All the best laid plans
2020 started as a wonderful year. I took a sabbatical in November and December 2019 to travel to New Zealand for hiking, rejuvenation, and meeting new people.
It was also the 40th anniversary of the passing of a colleague with whom I worked with from Toronto who died in 1979 on the Air Zealand crash that took the lives of 257 people.
I had planned to visit New Zealand earlier in my lifetime but the time never seemed quite right. It was an honour to be there as the country commemorated the air accident which hit Mount Erebus at the southern pole in Antarctica.
Upon starting the year, we had many new partnerships working on continuing educating women and children in Canada. The director of Sport 3, Alison Amero, and I visited New Brunswick to observe the progress of the program with Partners for Youth, and it was terrific having frank discussions with grade 7 students about gender equity and social inequities while playing sports and understanding fair play.
Then it was back to Ottawa where we celebrated the artistic organization called MASC, introducing new people to the power of music, dance, art, and storytelling in a lovely venue at the GCTC, as well as spending the day with high school students at confederation high school working with authors and illustrators at the “Your Story” conference.
As we love to support the arts, we continued to contribute to the documentary festival in Wakefield Quebec with Best of Fest, naming “Our Time Machine” by Yang Sun and Leo Chiang as the winner. We also continued with TIFF’s First Look Festival. Everything was transferred on line, and my assistant and myself watched 22 pitches from outstanding filmmakers worldwide. The winners from our committee selected “Children of the Mist”, an amazing film about girls being kidnapped from their homes to be child brides in Northern Vietnam. The second film was “Just a Band” whose members became a rap sensation on the internet, allowing their political views to be watched and understood by the youth in Kenya. An honourable mention was given to the directors of “Masha” a photo essay by a deceased artist who had taken thousands of photos in Russia about life, political turmoil and social issues. I have to commend the Hot Docs Forum Pitch committee for selecting revealing and timely films being produced in a Covid year.
From there I was off to Toronto to Rotman Business School to choose the next two recipients of the Leacross Foundation MBA award. Dilek Karasoy and Victoria Lechner-Sung were the amazing women who were going to complete their degrees at the end of 2020.
As March was approaching, the Leacross Foundation was looking forward to the workshops with both French and English writers for the 12th year at the Biblioteque de Chelsea. I also had the honour of welcoming 2 more women who were going to intern at the Ottawa Heart Institute starting in May.
Five new candidates were chosen for the Arctic trip with Students on Ice, so I was excited to speak with them and give them suggestions about going north.
But Covid happened. All future travel and meetings were postponed and the world came to a jarring stop.
But housing needs never stop, so we were happy to see that Habitat for Humanity, Greater Ottawa, has been finishing the subdivision Leacross Landing. Almost all of the units are occupied with the last two happening in March 2021.
As one of the aims of the Leacross Foundation is to support women in STEM fields and improve workplace culture for women, it was a sudden and frustrating moment. Students were being sent home to work online with the uncertainty of their semesters. All internships were postponed and everyone was contacted so that they knew we were thinking of them. All trips on boats going anywhere were cancelled. Sadly some partnerships had to be postponed as universities went online, decreasing opportunities for mentorships and training for gender equity in workplaces.
As the months continued with mixed messages of fears and expectations, we started a monthly zoom call with our alumni, hoping to give support and suggestions for self care. I must say that all my recipients are driven and hard on themselves so I was concerned that they were spending more than 12 hours on their computers daily.
With feedback from the women, I partnered with Misha Glouberman to create an interactive course on “resilience through community”. We had approximately 20 women from many disciplines connecting with others and learning how to structure their days to accommodate healthy living and self care.
I personally feel saddened for the wonderful women who deserved to be recognized for their graduations, their promotions, their new careers, which were all done with “drive-byes” and Zoom calls.
Happily I connected more rigorously with my alumni, and even had social distanced meetings with those in Ottawa. I personally stopped all travel, and yet in some ways, connected more deeply with some people. For one of my dear colleagues and friend, Tim Zakutney, I presented him with a framed photo gallery of all the women who were biomedical engineers under his tutelage at the Ottawa Heart Institute.
As 2021 enters and I see the last of 2020, I hope the rollout of the vaccines go smoothly, and we all can connect again, hugging, sitting shoulder to shoulder, sharing a meal, and travelling to celebrate accomplishments.