TORONTO — Former governor general Michaëlle Jean is the recipient of the Canadian Hadassah Wizo (CHW) Woman of Achievement Award.
The announcement was made at the closing luncheon of the organization’s 40th national convention held in Toronto recently.
Although Jean had hoped to attend the luncheon, she had to cancel when called to the country of her birth, Haiti, for which she is a UNESCO Special Envoy.
In a videotaped message, Jean greeted the guests in three languages – Hebrew, English and French – and called the CHW members “change makers, with whom I share a deep commitment to supporting child development, enhancing health care and eradicating violence against women.
“I receive the Women of Achievement Award as a tribute to the work I have pursued to support and empower hundreds of women, men and youth across Canada,” she said.
She added that she is “delighted to learn that you, the women of CHW, have opened the door to explore how you can join the Michaëlle Jean Foundation in its pan-Canadian campaign to ensure that no young person is left behind.”
Fluent in five languages – French, English, Italian, Spanish and Creole – Jean immigrated to Canada with her family in 1968 to escape Haiti’s then-dictatorial government. While still a student, she worked with Quebec shelters for battered women and helped establish a network of these facilities across the country.
A journalist, radio personality and teacher, she has participated in documentary filmmaking with her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond. The couple has a young daughter, Marie-Eden.
Sworn in as governor general in September 2005, she crisscrossed Canada, visiting many previously isolated communities, and led 40 missions and state visits abroad.
The newly established Michaëlle Jean Foundation focuses on youth and the arts as a means of engaging young people in social transformation and mobilization, said Linda Lewis, editor-in-chief of More magazine.
In accepting the award on Jean’s behalf, Carol Chabot, the foundation’s director of development, spoke about Jean’s commitment to education, which is also a focus of CHW’s programs. She added that Jean has just been named chancellor of the University of Ottawa, which also presented her with an honorary degree.
The CHW Women of Achievement Award was established in 1996 and is bestowed on outstanding Canadian women. Recipients are chosen from different communities across the country and represent a wide variety of business, professional and social endeavours. Previous honorees include entrepreneur Heather Reisman; the rescuer of Syrian Jewry, Judy Feld Carr, and former MPs Elinor Caplan and Flora McDonald.
Earlier in the convention, Amir Gissin, the former director of the public affairs in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was the keynote speaker at the Rebecca Sieff Award dinner.
The Sieff Award, named for the founder of the Hadassah organization, was presented to Jonathan Quart in recognition of his accomplishments as principal of the CHW Netanya Technological High School in Israel.
Omer Filus, who is in the business management program at the high school, and Orel Raz, in the software engineering study track, attended as representatives of the student body. Both teenagers recently participated in the March of the Living program, which Quart added to the school’s curriculum with the help of CHW funding.
The convention’s opening session was addressed by Helena Glaser, who has served as president of World WIZO for the past seven years.