CoMO Seattle 2015: Promises To Keep . . .

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.
Mohandas Gandhi
It is fitting and ironic that CoMO’s (Confederation of Meningitis Organisations) recent global conference transpired in the shadow of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. The imposing tower’s lofty height mirrored the expansive hopes and dreams of CoMO’s 43 attendees representing 26 countries.
The gigantic needle-like structure was also a constant reminder to CoMO members, many of whose lives and families have been forever altered by meningitis, that vaccine-prevention is still the most effective way for people to avoid contracting this indiscriminate killer.

Led by CoMO president Bruce Langoulant – with a supporting cast of Governing Council members, this year’s gathering had its fair share of golden moments under the Seattle sun. Most notable among them were as follows:

Gates Foundation Visit/Tour
Prior to the CoMO global conference – governing council members were privileged to be able to meet with representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Hoping to explore the possibility of a future relationship with the Foundation – CoMO president Bruce Langoulant, gave the GF reps an overview of CoMO’s history and accomplishments.
CoMO GC members then were provided with an overview of the GF, shared a wonderful lunch and given a tour of the amazing eco-friendly complex and visitor center, both of which contained countless precious artifacts and inspirational exhibits. In short, the GF visit was a perfect motivational introduction to the conference.
GC members at Gates Foundation

GC members at Gates Foundation

Members’ Personal Stories
 Unquestionably the most powerful, heart-wrenching part of the conference unfolds near the beginning, the sharing of painful personal stories. Hearts, minds and souls of both story-tellers and audience members are stretched to the breaking point as painful memories are revisited and shared.

 Yet it is through tears and sharing the heartache, that meningitis survivors and family members can begin to emerge from the long, dark night of the soul into the hope-filled brilliant light of day.

Welcome New CoMO Members
If new CoMO members Nick Springer (National Meningitis Association), Sue & Al Koeing (Emily’s Dash Foundation), Alicia and Michael Stillman (Emily Stillman Foundation), Furakh Mir (Meningitis Relief Canada), Nayoon Song and Hyeran Kim (Korean Meningitis Centre) are any indication – the future of CoMO looks bright indeed! All of these individuals bring a deep passion and keen intelligence to the task of educating others of the symptoms and how to protect themselves against meningitis.
Group shot

CoMO Conference Seattle – Group Photo

Promises To Keep And Miles To Go . . .
As always – with so little time and much ground to cover – the conference agenda was jam-packed. Agenda topics over two days included: CoMO Initiatives/Reports, Regional Updates, Strategies to Ensure Fundraising Success, Making Meningitis Relevant In Your Country, Developing and Sharing of Regional Plans.

Passing The Torch
One of the more bitter-sweet moments of this year’s conference involved current CoMO president and Asia Pacific Regional leader, Bruce Langoulant, handing the CoMO leadership baton off to incoming president Chris Head, CEO of the Meningitis Research Foundation UK. Langoulant’s personal story of meningitis (2 Lives Two different Outcomes) involving his radiant daughter Ashley – ignited his passion to cultivate, nurture and grow CoMO into the world-class organization it is today.

The Glue
Of course, any organization would soon fall apart without the selfless, dedicated individuals who toil behind the scenes – people like Linda Gibbs (Office Manager), Daphne Holt and Sam Rosoman (Marketing and Admin Officer).

As the Seattle sun set on another CoMO Global conference – CoMO members would do well to reflect on a job well done and their pledge to continue the good fight against meningitis in their own regions.

by Michael Redfearn
Secretary, Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada
Secretary, CoMO GC & Americas Regional Representative

Related Links:
Other CoMO Member Stories
‘Out of the Blue’ : The story of the Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada

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Twitter & Facebook: A Self-Imposed Fast

A little more than a couple of weeks into my self-inflicted forty-day Lenten social media fast and I find myself reeling from the fallout. I have even stooped so low as to changing the email alert on my mobile device to the sound of a chirping bird’s tweet – just to soften the psychological blow and separation anxiety of temporarily withdrawing from Twitter.

One could try to rationalize, by channeling and modifying the famous axioms of existentialists like Descartes, tweet ergo sum (I tweet therefore I am) or Socrates, ‘the unexamined online update is not worth posting’. Or perhaps Einstein would be more appropriate; ‘a person who never made a mistake never tried SnapChat’.

A person who never made a mistake never tried SnapChat.

Make no mistake, information dependency, especially new information, however trivial, is an addiction. From both a psychological and behavioral perspective I can honestly state that I am addicted to the constant need for new information and the need to share that information (photos, videos, links to articles) with as wide an audience as possible.

Image

How do I know this you may ask? One does not spend a good part of the past six years investing time in thousands of twitter posts and Facebook updates without feeling the effects of suddenly going cold turkey. I hunger for the immediacy of social networking and the convenience of being ahead of the curve on breaking news. But most of all I miss being able to share via my social media feeds – inspirational content like uplifting videos, unique photos or inspiring quotes.

To a lesser degree – I will miss the narcissistic feeling of having my posts liked and shared. Yes, I too have savored the sweet siren call of the odd ‘selfie’. I do not deny that these are also motivating factors for my social media obsession. What gives me some comfort, though, is that I and my digital dependency demons are not alone, that millions of people across our global village are just as digitally dependent, or more so, than I am.

Choosing to temporarily fast from Facebook and Twitter has opened my eyes to how truly ubiquitous and embedded these forces are into the social fabric of our modern culture. Unless I purposely choose to shun all electronic media – this dynamic social duo shows up in numerous forms such as social media feeds on news-related web sites, television news and entertainment programs and automated programs. Ironically, new McLuhansghost blogs , when published, are automatically launched to my Twitter feed as is my Ontario Educator’s Daily, the daily twitter aggregator that originates from the Paper.li self-publishing site.

Blessing in Disguise

As dire to some as my time out from Twitter & Facebook may seem – I have managed to fill some of the void by: reading more electronic and hard copy daily newspapers and books, enjoying the beauty of the natural environment through peaceful walks, as this blog indicates – writing more and spending more face-to-face time with real people. I have also had more time to explore the features and communities on Google+.

As unsettling as it has been – abstaining from daily Twitter posts and Facebook updates during this brief hiatus has restored some serenity and balance to my life, forcing me to refocus and gain perspective on what really matters. So far, my social media fast has been a blessing – allowing distance and perspective on current provincial and national political and social issues that could have increased the possibility of a spontaneous, regrettable knee-jerk rant on Twitter or Facebook.

Some Final Thoughts

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become txts. Watch your txts; they become tweets. Watch your tweets; they become Facebook posts. Watch your Facebook posts; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

PS – feel free to retweet this post on Twitter. I promise I will try to get to it . . . eventually.

Photo Credit: I-am-bored.com


Out of Class: Education is so much more than 3 R’s

In the midst of the quiet majesty and serenity of the natural surroundings, you can sense the transformation taking place in the students.

This article was originally published in October of 1996 in the Waterloo Region Record.

By Michael Redfearn

If you don’t think teachers can make learning boring, you underestimate the power of education.

“O.K. class, turn to page 59 and together we’ll read about how the Algonquin Indians lived hundreds of years ago.”

A holistic and relevant education must incorporate some real-life adventures. Invariably, this sometimes involves risk-taking outside the boundaries of traditional school buildings and school hours.

When asked their favorite memories of elementary or high school, many adults point to experiences outside of the four walls of the classroom. They fondly remember field trips run by caring teachers who all had one belief in common – that education was much more than a basic understanding of the three R’s.

With all of the cutbacks occurring in education these days, one has to wonder if the learning which takes place outside of the confines of the classroom will also fall victim to the axes of the political czars in the Ministry of Education.

In my teaching career, I have been privileged to have accompanied students during some of the most valuable learning experiences of their lives. One such event was our school’s four-day, Grade 12 canoeing camping trip to Algonquin Park.

Algonquin Park by Paul Bica

Algonquin Park by Paul Bica

The knowledge gained by generations of high school students, who’ve experienced wilderness trips over the years, cannot be gleaned from a textbook. Booklearning alone cannot adequately prepare our children for life or truly convey the daunting physical hardships endured by our forebearers.

Only after they actually feel the oppressive weight of a 16-foot canoe or heavy pack on their backs, after hours of strenuous hiking, do students come to appreciate the comforts they often take for granted. Four days and nights of vigorous canoeing, portaging and camping in the autumn wilderness quickly spawns a keen yearning for a hot shower and cosy bed.

The haunting call of a loon at daybreak or rhythmic sound of autumn leaves rustling in the wind must be witnessed first-hand to be truly appreciated. Not even the most sophisticated computer or CD ROM technology can begin to capture the profound natural beauty of a mist-shrouded morning lake or star-studded night sky.

In the midst of the quiet majesty and serenity of the natural surroundings, you can sense the transformation taking place in the students. Having spend most of their lives in suburban comfort, they are awakened, in part, to the stark reality and natural beauty of the life of their ancestors.

The students quickly learn to work together out of necessity to overcome the many challenges posed by the natural world. Rocky, uneven, mud-soaked terrain, narrow, twisting waterways and beaver dams must all be navigated with care if the obstacles are to be overcome.

When pushed to their limits, shy, insecure students often surprise themselves with new-found talents and innate resources they never knew existed. To paraphrase the German philosopher, Nietzsche, these students begin to see that, that which doesn’t destroy them, makes them stronger.

They also learn that in order to live in harmony with the environment, they must respect its sheer power and nurture its awe-inspiring beauty. They begin to see what their ancestors understood – that they are part of a greater, divine force which emphasizes they sacredness and interconnectedness of all living things.

Though the winds of change are dramatically revamping the face of the education system in Ontario, one can only hope that those who truly value education will never abandon the struggle to expand the minds, hearts and spirits of students beyond the limits of the traditional classroom.

If we want our children to be prepared for the many obstacles they will encounter in life, then we must also continue to demand that the education system be both relevant and meaningful. Failure to do so would rob our children of the opportunities many of us have benefited from and of fond memories of their school years.

Related Links:  St. David students safe, but exhausted after night in the woods

Photo Credit: Paul Bica


We Can All Be Heroes: World Meningitis Day 2013

Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever. Then we could be heroes just for one day.
David Bowie – Heroes

by Michael G. Redfearn

As if dangling on the edge of one of the world’s tallest freestanding structures were not challenge enough. Mother nature had to taunt and slap us with cold, wind, rain and the threat of lightning on this year’s World Meningitis Day.

EdgeWalker_2013

‘Walking the talk’ on World Meningitis Day are (L to R):
Jen Blain, Don Blain, Cassey Clough, Michelle Redfearn, Michael Redfearn and Bill Ingham

But the cruel weather only seemed to  spur on the walkers and their loyal supporters – all of whom, in some way or another, have been profoundly impacted by this horrific disease. The World Meningitis Day CN Tower EdgeWalk event was just one of dozens of global events held to raise awareness around a lightning-fast disease that, in matter of hours, can cause loss of limbs, deafness, brain damage, memory loss or death.

The brain-child of Bob Werner, founder of the Becky Werner Meningitis Foundation, World Meningitis Day (WMD held annually on April 24th) is coordinated and promoted by the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO) based in Perth, Australia. WMD is a great opportunity to help prevent meningitis globally, by ensuring families worldwide have access to early diagnosis, preventative measures and quick treatment.

Motivated by the devastating loss of: Michael Longo (1995), MacKenzie (Macey) Clough (2005) and  Jamie Lynn Ingham (2011) – atop one of the world’s tallest man-made structures – the six Canadian EdgeWalkers joined hands in solidarity with Canadian families and families around the world whose lives have been forever altered by meningitis.

Perhaps the most enduring lesson from WMD 2013 is that when we all band together in a common, noble cause to share our talents, we gain incredible strength and power. And when we harness the power of the human spirit to protect others, we begin to heal ourselves and reaffirm that with love and hope – anything is possible.

In Memory of: Michael Longo, MacKenzie (Macey) Clough, Jamie Lynn Ingham and all those around the world whose lives have been cut short or forever changed by meningitis.

Related Links:

Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada
How Far Will the MRFC Go To Highlight the Disease As Part of WMD? 356 Metres in the Air!
MRFC on Facebook  –  Twitter  –  YouTube


Lighting a lamp

Grace

There is a stillness
simpler than silence
a peace deeper
than calm.
There is a shimmering
in the dark soil,
shades of trees,
in old moss, and the twisted
forms of branches,
that hold us, carry us
and nurture us.
In the flash of the eye,
laughter, or a tear.
No effort needed, no self to seek,
just grace remains.

~Svein Myreng

Has it really been two decades since I first asked the students in my grade 11 World Religions class to gather in the school’s chapel to do something that most of them had never done before?

No doubt, guided Zen meditation in a darkened, quiet setting was furthest from the minds of these mainly hormonal 16 and 17 year-old learners. Yet the experience was so foreign and far from the reality of the typical teenager’s daily routine that it had a profound impact on some of them.

The reactions to the soothing sounds of the ocean and calming voice guiding them to focus only on the ebb and flow of their own breathing, ranged from the silly to the sublime. Within a few minutes one or two students would make mock snoring sounds. Some of the more hyperactive students would fidget and giggle for a few minutes and occasionally, one or two would genuinely drift off to sleep.

After these initial minor disruptions and protestations, most of my students would let themselves be swept along in the rejuvenating current of Zen. Many of them seemed to luxuriate in and look forward to these weekly meditation sessions. I suspect for most it was a welcome, peaceful and refreshing relief from the constant noise that permeates modern life.

Which brings me to my own recent joyous encounter with a weekly restorative yoga class offered at my health club. The sense of peace and overall wellness that yoga or any form meditation or breath control exercise yields is well documented in numerous studies. The mere fact that the class attracts young and old members reveals the enduring power of these ancient eastern practices to heal and recharge mind, body and soul.

In the ‘always on age’ of internet, social media and ubiquitous wireless mobile gadgets – never in our history has there been such a visceral need for humans to periodically ‘disconnect’ from digital technology and reconnect to their families, neighbors and inner selves.

There is a Buddhist belief that if you light a lamp for somebody, it will also lighten your own path. Thank you students, for becoming the teachers and helping illuminate my way.

Photo Credit: ‘Solitude’ by jhoc


Why WiFi?

Has anyone at OECTA head office every stopped to consider that chalk dust or even some of the chemicals found in common tap water may pose more of a health risk to our children than WiFi?

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), there are links between chalk dust and allergy and asthma problems. Why has the OECTA Health & Safety committee not investigated eliminating chalk from our schools?

Why they decided to target WiFi in schools via its recent position paper,  A position regarding the use of Non-Ionizing Electromagnetic Radiation, including WiFi, in the workplace, and in conjunction with the Ontario Teacher’s Federation, its AGM Action directive 37, is beyond me.

“That the Association through the Canadian Teachers’ Federation lobby the Federal Government to review Safety Code 6 with respect to lowering the current Threshold Limit Values (TLV) regarding electromagnetic radiation, especially in the microwave WiFi frequency band.”
OECTA AGM Action Directive 37

Here’s why I believe we need to oppose any further attempts by teacher associations to limit  or restrict WiFi access in our schools:

1. A June 2011 fact sheet by the World Health Organization indicates that “research has not been able to provide support for a causal relationship between exposure to electromagnetic fields and self-reported symptoms, or “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”. In short, according to Health Canada & WHO – both widely respected and expert organizations in determining risk factors to public health & safety – there is no conclusive or convincing scientific evidence that electromagnetic fields from wifi is doing harm to humans.

2. At a time when most school districts are struggling to equip antiquated classrooms with 21st century learning tools (E.g. Interactive projectors, wifi networks, e-Tablets, integration of teacher & student-owned personal electronic devices) all of which would help differentiate learning and engage students – lobbying the Federal Government to lower the current Threshold Limit Values regarding electromagnetic radiation would further discourage the use of wifi in schools and be counter-productive to the efforts of those who are struggling to equip many of today’s under-funded classrooms with digital technology that help would position students and teachers in 21st century learning environments.

3. OECTA’s position that we advocate on behalf of the purported 3% of the Canadian population that are affected by ‘environmental hyper-sensitivity’ – is prudent in the extreme, but rather than deny 97% of the student population the potential academic benefits of internet access (research) via wifi networks using board issued and their own electronic devices – OECTA Health & Safety should develop strategies to safeguard the 3% who may be affected by ‘environmental sensitivity’. E.g. have the 3% attend class out-of-range of wireless base units.

4. There has been enough damage already to OECTA’s reputation by recent sensational media coverage of the OECTA publication, A Position on the Use of Non-Ionizing Electromagnetic Radiation Including WiFi in the Workplace. Passing AGM disposition 37 may cause further negative media coverage by further painting OECTA as ‘overly-reactionary’ and ‘anti-technology’ – while also unnecessarily feeding the irrational growing ‘anti-Wi-Fi’ movement in Ontario and across Canada.

Much of what we do in life involves some risk and it is prudent to try and minimize these risks. But when educational leaders ignore the reasonable conclusions of  respected organizations entrusted with our physical well being, I suppose they get the educational system they deserve.

Though it’s unfortunate, especially for our students, that it may look more like the school house on the prairie with straight rows and blackboards, than the truly dynamic, collaborative and interconnected learning community it could be.

Photo: Hope in a better future by Massimo Valiani

Sources:

WHO Fact Sheet #193

Health Canada – WiFi Equipment

A Catholic teachers association looks to ban WiFi. What’s next, coffee?

Ontario Catholic teachers union recommends pulling plug on wi-fi in school

Ban WiFi in classroom, Ontario teacher union urges

(OECTA) A position regarding the use of Non-Ionizing Electromagnetic Radiation, including WiFi, in the workplace


CoMO Conference 2011: The human face of meningitis

by Michael Redfearn, Waterloo, Ontario Canada

As the Confederation of Meningitis Organizations (CoMO) Paris Conference 2011 got underway on Oct. 1st, one thing was unmistakably clear, sharing stories of loved ones indiscriminately cut down by meningitis never gets any easier.

For some, like Deidre Fredericks of South Africa, the profound loss of her 3 year-old daughter Chelsea to meningitis only a short year ago, is all too vivid, “The day after my 3 year old daughter died it was the World Cup in Soccer in South Africa. Everyone was so happy, but it was the saddest day of our lives.”

Tania Wolfgramm, a mother of 3 children from New Zealand and a meningitis survivor, is proof that meningitis can strike quickly and at any age. “I was feeling fine, healthy, happy then woke up one day with severe low back pain that eventually radiated to my abdomen. I went down hill very quickly. Lesions soon appeared on my legs. I could not walk for months, and had to learn how to walk again.”

Jamie Schanbaum and Ashley Langoulant are inspirational meningitis survivors.

Professor Lulu Bravo of the Philippines drove home to conference delegates that it’s the human face of meningitis that is extremely critical and important in educating and motivating doctors around the world to advocate for meningitis awareness and prevention. Bravo stated that “Our stories will move policy makers to take action, more so than statistics and figures from medical conferences.”

Dr. Eric Tayag of the Philippines will never forget the shock and disbelief of the parent whose 12 year old daughter died on Christmas Eve from meningitis. They were left wondering why, when others around the world were exchanging gifts, they had just experienced the most devastating loss of their lives.

The common threads interwoven around the CoMO table of delegates representing 18 countries around the globe – how lethal meningitis is, how quickly it can kill and maim and how the most effective way to stop it from ever occurring is through preventable vaccines.

Conference Programme topics included: advocacy, member services, communications and marketing, fundraising, global meningitis update, global and regional updates, policy makers and the media and social media and its use in advocacy

CoMO President Bruce Langoulant of Perth, Australia, applauded all the delegates for their dedication and commitment to uniting in a common cause as regional and global advocates for meningitis awareness and prevention.

Langoulant noted the significant challenges going forward: expanding CoMO’s capacity (currently 20% of the  countries of the world are CoMO members), fostering regional networks, while maintaining a dynamic, relevant and responsive “globally united and regionally enabled” organization.

One thing is certain though, the collective energy, spirit and determination of the 2011 CoMO conference participants has renewed and spawned new friendships and re-ignited a common purpose and resolve. To ultimately ensure that no one else will ever have to endure the loss and pain of a loved one to a mainly preventable disease.

Photo: by Michael Redfearn

Related links:

CoMO – Confederation of Meningitis Organizations

The Jamie Group

Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada