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September-December 2013 Profile of Sarah Zelcer
Sarah Zelcer is Director of National and International Programs for Ve'ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee. She is also completing her Masters in Health Promotion at the University of Toronto, and is the mother of Yona and Nava. Sarah lives with her family in Toronto, Canada.
The two projects I'm most excited about are in Guyana, South America, and in Kenora, Ontario. I conceived the model for them in 2010. The Guyana project has been going for about three years now and the Kenora one is just getting launched.
The projects are about briut - Hebrew for health or wellness. Our approach is to place people who will support existing health initiatives or help develop new ones in host indigenous communities. The placements last for four months. Sometimes we help a community take an idea and move it into the planning and implementation stage; other times we support current programs already taking place. We work with communities, hear their priorities, support them by offering human resources and sometimes a small amount of seed money for new programs. The aim is to build the capacity of the community, so that when we leave the health promotion program will continue - so that it will be community led.
In Guyana examples of programs "Bri'ut" has supported include health talks, patient counselling on hypertension and diabetes, a homework club at the school, and a maternal-infant initiative. We got money from the Trillium Foundation to run a similar program in northern Ontario, in Kenora.
We have played a supportive role in a number of places overseas, including in Uganda, Haiti, Ethiopia - building schools, digging wells, distributing educational supplies, a program on spinal defects. Our local focus in Toronto is working with the homeless population.
We don't work necessarily with Jewish communities. We have a social justice, not a religious motivation. Selection is based on there being a demonstrated need, strength of the program, opportunity to work with a local partner, and if funding is available.
When I started working I was organizing programs with an explicit health focus but I had little experience in health promotion. I decided to increase my expertise and go back to school. The academic experience has provided a concrete link between work and the core values associated with health promotion practice, including the idea of working with others and the importance of rooting one's work in context and in other learnings and research. My studies at the University of Toronto are going hand in hand with my work. I am able to use my growing competencies and apply them right off the bat - a cool kind of alignment.
main interests outside of work and best practices
Mainly these days my family keeps me pretty busy. I like yoga and do some visual art. I like to write. I have a blog but I haven't maintained it.
This profile is based on an interview with website editor Barbara Kahan.
September-December 2013: jottings from website editor Barbara Kahan
Ruminations on community and belonging
When I'm in health promotion mode, the concepts of "community" and "belonging" are central to my thoughts, in an abstract theoretical sort of way - because I strongly believe they are absolutely key to all aspects of health. And that means that when planning, implementing or evaluating, it is necessary to ensure they are integral pieces of all health-related initiatives.
But when I am sleep deprived or overwhelmed or lost in thought about whatever my latest non-health promotion obsession is, they aren't in the forefront of my consciousness. Community and a sense of belonging do underpin my personal as well as my professional life, but too often my awareness of them is peripheral. So it is good to be reminded once in a while of their role in my own sense of well-being and staying healthy.
This month I have received a strong reminder because it is my birthday month. Celebratory messages, presents, meals - I realize that introvert though I am, I am still part of a strong network of people who care about me, and who I care about in return. It makes me feel warm inside, at peace with myself and the world, and energized to engage with life around me. I imagine these feelings smiling at my particular set of chronic diseases saying "there there, you don't need to act up right now. We've got things just the way they should be."
Just as importantly, these feelings make me promise myself to do more of those acts which may seem small but sometimes have a large impact - to phone someone I haven't heard from in a while, visit the neighbour down the road who's shut in, go for a walk with a friend who's been struggling.
with best wishes,
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