The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.Mohandas Gandhi
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Photo Credit: Paul Bica
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.
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.
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
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.”
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