboat ride across the Essequibo river).   Opportunities to teach physicians and nursing staff at both Georgetown and New Amsterdam.  Community education initiatives about mental health during each of our community tours.  Relationship building opportunities with the ministry of health, the University of Guyana medical school, and the schools of nursing in both Georgetown and New Amsterdam.
Dr Bhiro Harry continued with his
on the ground leadership for our team.
Dr. Bheri Ramsaran, the Minister of Health provided
excellent direction and support for our team.

Perhaps most impressive, has been the high level work that John has participated in, to help create a national mental health strategy for Guyana.  This is coupled with an ambitious strategy for the creation of a bilateral university partnership to bring bring post-graduate psychiatric training to Guyana.  This would be a first step to creating a national human resources strategy for mental health that might eventually include nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, and chaplains.  The wheels of future possibility have already begun to turn.

Chaplain Ram Kalap was a leader
on both the 2013 and 2014 teams.
Sujay Patel and Peter celebrate the fulfilment
of all their hard work over the last two years.

What a difference a couple of years has made!  Initially, there was no hope.  There was no kairotic time- no time for illumination and transformation.  But slowly, ever so slowly,  light has dawned.  A dimly burning wick has begun to burn brightly.  Hope is being reborn and a spirit of possibility  is beginning to take hold. What began with the question of one, " What can we do in  Guyana?" has been echoed by the voices of 19 others and the possibility of systemic change is becoming real.  Systemic change for the betterment of care for the whole
people of Guyana.

What is more Christmas?
...than bringing Joy to children.

Thanks, John, for risking asking the initial  question.  Thanks, John, for nurturing hope in your own unique manner.  You have helped open our eyes to the possible.  You have inspired us.  We are grateful.

John amazing the Cuban Psychiatrists
 with his command of Spanish.

Thanks for being a blessing. Looking forward to being your partner into the future.

Peter Kuhnert MD MDiv 


Thanks, Peter.  I am humbled by your kind words.

PS: I have a few more themes for this blog, but I have returned from Guyana to develop my usual cough and cold. I am feeling better today.  I especially want to post the pictures and stories from the "2nd  Annual Father John's Photo Contest.'

Have a Blessed Christmas and let you light shine...