Archive | December, 2009

Doctors without Borders and CAMH Psychiatrist Dr. Steven Cohen

10 Dec

Lunch with Mary 027

Date of lunch:
Thursday, December 10, 2009

The company:
Dr. Steven Cohen is a psychiatrist at CAMH (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) in Toronto. He has also worked with Doctors without Borders in both Chad and Sudan. He recently, as in last week, returned from Ethiopia where he was working with TAAPP. My friend Sham works with him at CAMH and when she found out that I wanted to take out someone who has worked with Doctors without Borders, she helped me to get in touch with Steven.

The food:
We ate at Swan Restaurant on Queen West near Ossington. I have been to this place once before a few years ago and was pretty disappointed but was much more pleased this time. The food was great! I had the clubhouse with avocado inside – a golden sandwich ingredient. The one thing that was weird was that the sandwich did not come with a side, unless you count two cucumber slices and two olives as a side. I could have used some mixed greens, just saying. Steven had the hot plate special which seemed to be a salad with Portobello mushroom and goat’s cheese, yum! We both drank water and Steven had a coffee. The total bill was $28 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I think the lesson from today’s lunch wasn’t exactly something specific but more that it is really refreshing to speak to someone who has dedicated their lives to helping others and who is pretty selfless. I get very upset about the way women are treated in many countries around the world but I still don’t go out and change things on the ground like Steven does. It’s very admirable and makes me want to commit to trying harder to make a difference.

The lunch:
I was very excited for this lunch. I am a long time donor to Doctors without Borders, it’s one of my favourite charities and I think they do amazing work. But the work that Steven does in Toronto is pretty fascinating as well. He is currently a Fellow in the University of Toronto Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship.

What this means is that he works with people with mental illnesses that are in the criminal system, like Dr. Elizabeth Olivet from Law & Order (incase you can’t place that reference, neither could Steven but I’m pretty sure it’s similar). Yesterday, he spent the day at Penetangishene Prison, checking out the facility and meeting with prisoners.

Before moving to Toronto and very soon after graduating Steven applied to Doctors without Borders and was soon off to Chad for 6 months. Steven was the Mental Health Officer for the Farchana Project, providing services on the eastern border of Chad. You should definitely check out his blog from his time there. Shortly after returning, he went to Sudan for two months working in the refugee camps.

In his work with TAAPP (a collaboration between the University of Toronto and Addis Ababa University Departments of Psychiatry), he went to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, to train doctors there to be psychiatrists in order to help people with mental illnesses that are currently not getting the care they need. The goal of TAAPP is to “produce a workable, effective model for accelerating the creation of medical specialists in Ethiopia”.

A WHO study from 2006 quoted on the TAAPP website found that “while the African continent bears 24% of the global burden of disease it has only 3% of the world’s health workforce and less than 1% of the world’s financial resources for health.” This emphasizes why organizations like Doctors without Borders are so necessary but also shows that the training work that Steven did that is pushing Ethiopia towards becoming self-sustainable when it comes to mental health care is an important long term goal.

I have seen in the news that foreign aid workers have been targeted by kidnappers in Sudan. I asked Steven if he was scared and he said that he knew it was a risk but he was okay. He then asked me if I have ever considered doing this type of international work. First I said that I wasn’t a doctor. He then explained to me that there are other jobs with Doctors without Borders that deal with the logistics. Then I told him I was too chicken. I am not proud of it but I honestly think I am too afraid to travel to places where foreign aid workers are the target of kidnappings. That is why I have so much admiration for the people that do it.

Steven told me that his mom didn’t talk to him for three days after he told her he was going to Sudan just after returning safely from Chad. My mom would do the same I am sure.

It was a great lunch. As soon as I left, I realized that I barely scratched the surface of all that I wanted to learn. But I am grateful for the conversation we had and I look forward to hearing about where Steven goes next.

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CTV National Affairs Correspondent Lisa LaFlamme

2 Dec

Lunch with Mary 026

Date of lunch:
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The company:
Lisa LaFlamme is the national affairs correspondent on CTV National News. She also sometimes fills in at the anchor desk for Lloyd Robertson. She has covered stories all over the world from the war in Iraq to the war in Afghanistan, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami from Sri Lanka, Conrad Black’s trial in Chicago, Hurricane Katrina, on the ground after 9/11 and more. Pretty much every major news event that has happened in my adult life, Lisa was there reporting on it. She’s currently gearing up to anchor the daytime broadcasts of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. I have always thought Lisa’s job was so cool. If you watch CTV National News regularly, I feel like every day she’s somewhere different and reporting on really important stories wherever she is. I’m glad this blog gave me the opportunity to meet her.

The food:
We actually met for an early morning coffee rather than lunch as Lisa has been extremely busy and this was the only way to get together. We met at the Starbucks at Yonge and Craighurst. I had a “grande” Christmas blend coffee but I ordered “medium” because I always forget the Starbucks lingo and I got some weird looks. Grande means big, not medium – I don’t get it. Lisa had a “venti” coffee which inexplicably means “large”. Confusing. Anyway, the coffee was tasty and the bill for both was under $5. Lisa actually paid for her own so I still owe her a lunch, or at least a coffee.

The lunch lesson:
Lisa and I started our coffee chat with me explaining my blog a bit. Lisa said she thought it was brave of me to have set off on this adventure and simply outreach to people and then meet up with them. Although I don’t know if I am actually brave, I do know that the whole process has been a big step out of my comfort zone. Lisa said that with her job she outreaches to people as well but she is always on a deadline and needs to speak with them right away. The timeliness of the story takes away any nervousness or hesitation as she needs to tell the story while it’s relevant. This got me to thinking that for me to break out of my nervousness, I need to approach this blog a bit like a journalist and see myself as someone with a story to tell. I’m not quite there yet but if I keep telling myself that, maybe eventually I’ll believe it.

The lunch:
I was a bit nervous to meet Lisa as I have watched her on the news so many times and I just wasn’t sure what to say to her. I was afraid I might be a bit star struck. But she is so nice, from the second I met her all my nervousness was gone.

Of all the stories that Lisa has covered, she said it is definitely her reporting from areas of conflict that stay with her the longest. Being in the refugee camps and seeing the people that so desperately want the conflict to end is something that stays with her long after the story has been filed and she has returned home. I can imagine that there would be a lot of feelings of helplessness after meeting the completely innocent people stuck in the middle.

She did say that she also really enjoyed covering the Michael Jackson funeral this year. She said once the shock of his death had faded, everyone was there honouring his life and you easily got caught up in it. She says there are few moments in our lives that everyone remembers where they were when they first heard – JFK’s assassination, Princess Di’s death, 9/11 and, I proved her right by remembering, Michael Jackson’s death.

We chatted about her upcoming anchor desk role at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. This is a completely new area of reporting for Lisa and she is really excited. I am a huge fan of the Olympics (and recently found out that I am going to the Olympics with my work – wahoo!) and think it would be amazing to interview the athletes after they have won a medal – basically moments after they achieved what they have dreamed of their entire lives.

Lisa also talked about her volunteer work with Plan Canada. For a number of years, Lisa has spent a vacation week a year traveling with Plan Canada to remote areas around the world where child poverty and hunger are rampant. The money raised through the organization is used to help build up communities with water wells, schools, hospitals and more. I am sure many of you have seen Lisa on the Plan Canada programs that run weekend mornings.

Lisa told me how her and her friends get together every year and fundraise together rather than exchange gifts. This year they were able to raise $2,000, which incredibly covers the yearly salary for two female teachers in Afghanistan. Watching the news about Afghanistan, I think the battle that girls are enduring to get an education is one of the saddest and bravest struggles in the world today. Lisa explained to me, having been to Afghanistan, that many women teachers sleep in the schools because it is too dangerous for them to travel back and forth from their homes, but they keep teaching. Such courage.

I really enjoyed my coffee with Lisa, too bad it couldn’t be longer. She is so friendly and great to talk to. She must have so many more amazing stories to tell. But hopefully I can take a little bit from Lisa and try to find that journalist hiding inside me.