The Voice of Experience: Governor General’s award ceremony humbling and inspiring

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Christine Munkerud is a longtime Creston volunteer.

On March 4, there was an important ceremony in Vancouver at which Gov. Gen. David Johnston presented honours celebrating tremendous contributions to our society by community volunteers, members of the military and people from all walks of life who have earned our applause and gratitude across the country. These people are recognized for their courage, dedication to service or caring and the Governor General, by his presentation shares inspiring stories to help connect Canadians.

It was a humbling experience to hear how many of those people had risked their own lives to save others in desperate conditions or helped newcomers integrate more confidently into our country. Others were recognized for their long-standing loyalty and service.

The ceremony gave me a better understanding of my own path to make life more meaningful, and help others realize by being sensitive to those around us, we can together create a better world.

I was surprised to hear that Canada has more volunteers per capita than any other nation. We are made up of many people, and most of us chose to come to Canada for a greater chance to grow and provide better opportunities for our families. As we adapt and integrate our identity with our adopted country, we meet kindness and compassion, and gradually grow from “them” to “us”.

In Canada, 84 per cent of immigrants choose to become citizens, while in the United States it is only 40 per cent. Our citizenship process “moves from acceptance to inclusion,” in the words of former governor general Adrienne Clarkson. She goes on to describe these new citizens as “people with a true sense of equality and the capacity to see and value the other.”

At any citizenship ceremony there are as many as 50 people from 28 countries represented, all wanting to call themselves Canadian. No other country can make such a claim.

“Those who live lawfully among us … deserve the equity and compassion that will allow them to live healthy lives, dignified by respect and consideration. Volunteerism is the ultimate expression of civic virtue. By caring and treating everyone as ‘us’, we give them respect and dignity. … To be a volunteer is to be a unit in the creation of public good, by remembering that we are all connected.” (Adrienne Clarkson, Belonging)

Nelson Mandela held a very strong sense of ubuntu, the concept of our connectedness with each other throughout time. Ubuntu “implies regarding another human being as yourself and treating them with love and respect,” he said. We depend on each other for our wellbeing.

For those who immigrate, and most of us are immigrants, our acceptance into Canada offers many challenges, but we arrive with a sigh of relief, a great feeling of hope and thankfulness. Then comes the practical challenges: learning a new language, finding work and familiar ground to start this new adventure: a connection with settled immigrants to help the transition. It is an overwhelming experience, often exhausting.

Canadians are generally kind, and fuelled by their own memories are happy to help bridge the gap. This initial contact with caring people from our own part of the world is essential to develop a link with our new community. Safety is a large part of this big lifestyle change easing the frustrations and fears for newcomers.

When we reach this stage of growth, we are on the road to “belonging”, being included, and it becomes more natural to connect with others. It may be just a small thing, like remembering a birthday or a loss and recognizing that day with flowers or a candle, spending some time with them or making a phone call to show we care, and in this way we give the other dignity and respect.

Canada is a “new” country and we have a unique opportunity to develop a society free of outmoded traditions and beliefs. We can weave our own tapestry with colour and richness from many different cultures, one which reflects the best in all nations. We can create a safe place to live in an atmosphere of shared ideas, nurturing our connectedness with awareness, expressing our gratitude by making our unique contribution.

The Caring Canadian Award ceremony made me a very proud Canadian and inspired me to be more mindful of my part in shaping this country and inspiring others to take courage and add their own unique gifts to the colourful tapestry that is Canada.

Christine Munkerud is a longtime Creston volunteer.

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