It’s Wednesday morning in the ‘ghetto’ a section of downtown Maple Ridge, known as a haven for drug dealers, prostitutes, and sleazy apartment buildings.
Young families and others on fixed incomes have formed the Port Haney Neighborhood Change Initiative. It’s determined to make this area a good place to live and work again.
Harambee, an African folktale, celebrates seven principles of community building. In Swahili, Umoja, the first, means unity. Ujima is collective work and responsibility.
Since coming together, the Port Haney group has developed a collective work plan. A crack house disappeared after locals liaisoned with the police. Group members make regular walks around that area now, establish eye contact, dialogue with everyone they meet.
Principle three, the story says, is Nia – purpose. The message is clear – we live here; this place is important to us.
In Swahili, Kujichagulia means self-determination. Any illicit behavior is reported to the RCMP.
Lately, group attention has turned to projects. Collaboration with the Municipality has improved street lighting –fewer places to hide now.
Kuumba, in Swahili, stands for creativity, Principle 5 in community building.
On Earth Day, April 16th, members will clean up the park next to the Centre for Education on Environment and Development at the south end of 223rd. The CEED building lies in the heart of this area.
That’s where we are now, sharing coffee with anyone with a vision for a healthier community. Today, this includes local shop owners.
In Swahili, Ujaama means cooperative economics. Think of that as support for local business. It’s Principle 6 in community building.
Chris Moerman represents Farm for a Year, a project aimed at returning his family’s farm to production again; a new source of local produce.
Moerman’s wife Julie, a teacher, is developing curriculum to bring more of our teachers and kids into the discussion of climate change and the world’s dependence on oil. Here too, are Dave Rush, of the local bicycling coalition, Lisa Eastman representing artisans, and Kim Lauzon, a CEED volunteer who plans a food cooperative soon. The women have meet-up internet sites.
These folks along the Fraser have Gerry Pinel smiling. The CEED centre director is the key force behind the Golden Ears Transition Initiative in Maple Ridge (www.goldenearstransitioninitiative.ca). It’s aimed at making our community a place where citizens view each other as neighbors rather than strangers. Information about the Golden Ears Transition’s 12 working groups that share this goal can be found at its website.
Pinel, an industrial technician, personally heads up The Red Action Team, a workgroup that provides home energy assessments – a way to reduce energy dependence while shortening the family’s carbon footprint.
Another Golden Ears goal is cataloguing the skills people might share with others in town. The aim is always to enrich life here, and prepare for climate change and ‘peak oil,’ the rapidly approaching time when demand outstrips the reserves of oil. Alberta’s tar sands aren’t the solution, says Pinel.
“If you have a community that’s affected by the higher prices of gas and oil, and every town is, you have to reduce dependence on the outside. What that comes down to changing our behavior.”
Not the words you’d expect from a man who made a career in the fossil fuel industry, but Pinel’s passion for the environment is well known.
“Things happen in your life,” he says. “My folks had an orchard here. I grew up surrounded by the outdoors. I knew the changes I’d seen were about climate change. When I read a book called Boiling Point [Ross Gelbspan]. I knew I had to do more than just reduce my own use of energy. I looked for bigger ways to do it.”
While working at Petro Canada’s Burnaby refinery, Gerry found a big way. He rescued a rare population of tree frogs from a dried up swamp on company land.
“We built a dam with metal louvers to control the water.
“It re-invented a bog. The frogs came back. Security to the refinery increased because no one could get through without hip waders. It was a win-win situation.”
More recently, Pinel established his own climate change initiative in Port Moody. The group, The Boiling Point Action Network for Climate Change (BPAN), funded a writing contest aimed at school kids two years ago (http://www.meetup.com/GETIS-Little-Red-Schoolhouse/).
Students were challenged to write a sequel to a story of mine called The Giant With Two Heads (peak oil and climate change). School district staff promoted the contest (http://newton.sd42.ca/groups/thetwoheadedgiantthathatedbeingbig/).
On April 16th, in Memorial Peace Park, Pinel will talk about the need for communities to look inside for the resources to face global influences.
“My goal is to help us reduce their negative impact,” he says.
Pinel has faith.
Imani, the word for that in Swahili, is the seventh principle of community building. In Harambee, the folktale, a spider and fly – unlikely partners –rescue the world by bringing light into it.
On Earth Day, I’ll tell that story. The message is not just for kids.
In Swahili, Harambee means all pull together. It’s time, isn’t it?
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.