Una colombiana que sabe ver la vida

Historias en español

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“Ven a pasar la Navidad con nosotros”, fue la reacción espontánea de Cristina Rueda, propietaria del restaurante Becky´s, al enterarse que una de sus clientas pasaría sola la noche de navidad.

En agosto del año pasado, Cristina, una colombiana de gran corazón y voluntad tenaz, tomó la batuta del restaurante latino Becky´s ubicado en Burlington. Ella se prometió a si misma hacer de este ícono latino un lugar donde todos se sientan bienvenidos.

Un nuevo enfoque

Becky´s nació en el 2012, y fue el sueño hecho realidad de otra mujer colombiana de nombre Rebeca, que conoció a Cristina cuando ella iba a comer el sancocho, que es su plato favorito. Con Cristina en la cabeza, Becky´s ahora también es un local de eventos especiales, y brinda servicios de cáterin para toda la comunidad.

¿Qué fue lo que le inspiró a ser dueña del restaurante Becky´s?

Me pareció un negocio muy lindo, y yo tenía muchas ideas para implementar. Nunca había visto lugares colombianos donde uno puede venir con amigos a tomarse un café y pasar un rato rico. Hicimos de Becky´s un lugar muy acogedor para todo el mundo, donde no solo los colombianos se sintieran bien, si no en donde todas las culturas se sientan bienvenidas.

¿Qué es lo que más le atrae del restaurante?

La gente. Cada persona es un mundo diferente y cada quien tiene una historia distinta. Es rico porque uno desarrolla una amistad con los clientes. Ya ves, hoy invité a uno de ellos a cenar con nosotros en Navidad…quedamos ella traerá una Torta Tres Leches para el postre.

¿Como ve el resto del mundo a la cultura gastronómica latina?

Les gusta mucho, sobre todo nuestras empanadas. Tenemos muchos clientes que no hablan nada de español, pero la mayoría de otras culturas cree que es picante. Hay que explicarles que no es picante, si no que la sazón latina incluye cebolla, pimentón, tomate, entre otros. Además, hemos implementado un menú vegetariano.

¿Como se describiría a si misma?

A mi me gustan los cambios y por eso entré a este negocio, aunque sin mucha experiencia. Me gusta estar ocupada, de lo contrario uno está pensando en problemas que no existen. Lo he vivido, y es muy duro.

¿Qué es lo que la vida le ha enseñado?

Que hay que ver el vaso medio lleno, y no medio vacío. Yo no digo que ninguna cultura sea mejor, ni peor. Somos diferentes. Hay algunas cosas mejores en Latinoamérica y otras, aquí. Sin importar donde estemos, debemos darle la buena cara. ¿Para que estar quejándose del frio o de la nieve? Hay que apreciar lo maravilloso de ver las diferentes estaciones. Todo depende del ojo con que uno ve la vida.

Una mujer latina que orgullosamente afirma tener sangre colombiana, de la ciudad de Bucaramanga, corriendo por sus venas, dice ser “brava” y bien decidida. Si de algo ella está segura es que Becky´s tiene un gran camino por adelante.

 

Primero publicado en el periódico hispano: Presencia Latina

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‘Precious gifts of money from people who don’t have a lot’: African-Canadian writer raised money for MSF

Journalism

“We are not a wealthy community,” says Brenda Clews of the group of Toronto poets and musicians she gathered together for the Poetry and Music Salon Fundraiser in order to raise money for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) last month. “I’m very proud of everybody and all the support that this fundraiser received. All precious gifts of money from people who don’t have a lot.”

The Poetry and Music Salon Fundraiser was comprised of two parts: an online fundraiser and the event itself. Together the initiative raised more than $1,100 for MSF.

“For a bunch of poets and indie musicians, it is really phenomenal. We had six poets and six musicians. They were all super talented and marvelous. Everybody came out and gave everything. They gave their best readings. Their best performances. It was a remarkable afternoon,” Clews says.

Clews believes the challenge of the event was to find a way for people to feel the great value of their support. “I had to be really careful on wording everything. For people to feel their generosity was appreciated, because cash or money is a form of love when it goes to help,” she says.

For Clews, helping people to stay healthy is the best way to show them that the world have not forgotten them, which she wanted to support. “It’s a medical charity. It is always there to help people when there is an emergency,” she says.

Clews knows from firsthand experience what is like to live in a country where there is a lack of primary supplies and health care. Originally from Zimbabwe and raised in Zambia, in southern Africa, she came to Canada when she was 10 years old. “I’m from the developing world,” she says. “I know how hard it is. We are very fortunate here. I think you need to see some of the world to understand how much we need to share what we have.”

Touched by the experience and her community’s response, Clews hopes the Poetry and Music Salon will inspire other organizers to host a fundraiser event, at least once a year.

“I hope I set an example to get some of the others to consider doing a fundraiser. We get to feel good about ourselves, and we get to give something. It was very joyful,” Clews says.

Clews is already thinking about two more possible fundraiser events later this year. “Whatever you raise is never not enough. It’s always good. Not amount is too small, nor not amount is too large,” she says.

 

Article first published at Doctors Without Borders

Image: Courtesy of Brenda Clew

 

 

Exploring the Nature of a Self-Taught Photographer

Emotions

Suddenly, Nancy Barrett stops walking and holds her arm in front of me. “Look,” Barrett says and points to the ground. I can only see broken branches and snow under my feet.

“Deer tracks,” she whispers. And then I see them: upside down heart-shaped steps.

The woods in the Humber Arboretum are still quiet at 11 a.m. It’s an unusually warm February morning and Barrett, a self-taught wildlife and nature photographer, has agreed to show me some secrets on how to get the perfect shot.

The first time I met Barrett, she was laughing in the hallway of Humber Lakeshore Campus. Her light-blond hair, left nostril piercing, and mismatched blue scarf made her impossible to ignore. The excitement of having her photographs on the walls was in the air. All around us were dozens of birds: a Red Tail Hook, a Falcon Peregrine, a Snowy Owl, and a Tree Swallow looking right at the camera.

I couldn’t help but think the blue Tree Swallow was looking at me—as it had been looking right at Barrett. It’s hard to imagine the same loud and expressive human with camera in hand in a world where silence means everything.

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That day, Barrett whispered one word to me and let it hang in the air for a moment: disappear. “When you disappear,” she says, pointing to a photo of a Peregrine Falcon bathing in the lake, “these happen.” Some of it is luck, she adds, “but the rest of it, it’s still stillness, quietness, deep appreciation, and respect for nature.”

Barrett was only seven years old the first time she caught a snake with her hands. She grew up in her grandparents’ house close to the Humber River, at the southern end of Ontario near one of the two major rivers of the city of Toronto. As a child, she was easy to spot coming down the hills or walking to the woods. That’s because, she says, she was always getting into trouble. By 1985, 21 years after she caught the snake, her best friends were a camera and a pair of binoculars.

In 2012, she retired from her job in the healthcare system where she wrote medical transcriptions. For about 30 years, photography was on the side. Today, at 60, she has discovered her real passion. She is eccentric and has a smile that shows all her teeth. She is emotional and easily excitable. She tells me that she won’t stop talking if there is a pair of ears eager to listen. Her favorite topic, of course, is birds.

She is an advocate of wildlife and she will lively talk on how humans have extinguished and endangered animals not only by destroying their habitats, but also by over hunting. She places a special emphasis on ethical birding. Barrett explains ethical birding as the art of photographing birds without disturbing them by giving priority to their well-being and their habitat over the ambition of a “money shot.”

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Natural photography chose her. As an unconscious habit, she started to carry a camera everywhere she went. Her camera has traveled with her from the Florida Everglades, the Mayan temples in Belize, to a safari in Kenya in Africa. Her passion for adventure drew her and her camera to hikes where nature taught her what books couldn’t: the art of mindfulness, seeing and loving the world in front of her. She learned everything else—the technical side of nature photography—through trial and error.

Being a wildlife photographer helped her develop another part of her personality. When she first started, Barrett would run toward a bird, only to see it fly away before she could take her photo. “It goes against my nature to be…quiet,” she says. But now she has taught herself how to move through the woods. One step at a time, she stays low to the ground and looks for trees and brushes to conceal herself behind. She is wearing a black jacket, but the lens of her camera has a camouflage cover to pass unnoticed by birds and any other animal.

Four years ago, in Tommy Thompson Park, a nature reserve also known as The Spit, she saw a family of Trumpeter Swans on the other side of a large pond swimming right to her. While holding her breath, and determined to be patient, she laid down on the ground and waited. Eventually, a few of the swans swam over to the shore and waddled up into the grass right in front of her. One of the baby swans (called a cygnet) even nibbled at the wood bead bracelet Barrett wore. The adult swans towered over her, but didn’t move to attack. “The trust those birds had in me,” she says, “just moved me. And there was not a single other person to share it with. That was a special time.”

Peregrine Falcon

While we don’t see swans today in the woods, there are other things to appreciate. Barrett’s excitement flies with a Cooper Hawk that passes over our heads. Of course, she sees it first. Later, she gives me the binoculars for me to see an elegant male Northern Cardinal resting on the top of a big tree. She scatters small signs of enthusiasm and points out birds in the middle of her sentences. But she is also still, watchful.

When she’s ready to take a photo, Barrett stops talking. With slow motion movements, she takes her camera from her neck and holds it to her face. She doesn’t rush. A smile emerges as she quietly says, “Hi, little dude.” Moving her arms from one side to the other on the compass on her feet, she sings an I-got-it song every time she captures a perfect moment.

“This is like my meditation. It gives me an inside of who I am and who I want to be. And I’m so linked to the land. What beauties and what wonders there are still left to be discovered. I’m not perfect, you know,” she pauses and laughs anxiously. “When I’m doing this I feel right. I feel myself.”

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Nature photography, like life, exposes a story that not everybody can say or see. Barrett spends hours observing how animals behave, what they eat and how they live. Immortalizing these moments in a picture frame will not always be a living room wall portrait.

“It’s a shame [some wildlife photographers] are moving more to how pretty the animals are,” says Roger Leekman, a wildlife ambassador and member of the Toronto Camera Club. “You don’t learn a lot from a bird sitting on a branch with a nice background. It’s just a pretty bird.” But, you can learn a lot from a bird in action, he adds. “If you take a picture of a bird killing, eating, or feeding its babies it shows more. You learn more from that kind of thing.”

That’s all part of Barrett’s magic. During the morning we spent together, I learn that the American Robin is not a uniquely spring bird anymore. They have adapted to the winter. I learn Chickadees are friendly and crafty. That female birds dress up with quiet colors to hide their nest from predators. I learn that a winter’s tree is so much more than dead, empty dry branches; they can be birds’ nests, or they can be a rest for migratory birds.

Barrett says what she has is contagious. The passion. The eye for the incredible. On our way back from the Arboretum, she tells me about a recent a cold afternoon in downtown Toronto. The streets were busy. People trying not to bump into each other. A small group of people clutched their coffees waiting for the traffic light to change. Others were on their phones, heads down. A guy with headphones was dancing on his own. Sounds came from the construction taking place on the corner. In the middle of it all, she says, a bird was singing.

Nobody but Barrett seemed to notice.

 

Article first published at Elephant Journal 
Images in the article: Courtesy of Nancy Barrett
Editor: Travis May

 

Bird counting day at Arboretum spots 35 species in first half hour

Journalism

Migratory birds are starting to fly because of the warmer temperatures and Toronto is at the intersection of two bird flyways, a flight path for bird migration, which presents an opportunity to spend some time in nature.

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“When you spend time in nature and you slow down, you observe wildlife. It’s good for people’s mental health, and it makes us better people in a lot of the aspects,” said Emily Rondel, Urban Projects Biologist at Bird Studies Canada.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health projected to have a 60 per cent increase in patients for the next two decades, to which Canadian Mental Health Association recommended spending more time outdoors.

“In Toronto, people underestimate the amount of wildlife that there is in the city. Part of the point of our partnership (with Humber Arboretum) is to show how diversity is like here,” said Rondel.

Humber Arboretum is home to roughly 100 bird species during a year period said Rondel. During the Great Backyard Bird Count that took place last Friday, 35 type of birds were seen in a lapse of 30 minutes.

The Bird Counting event combined mindfulness and nature awareness. More than 20 people were part of a previous Yoga session before going into the woods to identify different species of birds in the area.

“We’re a combination of display gardens, floral connections, ponds, bridges, beautiful land spaces and natural trails. Students can see all kinds of different habits, and they can enjoy our botanical collection from all over the world,” said Marilyn Campbell, Communication Assistant at Humber Arboretum.

“It was a fantastic event. I really enjoyed the experience of mindfulness meditation and birding which is something I haven’t done before.”  said Warren Schlote, a Guelph-Humber student.

Less green spaces and the technology era we live in are two main reasons why people should start recognizing the importance of mindfulness, explained Harold St. George, from Project Soul.

“We have so many things taking our minds apart. Mindfulness exercise helps nature to open its windows to us so that we can be fully at the moment,” said St. George, who guided the yoga session. “Coming here to connect to ourselves, it gives us more tenacity to go back to the world we live in.”

Great Backyard Counting started in 1999, and this was the first time, Humber Arboretum became part of it. The partnership between Humber College and Bird Studies Canada will bring garden work and wildlife workshops.

The Great Backyard Bird Count had a total of 32 people attending. There were 15 different species seen and approximately 94 individual birds.

Pictures by Lucia Yglesias 
Initially published at Humber Et Cetera. 

Tunnels at Lakeshore grounds open for art tour of past

Journalism

Inspired by the history of the former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, Ontario painters Gary Blundell and Victoria Ward recover the essence of what Humber College’s Lakeshore Campus was in the 19 centuries in a 24-piece collection, Secrets of An Ever Changing Landscape.

“We liked the fact that grounds were transformed dramatically over the past 100 years. Time and transformation are something we play with all the time, and the word ‘lunatic’ is an evolving idea,” said Ward, regarding one of her pieces called ‘Luna.’

Luna refers to how the term lunatic was derived from a belief that the moon affected a person’s mental state. But it has long been use in a derogatory sense.

Secrets of an Ever Changing Landscape was launched Feb. 25 in a pop-up art show, and for the first time, in the tunnels that run underneath the Lakeshore campus.

The collection includes pastel drawings, acrylic paintings on wood, and photographs inspired by the ex-Mimico Branch Asylum and surroundings.

“Gary and Victoria’s collection was particularly interesting for this because it was inspired so directly, not only by the changing landscape but by the structure,” said Jennifer Bazar, curator at the Lakeshore Ground Interpretive Centre. “The tunnels were a big part of it. You can see in their collection how many pieces of the tunnels are featured.”

Moved by the history and the untold stories from the previous Mimico Branch Asylum, Blundell said he felt a connection to the remnants of the tunnels built by patients and how the college structure is today.

“There were people who worked down here, but that time is gone, so the tunnels are kind of a metaphor for me on a transition of time and how things are changing. How this is not that place anymore but there are these bits of it still hanging around reminding us how this came about in the first place,” said Blundell.

The pieces were created for a Take Over Instagram Project done during September and October 2016, and they are still available as a digital exhibit in Lakeshore Grounds website.

“Connecting all those pieces together and then using this historical and inspired art project in a historic space is really powerful,” said Bazar.

Behind the Bricks: Recovering the Stories of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital explores and invites the community to help collect the history of the Hospital, and Through A Lens, Brightly is a photographic wildlife exhibition by Nancy Barrett. Both projects are currently available on the Student Welcome and Resource Centre.

Initially published at Humber Et Cetera

International students hit the slopes at Snow Valley

Journalism

Approximately 200 Humber students grabbed their skis and snowboards and hit the slopes last Friday morning in a trip to Snow Valley, Barrie hosted by the college’s International Centre.

“It feels good as you learn things, how to balance, how to stop. When I fall off, this is my only problem I can’t get up,” said Cigdem Teke, an event management student, laughing. “I love it. I just tried it, but I love it. Being here is like being in heaven.”

Laurie Bradford, advisor for the International Centre, said there are 120 countries represented at Humber College and the trip helps international students adapt to Canada.

“It gives international students an opportunity to try something they haven’t tried before, challenge themselves, be in a different environment and they can make some friends as well,” said Bradford.

Humber’s group consisted of120 skiers, and 85 snowboarders, said Madeleine Teixeira supervisor at Snow Valley.

At the resort an hour north of Toronto, the hills are divided between beginners and advanced. Each hill has instructors teaching individuals how to stop, get up, turn and how to balance their weight.

“We might not have the biggest hills, but for learning it is perfect. We do have snow pants, jackets, and gloves [available] but it all depends on the person,” said Teixeira.

Despite the cold, Daniela Sierra, a Humber student who came from Honduras seven months ago, loves the snow.

“This is my second experience. The first time, I went skiing, this time I decided to snowboard and I (definitely) like snowboarding better. I don’t know why, but I feel like I have more control of it,” said Sierra.

Teachers at Snow Valley underline that participants should feel unpressured and derive the benefits of the activity.

“[Skiing] is not about doing well, it’s about having fun doing it. It’s important to keep your self calm because it is a very frightening sport as first,” explained Chris Rush, an instructor at Snow Valley resort.

“Because you don’t get too much sunlight during the winter, it does affect your mood,” said Rush. “Just being outside in the winter in Canada is really important (because) if you’re not then it does affect you.”

The International Centre hopes for another such outing before the end of the semester.

“Last year we had another one in March, but it depends on the weather, interest, and budget,” continued Bradford. “We cover part of the trip, so students don’t have to pay the whole amount.”

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Photos by Lucia Yglesias

Originally published on Humber ETC 

 

Child care centre sees low numbers in face of funding freeze

Journalism

Child care centres are short of funding from the City of Toronto, despite high demand for child care services from the community and even college students in particular.

Since 2004, an increase of 30 per cent of college students the United States are raising children, according to a recent report from the Institute for Women´s Policy Research.

Meanwhile, Humber’s Child Development Centre is running at only 60 per cent of its capacity due to lack of funding.

Carolyn Ferns, public policy and government relations coordinator for Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, says that in the last six years, 13 colleges and universities closed their child care centres to deal with decreased budgets or remain within them.

“We are going in the wrong direction by closing centres when what we need is their extension across the province,” said Ferns.

Humber’s Child Development Centre has a capacity of 98 children, including 20 spots for infants, 30 for toddlers, and 48 for preschool kids. Monthly fees range from $1,259 for a preschooler to $1,787 for a newborn to an 18-month-baby.

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Photo by Lucia Yglesias 

Jeff Feke, manager at the Humber facility said in previous years, June to September were the months when funds tended to dry up until the new school year began.

“We rely a lot on subsidies. There are no more funds left. We are lowering enrollment, which affects our bottom line moving forward. When the city cut off the funds, I can run with a maximum of 98 children, now I’m running with 64,” said Feke.

Feke recognizes that babies are always covered, but there is an ongoing struggle for funding spots for toddlers and preschoolers.

“Since September, funding still hasn’t come back. It’s almost nine months and nothing. The city said there is no more funding for this particular (need),” said Feke.

There are two ways to get into all Toronto Child Care Centres: applying directly with a self-paying method or through a subsidized spot from the City of Toronto. Currently there are 17,000 people on the list waiting for the funding to send kids to child care centres.

Jason Powell, Humber’s Dean of School of Health Sciences, said “childcare is not something to be looked at as a burden, but as something that is required. In Humber College, we value high-quality childcare, and we value having that on campus for our students and staff.”

Based on IWPR report, 26 per cent of all undergraduate students in the United States – 4.8 million students – are raising dependent children.

“I have a passion for seeing quicker application processes, quicker adjudications and more subsidized spots for our students who can’t afford to pay that amount of money,” said Powell. “We need to believe in child care centres. We need to get those children off the list.”

Although the centre is located on the Humber North campus, 90 per cent of the demand it receives comes from the community.

“I’ve never gotten to the point where I have 34 spots unfilled because the city is not helping with the funding,” said Feke.

“People from the community are people we rely on to make sure we are fully enrolled. They require help, and there are plenty of them. I receive calls daily, and I’d love to do more, (but) I can’t because there is no funding and they can’t afford the cost of the childcare.”

Featured Image courtesy by Ruth Escarlan

Originally published on Humber ETC 

New health measures aim to halt spread of Norovirus

Journalism

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Following confirmation by Toronto Public Health that some 200 students in the Humber College North campus residence fell ill last week due to norovirus, the school is enhancing hygiene guidelines and spreading prevention measures to diminish the contagion.

Dean of the School of Health Sciences Jason Powell recommends students take the matter seriously and be diligent.

“Hand washing several times a day and symptoms surveillance are so important.” Powell said. “It’s obvious our awareness is hiking. Everybody is being more diligent. We get less diligent when there is no outbreak (but) this should be a permanent habit.”

Humber and Toronto Public Health have been working in coordination, providing updated student contact information and providing immediate guidance on spread prevention.

In that regard, Dr. Michael Finkelstein, Associate Medical Officer of Health, advised those affected to stay home and drink a lot of liquids.

“Once certain viruses are in environments such as student residences where individuals live close together, preventing the spread of easily transmitted seasonal viruses like norovirus becomes challenging,” Dr. Finkelstein said.

“There is no reason to avoid public spaces or not have visitors,” Powell said. “But if you don’t feel well, go home, and wash your hands every time you shake somebody’s else hands and after using the bathroom.”

Last Monday’s confirmation by the city that norovirus was involved helped settle a mystery that sent over 40 students to hospital in an incident that was initially suspected by some to be food poisoning.

Powell explained the symptoms of a regular flu are almost the same as norovirus, except for very bad abdominal cramping, violent diarrhea and vomiting.

“If you have an exam and you wake up with symptoms, I know there is pressure, but not coming is the right thing to do. We will help you. They (students) won’t be punished (academically),” said Powell.

There are no official reports on symptoms appearing outside North campus. However, Jia Xla, a Humber Hospitality and Tourism management student, says some students at Lakeshore campus are fearing for their safety as well.

“School is a public space and a lot of students from North come here,” Xla said. “I’m an International student and It’s hard for me if I miss classes. I try to avoid the school’s food and rather prepare something at home.”

“First, I thought it was okay and no big deal but when the number of students sick started rising, I became more cautious,” said Hashem Shafi, Humber paralegal student. “I only have one class a week so I’m hoping I can make it in and out of there without getting sick.”

Norovirus is short lived, and affected students who experience 48 hours symptom-free are welcome to return to class.

Photo by Lucia Yglesias

Originally published on Humber ETC 

Cancer association asks Humber to bar smoking on campus

Journalism

Lately concluded National Non-Smoking Week included a call to Canadian colleges to consider implementing a complete smoking ban in campus.

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society, said a 100 per cent smoke-free policy will make smoking less convenient and reduce costs.

“Smoke-free places are a great motivator to quit smoking. Smoke-free places are a fundamental health issue,” Cunningham said. “Cigarette butts are an important source of waste whereby colleges have to pay for the cost of cleanup.”

Before 2015, there were 15 colleges and universities across Canada with a smoking ban and more than a thousand in the U.S.

Humber dean of the School of Health Sciences Dr. Jason Powell considers the policy a good, but long-term decision.

“There is a lot less cigarettes right now than in the ‘80s. It’s not socially acceptable any more to smoke,” said Powell.

Eighteen per cent of Canadian smokers are 20 to 24 years old. Humber’s smoking policy has been effective since 2009 and identifies smoking and no-smoking areas.

Powell also recognized post-secondary institutions are inherently stressful places.

“We have available resources for students who are dealing with pressures over their capacity. Those departments are always packed with students,” Powell said.

IGNITE North campus Vice President of Student Life Ammar Abdul-Raheem believes barring smoking from campus will create a big discussion.

“There are students who are strong in their beliefs and they have the right to study in a healthy environment. But at the same time, there are students who need to smoke for mental health issues, or just to cope with all the stress and to clear off their minds,” Abdul-Raheem said.

A first-year Humber Civil Engineering student who asked not to be identified believes the policy will force him to quit or at least to smoke less.

“I’m not proud of my habit. I’m always looking for an excuse to quit. That seems like the perfect time”

“Tobacco represents an unparalleled health epidemic. Tobacco causes cancer, heart attacks, emphysema and death.  Second-hand smoke is harmful to non-smokers,” said Cunningham.

By 2018, hospital grounds in Ontario will need to be 100 per cent smoke-free. Ontario has made outdoor patios, children’s playgrounds and sports and high school fields/grounds a complete smoke-free environment.

Meanwhile, a Canadian Cancer Society spokesperson noted that water-pipes (hookahs) are a growing concern.

“They are used mostly in a social setting and among young group ages. It might not seem harmful. It might have a nice taste and aroma, but it contains the same cancer-causing substances as cigarettes,” he said.

In 2014, the Canadian Community Health Survey showed that tobacco kills 37,000 Canadians every year, with 30 per cent reported as cancer deaths.

“Anybody who is using nicotine, e-cigarettes, vaporizers, they should take that really seriously. No matter how many they have in a week or day, zero should be the number,” Powell said.

Image by Pixabay

Originally published on Humber ETC 

 

In the shoes of a TTC Driver

Journalism

Are we really progressing? 

The vision of Toronto Transit Commission is to be a transit system that makes Toronto proud, but does it?

While the average of verbal or physical abuse against transit customers was  15 per cent lower this past September than it was for the same month last year, incidents of abuse against TTC employees are 70 per cent higher than for the same period in 2015.

The numbers shown in the November’s Chief Executive Officer’s Report represent the daily journey of a TTC driver.

“One time a high school boy pointed a gun at me. All his friends surrounded me. I was terrified,” said Tammy, a TTC driver who had a hard time to identify even this as her worst experience.

Like most TTC workers, Tammy requested anonymity.

A driver whom we will call Dennis has been working for the TTC for 13 years.

“I always tried to be friendly. If they (customers) are doing something wrong, I tell them in a kind manner so that they won’t feel threatened,” the driver says.

At that moment in the exchange, somebody gets on the bus and throws into the fare box a bunch of change, but in a quick look, Dennis counts only two dollars.

“The fare is $3.25, buddy” says Dennis, as the customer starts looking into his wallet and struggling to find the rest. With an open palm and some quarters on it, he explains that is all he has.

“That’s fine,” the driver says, nodding. –“You know for next time.”

The man smiles at him, thanks him and sits. The bus keeps moving. No one got mad. There were no fights.

“One time I asked a lady to show me her transfer, and she called me racist,” says Dennis, shrugging his shoulders. “Sometimes I just let things go. My job is to take them from one point to the other, but it is also to check they are giving the proper fare and that is what they don’t understand, sometimes.”

According to the November report, because the TTC has seen an increase in numbers of assaults to 120 per cent higher than last year, “lost-time injury rate” is 74 per cent up as well.

September 2016 had an average rate of 4.77 injuries per every 100 employees, while 2015 registered only 2.74 in the same period.

Stuart Green, TTC Senior Communications Specialist, explains they encourage their drivers to not get involve into fare disputes.

“Drivers are trained to know how to respond. They are not trained to do fare enforcement. For that, we have a Fare Enforcement Unit and fare inspectors,” Green said.

The average of incidents reported is two to three offenses daily that can go from verbal abuse to punches on the face or coffee tossed – like one that happened in July this year.

As high as the numbers are, Green says a number of incidents probably don’t get reported.

“For example, if somebody walks by the driver and swears at them, (they may not report it) but it is important to us to know all those incidents,” Green explains.

Between 2003 and 2007, the TTC documented 1,886 assaults against their staff with more being under-reported.

In an official statement from Andy Byford, CEO at the TTC, he expresses his concern about these “unacceptable” incidents.

“Offenses against staff spiked and continued a worrying trend for 2016,” Byford wrote. “The number and nature of assaults are completely unacceptable, and this is a high priority for executive action, along with taking further action to highlight and tackle incidents of sexual assault and harassment of customers.”

To prevent more incidents, the TTC installed video cameras, an emergency alarm system, plastic shields around the driver’s seat, and also implemented the Transit Enforcement Unit which now counts 40 officers patrolling the system and protecting not only operators but riders when needed.

“We were able to more successfully apprehend whoever is misbehaving,” said Green. “They (offenders) know they are on camera, so they are less likely to commit an assault because there are more chances to get caught.”

With a budget of $5.2 million, plastic shields give drivers the ability to see what is coming and prevent any offense coming from behind.

“At first the shield bothered me because it reflects the lights, especially at night. It is hard to see, but you get used to it,” said Dennis. “Now it bothers me when I don’t have it.”

Richard has more than 16 years as a driver with the TTC and feels the organization increasingly recognizes the tension between passengers and drivers.

“It is human nature to see and criticize all bad things, but when something good happens or when they have a nice driver they don’t talk about it. It almost feels that they hate us because we make good money…”

Green highlights the responsibility drivers carry on their shoulders on a daily basis.

“Drivers have a difficult job to do. They are responsible for a vehicle full of people. They are responsible for the safety of people on the road. It is a very important task and very serious one. It is a fair salary,” said Green.

“Most people understand that is a tough job. If somebody doesn’t, then, it is really unfortunate,” he continued.

Despite bad experiences, Tammy enjoys being out there while driving. She doesn’t like the idea of working in an office.

Dennis’ secret is to greet everybody and ask how the day is going.

“You know… I want to go back to my family every night after work. I like my job. There are good and bad drivers just like good and bad customers,” Richard says, smiling while he is getting ready to start a new trip right after he finishes the last one.

 

Picture provided by TTC.