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CGR: Promoting 'Life with a Purpose'

CGR: Promoting ‘Life with a Purpose’

QUEBEC—Canadian Global Response (CGR) promoting ‘life with a purpose’…

The Record (Sherbrooke) on Friday, February 6, 2015

Section: News
Byline: Gordon Lambie

Abraham Shepherd is committed to living life with a purpose. As the president and founder of Canadian Global Response a volunteer-based, registered charity for disaster relief, community development, and alleviation of poverty, he has worked diligently around the world for the last two years in an effort to help communities rebuild themselves in a sustainable and needs-oriented way when disaster strikes.

“Responding to a disaster goes beyond just food, and clothes, and water,” Shepherd told The Record in an interview earlier this week.

“We take a holistic approach, looking at matters of health, trauma, and education.”

CGR operates on the increasingly popular idea that the solutions to largescale problems do not lie in having the privileged in society offer handouts to those with less. Operating instead on the notion that no one can overcome poverty or truly rebuild after a disaster until they have found a way to do it on their own, the organization works through partnerships and what the president called “vacations with a purpose” to try to give people all over the globe the support they need to get back on their feet. Shepherd compared the process to parenting, suggesting that parents who smother a child with attention over every bump and bruise are more likely to end up with a needy child than those who give their children the room to explore the world on their own, paying attention to the children’s needs but not constantly trying to control their lives.

“A lot of the time I find it is harder for the giver to change than the receiver,” Shepherd said, emphasizing that generations of donation-based charities have programmed people with a kind of, “saviour syndrome,” where they feel a need to swoop in with packed pocketbooks and save those in need.

More often than not, he said, those organizations just end up unintentionally doing harm by channeling money through corrupt systems of government, with little to none of it ending up doing any real good. Even when donations do go to a good cause, he continued, they rarely contribute to “true development,” because they create a context in which the things that are positive about a community only ever come from the outside.

The model of CGR is one focused on accessibility, accountability, and doing good work in the world. The organization itself has next-to-no actual staff, relying on an administrative assistant, a part-time website manager, and the president, all of whom work remotely as the charity has no fixed office.

By cutting back on the costs of a paid staff and a fixed office, the group has more resources to channel into its volunteer-based initiatives. In a world filled with more and less reputable charities, Shepherd explained, it is vital to be able to counter donor cynicism with clear efforts to commit as much as possible to the cause.

Financial accountability, however, is not the only way that CGR is working to get people involved with its efforts.

The organization actively recruits volunteers to form teams around specific projects. People with an idea for a project can submit it to CGR and, if it is approved by the charity’s volunteer board of directors, then that team then becomes responsible for the necessary fundraising to carry out their project.  CGR will lead a training session with team members to cover the vital information about both the organization’s mission and the specific location in which the project will take place, and then take on the role of networking agency on the ground, putting the project coordinators in touch with the leaders of the local community to assess and evaluate what that community’s specific needs are.

“Assessment is key,” the CGR president said, explaining that it is vital, in offering aid, to consult with the local leaders and find out what the context is.

Too many organizations in the past, he said, have tried to offer assistance by going somewhere with assumptions and telling people what they need, sometimes with disastrous results.

“I always look to see where the missing gap is,” Shepherd said. “You need to actually talk to and run your ideas by (the leaders in the community).

Oftentimes, the CGR founder related, what the community wants is not the same thing that aid organizations might think. He said often he gets asked just for the opportunity to talk.

Given the variety of contexts in which CGR works, not all of its efforts operate through volunteer teams on short-term vacations. In more dangerous settings, like war zones, the organization has to work through or help develop partner organizations.

“We don’t want to endanger (the volunteers),” Shepherd said, explaining that the organization’s “vacations with a purpose” more often work in safe zones with displaced peoples, or in areas where there is no active conflict. Similarly, he said, the organization never gets involved with a country’s ongoing political debate and cannot, according to international law, provide aid for combatants.

Asked how he knows when a project is ready to stand on its own, Shepherd went back to his parenting comparison.

“How does a parent know when they should back off ?” he said. “It’s subjective.”

Shepherd said that he has seen communities grow strong after working with CGR, but shared that sometimes they fall back on more traditional handout charities. The decision, he said, is challenging, and depends on context. Despite the different approaches, however, he said there is no ill-will between aid organizations in a crisis zone.

“We become almost like a family,” he said. “We know each other’s strengths.”

Shepherd, who was in the area for the funeral of his father-in-law, spoke on Sunday at the Hope Community Church in Lennoxville, offering a training session to several members of that community. Inspired by that experience, the church has decided to split the proceeds of their indoor yard sale on Saturday [March 7th] between the Cornerstone Food Bank and the work of CGR in the world.

“We want to do good,” Shepherd said, simply. “There is a risk in everything, but that should not stop you from doing good.”

More information about CGR is available on their website at canadianglobalresponse.ca

The Hope Community Church’s indoor yard sale will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. [on Saturday, March 7th.] More information about the sale is available by calling 819-563-7750.

© 2015 The Record (Sherbrooke)

Source: The Record
Illustrations: Gordon Lambie / Abraham Shepherd was in Lennoxville last week and spoke to the Hope Community Church about his charity, Canadian Global Response.