Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Tip of the Hat to Westman’s Caregivers, Volunteers 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, May 26 / 14

Zack Gross

I was reading some Internet news articles the other day and the headline about Europeans advocating for the “Right to be Forgotten” caught my attention.  It turned out to be an issue of Internet search engines carrying information about private citizens “forever” that was no longer relevant and violated their privacy.

For instance, you might have lost your home due to money problems in the past, but the story still sits on the Internet many years later, continuing to cast doubt on your financial viability long after the problems are solved.  The European Court of Justice has backed a resolution that sites such as Google must take steps to erase this kind of data from their systems.  This decision will have great implications for search engines as people begin to identify irrelevant information and ask for it to be taken down.

Anyway, when I first read the title “The Right to be Forgotten
,” my mind immediately went in another direction.  I was thinking that many of our society's caregivers – teachers, nurses, mothers, volunteers – would love to be forgotten once in a while. They are being stressed and burnt out as demands on their energy and time increase and financial resources to support them seem to proportionately decrease.

My data on this issue comes from many sources.  I work a lot with teachers on social issues that they want to explore with students in their classrooms.  Especially by this time of year, I see that teachers and administrative staff are running out of steam, dealing on a daily basis with the stresses of getting their lessons delivered, navigating through student behavioural issues, participating in extra-curricular activities such as sports and music, getting marking and paper-work done, and more.

My life's partner is a health professional and works hard to keep our fine system going.  Finding and supporting staff , taking care of patients, dealing with families, keeping an eye on equipment and buildings – it is a dynamic and challenging process.  When I visit her health site, I am not allowed to say “Quieter in here today.”  That will just jinx everyone.

Mothers are the foundation of our society.  For Mother's Day, they often receive jewelry, flowers, chocolate and other luxuries.  But they also get kitchen items and other tools of their trade.  Fathers may get tools for the home shop or for the lawn and yard, but keeping the meals coming, the kids bathed, school meetings covered and so on, is still largely a woman's task, even in our so-called modern society.  And most women also work outside the home, so they work a “double day.

If mothers are the foundation, then volunteers are the lifeblood.  Millions of Canadians contribute free time to their favourite community institutions every week:  their places of worship, their service clubs and ethnocultural associations, their hospital auxiliaries, youth groups, community and school sports teams, political parties and more. Without volunteers, who usually are already busy people, we would not have meal deliveries to seniors, rides for the sick to urban hospitals from rural communities, and so many other services that we may take for granted.

As director of The Marquis Project some years ago, I had it in mind to hold an annual thank-you evening for volunteers. Marquis was, and still is, an organization that cannot function without a strong volunteer corps. When I began to invite people to the proposed evening, I was struck by one person's response. This was someone who was one of those retired people who become even busier than when they worked, offering their talents and experience to many groups. What he wanted was a night off! 

His idea of an appropriate “gift” was to be forgotten for just one evening.

I think that we need to appreciate the people on the front lines more than we do. Most politicians, ever the ones we disagree with, make a large sacrifice in being away from family, standing up to opponents and the media, and sometimes leaving behind better-paying work. Most tradespeople, even the one that didn't show up when they promised they would, are run off their feet keeping up with our water, electrical and other home issues.

In my own world of promoting “fair trade
,” I was struck by the fact that the process of Canada's largest (North America's third largest) city of Toronto “going fair trade” was led by a volunteer committee of just eight people. The City of Brandon will have become Canada's newest Fair Trade City this month, again led by a committee of volunteers. I tip my hat to all of you who care enough to be positive and active in your jobs and volunteer lives. Take a few minutes for yourself!

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations. 
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