It’s all those things, but for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world, it’s something far more significant — aid.
For many in the world’s poorer countries, the face of Canada is life-saving food, medicine, health care, shelter after a disaster, clean water, education and training and much more. Last year, Canada provided $5.6 billion of aid and Canadians donated over $1 billion to NGOs like the Mennonite Central Committee, Canadian Lutheran World Relief, iDE and Canadian Foodgrains Bank, all headquartered in Winnipeg.
On the international stage, Canada is also seen as a leader in the effort to help women and girls escape poverty through education, health and human rights.
In those countries, the Canadian “brand” is strong, in other words.
But it’s not just the aid that is provided that puts a positive face on Canada for many in the developing world — it’s the Canadians who volunteer with Canadian NGOs.
These are people like Jennica Rawstron, of Langley, who used her skills as an obstetrics and gynecology specialist for three months in Ethiopia with Cuso International, helping to improve the women’s health programs.
“I always enjoyed travelling, but I also wanted to give back,” she says of her work with other midwives in that country.
During her time there, Rawstron provided training at a rural hospital so midwives and other staff would be better prepared for emergencies during birth.
“Working in a low-resource setting is difficult,” she says. “Even when things are normal, you always have to be prepared to resuscitate a newborn.”
Of the women she worked with in Ethiopia, patients and staff, she says she grew to admire their resilience.
“These women are so incredibly strong, and this community is so incredibly strong because they continue to function despite really limited resources,” she says.
Maxine Betteridge-Moes, a recent graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program, was interested in the intersection between the media and development and keen to use her skills as a journalist to help others.
She decided to volunteer with Farm Radio International in Ghana, where she interviews farmers for broadcasts about things like how to keep guinea fowl warm during power outages, what medicines to use for their animals and how to make a profit on the sale of produce.
“It’s a great feeling to witness firsthand how Farm Radio is having a direct impact on improving the livelihoods of small-scale women and men farmers,” she says.
People like Maxine and Jennica are just two of many Canadians who volunteer each year to support development efforts in the developing world who are the face of Canada. During International Development Week, Feb. 3-9, their efforts — especially for women and girls — is celebrated by the international relief and development sector.
“We want to recognize and celebrate the many ways Canadians are making a difference around the world,” says Nicolas Moyer, head of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, the umbrella group for Canadian relief and development organizations.
“Through their work, whether volunteer or donating to NGOs, people who are experiencing challenges like poverty, hunger, natural disasters, lack of work, lack of clean water and many other things are finding help and hope.”
So the next time Canadians wonder how many in the world see Canada, they should think of more than coffee, hockey and Mounties. They should think about aid.
John Longhurst is a special communications adviser for Canadian Foodgrains Bank.