A Little Action, A Big Difference

Posted January 27th, 2010

We'd like to share with you some letters about our effort in 2009, our debut year of the program in Calgary.  We hope these letters serve to inspire others to volunteer for positive causes around the world, or at the very least entertain!  Our first letter is by Derek McBurney, communications & media on the Calgary team, it's entitled 'A Little Action, A Big Difference'.

 

At the recognition night

 

I’ve always cared about social and environmental issues.  Over the past several years I have been active about these issues, or what I then considered to be active.  I was, like so many of us, claiming to be caring and committed to a more positive society, but was really just playing arm chair quarterback.  It turns out spending breaks at work debating with an endless supply of random (and seemingly quite angry) readers on news webpage comment sections isn’t as worthwhile a contribution to society as I thought.  In fact, being another anonymous commenter duking it out in a sea of ignorance is probably the most time consuming but ineffectual contribution one could make.  I’m embarrassed to say it took me far longer than it should have for me to have made that realization, but the good news is that I did, and here I am writing this now.

 

I was, like so many of us, claiming to be caring and committed to a more positive society, but was really just playing arm chair quarterback.

 

I started 2009 with something I didn’t usually have a lot of – free time.  In absence of having a whole lot to do, I’m the kind of person who needs to express some sort of creativity.  I’m also good with web sites.  Tie that all to my new awakening that I was an effectual person trapped in an ineffectual lifestyle, and my latest creative idea blossomed.  I was going to make a website, designed for the community, to have positive discussion on sustainable living and events in Calgary.  I called the site CalgaryUrbanite and got cracking.  I’m aware making a website wasn’t exactly a revolutionary life style change, but I wasn’t going to run off to Green Peace just yet – one step at a time!  CalgaryUrbanite launched featuring a couple of articles I had written, and the first comments started to trickle in.  I obtained my first goal: I had generated discussion, but unlike at the news sites I used to get involved with, the discussion was positive.  My site launched with a touch of fanfare I had generated through my experiences using social media to simultaneously alert and annoy people.  That fanfare was thankfully just big enough to catch the eye of one Kurt Archer.  Who is he, and why should you care?  Well, I don’t have a good answer at this point, as at the time he initially messaged me on Facebook, I couldn’t care either.

 

History

 

Kurt Archer had returned recently from India, having run a sustainability program there with some other ex-patriots called My Choice!  The program taught students about sustainability through a series of introductory activities and simulations, and had the students run sustainability projects for their schools.  My Choice! reached several schools in Bangalore and hundreds of students participated.  Of course, at the time I didn’t know any of that because I couldn’t really be bothered to read the email Kurt was sending me.  It dawned on me that perhaps despite making my online contributions in a more positive way, I still wasn’t willing to do much more than that.  It seems like such a waste to have someone who is aware of the issues not physically do anything about them.  I had to do more than simply write articles, I had to walk the walk that I had started talking.  I did something new, I did something bold, I took non-digital action.  I was going to attend an event in Calgary called Green Drinks in February, and meet the environmental community in the flesh.  Kurt would be attending, and I could find out his deal without having my eyes continue to painfully glaze over the monitor reading his emails.  Two birds, one stone.

 

It seems like such a waste to have someone who is aware of the issues not physically do anything about them.

 

I learned about My Choice! at the Green Drinks event and was faced with a new challenge, one that I had never considered after having been locked in my lazy digital world for so long – volunteering.  Of course what Kurt first wanted me to do for the My Choice project was make a website, so perhaps the transition to volunteering wouldn’t be such a stretch after all.  I was introduced to one of the other members of the team, Prageet, and later Adarsh at a ‘team meeting’ I had committed to.  And that’s all I committed to when I met Kurt and Prageet, one meeting.  I immediately got along with the team (and presumably they got along with me, but let’s not make any assumptions!), and they had convinced me of something I had never really considered before – volunteering doesn’t have to be work, it actually can be fun.  I always thought the idea for My Choice! was great, but was I really going to do this?  Talk went beyond a website, and into helping out with the project in all its areas: reaching mentors to work with students, organizing events, writing sponsorship proposals and branding the project.  That’s a big commitment, but was it really?  Environment and education was always something I was passionate about, and the only commitment I really had to make was drop the time I once had for video games.  The cause was worth it, and I became a member of My Choice!

Volunteering can be funImmediately I made an impact on the My Choice! team.  For starters, we’re no longer called My Choice! But My World, My Choice! became our brand.  We wanted to emphasize that people’s decisions for the environment are their own, but their consequences are global.  That and www.mychoice.org was taken.  From my humble beginnings as the ‘web guy’ who made the web site, I soon went on to help on all areas of the project, and ran activity sessions for Junior High classes in Calgary.  Introducing classes to sustainability was when I realized there was no going back to who I was - a poster on the internet who thought he had all the answers.  I had grown into someone whose impact would last with the lives of the students I was teaching, and not die in the depths of a forgotten message board.

 

Environment and education was always something I was passionate about, and the only commitment I really had to make was drop the time I once had for video games.

 

Alright, well I have waxed poetic about the impact My World, My Choice! had on me long enough, but I haven’t written about the most important bit, the impact our involvement had on the community.  I’ll be honest, there was so much work to be done to pull off our program, I didn’t think it could all be done.  We had to get schools and teachers to bring in our program in to their semesters.  We had to get a small army of volunteers to act as mentors to the students – teach them about sustainability, help guide their sustainability projects for their schools.  We had to bring schools together under one roof to recognize the achievements of the students in the program.  We had to stretch out a tiny budget for promotion and class materials.  And we had to put it all together while some of us tried to stay employed at our full time jobs and others tried to pass their courses.  I wouldn’t be writing this now if we hadn’t pulled it all off, so I’ll spoil the ending and confirm your suspicions. We did it.  All the effort we put in to My World, My Choice! in retrospect seems likes a privilege after I saw what we brought about in the community.

 

Introducing classes to sustainability was when I realized there was no going back to who I was - a poster on the internet who thought he had all the answers.

 

The opening text of the videoDoing instead of thinking of doingVolunteering can be funIt was our recognition night in November, where we had select groups of students from several Calgary schools show off their sustainability projects under one roof at A.E. Cross Jr. High, with parents, teachers and media attending that the impact of everything hit me.  It hit me at one specific moment – I probably could have cried if I wasn’t so nerve racked at the time.  The first hour of the event had those in attendance view all the students projects and vote on their favourites.  This was the first I had been able to see what students had come up with using their new fangled knowledge of sustainability, and I was blown away at the creativity and thought put into them.  The amount of hours our team had poured into the project had suddenly paled in comparison to the hours students spent hammering out their projects.  My World, My Choice! was officially a net gain for the community in raising awareness for environmental sustainability.

After that first hour, we had the speeches and awards to get to, but we opened with a video (a video I had spent 9 hours editing the night before no less).  The video was a mission statement of our program, an homage to everything that had gone into the project before that night, and ultimately a call to action for the audience.  The response from the auditorium was thunderous.  The applause wiped away the bile of hatred filled web comments everywhere.   I had never been a part of something that has generated that kind of response, and it was that moment that I realized the impact My World, My Choice! made.   Students, parents, teachers, media and volunteers were clapping for what they were all a part of.

 

Students, parents, teachers, media and volunteers were clapping for what they were all a part of.

 

The impact of running My World, My Choice! in Calgary will last in the community.  The students involved will become tomorrow’s leaders and continue to shape their communities with the skills they learned through the program.  I know that volunteering in My World, My Choice! has changed me for the better and this experience will last me a life time.  I hope to run the program again and again, encouraging new waves of students to make choices they believe in, and to take action to make a difference, just like I did.

 

Everyone is a winner. Lame but true.

 

Comments

Allou Rachelle
Congratulations Guys for this inititiative about sustainability. Seshié Richard is one of my friends and i told be about u done in India in now in Canada (Calgary). I'm also passionate on it and i really encourage u to everytime and everyday go forward be many people have to now all about what u do.

Congrats again and let me keep in touch with ur great leaders team.

Cheers
Comment made on December 18th, 2009 at 4:03 am by Allou Rachelle
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