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Special Gift


A family REACTion from members of Don Valley REACT


As we leave Christmas (Jan 2000), the Y2K bug and yet another year behind one tends to reminisce and ponder the significant events of the past. The dawn of a new century urges these thoughts on even more. Certainly we had fulfilled our normal share of community commitments with four Christmas Parades, annual walkathons, Canada Day celebrations, charity concerts, searching for the lost elderly or children, the ongoing aid to the stranded motorists, and numerous community events planning meetings. Added to this were preparations and implementation of activities for a countdown to a new century and whatever good, bad or unknown that we as a community volunteer group must anticipate.


This past year however brought a very special gift. It is this gift that we at least felt deserved a special notice and frankly may surprise some in terms of its' recipients and donors.


We have developed very close contact with the Canadian Red Cross. Our executives are members of the Regional Emergency Preparedness Committee, have received specialized training in Emergency Shelter Management, and Registration/Inquiry so we can provide effective and responsive services. As such, we expected a call regarding some natural disaster or whatever might befall our surrounding communities. Instead we received an appeal to assist with refugees from war torn Kosovo. We all have friends or family who fall on both sides of the political spectrum but when it came down to it, the only thing that mattered here was that these were human beings who needed help. The political spectrum dramatically fell into irrelevance.


So, over the course of several weekends we drove to a military base hours from home always remembering all our training of which the most important lesson being to help out in whatever the role. The Red Cross, local agencies and the military had done a magnificent job of dealing with the necessities such as food, shelter, and housing but there is still more to life. Based on our previous efforts, our team members were often permitted discretionary judgement to work those areas which would best serve the refugees, given our specific skills and experience. We aided significantly in the expected areas such as establishing, then training, on radio communications, providing transportation, communications to medical appointments. We performed safety and security walkabouts, and assisted in the distribution of basic care packages and clothing. We even enlisted the services of our long standing contact at Maloron Communications, they graciously provided a repeater and handheld radios at no cost. At one point we even found ourselves in the middle of an internationally renowned air show doing emergency runs for refugees suffering heat exhaustion and setting up an intermediary communications.


All this had to be done remembering that these were people from a war zone so every activity had to be done with tact and sensitivity. They had to be given the feeling of security, and just as much, a feeling of supported surroundings, and also, some how, take the time to rebuild their lives. The base, through excellent planning, had been temporarily transformed into a small rural community. People skills were used and tested at every turn.


Surprisingly, the unexpected activities were where the family factor truly hit home. Such as the activities of unloading hundreds of bicycles, crowd control for distributing donated yo-yo's became the order of the day. No one could belittle such activity and dare to stand eye to eye with a child who had faced the horror of war and see happiness as they experience the joys of youth and play perhaps for the first time in a truly safe environment. We found ourselves supervising recreation facilities where the base gymnasium had become the community centre. Kosovo Red Cross 1999One of our team's family members had a grand old time not only distributing equipment but getting into the games with the kids as well.  More importantly, she, her daughter and the kids had a great time together. Her daughter who may be a junior team member is a young adult at that crossroads of life looking at a world anew. To her REACT seems a very small role in her priorities. That aside, there she was with her mother in those very games sharing experiences and feelings with a group of friends from a completely different world. Each of us had our own special moments where we were truly touched, such as a young child with holding a checkers board and the look in his eyes that said now was the moment to play a few games. Words, language, even the games had no meaning. It was just some one being there to do those seemingly small things that truly counted.


It was indeed in these personal settings along with the many long walkabouts and interactions where many of us finally got a greater message. It was not just a matter of the gift we gave of our time but perhaps a much greater gift was being exchanged. We had been given the gift of having these people into our lives. This was a gift of unique perspectives and experiences which made us wonder if we could survive with the same hope and dignity through what they had just experienced.


After such an experience one naturally considered keep sakes such as photographs. The usual team photographs felt insensitive given what these people had endured. Indeed, two of us were invited to a formal Lieutenant Governor General's Reception honouring the volunteers of special note and yet that too dimmed in comparison to the experience itself. Surprisingly, for many of us, the most significant and relevant photograph is one taken by chance with the daughter of one of the team's family along with several of the refugees of her age. In that picture worlds crossed seamlessly such that one does not know or care of the past of each individual but simply recognizes the joy in exchanging once in a lifetime friendships.


If any thing it is this picture that should be published. It is an example of what so often occurs to those who thought themselves giving a gift of time who end up themselves being given a special gift in return. It is these gifts which each of us must remember whenever discussing benefits of being members of a group like REACT and not just for example discounts on equipment.


Submitted humbly for all members of Don Valley REACT




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This page was last updated 2008-06-25 06:14:12 PM