Rosie
Maclennan

Canadian Olympic Athlete for Trampoline

Blog

  • February
  • 28
  • 2013

I am already behind on my aim to write a daily post from Liberia. Upon arrival we hit the ground running with very little time to stop and because there is so much that I want to share about my experience here, I get overwhelmed trying to write it down!

I will try and keep it to one thing a day (maybe two if I can’t pick, which is way more likely) but perhaps over the next few weeks, I will be able to get down in words more of my experience here. Words can’t do justice to so much of the experience here, but I will do my best.

Arriving at the airport on Monday, it was amazing to be warmly greeted by familiar faces and meet many new people including other members of this trip for the Level the Field Campaign. The aim of the trip is to showcase the Right to Play program here in Liberia, share their stories and demonstrate how the programs here are leveling the field for kids in this country.

Even for this first post, I am going to break my aim of focusing on one aspect and share two things. First, the story of a volunteer named Keifala and second,  my first trip back to West Point.

I had heard Keifala’s story was incredible but hearing him share it, incredible was an understatement (there is no way that I will be able to do it justice here, realistically I can only give a small portion of it). Keifala had just finished high school when the civil war reached a point where he had to leave out of fear of being captured and forced by rebel soldiers to join their fight, like many his age experienced. As a result, he entered a refugee camp in Sierra Leone. He had been training to be a teacher so in the camp he started working with school-like groups and heard that a program called Right To Play was in the camp.

He was first introduced to Right to Play in the refugee camp and got his training certificate there, something he explains as an empowering and proud moment for him. In 2003 when the ceasefire was signed, he was among the first to migrate back to Liberia and settled in Clara Town and as a volunteer started running RTP programs in his local community. When he later discovered there was a national office for RTP in Liberia, he went and introduced himself and became one of their strongest advocates and community leaders. Fast forward a few years, the funding for the RTP project ended and when Keifala heard this, he created the organization Restoring Our Children’s Hope, a volunteer coaching program that would continue to implement play for education within local communities, with local leaders and facilitators. When RTP received CIDA funding and were able to stay in Liberia, they partnered with ROCH as program implementers because of their vast connection with local leaders. Today, ROCH has over 3000 volunteers across Liberia implementing play for education programs.

What really struck me while listening to this story is that Keifala is around my age. The civil war only ended about a decade ago. While I was in high school, kids my age were being captured by opposing forces, kids were being displaced from their homes into refugee camps and kids were being separated from their families. On the other side of the world, I had no idea. While playing with kids and asking their ages, speaking with youths at youth forums, I can’t help but think of what they have gone through in their lives.

One of the first visits we made was to West Point. We arrived at the field where the session was going to take place and were greeted by many RTP coaches and volunteers, including a few that I had met last time I was here. The play session was, as always, fun. You see the joy and happiness that the kids get from being included and hear the discussions that take place after the games, you can’t help but become fully engaged (it doesn’t hurt that each of us had about a half dozen kids come and grab our hands and usher us into the group). Some games were familiar, some games brand new but all with the few resources that they had. When the session was done, the coaches yelled something (that amidst the yells of the kids I missed completely) but all 250 students started booking it down the alleyways. A group of kids grabbed hold of my arms and I was swept up in the crowd navigating through the narrow alleys between the shanti houses. I literally had no idea where they were taking me until a few minutes later we reached the school that had been newly built for them.

After visiting the school, we joined some of the community leaders and they showed us around their community, something that we had not had as much of an opportunity to do last time I was here. I spent the majority of the time chatting with Emanuel, one of the volunteers who is a teacher at one of the local schools. He shared with me more about his community, his school and pointed out the different areas. They walked us down to the beach. The sand that was there had been once covered by more dwellings but a few years ago, the dwellings were wiped out by particularly high tides. We walked along the beautiful beach and saw some people fishing, a group of women crowded in the shade of a boat, some young boys swimming… It was a truly beautiful sight. The water was very inviting in the 40 degree heat after running around. I kept walking with Emanuel and looked to the other side where there was an inland small pond/lake that connected to the ocean by a narrow stream of water.

On the other side of pond, there were a number of structures that looked much like the dwellings but that were built over the water and Emanuel asked me if I knew what they were. I said no. He explained that people had built these structures as latrines for the community and charged 5 Liberian dollars to use them. Talking about it later, Sarah, the member of RTP Canada who is traveling with us pointed out that for a family with 4 kids (less than average likely), and estimating that they would go to the bathroom twice a day, this would cost $1 (US) a day. Rent for a space in West Point is $10 (US) a month. The average income for a family in that community is far less.

Very few parts of the world live like we do in North America. I think that it is so important to remember that and also to teach our kids back home. Here in West Point, going to the bathroom is something you do in public and they do not have the luxury of toilets. We saw kids bathing in small buckets. Many kids walk around with only a shirt or pair of shorts and many walk around alone. It is a fishing community and that is how they survive but the government is planning to relocate the citizens of West Point elsewhere where they will not have access to their main source of livelihood.

Some people asked what the point of our trip to Liberia was. I know I am very lucky to have the opportunity to be here and have these experiences but I am also hoping that those of us on the trip here for Level the Field will be able to share the stories of people like Keifala and Emanuel, of RTP and the communities here so that, unlike me in high school, students learn about different places in our world and how people live every day.

  • February
  • 19
  • 2013

February 12 was the 3rd annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, a day with sites set on creating a conversation about Mental health and fighting to break down the stigma of mental illness. As an athlete, I have learned the importance of health and that it extends beyond the physical, achieving health in all realms is what helps you get to the top but it does not come without effort, it does not come with out challenges, it does not come without support and it does not come without conversations.

 Bell Let’s Talk Day is a great way to get the conversation started but let’s keep it going! I think that this conversation can start with kids so that as they grow, they are able to have the strength to have difficult conversations and they are not constrained by the same limitations that many adults face today. This is one of many goals of the organization Kids Now  – a program that I have a great deal of heart for.

In December, I had the opportunity to join Kids Now for a day to see the work that they do in schools. It is a 12-week  after school program that students elect to take part of and teaches them life skills providing them the tools and confidence to make positive choices so they can reach their full potential. While interacting with the group of kids at St. Luigi Catholic school, I was taken aback by the stresses and pressures that they endure and the topics that they discussed that really affected them. The other thing that struck me was their mentor’s ability to create an environment in which these kids could establish strong connections with each other and the mentor allowing them to speak very personally about their experiences and these difficult topics.

Perhaps it is my own naiveté (or perhaps wishful thinking) that at age 12, kids biggest stress is the looming idea of high school or some peer pressure but listening to these kids, they speak about topics that seem far beyond their years- suicide, bullying, drugs, family stresses, anxiety…

The best part for me was to see that these kids, even though confronted with some very heavy issues, could talk, they felt safe speaking up and together they could come up with positive solutions or strategies to cope.

Last week I went back to St. Luigi and spoke with the entire student body about the importance of asking for help and talking to others. It also gave me a chance to talk to the group of kids I had met in December to see how they enjoyed the program. These kids have become ambassadors for their school, showing the power of communication and sticking together as peers. I am so excited about being involved with Kids Now and to see the program empower youth across Canada.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

 

  • February
  • 12
  • 2013

Today, February 12th, is Bell Let’s Talk Day a part of Bell’s broader, multifaceted campaign to increase access to resources and support mental health initiatives across Canada.

Bell Let’s Talk Day is an anti-stigma effort. Breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness will help to empower those who are effected by mental health enabling them to get the support that they need.

Join in Canada and World!! Tweet away but be sure to include #BellLetsTalk !!!

 

  • January
  • 14
  • 2013

The start of a new year often invites you to do two things: reflect on the past year, what has happened, the challenges, the failures, the lessons and the successes, and to look forward to what the new year might bring, allowing a “clean slate” and to set new goals.

2012 was a year of extremes offering some of the most difficult challenges I have faced and some of the most exciting opportunities and experiences. It is a bit hard to imagine topping 2012 between a gold medal, my sister’s, aunts and trainer’s wedding and the birth of my beautiful niece Marlowe. Like 2012, I am sure 2013 will be filled with its own share of challenges, opportunities and excitement.

I don’t necessarily believe in New Years resolutions, but I do believe in setting goals and living with intention, so here is my list of “resolutions”:

1. Listen to that little voice within.

Humans are instinctive beings but our instinct can often be clouded by external expectations, pressures and fears. We have instincts for a reason and so far when I listen, it has lead me in a positive direction.

2. Make more time for family and friends.

My family and friends are the most important things in my life, they are my anchors and like anything, those relationships take time nourish and grow. It is easy to get caught up in the hectic nature of life but spending time with my family and friends always grounds me and makes me happy.

3. Be open to people and opportunities around me– keep an open mind and experience new things.

4. Live a bit outside my comfort zone.

When you push yourself, you grow and some amazing things can happen. Initially I thought of this in relation to trampoline, there are a lot more things I want to accomplish in my sport requiring me to push the limit, but thinking about it more, this is true in all parts of life.

5. Look for the silver lining.

We all experience challenges, it’s part of life. As one of my favourite Ted Talks (I am a huge Ted Talks fan, yes, I am a nerd) speakers states, “You are imperfect and wired for struggle” but through these struggles, there is always something you can gain from the experience if you keep a positive perspective, even if it is simply the strength of knowing you got through it. Be open to what challenges can do for you. This is probably the most important lesson I learned in 2012.

6. Keep my room clean.

I have a tendency to sometimes let my room get messy but it is way nicer to come home to an organized and clean room!

7. Get rid of the glass ceiling.

At times, I have been my biggest obstacle because of self-doubt. Though, when I got rid of that limitation and opened myself up to pushing as far as I could, it has resulted in amazing experiences. Don’t be afraid to dream big dreams, you never know, they might come true!

8. Give back, think of what I can do for others and act on it.

I have been so fortunate with the opportunities afforded to me. Over the last few months, some organizations have opened their doors and invited me to learn about the work they do. I am so thankful that Right to Play, Kids.now and Delisle Youth Services who have shown me the work that they do and the impact it has on their communities. I learned what they are all about and am beyond excited to stay involved. Sport can sometimes feel like a selfish endeavour because you constantly focus on how you can push yourself. I love my sport but I am very excited that now, because of my sport, maybe, just maybe, I can have a positive impact on others.

9. Blog more!

I have realized that I actually like writing a blog so I want to take the time to write random ideas I come across, share yummy recipes, share videos… Who knows. There may not be any reason or theme to my blogs but I think that is ok.

New Years is exciting because it is filled with mystery and new opportunities. I have no idea what 2013 will bring, nor did I at the beginning of 2012 but that’s ok. It is all a part of the journey!

  • November
  • 14
  • 2012

On Sunday, I had the honour of representing Canadian athletes to lay a wreath on behalf of the Canadian Olympic Committee and fellow Olympians at the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa. It was a very powerful and emotional experience. Standing in line with the other wreath bearers, I was close to the lines of veterans and it got me thinking, I cannot even begin to fathom the experiences that these men and women have had- they are the true heroes of our country for which we cannot give enough gratitude. Each one has stories to tell about their war experiences. You can see it in their eyes as they focused on the memorial and stood at attention through the duration of the ceremony. Watching them march by, I was overcome with emotion. It is important for them to be remembered. It is important we know the stories of those who fought for our country and for our freedom and that these stories are passed on through the generations. Both my grandfathers served in the war and I remember, through stories I was told as a child, a fraction of what they experienced during the Second World War.

 

My Mom’s dad, Lorne Patterson or “Gramps” was a recently graduated engineer in 1940. When World War II started, his thesis on fuel injection and project on propellers were sent to MIT where he was to do his Masters. As a mechanical engineer, he was positioned in Guelph at Federal Wire and Cable to provide wire and cable for the war effort while undertaking some special design projects for the Americans. He became a Commanding Officer in the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets Corps in Ajax. He prepared many boys with essential skills for positions in the navy. I remember sitting with him one day as he went through the photo (shown here) of himself with some of the young men he trained. Tears streamed from his eyes as he spoke about each boy- their name, where they came from, how old they were (many lied about their age so that they could serve) and on which ship they served. He always felt guilty that he was ordered to stay in Guelph to do his design work rather than go with his boys to fight by their sides.

My Dad’s dad, Alan MacLennan, was an RCAF pilot stationed in Reykjavik, Iceland for 4 years. During World War II, he flew a B24 Liberator bomber, on coastal command. In the other picture, he is shown here beside his Liberator, seated with his crew and his medals received for his service. He was one of the first pilots to fly over the Arctic Circle. Mostly, he flew over the Atlantic Ocean, looking for enemy submarines while he escorted supply ships as they crossed the ocean. On one of his flights, when he landed back at the base, of the eleven men on his plane, only he and the navigator had survived. The other men had all died from enemy fire during the mission.

After the ceremony, I had the privilege of having lunch with Sue Holloway and her father. Again, the stories that he shared were unbelievable about his experiences behind enemy lines, in war camps and escaping back to London.

To my generation of Canadians, learn and share the stories of our veterans and heroes.

To all the veterans, we are forever grateful for your sacrifices and your commitment to our country to help preserve our freedom and style of living. Please write your stories for us to help us better understand your experiences.

Lest we forget.

  • October
  • 30
  • 2012

This post is a little delayed but here is the next post on my trip to Liberia.

On our 3rd and 4th day, we travelled up to a northern, rural, county called Bong. The drive was quite the adventure as our driver Obey speedily navigated the pot holes. He had two modes, go as fast as you can for as long as you can, avoiding the cars along the way, then weaving between the divits and craters in the road.

While making the trek up to Bong, we stopped in Margibi at a local youth community centre. The centre was initially intended as a place for kids to congregate after school but ended up being a place of solace for kids who were not able to attend school. We were welcomed with traditional community dances and music during which kids from the community crowded around. We were able to discuss with the community leaders the progress they had made over the last year and the programs in place. We also learned what their goals were to grow the program and plans to get there.

The first thing we did when we go to Bong was go to the waterfall. This oasis is an nationally protected eco-environment with beautiful green landscape and the biggest trees I have seen in my life. The beauty of Liberia never stopped amazing me. The community program co-ordinator organized for a play session with some school kids at the falls and in order to get them there, they piled 15 kids in two hatchback cars. The games we played were ones that emphasized mind skills- memory and focus, as well as team work and cooperation. We were also able to discuss with the kids how the program had impacted them- most stating that Right to Play programs had changed their lives because they learned skills, established social connections, had fun and were able to learn from community leaders.
The second day in Bong county was a busy one. We drove out to a smaller rural community where we were going to attend a play session with about 200 kids. Along the way, we saw a few kids by the road so we blew up balloons and let them fly out the window. Within seconds, an entire crowd of kids emerged and started chasing the car, following it all the way to where the rest of the kids were. This play session was incredible. There were so many different games going on at one time lead by these amazing volunteers so that all the children could be included and learn. One of my favourite things to witness was the dancing. Music was playing in the background and everywhere you looked, there were kids with huge smiles busting a move and applauding eachother. During the games, rain started to fall. When it got heavier, all at once, the hundreds of kids made a beeline for the nearby church. I wish I had a video of that moment. One of the most touching things was the two girls I had spend much of the time with took off but then turned back and ran to me giving me a hug before running off again to get shelter from the rain.

After this session, we made our way to one of the community leader training programs where 30 new volunteers were being trained. They immediately welcomed us into the discussions. The thing that really caught my attention were that these young adults were volunteering their time because they knew the benefit the programs have on their local communities regardless of the fact that they have little time or money.The discussions were followed by playing some games (a few of which got pretty intense and attracted a large crowd of school students from the school next door). The first was Hoop Ball, a game much like handball, that teaches to work together as a team and to strategize. Others taught the importance of good communication as one partner was blindfolded and the other guided them through an obstacle course.

These volunteers are the ones that make the real difference. They are the ones that interact with the kids of Right to Play on a weekly basis. They are the ones who will provide positive role models. You can tell that their hearts and souls are committed to the kids they interact with. They are the ones doing the real work and for that, I commend them and felt privileged to be among them.

Bong was a very powerful experience, but then again the entire trip was. Having the opportunity to take part in the activities, leadership forums, youth discussions and speaking with people involved at all levels of the organization was a truly eye opening experience. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go out into the field and that everyone shared their experiences with us.

Kids and youth are the future. Each and every one deserves to have a chance- It is time to Level the Field!