CATALYST

Alumni Magazine of Cuso International
Fall 2022

Addressing the food crisis in Peru

In this issue, you’ll read about the common pots food system in Peru, a network of neighbourhood soup kitchens, run by women, to feed Lima’s poorest; a project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that is providing important supports to youth to create more inclusive and equitable economic growth and, how a partnership we initiated five years ago with remote Indigenous communities in the Northwest Territories, continues to provide hands-on support for students. These stories are firsthand accounts of how our volunteers, like you, and programs make a difference in the lives of people worldwide.

Cover of Catalyst Magazine, two Peruvian women in a garden smiling

Cover: Maura Ramos and Liz Polanco Ramos, Lima Peru

Photographer: Marlon Flores

Message from the CEO

As always, you will find this issue of Catalyst filled with amazing personal stories from Cuso International participants, volunteers, alumni, and donors from all over the world. These stories are firsthand accounts of how our programs make a difference in the lives of people worldwide.

In this issue, you will read about the individuals involved in our work in Ethiopia to remove barriers to education for high school girls, sustainable farming projects in Jamaica that support women with disabilities, and how a partnership we initiated five years ago with remote Indigenous communities in the Northwest Territories continues to provide hands-on support for students.

Our partners and participants inspire us. This past year, Cuso International took the time to revisit our mission, vision, and goals, and how best we can give people living in poverty the opportunity to build better futures for themselves and their families. The result of this extensive and engaged process which involved many of you, is a new five-year strategic plan that will launch in early 2023. It is a roadmap for how we move forward with our partners to address the root causes of inequality and improve the economic and social conditions of marginalized groups. It commits us to focus on three specific priorities: championing gender equality and social inclusion, improving economic resilience through sustainable solutions, and advancing climate action.

Nicolas Moyer, Chief Executive Officer
Nic Moyer signature

Nicolas Moyer 

CEO, Cuso International 

FEATURE STORIES

Two Peruvian woman smiling at the camera and holding plates of food

Addressing the food crisis in Peru

“Common Pots” or community kitchens have expanded across Lima, Peru, providing a unique social protection network against the escalating hunger crisis.

Bridging Cameroon’s IT gender divide

TechWomen Factory is offering Nadège and other Cameroonian women a fresh start.

A Black woman with braids smiling at the camera
A young Black man in a striped t-shirt sitting at a computer and smiling at the camera

Advocating for the LGBTQ2I community

Providing safe, inclusive, and equitable economic growth for young women and LGBTQ2I youth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Supporting students’ education and success

Support from volunteer Patrick Woodcock is opening opportunities for young students in the Northwest Territories.

A young man in a hoodie standing in front of a book shelf
A Black woman with a floral shirt and a mask smiling at the camera

Sustainable farming project in Jamaica supports women with disabilities

Whether growing vegetables or growing healthier communities, the right conditions are needed for success.

Tanzanian women and youth are harvesting hope as well as crops

The Kizimba Business Model project is promoting opportunities for self-employment in agriculture and agribusiness for women and youth, like Donatila.

A Black woman with sunglasses holding a tray of crops
A group of young people having a conversation

Educational program encourages young Ethiopian girls to speak up and pursue their dreams

Dismantling existing roadblocks to higher education for women.

FLASHBACK

Who do you recognize in this photo? Help us dust off this memory by sharing your stories or identifying those in the photo. Please email us at editor@cusointernational.org. Submissions will be shared via the next edition of Catalyst.

A group of 18 people of different ages smiling in the mountains
A group of about 30 people standing on steps, black and white

Flashback from the last issue: Who did you recognize?

“Hi Folks, David Beer, starting with CVCS (the Canadian Voluntary Commonwealth Service, in 1961, on the University of Toronto campus. Going on with Cuso till 2000 in Mandela's free South Africa. I was in that big Flashback group photo of the ECSA group in the summer of 1966 in front of the city hall of Montreal.“

— David Beer, Jamaica 1963-1964, Zambia 1964

LIVES LIVED

Paying tribute to incredible alumni and their vital contributions

Annie, an older woman with white hair smiling at the camera

Annie Demirjian

Nigeria, 1979 - 1981

After a long and courageous battle with cancer, Annie passed away in her 68year. Annie emigrated from Syria in her teenage years. She settled in Toronto, went to Glendon College of York University for her undergraduate degree and Université du Québec à Montréal for her graduate degree, earning a master’s in economics for international project management.

Annie was a kind, generous, adventurous, and restless soul who loved her family, friends, and community, both in Canada and internationally. She will be deeply missed by her sisters, brothers, partner, and adopted family, as well as friends that she made throughout her international career with the United Nations. Whether working with Cuso International, the Federal Government of Canada, or the United Nations, she brought high energy, devotion, and compassion to any project she was involved with.

For all those who were blessed to know and love this courageous and beautiful soul, she will continue to be a shining light and our biggest source of inspiration.

Diane, an older woman with short blonde hair smiling at the camera

Diane Gasner

Colombia, 1975-1978

Diane passed away peacefully on the morning of April 29, 2022, at the age of 81. Diane started working as a Physical Therapist in 1963, working in multiple Toronto hospitals.

Diane was an avid canoeist and loved white water, skiing, and prided herself as being a risk taker. She enjoyed travel and with Stan visited more than 40 countries on four continents.

Diane will be fondly remembered for her infectious laugh, killer smile, and her willingness to help.

An older man smiling at the camera

William James Smith

Zambia, 1974-1976

James died peacefully in hospital at the age of 79 on Tuesday, April 12, 2022.

As a music teacher for the Ottawa Carleton School Board, Jim inspired a love of music in so many students. This passion for music continued into his retirement where he played with bands including the Mellow Tones, Grey Jazz, and the Christ Church Bells Corners Band.

Headshot of an older man with white hair and a moustache

Ian Thornley Smith

Tanzania, 1972-1974

Ian passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his devoted family and dearest friends on June 6, 2022, after a brief illness.

Ian was born on June 23, 1951, in Hamilton, Ontario. The family moved to Montreal and Ian grew up in Pierrefonds, Quebec. He graduated from the University of New Brunswick and spent two years overseas with Cuso International teaching high school in Moshi, Tanzania.

Climbing Kilimanjaro, sailing the famed Bermuda Race, and swimming in Antarctica were some highlights of Ian’s international travels. He was an avid golfer, a passionate hockey fan—and player—and was famous for his spicy Super Bowl chili.

Together, Ian and Sharlyn “Charlie” created a magical home at Chateau Fentiman, their house in Old Ottawa South by the Rideau River, where they lived happily for decades and graciously entertained guests. A tender-hearted family man, a loyal friend and generous host, Ian will be sorely missed and forever remembered. May he rest in peace.

Headshot of an older woman with dark curly hair

Rita Stern

Nigeria 1969-1971

Rita died peacefully on the morning of January 2, 2022, in Vancouver after a long illness.

Rita attended Concordia University, in Montreal, Quebec in the 1970s, where she studied psychology and sociology. It was here that her interest in women’s health and her desire to focus on political and social change in support of the burgeoning women’s health movement took root. She went on to work as a national coordinator of the federal government’s Non-Medical Use of Drugs program. A career highlight was the two years she spent with Cuso International in Biafra, Nigeria. Her experience with Cuso International reinforced her desire to ensure women had more power in decision-making related to health care issues.

Rita would be the first to say she’d had a good life. She is survived by many friends in Canada and the US. If you wish to donate in Rita’s name, please consider one of the following: Sheway, a program of the Vancouver Native Health Society Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (Vancouver) or Cuso International.

An older man smiling at the camera

David McGregor Thomson

Bolivia ,1968

David Thomson died on July 24, 2021, in Sechelt, British Columbia.

David is remembered for his big heart, loud and contagious laugh, enthusiastic hug, and ready smile. He had a great zest for life. After teaching in Bolivia, where he gained lifelong friends and a love of the language, culture, and music, David taught high school math and science for 30 years in Ottawa. He enjoyed spending time outdoors, completing many marathons and often cycling or running to work. He loved music and performed in several choirs in Ottawa and on the Sunshine Coast.

After retiring, David moved to Sechelt to care for his parents. He loved being a part of the close-knit community, volunteering at the food bank, immersing himself in numerous activities and groups, and participating in church life at St. John’s United Church. He also enjoyed visiting family and friends in Ottawa. David’s kind and gentle nature will be very much missed.

SPOTLIGHT

A Black woman with a blue shirt smiling at the camera in front of a wooden door

#IamCuso

Dr. Maria Johnson Sallah
Tanzania, 2022

#IamCuso because I enjoy reaching out to the community, meeting their needs, and sharing my knowledge and experience. I long to see girls who have been affected by gender-based violence overcome their past and achieve their dreams through the skills that I share. My favourite part of volunteering has been seeing someone with new hope, a new belief in themselves, and new focus on their future—when a person starts living their life once again. Cuso International has given me this opportunity on an almost a daily basis.”

Dr. Mariah Sallah has been volunteering as a biology teacher with the AGAPE Knowledge Open School (AKOS) program and is supporting the girls’ health through counselling.

“I am most proud of the comprehensive video learning tools that have been developed. They will continue to have an impact on the students even when I am no longer with them.”

#IamCuso

Thi Kim Quy Nguyen
Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories, 2021–2022

#IamCuso because Cuso’s mission of empowering marginalised groups through education fits with my interest, knowledge, and skills. My favourite part of volunteering involves seeing how students learn to develop a growth mindset and a greater love of learning and exploration through my working with them.

Kim is an education assistant at Deninu School, Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories.

A woman in a red winter jacket smiling and laying in the snow

Alumnotes

SHARE + CONNECT

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Peter Bursztyn

Kenya. 1968-1972

My Cuso International years were almost a lifetime ago.

Strolling Queens University campus, I stopped at a Cuso International sign and entered. Emerging into spring sunshine hours later, I realized that I had signed on the dotted line at age 24. I would fly to Nairobi, Kenya for two years in June. A crash course in Swahili and East African culture began in a month! I started teaching physiology to the first class of medical students at the University of East Africa’s Nairobi campus. I also made two good friends early on: a Scot, who persuaded me to buy and share an old Land Rover with his family, and the curator of Kenya’s National Museum, who began to include me on her frequent safaris to Kenya’s dusty corners.

Although I had gone to Kenya to teach, Africa’s people had much to teach me—valuable life lessons, which continue to serve me well half a century on. It took a few months to learn how to present a technical subject to students whose English-language skills could be weak. (English was a third or fourth language for many, just learned in high school!) I was asked to extend, ultimately staying four years.

On weekend trips to Kenya’s dusty hinterlands, I learned how people made a living in harsh environments. Once, tasked with collecting plants for the Nairobi Arboretum, I was assisted by two young lads whose claim to fame was the ability to speak Swahili. We spent four days picking plants in the area.

Rural blacksmiths were particularly fascinating. Using simple tools, they crafted agricultural implements, machetes, and spear tips. One pair of blacksmiths demonstrated iron smelting from charcoal and locally sourced ore. Their technique dated back 3,000 years to Meroë, Sudan, 1,000 kilometres to the north. Among the tools they made were small, precise tweezers for removing thorns. They also fashioned handsome jewelry of iron, copper, or al
I found rural Africans courteous and generous. They expected the same of me. I hope I did not disappoint. uminum, and could even make car parts if needed.

A Black woman with grey hair and glasses smiling at the camera

Dr. Mary Anne Chambers

Cuso International Board of Directors, 2014-2017

Dr. Mary Anne Chambers, longtime champion of education and former Cuso International Board member, has been named as the University of Guelph’s next chancellor.

After immigrating to Canada from Jamaica in 1976, Chambers held progressive roles with Scotiabank and eventually served as senior vice-president. She took early retirement in 2002.

She was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as a Liberal in 2003 and appointed Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, and then Minister of Children and Youth Services.

As minister, she announced the largest multi-year investment in post-secondary education in four decades and introduced major improvements to student assistance policies and funding.

Among her honours, she was named to the Order of Ontario and has received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee medals, the Prime Minister of Jamaica’s Medal of Appreciation, a University of the West Indies Vice-Chancellor’s Award, and a YWCA Toronto Woman of Distinction Award.

Chambers is currently a governor of Canada’s International Development Research Centre, a senior fellow at York University’s Glendon School of Public and International Affairs, and is the special advisor for the City of Markham’s anti-Black racism strategy.

A group of four diverse woman smiling at a camera at an event

Cuso International attends Manyatta Network event in Toronto

On July 22, the Manyatta Network hosted its first in-person event since the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 100 African and Caribbean diaspora from various professions attended.

Cuso International alumni Abisola Olaniyi (Nigeria, 2017-2018) and Imaeyen Okon (Ethiopia, 2018-2019) spoke about the volunteer journey and Tina Sweeney, Sr. Officer, Outreach and Partnerships, shared updates on current programs underway.

Manyatta is a not-for-profit organization committed to creating professional networking opportunities for the African diaspora. They champion positive change by highlighting social entrepreneurs and organizations that are making an impact in communities across Canada. Manyatta has 8,000+ subscribers in three cities: Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa, and holds virtual and live networking events throughout the year. Cuso International, in partnership with Manyatta Network, support our organizational public-engagement goals.

A book cover called "A Boomer in Kenya"

Donald Houston

Kenya 1967-1969

My wife Cheryl and I were Cuso volunteers in Kenya between 1967 and 1969.

I am about to publish my second book, this one called, "A Boomer in Kenya: Coming of Age in the 1960s", which followed my 2020 publication of "A Boomer in Lachine: Growing Up in the 1950s."

Hoping to reach some of the volunteers we were friends with back in those days.

An older man smiling with glasses and a hard hat on a construction site

Graham R. Prokopetz

Togo, 1987-1989

Graham Prokopetz, a Red Seal Plumber and Field Operations Supervisor with Botting and Associates in Calgary, has been awarded the 2022 Darryl Cruickshank Red Seal Industry Award.

The award recognizes an individual from the industry who has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion or development of apprenticeship training in Canada. Graham was selected for the award based on his extensive work and volunteer history, and his inspirational leadership to the next generation of skilled tradespersons.

Graham’s impact on the skilled trades is global – he spent years providing training on the installation and maintenance of water supply and sanitation projects for Cuso International and UNICEF throughout Africa, South Pacific and Central America. Additionally, Graham was inducted in 2021 to the Alberta Trades Hall of Fame, a program that recognizes and honours skilled trades professionals and educators who have made exceptional contributions to advancing the skilled trades and to supporting the success of others.

An older woman with gray hair and a scarf

Marilyn Skubovius

Uganda, 1970-1972

Marilyn Skubovius has been named Morden’s 2021 Citizen of Distinction.

The Morden Area Foundation award recognizes and honours citizens who have a strong commitment to making the city and area a better place to live, visit, and play through their long-term commitment to service and excellence in leadership.

Skubovius, a long-time business owner and community advocate, says she is honoured by the award, and grateful for the many kind words sent her way.

“Well, you just want to make things better. I was thinking when I first got involved and you know, you thought you had some abilities to discuss and talk and ideas. You want to make a better community. Sometimes, when I help people, I can see potential, and I give them ideas, and give them a little courage to keep going.”

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David Smith

Mozambique, 1981-1983

I was an agricultural technician. My placement was changed even before I arrived in Mozambique, as the Mozambican Civil War was rapidly ravaging the country and affecting rural areas. I arrived and persevered through five different placements in two years. I have stories to tell about that period. Subsequently, I made development my career. I worked in many countries in Africa and in Asia for a variety of international NGOs.

I have a unique experience of a time of change and flux in the world. Africa still struggles with many of the same issues we confronted back in 1984. I would like to elaborate on some of my experiences in different forms, as I have written some stories about them and I would like to reconnect with others who were with Cuso and SUCO during that period and afterwards. I can be reached at elidave2003@yahoo.com.

A white woman in a sari sitting amongst a group of South Asian adults

Thomas Symington

Sierra Leone, 1975-1976

I was interested in seeing Martha Nixon’s photo and reading about her Cuso posting in the Spring 2022 Catalyst.

Martha’s family spent a summer holiday in my parents’ home in Calgary. They were visiting with the Francis family (Dr. Jim, wife Marg, children Peggy, Pam, and Bobby), who lived next door, and my family was away. My parents lent them our home. Her parents, Bob and Marguerite, her sister Cheryl, and a younger brother (not sure of his name) stayed there. I recall that Martha asked my father to write a reference letter for her application to Cuso International. That was a long time ago and the first time I’d heard about Cuso International. I was posted to Sierra Leone in 1975. Both of those houses (brand new in 1955) have now been “knocked down” and replaced, but the memories endure.

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Alumni Photo Contest

Celebrate your volunteer experience!

We’re looking for photos that capture your unique experience as a Cuso International volunteer.

We want to experience the essence of your time abroad, the country through your eyes, and the impact it had on your life. What reminds you of that special time and place that defined your volunteer experience and quite possibly your life.