TORONTO — Ve’ahavta – The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee has embarked on a new health initiative in conjunction with seven First Nations communities in Kenora, Ont.
The program, Bri’ut, is designed to improve the long-term physical and mental health of Aboriginal populations by strengthening the delivery of community-based health promotion programs.
Avrum Rosensweig, president and executive director of Ve’ahavta, said that “it makes sense for the Jewish community to work together with our Aboriginal people. We have much to share and much to learn from one another.”
He added: “Our Jewish experience allows us to serve this program well, as we have a certain understanding of suffering and how to repair things.”
Bri’ut was initially conceived about three years ago by Ve’ahavta as an international program in response to health care needs in Guyana and other regions around the globe.
This summer, the organization received a grant of $238,500 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation in support of implementing the program with Aboriginal communities in Canada over a four-year period.
Bernie Farber, chair of Ve’ahavta, told The CJN that each chair brings his or her own vision to the position. “Mine is to find ways to work with the people in Canada who can benefit from our help. In our own backyard, people are living in Third World conditions.”
He recently went on a five-day visit to Lac La Croix, he said, an Anishinabe community of more than 400 people in northwestern Ontario.
“The conditions there are bleak, without hope and sad. The only way I could understand was to go and see with my own eyes,” Farber said
“I may have been intellectually aware of the conditions, but I [didn’t truly understand] until I drove the 80-kilometre dirt road leading to the community.
“The Aboriginal community is made up of incredibly proud and dignified people. [I believe] we have committed a form of genocide. We have to make it right,” he added.
The Bri’ut model, he said, is based on partnership.
“It empowers communities by strengthening their capacity to develop and implement health promotion interventions. It invites community members to make healthy choices that will impact their everyday lives.
“The strength of the program, in my view, is its emphasis on the critical importance of local knowledge and contexts, and its emphasis on supporting the development of health promotion programming that is delivered using Aboriginal knowledge and expertise.”
This month, Farber and Sarah Zelcer, Ve’ahavta’s director of national and international programs, will travel to the Kenora region to meet with First Nation leaders and the Kenora Chiefs Advisory to learn about local health-care challenges.
“It is my experience that individuals and communities benefit greatly when they are directly engaged with issues related to their health and well-being, and when they are invited to contribute to creative strategies to address health issues of concern in a manner that is community-focused and sustainable,” Joe Barnes, executive director, of the Kenora Chiefs Advisory, said in a statement.