Canadian athletesOften acknowledged for achievements in their particular area of expertise, athletes are, ordinarily, the most recognized people in the world. Consequently, it is significant when athletes use their status to bring attention to global issues as well as transform lives in their communities. Here are three Canadian athletes who make a difference.

Clara Hughes

This dual-season Olympian is the only athlete in history to win multiple medals at both the summer and winter Olympic Games. As a cyclist, Hughes competed in the 1996 Olympic Games where she earned bronze in both the road race and time trial. She also finished sixth in the time trial in Sydney. In 2002, she returned to her first sport, long track speed skating and won a bronze medal in the 500m in Salt Lake City.

A documentary about Right to Play’s work in Uganda inspired Hughes to donate $10,000 from her personal savings to their programs. By encouraging other Canadians to donate to this international humanitarian organization, Hughes helped raise more than half a million dollars. In Uganda, more than a third of all inhabitants live below the poverty line, including children, the primary victims of this economic situation. Frequently, their families cannot ensure their health or well-being particularly in remote regions of the country.

Following her win in Vancouver 2010, Hughes donated $10,000 to Take a Hike, an adventure-based education that offers at-risk youth a better chance at life. The program supports hundreds of young people in altering their lives by combining academics with outdoor activities, in addition to therapy and community volunteering.

Currently the national spokesperson for Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, Hughes created Clara’s Big Ride which focuses on raising awareness of mental health issues throughout Canada.

Steve Nash

Canadian professional basketball player Steve Nash plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. As an eight-time NBA All-Star and two-time recipient of the NBA Most Valuable Player Award, Nash led the league in assists five times.

The Steve Nash Foundation, started by Nash and his family in 2001, devoted its time to assisting underserved children on a global level. The heart of their aid organization was a focus on education, enjoyment of life, health and personal development. The Nash Foundation operates as two separate private establishments: a registered Canadian charity in Victoria, British Columbia, and a U.S. charity headquartered in Arizona. Through the foundation’s platform, Nash works to increase access to critical resources and provide a basis for health and strength in communities across Canada, Paraguay, Uganda and the U.S.

The infant mortality rate in Paraguay is four times that of the U.S. While Paraguay’s hospitals treat thousands of children, they still lack access to equipment and training which has a devastating effect on health. The war in Uganda prompted Nash to co-found Football for Good, a nonprofit business that opened a Centre for Sport and Rehabilitation in northern Uganda. Nash hoped that the center would create a sense of optimism for the children caught in the chaos. The center offers sports, arts and drama programs besides counseling for children and adults affected by war.

Hayley Wickenheiser

Hayley Wickenheiser, a five-time Olympic medalist, is an award winner, community leader, history-maker and mentor. Selected at 15 years old for the Canadian Women’s National Team, Wickenheiser is considered one of the best female hockey players in the world. Wickenheiser led the squad to six gold and one silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics. Furthermore, she won four Olympic gold medals during the 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. As the first female hockey player to score a point in a men’s professional game, Wickenheiser made history.

A passion for sports matched with a desire to make a difference, Wickenheiser works with organizations such as Project North and Right to Play. Project North is a not-for-profit dedicated to improving the lives of children in northern Canada. The vision is to create recreational opportunities for Inuit children living in remote Canadian communities, providing stimulating experiences rooted in play, sport and education.

In 2007, a team of Canadian Olympic athletes, alongside Wickenheiser, traveled to Rwanda for Right to Play and on a related mission to Ghana, returned to Africa in 2011. Right to Play allows children to rise above the challenges of child labor, early marriage, inequality, illiteracy and violence. Their mission is to encourage children to rise above adversity through the power of sport, games, creative and free play. Right to Play believes that staying in school teaches children dignity, respect and empowerment.

Athletes are fortunate to have an opportunity to do what they love for a living. Nevertheless, many children, as well as adults, admire athletes who set an example on how to pay it forward on a global level. These three Canadian athletes are making a difference by their efforts to create a better existence for children around the world.

Colette Sherrington
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Montreal's Olympic StadiumRefugees began arriving in Canada, to the Montreal Olympic Stadium in the first week of August. Many of these refugees are originally from Haiti, among whom were children and pregnant women. Hundreds of people in Montreal gathered in front of the stadium to show support and let the refugees know they were welcome. Holding colorful signs and shouting welcome, the people were humbly approachable in front of the stadiums.

About 58,000 refugees, most of them Haitians, feared deportation from the U.S after President Donald Trump threatened to pull back protection for them. With this fear, Canada’s arms opened wide and offered to give these refugees a temporary stay.

The group of supporters were organized by Solidarity Across Borders and the Non-Status Action Committee. Solidarity Across Borders is an organization calling to end deportations, detention of migrants, immigrants and refugees, as well as ending the discriminating experience to those fleeing poverty. The organizations gathered with the same belief in regularizing undocumented papers of immigration.

With the increased number of people crossing the border, they needed a place to hold a lot more than a hundred people, and so they turned to Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The stadium is Montreal’s most well-known landmark, having been built for the 1976 Summer Olympics. The stadium carried 56 thousand seats, which was quickly transformed into a shelter holding more than 400 cots. The shelter includes access to food, internet and showers.

A big arrangement, the action may inspire others around the world. Refugees are receiving discriminative behavior, but it’s acts like this that can change that. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium was once built for a major event to bring people together for entertainment, and now, years later, it is transformed for a greater purpose—to help those in need.

Serge Bouchereau, organizer of the Non-Status Action Committee states, “We are here with them, to support them and to help them establish themselves.”

Brandi Gomez
Photo: Flickr

tourism in kenyaDuring the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Kenya once again proved its dominance in the realm of track and field. And, the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism hopes that this success will continue to promote one of the fastest growing industries in the world, sports tourism in Kenya.

According to an article published by CNN, tourism in Kenya produces about $6 billion a year, but the recent rise in terrorism has hurt the industry. Government organizations have begun to focus on sports tourism as a solution to this downturn in the country’s economy.

The beauty, history and culture of East African countries, combined with the popularity of their native athletes has allowed sports tourism in Kenya to prosper in the past few years. Fatuma Hirsi Mohamed, the principal secretary at the Ministry of Tourism, stated, “our sportspeople put the country on the global map.”

Kenyan middle-distance runner David Rudisha, commonly known as “the King”, solidified his place as one of the greatest athletes in the world when he won the men’s 800-meter race in Rio, his second gold medal in that event after setting the world record during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. However, Rudisha is not only known for his abilities on the track, but he has also become one of Kenya’s most prominent ambassadors for tourism.

Kenya offers attractions for all types of tourists, including world-class athletes, dedicated fans and curious travelers. The famous town of Iten, Kenya located in the Great Rift Valley is one of the country’s most popular destinations. This high altitude attraction is most famous for being the training ground of countless decorated Olympic runners, including Rudisha. Lornah Kiplagat, a world champion runner, founded Iten’s High Altitude Training Center, which is now visited by both training Olympians and casual runners from across the world.

While Iten is an enormous draw for many tourists, Kenya is looking to expand the industry by building on many of their already popular events. The annual Maralal Camel Derby is a world-renowned race that attracts local and international spectators, with all proceeds going toward local communities. The Lewa Marathon, which is known as one of the world’s toughest marathons, also raises money for conservation and community projects.

The country is hopeful that sports tourism in Kenya will be a viable industry heading into the future. The country will continue to host sports events and clinics, while star athletes such as David Rudisha inspire fans to visit and experience the beautiful home of Olympic legends.

Liam Travers

Photo: Flickr

Olympic Athletes Give Back
Many times Olympic athletes may accept their medal and prize money and then return to their families or begin training for the next Olympic games. However, some make a point of using their newfound fame and wealth to help impoverished communities.

One such athlete is Faith Kipyegon. Kipyegon raced in and won the women’s 1500 meter for Kenya in the 2016 Rio Olympics. But, in addition to the race, Kipyegon also won electricity for her village. Kipyegon’s hometown of Ndabibit Village in Nakuru County has been without electricity since it was founded in 1980.

When her father couldn’t watch his daughter represent her country at the Olympic games, he sent a request to the president to free his village from the darkness. His request was answered almost instantaneously, with Kenya Power arriving the next day. The installation took a mere nine days.

Kipyegon’s neighbor, Benard Lang’at, thanked Faith for “delivering us from the powers of darkness”. Her father thanked God for providing him with a daughter who could be instrumental in providing this change for her community.

Additionally, freeskier Devin Logan who won silver for the U.S. at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, is balancing her skiing career and academic pursuits with volunteer work abroad. In 2015, Logan joined Hope Sports, an organization started by professional cyclist Guy East to help impoverished communities, on a service trip to Tijuana, Mexico.

Logan and 19 other athletes built a house for a family in Tijuana. The athletes all chipped in to provide non-perishable food for the family as well. After her rewarding experience in Mexico, Logan shared her story on The North Face’s website to raise awareness about the importance of service projects.

Faith Kipyegon and Devin Logan have both made everlasting impacts on communities around the world due to their status as Olympic athletes. As international athletes, Olympians have the power to be instruments of change around the world. Dozens of other Olympic athletes from the U.S. and abroad have participated in charity work or founded their own organizations and much more will continue to do so.

Sabrina Yates

Photo: Flickr

Olympic athletes giving back
The U.S. women’s Olympic wrestling team put their athleticism to a different use this July by joining Outreach International in the hike to end global poverty. The team participated in the organization’s Summit Challenge, a task which consists of raising money while tackling Colorado trails. Their participation reflects a long history of U.S. Olympic athletes giving back to others.

Outreach International is an organization that has spent nearly four decades pursuing sustainable solutions to global poverty. They focus on sustainability through investing in people, not projects, in the ten countries in which they work. They place focus on avoiding quick-fix solutions. Also, they train communities to derive lasting use from the aid they receive.

The organization’s Summit Challenge involves creating individual and team campaigns to hike Colorado’s peaks for charity. Participants seek sponsorship for the various hikes they complete. One hundred percent of the funds raised through those sponsorships are donated to Outreach International’s fight against poverty. So far, Team USA Wrestling is the highest fundraising team participating in the Summit Challenge.

There is no shortage of precedent of Olympic athletes giving back. Countless have used their position to create individual foundations, like the Michael Phelps Foundation or the Mia Hamm Foundation. Many others have partnered with existing foundations, including swimmer Missy Franklin’s work with water cleanliness and accessibility charity One Drop USA.

For the USA Wrestling team, working with the Summit Challenge presented an opportunity to continue the legacy of U.S. Olympic teams’ involvement in charity work. The team joined a group hike of St. Mary’s Trail in Fairplay, Colorado, and then attended a Summit Challenge benefit dinner. The dinner also provided the chance to discuss the significance of women in the fight against global poverty. The discussion focused on women’s rights and how to augment women’s mobility.

For the athletes at the dinner, these issues were especially real because many of their global opponents struggle with the very same poverty-related issues being discussed. The athletes also discussed the similarity between their opportunity to work hard towards their goals and Outreach International’s mission to empower women globally to be able to work toward their goals.

As the Summer 2016 Olympic Games approach, athletes on Team USA and around the world continue to give back.

Charlotte Bellomy

Photo: Outreach International

Democratic Republic of the Congo Refugees

With the Olympics officially underway, 10 competing athletes have taken to the stage and used the international spotlight to shed light on a growing worldwide concern; the refugee crisis. These 10 athletes hail from war-torn the countries Syrian, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and they are refugees. They make up the Refugee Olympic Team, the first of its kind. Combined, they represent over 19 million refugees and displaced people from around the world.

Despite the odds against them, these athletes have reached the peak of athletic performance and arrived in Rio this summer to showcase their abilities. Two athletes in particular, Popole Misenga and Yolande Bukasa Mabika, share a common past. At the 2013 World Judo Championships in Rio, the pair defected from the Congolese team to seek asylum in Brazil. The civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo tore apart their families, and the peace accord signed in 2002 with Uganda did little to alleviate the rampant violence.

Although they have managed to turn their lives into symbols of hope, Misenga and Mabika’s backstory is not one uncommon to refugees back home. Here are 10 facts about the Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees you should know:

1. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, there were 2.7 million people of concern in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2015. Of that total, 384,000 are refugees, more than 1.5 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 736,000 are returned IDPs.

2. The International Catholic Migration Commission reported in 2012 that the population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees was the sixth-largest in the world. Of that statistic, more than 75 percent are situated in neighboring countries in the Great Lakes Region and Southern Africa.

3. As of 2014, the Democratic Republic of the Congo represents 18 percent of the African refugee population. The majority of the Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees fled during the first and second Congo wars in 1996-1997 and 1998-2003.

4. The country itself hosts around 233,000 refugees from the surrounding countries of Central Africa Republic, Burundi and Rwanda. Refugees are allowed to generate self-supporting income and have access to land, health and education services and sanitation facilities.

5. Refugees fleeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo have limited rights in their host countries. Restrictions can affect any number of the following: refugees’ legal right to work, access to education, freedom of movement and access to citizenship.

6. Although 19,000 US peacemakers operate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 70 armed militant groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces, are currently operating in its eastern region.

7. One area of specific concern is the magnitude and brutality of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been described as “the rape capital of the world,” but the lack of legal repercussions makes for little change. Though the true total is obscured by the stigma of reporting, 350 rapes are recorded each week on average.

However, not all hope is lost. Many relief organizations have recognized the urgency of the refugee crisis and continue to provide immediate support on the ground. These following facts about Democratic of the Congo refugees show how refugees are aided:

8. One of the U.N. Refugee Agency’s campaigns is raising funds that will go toward holding prevention programs for sexual violence and providing ongoing medical care and counseling for victims. With these services, victims can begin to rebuild their lives and communities.

9. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has the world’s 19th lowest life expectancy at 56.93 years. The health system continues to be underdeveloped, understaffed and underfunded, unable to fight preventable diseases alone. Thankfully, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been working in the region since 1996 to ensure people have access to primary and reproductive healthcare. In just 2015 alone, the IRC managed to provide high-quality medical assistance to 6.6 million people, refugees and citizens alike.

10. Before their fifth birthday, 118 out of every 1000 children will die in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The high infant mortality rate and lack of basic education leave thousands of children vulnerable to exploitation, violence and disease. The Save the Children campaign is raising funds to provide children with basic nutritional support, education and physical protection.

Thanks to organizations like these, conditions continue to improve dramatically from day to day. However, these same conditions are still far from ideal and there is always more work to be done. The first step to making a difference is to learn more. Let these 10 facts about Democratic of the Congo refugees be your springboard for global awareness.

Katie Zeng

Photo: Flickr

Olympic-CommitteeSince its inception, the Olympic Games have been about bringing nations together. For the first time, this will include athletes without countries, flags or an Olympic committee: refugees. In October, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach announced the good news for refugees.

UNHCR estimates that there are over 20 million refugees. From this group, 43 athletes were selected as potential Olympians. This number was reduced to 10 athletes from four countries participating in athletics, swimming and judo.

At the opening ceremony, these athletes will march with the Olympic flag and the Olympic anthem. Coaches and funding are provided by the International Olympic Committee.

Brazil currently hosts two refugee athletes. Yolande Bukasa Mabika and Popole Misenga are judoists from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC’s civil war from 1998-2003 cost Mabika and Misenga many family members and left their home, Bukavu, ruined. Both faced horrible training conditions, including being locked up without food every time they lost a match.

When their coach disappeared during the World Judo Championships in Rio 2013, they used the opportunity to seek asylum. Both were woefully unprepared: Misenga reports stopping people and asking in French where Africans lived. Mabika was only able afford an apartment in a favela after financial assistance from the Olympic committee.

Both are thankful for their martial arts experience. Mabika is grateful for the strength it provided her, and Misenga states that it helps him find peace.

Mabika, Misenga and their eight team members are truly what Bach describes as a “symbol of hope for all the refugees in the world.” Yiech Pur Biel, a refugee from South Sudan now living in a camp in Northern Kenya, said, “I can show my fellow refugees that they have a chance and a hope in life. Through education, but also in running, you can change the world.”

The games have also been good news for refugees living in Brazil, helping them feel more connected to their new country of residence. Hanan Khaled Daqqah, a 12-year-old from Syria, said that she felt Brazilian when she carried the torch through her new home.

By putting this team in the spotlight, international attention will hopefully grow more positive towards refugees. Already, the media has spread the story of Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini and two others braving the open ocean to drag a boat filled with refugees to shore after the boat’s motor failed.

All 10 of the refugee athletes share inspirational stories like Mabika, Misenga, Biel and Mardini. After escaping war or poverty, they have managed to balance poor living conditions, work and acclimating to a new country with their intense Olympic training. With all the controversy surrounding refugees, the positive media attention highlighting these brave athletes and their accomplishments is good news for refugees.

Jeanette I. Burke


Water quality in BrazilAll eyes are on Brazil as the nation finalizes preparations for the Olympic Games while attempting to solve a decades-long water pollution crisis. According to 2016 statistics, only 65 percent of sewage was treated before reaching Rio de Janeiro’s waters; a number far behind the 80 percent officials pledged when Brazil first received the Olympic bid.

Efforts have been made to clean the waters near the Olympic stadium, but local waters remain as polluted as before.

“We’ve just been forgotten,” says Irenaldo Honorio da Silva during an interview with The Atlantic Magazine. A resident of Rio de Janeiro, Da Silva lives in one of 1000 favelas — informal housing structures that hold more than 1.5 million people. The low-income inhabitants of these favelas lack adequate sanitation systems, a problem faced by 30 percent of the Rio population.

“About three times a week, sewage overflows and trickles down the streets past the houses” Da Silva explains. When it rains, water pipes crack open and streets are flooded with filthy water.

Those who come into contact with contaminated water risk contracting diseases like hepatitis, worms, diarrhea and tetanus. More than 400,000 Brazilians were hospitalized in 2011 for illnesses related to the poor water quality in Brazil.

Olympians are bracing themselves for venues riddled with disease-causing viruses, which, according to the Associated Press (AP), “measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.” The AP also found that those who ingest as little as three teaspoons worth of infected water have a 99 percent chance of infection.

Nevertheless, the risks for international athletes begin and end with the Olympic Games; Brazilians deal with these problems for life. Water quality is thus a critical issue that needs to be addressed.

Every year 217,000 workers miss an average of 17 hours of work due to gastrointestinal issues; infections caused by poor sanitation. Many children miss school for the same reason.

In fact, studies from institutions like the University of Chicago show that children with access to proper sanitation have higher educational attainment rates than those without. Furthermore, Trata Brasil, an organization dedicated to bringing universal sanitation to Brazil, recently revealed that a lack of proper sewage disposal was linked to lower life expectancies for citizens.

“The problems in [a favela] may be due in part to a lack of consciousness from its own people,” Marcello Farias notes during an interview with Huck Magazine in Rocihna, his hometown and one of the largest favelas in Rio. The majority of Brazilians cite health, security and drugs as the nation’s most pressing issues.

Diogo Rodrigues, a fellow Rocihna native, explains in the same interview that “if the government doesn’t do anything, [we] are the ones that have to be in charge.” He has worked with other favela residents to create different solutions to the water pollution crisis.

For example, the Surfer’s Association in Rodrigues’ hometown not only teaches local children how to surf but also offers environmental lectures and beach clean-ups. Meu Rio, an advocacy organization, holds demonstrations to raise awareness. In 2014, members sat on toilets on Guanabara Bay beaches every weekend for three months to shed light on the problem with water quality in brazil.

However, many view cooperation between the government, local authorities and civilians as the answer to improving water quality in Brazil.

Government officials announced that they plan to install eight sanitation plants in Olympic venues and upgrade favela water systems. Research from the University of São Paulo shows that investing in sanitation has other beneficial effects — it is more effective at alleviating poverty than spending on education, social security or welfare.

Change often occurs slowly. However, David Barbosa, a professional bodyboarder from Rocihna, encourages everyone to “keep up the momentum.”

“We may not always succeed, but we ‘gotta’ keep trying.”

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr

Polluted Rio Waters Could be a Problem for 2016 Olympians

Results from the extended testing of the Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic waterways could pose a threat to the 2016 Olympic athletes.

A five-month, independent Associated Press (AP) study of each waterway, where Olympians would be in contact with the water, provided disturbing results. According to the AP, the study found “dangerously high levels of disease-causing viruses from human sewage at all water venues for next year’s games, with an expert’s risk assessment saying it was an almost certainty athletes would be infected by viruses, regardless of their sport, be it rowing, swimming or sailing.”

This test looked for multiple strains of human adenovirus, enterovirus and rotovirus, among other viruses and bacteria. All these can lead to “stomach and respiratory ailments that would easily knock an athlete out of competition,” according to the study.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been pushing for further bacterial testing in Rio’s waterways. Bruce Gordon, the WHO’s coordinator of water, sanitation, hygiene and health said that viral and bacterial testing “would be advisable.”

“There is massive contamination and it is sad to see on the news,” Gordon said. “The WHO does not want to see people get sick, whether they are athletes or residents.”

During a recent press conference, International Olympic Committee Evaluation Commission Head Nawal El Moutawakel and Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi were asked if they would swim in Rio’s water. They both laughed enthusiastically at the question.

“The WHO absolutely cares about viral pathogens,” Gordon said. “Viral pathogens can absolutely be assumed to be in water that is impacted by sewage. We know it will be there.”

Alexander Jones

Sources: AP, Brooks, South China Morning Post
Photo: Force Change

Brazil will be the first South American country to host the Olympics for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Although Brazil has an emerging economy, the 2016 Olympics may do more harm than good as it relates to the economy and those living in poverty.

The theory is that hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics will cause a growth spurt in the economic development of Brazil with an influx of tourism and employment. However, Brazil also spent more than $11 billion on hosting the FIFA 2014 World Cup. The data from the World Cup shows that the costs of hosting such a big event may outweigh the benefits. The World Cup did little to boost the economy and the jump in tourism the government was anticipating was not as significant as expected.

The economy in Brazil is looking rather weak considering the fact that the country has $900 billion in foreign debt and economic activity is decreasing yearly by almost five percent.

The state of the economy coupled with the costly and grueling task of Olympic preparation seems to be rather dangerous. The budget for the Olympics was originally $2.93 billion but has risen to $13.2 billion since January 2014.

Although Mayor Eduardo Paes of Rio de Janeiro claims that 57 percent of the funding will be from private enterprise, the brunt of the consequences of the infrastructure projects will fall upon the shoulders of the Brazilian taxpayers.

Amid the excitement of the coming of the Olympic Games is the very real crisis of eviction that families are facing. The scarcity of land in Rio means that things have to be shifted around to accommodate the new infrastructure.

Thousands of families have been moved out of poor neighborhoods (called favelas) so the neighborhoods can be destroyed and then rebuilt as different Olympic structures. Approximately 3,000 families in Rio have been forced to relocate as a result of the Olympic projects.

An estimated 67,000 people have been evicted from their favelas since 2009 when Rio was chosen to host the Olympics. Those who fight against the eviction and refuse monetary compensation and alternate housing are met regularly with aggressive eviction attempts.

The price of land is quickly rising in anticipation of the Games. After the Games, the complexes will be converted to luxury condos for sale for up to $700,000.

The 2016 Summer Olympics will change the economy of Brazil and leave a lasting impact. Those who will feel the weight the most will be the voiceless poor.

Iona Brannon

Sources: Bloomberg Business, Business Insider, The Guardian, NPR, Reuters, Seven Pillars Institute, Washington Times
Photo: Brazil the Guide