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Last updateWed, 08 Apr 2020 5pm

Teachers return from African school amid COVID-19 concerns

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    A team of teachers who were in Kenya to support the works of Action For God’s Love had their trip shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    In February of this year, the Mail reported retired teachers, Irv and Corrine Gerling were setting out on their fourth trip to Marimba to volunteer at the Our Lady of Grace Home and School. Former Drumheller resident Rita Balachandran, nee Rovere, founded the charity. This year Lynn Hemming joined the Gerlings for the second time, as well as Lynn’s daughter Ashley Green.
    They headed out on February 24 and were supported by local students who donated funds as well as school supplies for the children served by the school and orphanage. This was before many international travel restrictions were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Irv tells the Mail they arrived home last Sunday, March 22, and while they were in Kenya, so far there had only been 5 positive tests for the virus.
    “But between the Canadian government wanting us home and Kenya closing their schools, followed by planning to close all flights by Wednesday, the 25th, there seemed little choice but to return while we could,” said Irv.
    It took a Herculean effort in logistics to book, rebook and get a flight home.
    “Our planned Sunday flight with Lufthansa was cancelled, re-booked to Saturday, a day earlier, but when we arrived, we found out there were 71 people overbooked for that flight alone. So as a result, our connections from Frankfurt with Air Canada to home were gone as well,” he said. “We ended up in a line waiting for a clerk and eventually ended up on a British Airlines flight to London just after midnight. A seven-hour stopover there and a new flight to Calgary got us home without any more flight changes...relieved and exhausted.”
    Despite this, the trip was rewarding.
    “Working at the orphanage and school was very good for as long as it lasted. The students, teachers, and management were very appreciative of the talents, school supplies and efforts of the visiting Canadian volunteers. Throw in the Covid-19 virus affecting many aspects of life worldwide that we normally take for granted, and the unverified Chinese proverb/curse, “May you live in interesting times”, really did seem to capture the moment.”
    Hemming and her daughter also had quite an experience getting home a week earlier than they planned.
    “We had a great experience once again at the school and orphanage. It made it worthwhile, but a little extra effort to get home,” said Hemming. “I think we got  out just in time.”
    She said while the situation in Kenya appeared fairly safe with only a handful, of positive cases, they had Internet and were able to monitor the situation around the world. “We were in such a peaceful rural place. Where we were at, it was hard to imagine the world was falling apart around us,” she said.
    They too had their work cut out for them to depart Kenya early, knowing conditions were changing by the hour. They did manage to make arrangements.
    During their travelling experience, the airports were like ghost towns, with closed restaurants and coffee shops. The flights were staggered so there would be fewer people in the airport.
    “I have flown in and out of Amsterdam and it is a busy vibrant airport and it was just dead, it was kind of eerie,” she said.
    They arrived home on Monday, March 23 and now all are in self-isolation. Despite the emergency return, the trip was a success.
    “We would have liked to have another week there, but we were able to provide some more materials of the school, textbooks, and books for the library, and do some team teaching and mentoring,” said Hemming, adding that many of the new books were to update the school to a new curriculum. While the government sets the curriculum, they don’t provide the materials.
    Hemming was able to see some of the improvements to the school that were implemented the previous year including proper washroom facilities. She is concerned about how Kenya will fare in light of COVID-19.
    “The thing about it is when it spreads there, they don’t have the infrastructure like hospitals to support people, plus people don’t have money to get the medical attention they need,” said Hemming. “It is worrisome if it spreads to those African countries, there is going to be some real hardship.”

Tips to cope with pandemic stress

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    The COVID-19 pandemic is shaping up to be one of the largest challenges for the world this generation, and while there have been many measures put in place to protect ourselves physically, it is important to pay attention to mental health.
    Rachel Dundas, executive director of Wheatland County Counselling and registered Psychologist notes this is an unprecedented time.
    “It is a concern for everybody,” she said.
    There are many worries from our own health and well-being, the economy, personal and financial security, as well as the challenges that come with social distancing and isolation.
    “Novel and unfamiliar events promote anxiety in the public in general, and also unrealistic fears are quite common,” she said. “Social distancing can also lead to isolation, which can also exacerbate existing mental health conditions. Increased anxiety, decreased socialization can lead to depression or those types of concerns resurfacing.
    She said the Psychologists Association of Alberta has released a set of tips to help people cope during a pandemic. One of the top strategies is to limit media consumption, just enough to stay informed and to avoid discussion about the event if these have the potential to escalate into conflict.
    “Remember that life will go on,” Dundas says is one of the most important, “people have always survived difficult life circumstances.”
    There is a lot of fear-mongering going on, especially on Facebook, people need to realize what people see on Facebook isn’t necessarily the truth. They should be following credible government websites for recommendations and information.”
    During this crisis, most students are at home and most will have questions. Dundas says, it is important to be honest.
    “Communicating honestly to children, in age-appropriate language is best. It’s okay to say you don’t know, and this has never happened before,” she said. “Helping them develop an at-home routine and keeping this predictable is also a suggestion. Reassuring them they are safe, being honest about risks (low) and not allowing your own anxiety to cloud how you interact (practice self-care).”
    Another coping tool is to build your resilience. This includes looking at what has worked for you in the past or maybe adding new tools to manage adversity.
        “Resiliency is our ability to face upsetting and difficult situations and then come out the other side. Often our biggest barrier to being resilient is our own thoughts,” Dundas said. “It is a lot of self-care; take a hot bath, write in a journal, do things like writing a coping statement on a card and read it three times a day, something along the lines of ‘I have been through difficult things before, I can get through this.’”
    While she notes some information on social media can cause stress, the connections within your network are important. Maintaining social connections are an important part of coping, even if it is through the telephone, internet, or social media.
    It is also important to keep things in perspective.
    While governments are planning for the worst, we do not need to expect the worst.
    For some, a good coping tool is to have a plan for how you would respond if you or a loved one is diagnosed. Developing a contingency plan can lessen anxiety.
    Finally, she notes to know when to seek professional help. If you are struggling with activities, or your nervousness or sadness is adversely affecting your daily routine, it may be suggested to reach out to a healthcare professional or a psychologist.

Dancing with the Dinosaurs wins Tourism Champion Award

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In its short three-year history the Dancing with the Dinosaurs Powwow has become a premier event on Canada Day in Drumheller.
It is also now an award winner.
Organizers Mike and Lynn Fabrick learned this month that Dancing with the Dinosaurs has been selected for the Cindy Amos Tourism Champion Award. It was presented at the Canadian Badlands Tourism Development Conference on March 5 in Strathmore.
The Dancing with the Dinosaurs Powwow began in 2017, and already planners are getting ready for this year’s event on Canada Day in the park near the Badlands Community Facility. The cultural celebration attracts dozens of dancers to share their performances. Mike says there is a lot of hard work by volunteers into putting on the event, and it also enjoys great support from the community.
This year Mike says they will be changing the format a little bit this season, but the show will go on.
The award is named after Cindy Amos, who served as executive director of Canadian Badlands. This award is open to municipalities, organizations and groups that exemplify the characteristics that made Ms. Amos a true champion of Tourism in the Canadian Badlands.
The submissions for the award are adjudicated on the demonstration of leadership, efforts to promote tourism and development, collaboration and the impact of the group’s efforts.
The winner of the award receives a plaque, recognition on the Canadian Badlands website and a contribution of $250 will be made in the winner’s name to the Cindy Amos Memorial Scholarship at SAIT.


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