Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Book Reading

I would first just like to thank everyone who helped to organize the event: TE Wealth, Dr. James Maskalyk and my mother. Without their help this event would not have been successful. I would also like to thank everyone who came. I really appreciate everyone's support. It was nice to be able to speak with everyone about their experiences and about places to see while I am in Uganda. The event ran pretty smoothly and while I enjoyed hearing Dr. Maskalyk speak, I am sure that I will get even more from watching the speech the second time through. This is the first time that I have ever organized an event like this and I was so worried about making sure that everything ran smoothly and that there were no problems that I was not able to take in everything that was being said. I am looking forward to getting a copy of the tape and watching the event again when I am fully relaxed.
With all of that said I there are two things that I initially took away from the night and that focuses around two different things: tools and focus. James spoke about having the tools to be able to help. Many people in the crowd were concerned about what was going on with Haiti and what would be the best way for them to help. One important theme came up in the answer and that was being able to have the tools to help. It is not enough to just have your heart in the right place, but to also learn what your strengths are and to be able to use those to help people. He gave the example of him being educated in medicine, so he was able to go and help with medical issues that were happening in Sudan. That is one thing that scares me the most; I have trouble finding out what I am good at. When I am in job interviews and they ask that question (“What are some of your strengths?”) I feel a little lost. I am still in school, do I really have any skills? I know what I want to do in life (somewhat), to deal with Human Rights issues or international law or - something along those lines. That type of work would need a lot more education that I have though, wouldn’t it? My biggest fear of being sent to Uganda to volunteer is not being able to help. I am scared that I will just get in the way. I hope this fear will be eased when I know what it is I am going to be doing over there. Until then, I wait with multiple knots in my stomach.
The second thing was focus. Focus when you are volunteering and after volunteering. This is one of the reasons that I admire James and what he is doing. It seems that he has never stopped engaging in what he is passionate about. I hope that this trip does not become “a slide show of pictures I can look back on” but rather the start of something else. I hope that I have enough focus to not lose sight of what it is I want to achieve, of what I want to do. I really want to make sure that this is the start of something bigger. The closer and closer that I get to this trip, the more I get nervous. There is still so much preparation to do and it is all pulling at the small amount of free time that I get. I am so excited that I was able to experience everything I did for the book reading and even more so that Dr. James Maskalyk agreed to come speak. I am getting anxious to watch the tape again.
On another note, the fundraising is starting to go well. There are rumors that there may be another band night this term. There is also a yard sale (note to self call the people for the room booking) which is going to happen. I am starting to slowly get better at being able to plan out what to do when organizing an event. I know that if I were to drop out of the program right now (which I am not planning to at all) I will have at least learned that! Being part of Beyond Borders means that you will start your way onto becoming an excellent event planner! Please stay tuned to learn more about our fundraisers. The next one that is being held is on this coming Thursday in AL (at the University of Waterloo), we will be selling items to raise money. I hope to see everyone out there!
Thank-you for reading. Comments are welcome.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So Much to Do...So Little Time

This week is already a bad week and it is only the beginning of term. Um, what? This week I have several hundred meetings with Professors, leadership classes, assignments due, blogs due, lsat prep, the ever so stressful (but not in any way not worth it) book reading, travel clinics to go to, meetings get the AEF done for next week and last but not least to get my PACS field studies proposal written. This all equals me praying that reading week comes quickly and if not reading week then at least the weekend. The closer the date gets to Wednesday the more nervous I get. Sunday I didn't think about it, Monday it started to come into my head and now on Tuesday it is all I can think about. There is still so much to read and so much to do. I only have a few more hours until Wednesday rolls around. It is the first time I have ever co-planned an event which was not small. I am excited, nervous and a little stressed. Tomorrow is the big day - I will post about how it went after the date, look forward to the post!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Brand Name Everything

I was sitting on the bus, the GRT bus, waiting for my stop to come so that I could get off and snag a computer at the library (since now my power cord doesn't work, oh joy). I took one good look around me and what did I notice? Bench, Coach, Chanel, Burberry, TNA, Aritizia, etc. Looking around at everything I noticed how much in our society we have brand names. We don’t think that coat is cool enough until it has the large letters “BENCH” written on the back of the collar so that everyone can see what we can afford to buy. We have to flaunt it to the world that we bought this fancy brand name and that we can afford it. This is the most effective way to market a product, to show that you are useless in society unless you own this product. These products are everywhere!
This does not only happen for things like windbreakers, coats, pants but it also happens in our society for things like water. What do we need to survive? Food, water, shelter, community and medicine (if you are lucky you will not need this last one). We have brand names for those too! We cannot simply eat our food and be happy that our peanut butter tastes good, no we need the peanut butter with the little bears on it. And no! Are you crazy? We cannot drink water out of a tap! Now you are talking complete nonsense. We must drink water that was imported by some company that was packaged in some really cool looking bottle that we will throw away after we drink it and it needs to come from some exotic place where the water is obviously better. Um did anyone else realize when looking at a map that the world is comprised of more water than land? Truth be told, our government does a wonderful job supplying us drinking water which is safe for us to consume. We cannot be bothered with the safe drinking water that comes out of the tap though, it does not look cool enough when it comes out! And that reusable water bottle?! Are you insane?
In our society we are not valued unless we have the brand names in our home. A lot of people would shy away from the idea that you can get perfectly fine clothes, which keep you warm, for a lot less than most fancy brand names. We are all guilty of this crime, even I am. In our society we cannot be valued unless we have these things and we can be seen as devalued. Don’t get me wrong, it is not like some us don’t try to not buy brand names. For example, a while ago I went shopping with a friend and he wanted a sweat shirt which was one plain colour and no brand names or symbols anywhere on it. Sounds easy? Not even in the least bit. These type of products practically do not exist, and if they do you have to pay a fee for the company to not put a symbol on it. Now how can a change be made if there seems to be no way out of the system?
Now to bring this issue to the global community rather than our North American one; people in developing countries do not have enough money to afford brand names. They are trying to focus on the basics: food, water, shelter, community and medicine (if some of them are lucky enough to be able to afford when they need it). Do we devalue these people so much, because they are not able to fit in our cookie cutter society where money rules all? It is our consumer desire that helps to keeps the people in the poverty that they are in. It is because we want what we want and we want it cheap and then after we have it, we throw it out and want something else. We exploit so many resources from developing countries to keep up with our ever demanding want of things. We need to be able to differentiate between what we want and what we need. We need to be able to stop our exploitation. I for one do not want to help contribute to keeping people in the terrible poverty that they experience. I know that I will be working in the slums of a developing country; I am going to witness what our exploitation has caused. There are so many examples where our consumer demand has caused terrible problems for other people. A good example is our ability for each and every single one of us who have bought or own a diamond. Diamonds fuelled the civil wars. Another example would be coltan. Our society’s never ending demand for the newest technology has caused a high demand for this mineral which makes our technologies function. We go through so many products that there is a gross over production of them! This all needs to stop in order for any change to begin.
Ok so now that I preached this I am going to have to try to live by it. So! Here we go! I, Jacquelyn Bellissimo, will try my absolute hardest to not keep contributing to the never ending supply chain! I will try my best to purchase only what I need. When I purchase I will think about what I am going to buy and ask myself these questions:
1) Do I really need this?
2) Is this a brand name? Am I paying more for this item because of who made it?
I will do my best to update you on my progress throughout the rest of this blog. Let me see how difficult it is to not be a product of marketers.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fundraising, Researching Uganda, Volunteering, The List Never Ends!

First I would just like to ask everyone, what happened to Uganda? Did it just fall off the map? I was in Chapters a few days ago while a friend was getting a book that they needed. While they were searching my feet somehow led me through the aisles laden with more books than one person could ever hope to achieve reading in their life time. I looked up stunned that I had somehow found the travel section; it must have been subconscious though because I know the layouts of almost all chapters. I started to look for a travel book which should have the inscription “UGANDA” written across the binding. It didn’t exist. I looked several times and could easily find: Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. Ok so there are almost all of the countries which surround the country that I am going to but Uganda was not in sight. Curious if I could find it in another book which grouped together countries I looked at the “Africa Safari” book. You guessed it! They did not include Uganda but they did have its neighbouring countries. I then went for a long shot and picked up the book entitled “Africa”. Luckily, and to my assurance, they did have Uganda in there, recognizing that it was in fact a country. There were 10 short pages in this huge book; the book cost $50. Refusing to spend $50 on a book which only contained 10 pages of information (most of it not useful as they described the Northern, Western and Easter part the most) I put down the book and left Chapters feeling lost and confused. I made a quick assumption that maybe because of the issues which are occurring in the Northern part of the country people did not want to visit Uganda as much as Kenya. I could understand that but I was still disappointed. A few days later, which brings me to today, I am in the University of Waterloo library looking for books on Uganda. I am located at a computer terminal and I type in the word “Uganda”. The search result comes up, the latest printed book: 1994. Great. I go and hunt in the stacks for an hour, surrounded by more books than Chapters holds, an unfathomable amount of words written on unfathomable amount of pages surrounding me. Everything becomes a blurry haze of published in 1982, “Rwanda: What Happened?”, Africa, The economic report for the southernmost tip of the strangest country which was published in 1924. What happened to Uganda? All of the books were not located in the stacks where they should have been and all of the literature surrounding where the book should have been was published pre-1994. Does this country even exist anymore? Does Uganda actually border Kenya, Sudan, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda? I have some strange feeling that an alien has zapped up the country, making it no longer exist after 1994. That is why no one travels there! That is why there is nothing written about it! The government is trying to hide the existence of aliens, and thus the people are led to believe the country is still there when it is, in fact, not. Now for the real question, where is my professor actually sending me? All jokes aside, this country does not have much literature written about it. This makes me excited and even more nervous. Hopefully with a little more persistence I will be able to uncover more to tell you about the country.

In the mean time I will be able to describe to you the journey that RS383 is taking me through. This class, which helps to prepare us to go on our placements, has just started to get the ball rolling. We are expected to volunteer for 20 hours at a local NGO in Kitchener-Waterloo. I still have not been able to plan out where I am going and to start planning when I am able to go. When is a big question, with all of the fundraising and the blur of trying to make sure all of my medical issues are being taken care of, it is difficult to find time to volunteer. I will be able to do it, but the medical side is taking up a lot of time. I have heard the horror story of the girl in the previous year who needed to have her wisdom teeth removed in a strange country. I have read about it and I have learned from it. I have an appointment for a consultation with the clinic that will be removing my wisdom teeth, on the advice of my dentist who I have just paid a visit to (it was 5 years overdue!). I have to go to the travel clinic soon to make sure that I can start getting the appropriate shots so that I can travel. For a girl who hates needles and stitches, this is starting to feel like I am going to be getting them regularly. Ahh! I guess it’s time to grow up and face my fears (and possibly invest in numbing cream for the shots). Fundraising is another component of the internship.

Fundraising is the biggest headache and the leading cause of stress in my life. As you may all be able to see a few nights ago I simply snapped and started to freak out at 1am. After writing, planning, getting out my highlighter and having a friend tell me that what happens will happen and me refusing, I finally calmed down and went back to sleep. I am still worried about the book reading that is going to take place. My mother is helping me to run the event since she is a member at the location where it is being held. She has been away on vacation and has not been able to check her e-mail for a week regarding tickets sold. I’m in the dark about the actual number since she did not have time to forward the information before she left (in her defence I did ask the night before she left, whoops!). I am just scared of having to cancel the event due to lack of attendance. If it happens, it will be a truly mortifying moment. I have been getting so excited for this event as well as being able to meet Dr. James Maskalyk formally. He is a truly amazing man and I look up to him. Having to cancel the event will be made even more mortifying because of this. If you have not read his book yet I do urge you to do so! Or you could even come to the event in order to meet him yourself and hear an excerpt from his book. He has written the book Six Months in Sudan. It is an inspiring book which made me want to join the Beyond Borders program even more. I hope that everything goes well for the event. If you are not able to come, please pass the message onto someone who may be able to attend. I appreciate any and all help that I receive. Thank-you all for making it through this particularly long blog post, I will update what is going on in coming-days.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Did Anyone Else Realize it's the 13th of January?

It is 12:26 on January the 13th. What am I doing up and writing a blog you ask? Good question! This answer is complex and could potentially require your assistance. How do you do this? Well first by reading this blog in its entirety. As many of you know I am organizing a book reading at the Verity club downtown Toronto. This book reading has been planned since before Christmas 2009 and everything seemed so far off in the distance. Did anyone else realize that it is the 13th of January? So as it stands so far there are 20 people in attendance for the event. Ready for the reason that I cannot sleep and am freaking out? The room holds 80 people! So I need everyone to lend a helping hand!
For those of you who do not know about the book reading that I have been setting up here are some of the details:

James Maskalyk practices emergency medicine at St. Michael’s, Toronto’s downtown inner-city hospital. He is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, and divides his academic time teaching, as an associate editor at the open access medical journal Open Medicine, and advocating for global health issues at the University. In 2007 Dr. James Maskalyk set out for the contested border Abyei, Sudan, as a doctor newly recruited by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). He spent his days treating malnourished children, coping with a measles epidemic and watching for war. Worn thin by the struggle to meet overwhelming needs with few resources, he returned home six months later more affected by the experience, the people and the place than he had anticipated. Currently, Dr. Maskalyk is working with Ethiopian partners at Addis Ababa University to develop a program that will train the country’s first emergency physicians.

Dr. James Maskalyk is speaking at this event to help raise money for Beyond Borders. Beyond Borders is a service learning program that allows students in their undergraduate studies to apply their education through volunteering for 3 months. Students have, in the past, gone to: Ecuador, Belize, Honduras, Peru, Nicaragua, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Ghana, Botswana, Malawi and Kenya. The placements can range across many activities including working at HIV clinics to teaching English or working for an environmental NGO. The program is run through St. Jerome’s University in the University of Waterloo. For more information about the program please visit:

If you have any questions about the event or the Beyond Borders program you can e-mail me: .

6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
6:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Registration
7:00 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. Presentation by Dr. James Maskalyk
7:45 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Refreshments and book signing

Where: Verity Club, Toronto Room
111 Queen Street East
Toronto, ON

General Admission: $50 (a complementary book included)
Student Price: $40 (a complementary book included, valid student ID required, limited amount)

That is the event which I have been speaking on, and the event which is keeping me up until all hours of the night. I am trying to pull all of my social contacts. I would like to just take this time to thank my mother for helping me plan and to get attendance to this event. Mom, you have truly been a life saver. For everyone else who is reading this blog, please e-mail me if you are interested in attending (, pass the message onto someone you know who may be interested, or e-mail me and I can send you a poster to hang somewhere where people would be able to read it! Thank-you to everyone who is supporting me, it means a great deal!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First Day Back.

So everyone! For all of you who have been wondering where I am going it is to (drum roll please) Uganda! I am so excited about it. It took me a day to sit with the idea of going over there but I finally have a destination and I am getting very excited about it. My Mom and Dad have been non-stop worrying about me, which is a reasonable reaction. It took some convincing that I would not die in the country but I think they are ok with the idea now. I am going to be working in the city of Kampala. My mother, the amazing woman that she is, is finding everyone who recently moved from Kampala to Toronto and is setting up lunch dates, finding out if they have family in Kampala still, etc. She is also helping me to organize an event with Dr. James Maskalyk . He is doing a book reading at Verity in Toronto on January the 27th. The tickets cost $50 each and that includes the price of the book. If you would like to attend please send me a note and I can put you on the list. There are only 80 tickets, so reserve quickly if you are interested. It should be a great night, so come and support a good cause!
We have just started our term and the first day was day seminar with the Beyond Borders group. We have all gotten together and started to discuss certain aspects of travelling: self-defense, leadership, transit, etc. I’m going to make a wild assumption and assume that everyone who is reading this blog has taken public transit at one time or another in their life time. It is something that we take for granted here. We use it to go to school, work, etc every day but we really don’t give too much thought to. I have moved from Mississauga to Waterloo. Living in Mississauga means that I have taken the Mississauga transit, the TTC and the GO Train. Going from a system like that to a system over here in Waterloo was a bit staggering at first. In Toronto, especially for the subway, if you want to go somewhere you stand in the subway station and wait no more than 10 minutes and ta-da! A subway appears! I am so used to that type of system, when the bus says that it is going to come, it comes. Moving to Waterloo however, was a bit of a change. When I say a bit I really mean a huge change. The buses are always early or late, never on time (and that’s if they even decide to come at all!). Even in this backwards system it is possible to get from point A to point B relatively easily.
Now! Let’s change the scene from a Western industrialized city to a Developing Nation’s city. Hmmmm. There’s a big change. Our professor of the Beyond Borders program was describing to us her journey, or adventure rather, with trying to get from point A to point B when she was in South America. It wasn’t as simple as get on the bus and go there. She had to go from point A to point C to take a boat over to point D then cross back and through to point B but arrived late and had no airplane to get home! I tend to get annoyed when the bus here is 5-10 minutes late, I could not fathom going through that ordeal. It boggles my mind that you would have to go through all of that and that, that isn’t where it ends! I have already had several of those moments where I think to myself, “What the heck did I just get myself into?” It’s like we’re all being sent over and we’re going to be pretty useless at first. Sadly what I can equate it to is the movie Avatar. When the man goes into the whole new system and the woman yells at him “You are like a baby!” I feel like that’s going to be me! I am going to be a baby, needing to learn this whole new system. Well if I don’t learn anything I think I will at least learn patience by the end of the summer.