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Ontario Public Interest Research group (OPIRG) McMaster spring /summer 2014


Street Tree Project Inside: Meet our new board of Directors ||Approved Working Groups || Volunteer Profile & Bio ||Volunteer Experience || Mental Health Awareness || Summer Staff || A Guide to Self Care || End of Academic Year Highlights

Board Of Directors 2014-2015 Congratulations to the McMaster students and community members who were elected to serve on the OPIRG Board of Directors for the next year

We have always had great representation and input from students who volunteer to ensure OPIRG McMaster remains a vibrant place for student and community self-activity on issues of social justice and the environment. The Board is the brain, heart and soul of OPIRG. Thanks to everyone who stepped up! Welcome new board members: Sarah Adjekum Zaynab Al-waadh Diana Elborno Cody Flomen Peter Hutton Esmonde Jamieson-Eckel Lindsay Stitt Romita Sur

And welcome back to returning board members: Kojo Damptey Isabelle Dobronyi Yuvreet Kaur Sabeen Kazmi Edward Lovo

And finally, thanks to those who served so well this very intense year: Alisha Sunderji Janikka Blair Murray Alexandra Epp

Approved Working Groups 2014-2015 The OPIRG Board Working Group Interview Committee has recommended the following 12 New and Returning Working Groups for September 2013: NEW The Sustainable Happiness Circle Breakfast Outreach Program RETURNING Threadwork Changing Gears Collective McMaster Initiative for Water Food For Thought Guatemalan Solidarity Working Group Food Not Bombs (FNB) Hamilton Community Volunteer Action Fossil Free McMaster Hamilton Urban Beekeepers (HUB) McMaster Indigenous Student Community Alliance (MISCA) Human Trafficking Awareness Initiative NOT RENEWING And we say thanks for to the following groups for their contributions, some here for a short period, and some for multiple years, but all these groups leave having gone as far as they could, and made a difference along the way:

Adaptive Design Hamilton Hamilton Freeskool! Hamilton Students Community Initiatives Hamiltonians for Migrant and Refugee Health Radical Reading Storytelling Series More details at OPIRG.CA including descriptions and contact information.

Street Tree Connections By Krista Kruja

The OPIRG Street Tree Project is taking off again this year after a successful summer in 2013 in the Keith neighbourhood. If you’re not familiar with this project here’s a bit of a background: In 2004, in an effort to increase the urban tree canopy, the wonderful City of Hamilton started the Street Tree Planting program. Through the program, home owners can request a tree in their front yard and the city will plant and maintain it free of cost! It has now been ten years since the program began, and while it is going great in some places, unfortunately many people in some of the areas that need the program the most aren’t aware of it at all. A survey of air quality in Hamiltonian neighbourhoods showed that some of the areas with especially poor tree coverage had some of the worst air qualities in Canada. In response to this, OPIRG McMaster supported a student to start the Street Tree Project last year. It was the first year and so the project was piloted in the Keith neighbourhood, which consists of about 1,800 homes. A door-to-door campaign was organized to ask residents if they wanted a tree; as a result 73 trees were scheduled to be planted in a neighbourhood that had previously averaged only 3 tree requests a year So now on to this year: the project is taking off again. This time in the Crown Point neighbourhood, starting specifically in the McAnulty area. The past two weeks have been a bit of a blur for me, trying to play catch up on the rich, dramatic history of some of Hamilton’s neighbourhoods and the evolution of environmental projects and organizations in the city. Just last week was the first site visit to the McAnulty area, and my

first time going there at all! I saw the steel industry from a neighbourhood for the first time, got to talk to some of the residents about what they thought of more trees in their neighbourhood and even got to try out a local restaurant that had been the site of four Hollywood movie productions (read more about it (and how you can get involved) on the Street Tree blog: http://hamiltonstreettreeproject.! Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, that was all just in the same morning! It has been really exciting so far, meeting and working with partners of OPIRG’s from Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club, as well as building new partnerships with people actively involved in Crown Point and McAnulty’s community development. I can’t wait to start going door to door to collect tree requests, with the help of volunteers from the McMaster and McAnulty communities, as well as the greater Hamilton community. There’s nothing better, I think, than when people who might not whave even met come together to work on something they all care very much about.

OPIRG Newest Summer Staff:

Madeleine Bondy

Madeleine Bondy is currently entering her fourth year at McMaster University in the Arts and Science Program.She sings in the University Choir, is an ESL tutor and a member the planning team for Student Open Circles. Outside McMaster, Madeleine is a member of the mental health working group for the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health (YCRH). She is very excited to have the opportunity to be this year’s Alternative Welcome Week Coordinator, and looks forward to working with Mac students and community members on issues related to social justice and the environment.

Madeleine hopes that the 5th annual Alternative Welcome Week will be one of the best yet. Plans include expanding the activities beyond the walls of McMaster, with greater involvement from the local Hamilton community. There will also be a focus on food security, health equity and music for social change. Watch for more information on Alternative Welcome Week, September 8-12, 2014.

OPIRG Working Group Volunteer Spotlight:

Laura Crump

Growing As A Volunteer Over the course of my undergraduate career, I have seen myself grow from a shy first year, to a confident fourth year with bright plans for the future, and I believe this change is partially due to my time volunteering with OPIRG’s CVA Working Group. Unlike other groups, CVA allows you to grow into a role, while still feeling like your making an impact in every task you undertake along the way and I believe it is this that makes it such a successful organization. I started my journey as a volunteer at the Eva Rothwell program. Even though I only went once a week and due to the often infrequent attendance by some of the kids only got to know a few of them well, I always felt like I was making a difference, in part because I knew, as a collective, CVA volunteers put in hundreds of hours and helped dozens of kids. Later, as a facilitator, I was able to adopt a leadership role and with support from Open Circle staff and my co-leader, I was gained confidence in my ability to fulfill this role. CVA highlighted for me many of the issues but also allowed me to feel empowered and feel that I could make a difference in the lives of people affected. It’s hard to believe how fast these four years went and even stranger to look back and see how much I’ve changed. CVA has taught me so much about volunteerism, reflection, making connections and social issues and I’m so sad to be leaving this community. However, in whatever I pursue in the future I hope that I can take these lessons with me and continue to grow as an individual and make a difference in the lives of those around me.

Volunteer Profile:

Sheena Kooner Sheena is a McMaster graduate (Honours B.Sc. Life Sciences) currently enrolled in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University. Her goal is to teach high school Biology and Geography with the hopes of instilling in her students a love for both subject areas. While at Queen’s, Sheena is volunteering with OPIRG McMaster in a month-long alternative practicum, which is a placement designed to occur in an environment that differs from the traditional classroom setting. During this time, she will partake in OPIRG initiatives and learn ways that education can occur outside of the classroom. Sheena is working on preparing materials for OPIRG’s Street Tree Program which we hope to hire for this spring. Watch for updates at

Volunteer Bio: Ankit Khirwadkar/resource database by Yuvreet Kaur 1. Tell us something about yourself. I grew up in Vadodara, India, a small and culturally vibrant city. I was passionate about the engineering miracles and how they could impact the society. I started my Bachelors degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering at CHARUSAT University, India. During my undergraduate years, I developed projects and participated in national competitions organized by IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and National Instruments. Although I did not win the competitions, I learnt a lot from the experience and the exposure provided through them. After completing my Bachelors degree, I came to Canada in order to pursue my Masters degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at McMaster University and to follow my career in the Electronics industry. 2. How did get involved with OPIRG? Communities have helped me a lot in transitioning to the Canadian work culture and I wish to get involved with them. I believe volunteering is very valuable in one’s personal and professional life. I contacted OPIRG McMaster towards the end of my first term at McMaster with the intent to socialize and get involved with the community. I got in touch with Randy Kay, volunteer co-ordinator at OPIRG and we discussed more

OPIRG. I learnt that OPIRG has its own library, which can be accessed by students and that there were a few issues with the existing library software with the primary concern of inaccessibility of the database on other computers. I met with Safoora, who was handling the library database and we came up with the list of modifications which would make the library software much more user-friendly and accessible. I did a bit of research on library software which would meet our requirements, but could not get software to replace the existing one. Meanwhile I also assisted as a volunteer for events such as ‘Soul Food’. Towards the end of the second term, I was busy with my graduate program projects and was not very active with the organization. After the completion of my projects, I started my work for the library software again and I am presently working on it. 3. What are you currently working on with OPIRG? For updating the library database at OPIRG, I was looking for a customizable library database management tool and I started my research in that direction. It struck me to use an Open-source Integrated library software (ILS) management tool and koha ILS was the most popular one with good support. It was free of cost and customizable as per our needs which addressed the issue and allowed future scalability. Currently I am working on the software and planning to integrate it with the OPIRG website, thus making it accessible on any machine which is connected to the internet. 4. What are your future plans? I graduated this April, and I am currently job hunting, looking for opportunities in embedded programming and analog design. Currently I plan to work in industry, utilize my skills and gain experience. The idea of being an Entrepreneur excites me and I may give it a try in future after gaining sufficient experience. Meanwhile, I plan to get more involved with the community and would like to continue working with OPIRG.

If you are interested in being a volunteer, just fill out an application form! ( you can find that on the website)

Nazia Hossain : Why I enjoy volunteering?

Volunteering and facilitating for Community Volunteer Action (CVA) has definitely become one of the highlights of my undergrad career. I love being able to interact with the youth at the agencies every week and hearing the stories they have to share. Engaging in fun activities with the kids is also often a welcome break from thinking about school and all the other responsibilities I have to attend to that week. Moreover, the experience has opened my eyes to the wide variety of people living in Hamilton, who are from diverse backgrounds but have been

able come together to form one unified community, thanks to all the wonderful coordinators and volunteers at the agencies. In addition, volunteering has made me aware of the various socioeconomic and political issues that are prevalent right here in Hamilton, which I probably would not have known of otherwise. This has instilled a determination to remain a committed member of my community so that I can do my part and make a difference.

OPIRG Volunteer Profile: Yuvreet Kaur By: Margot Rosenberg

Yuvreet Kaur is from Brampton and moved to Hamilton three years ago when she started her Bachelor of Science degree at McMaster. She first got involved with OPIRG as a general volunteer which led to her joining the Board of Directors so she could contribute towards the functioning of the organization on a larger scale. This will be her second year on the Board. In September 2014 she will be starting her fourth year in the Bachelor of Science program with a major in Biology. The numerous courses she has taken focused on environmental issues which stimulated her interest and passion in taking action,

one of the main reasons she decided to get involved with OPIRG. Earlier this year she took a sustainability course when she learned about the concept of sustainable happiness. This inspired her to start a working group on that topic. The main purpose of the group is to make an attempt to switch towards a more sustainable lifestyle and have discussions on its links with happiness in the short and long term. “I am thankful to OPIRG for giving me the opportunity to get involved with something I am passionate about. I am still exploring my options for what I want to do after I finish my Bachelor of Science.�

Volunteer Experience: by Jessica Benjak

Human Trafficking Awareness Initiative I hadn’t heard of OPIRG McMaster until my professor mentioned the organization as a group that students could join to complete the practicum assignment. I began to research OPIRG’s objectives, and to my surprise, I discovered a variety of student-lead human and environmental rights working groups. I chose to become involved with the Human Trafficking Awareness Initiative (HTAI). HTAI’s mission is to increase awareness of, and engage students with the issue of domestic sex trafficking of minors in the Hamilton area. I joined HTAI because I never knew that Human Trafficking exists in Canada, let alone in Hamilton. In Canada, women from the ages of 12-22 make up 89% of human trafficking victims. This was a shocking fact to me. In Hamilton, from January to August 2013, the Ontario-based human trafficking support organization “Walk With Me” received 92 crisis calls from victims and police, and 126 tips/calls from the public. With the knowledge that Human Trafficking is a reality in Canada, especially in my hometown of Hamilton, I think it’s crucial to inform the target demographic, the Canadian youth, of this growing illegal human rights violation. HTAI organized this initiative through OPIRG to help rid Hamiltonians of common misconceptions and knowledge gaps regarding this issue. As a group, we have been starting to spread this awareness in secondary schools to alert students of domestic sex trafficking by addressing pimp-culture and its repercussions, teaching prevention tactics, and highlighting the lack of appropriate laws in Canada.

This goal captured my attention and gave me a place to take action on something I care about. Not only have I gained relationship and social skills in joining an OPIRG working group but more importantly, I am being a voice for others and taking action so we can bring our initiative one step closer to real change. I chose HTAI, but OPIRG has a wide variety of working groups to join and make a difference in if you are interested in Human Rights or Environmental issues. Each year OPIRG seeks out student ideas and takes applications for new and returning working groups who are then supported through the OPIRG Office. My experience volunteering at OPIRG has been one of the most valuable experiences I have had here at McMaster University. Not only has volunteering advanced some of my skills, it has more importantly changed my perspective on what is important in life. I have realized that the world is so much bigger than me, and if I want to help make it a better place, firstly I have to find what I am passionate about and then get involved. Joining OPIRG has definitely exceeded my expectations with volunteering; I have never meet so many appreciative people. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming of my help, and it leaves me feeling great on a daily basis. What started out as a required practicum assignment for a course has turned into a sustained passion for helping others. Getting involved with the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at McMaster University has inspired me to become a voice for human rights awareness.

Have You Heard? Making Information Accessible is Activism Things Students with Mental Health Concerns May Want to Know By: Alise DeBie

Access to information is really, really super important – for everyone, but especially for people from marginalized communities who are often extremely isolated and so don’t find out about stuff that’s relevant to our lives. I came to understand the value of information in the fall of 2008 when I overheard a classmate talking about a group for students with mental health concerns. I identified as one of these students but hadn’t heard of this group before. I was very lonely. Sometime later I Googled it…thought maybe I could belong there…got too scared to join…eventually sent them an email…eventually joined an online listserv…eventually posted…eventually showed up to a peer support meeting…eventually made some friends and felt like I had finally found a community of people like me. I have since learned lots and lots of other things from people in that group – things my service providers either didn’t know (likely) or didn’t tell me (also likely). I’ve been reminded about the importance of information a number of times recently while working with the Hamilton Mad Students Collective (HMSC, formerly known as the Hamilton Mad Students Society), a peer support and advocacy group of and for students with mental health concerns ( HMSC moderates a confidential and private 24/7 online listserv and facilitates meetings on campus every two weeks. We also run Mad School – a place to learn Mad activism and peer support skills – and Wellness Recovery Action Plan education groups. It is one space where Mad students are hearing about things for the first time – things that are extremely important to our quality of life and pursuit of our learning goals. Information helps us protect ourselves and take control of our lives and what happens to us. It helps us make decisions. It helps us find other people like us so we don’t feel so alone. It helps us access support. It helps us tell different stories about ourselves so we can be who we want to be. It helps us value our experiences and knowledge. It helps us make change. In order to address some of this info gap, here are a bunch of things students with mental health concerns may want to know. Please help spread the word! 1. When you first experience significant distress, go nuts, get involved in the mental health system, and/ or join the Mad community, you’re supposed to get a cake (sugar, wheat, and/or gluten-free and/or vegan if preferred and using whichever ingredients you most like)! No one told me this, nor did I ever get my cake. If you haven’t gotten your cake ei-ther, and would like one, please get in touch. 2. There’s plenty of alternative madness language you can use – or make up your own! Some people on campus are reclaiming words like nuts, insane, mad, and crazy and using them in positive ways to celebrate our experiences and communities or identify as psy-chiatric survivors, service users, or neuroatypicals or as people with mental health disabil-ities. Not everyone identifies with a diagnosis or as having a mental illness. If these terms work for you, great! If they don’t, there are other options. 3.

Lots of crazy people find connecting with other

crazy people really meaningful. If you’re a student, you may want to join the Hamilton Mad Students Collective. There’s also the Mental Health Rights Coalition ( in downtown Hamilton. They are open Monday-Friday from 11am-4pm for telephone or drop-in peer support and publish a quarterly community newsletter. If you’re not in Hamilton and are looking for peer support groups in your area, check out for a resource list. 4. Mad people belong to a social justice movement! It’s variously called the Psychiatric Consumer/ Survivor/Ex-patient Movement, the Mad Movement, the Mental Patients Lib-eration Movement. It has a long history and exists in many places around the world. See and Mad people have been around way before the invention of psychiatry and have been campaigning for change in how we are treated for hundreds of years.

5. We have a term to name the discrimination we experience related to madness/mental health status. Actually, we have 3 ½ (mentalism, san(e)ism, ableism). Many of us also experience intersecting forms of discrimination related to our other social identities or community affiliations (for instance, related to our sexual and gender identities, income and class backgrounds, race and ethnicity, age and religion). We don’t need to change. Society and our disabling environments need to change. 6. We have human and legal rights – including rights to privacy, accommodations (including in employment and education – you may want to talk to Student Accessibility Services in the McMaster Student Centre basement about this, or members of the Hamilton Mad Students Collective), discrimination-free environments, access to our medical records, informed consent, to refuse treatment, to ask questions, to make our own decisions, and to information and advice related to our rights. We also have rights as research participants. For more information, you can contact

the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office (, Human Rights and Equity Services at McMaster (, or ARCH Disability Law Centre ( 7. You can petition for special consideration through your faculty. Some students use these processes for retroactive disability accommodation – such as dropping a course after the deadline without failure, getting much longer extensions on assignments, deferring exams, other things people are unlikely to tell you about… 8. You may want to create your very own crisis/ distress/wellness plan so that when you’re having a really difficult time, you have list of things you can do and people you can contact for support. Consider checking out resources/crisis-planning.php. Visit for a comprehensive list of crisis/ peer support lines you can call in your area.

To know more, please feel free to contact Alise at

A Guide To Self Care by Christina Vietinghoff Throwing your heart and soul into a cause can be draining. Students directing social movements or organizing events to educate their peers on tough issues dedicate intense time and energy to these causes. Unfortunately burn out is common amongst students who strive to create social change. There are many free and affordable options that are available if you need to refresh and re-charge your energy as an activist. 1. Go to the Hamilton Public Library and take out a movie or book to read for fun (or borrow one from the OPIRG office!). Provided you have proof of residence in Hamilton (mail to your student home is sufficient) you can get a library card. Although educating yourself about the inequality in society is important, it’s equally important to take a break once in a while from reading about issues that can feel overwhelming. Borrow a book on aromatherapy or read a Canada Read’s novel like The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. 2. Walk through Cootes. There are several quiet sidetrails that are peaceful and calm, you can even head

down to the boardwalk behind the residences and do some yoga or have a nap on the new benches. Cootes is also a great place to bring the book you borrowed from the library to do some reading in the sun. 3. Visit a Farmer’s Market with a friend. Although most people know about the big market downtown, in the summer months there are also smaller markets on Locke Street (by Bread Bar), in downtown Dundas. You don’t need to buy anything to enjoy a farmer’s market, sometimes just walking through and seeing families and kids can be enough of a break from being around stressed-out university students. 5. Drink some tea. You can snag some free tea from the SWELL in the basement of MUSC or do some research on plants you can make tea out of (although be careful to harvest only from places free of herbicides or pollution). Drinking a warm mug of tea can be the simplest way to re-charge.

End of Academic Year Highlights:

Volunteer Appreciation Dinner, Hike & Bonfire

Annual General Meeting (AGM)

Photography by: Nina Chopra

PIRGSPECTIVES Newsletter: Spring-Summer 2014  

OPIRG McMaster's news and updates from our volunteers, working groups and community allies. Articles on Mental Health by Alise deBie, Self C...

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