On Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, the YMCA of Eastern Ontario recognized the work of two local peacemakers at the Peace Medal Award presentations, which took place at the Brockville YMCA.
Each year, YMCA Peace Week provides a moment to reflect on the need for peace in our communities and those who act for peace, building stronger communities. In keeping with this year’s International Day of Peace theme of “End racism. Build peace,” YMCA Peace Week focuses on developing an anti-racist lens to understand conflicts taking place around the globe, according to a release from the organization. YMCA Peace Medal Awards honour those at the forefront of these peace-building efforts and encourage Canadians to ask themselves how they can bring change to their communities, the YMCA stated.
“It’s important that we work together to create peaceful communities where everyone feels that they belong,” said Rob Adams, CEO of the YMCA of Eastern Ontario. “By celebrating YMCA Peace Week together, we are taking a stand and creating the future we want for our community, country, and world. Peace is more than the absence of war; it is the environment in which each of us can thrive. This is the work that we’ve recognized with this year’s Peace Medal Awards.”
Details on the medal winners were provided by the YMCA:
The medal winner for the Kingston area is Heather Haynes, owner of the Heather Haynes Studio and creator of the Wall of Courage
Heather Haynes’ mission is to raise awareness and funds through storytelling to help support some of the most vulnerable children and women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is educating more than 400 children and providing salaries for 23 teachers and auxiliary staff at a school she and her supporters built in addition to providing housing for 30 of the youngest orphans in the community. Her relationship with the community inspired her to create an 80-painting art installation entitled Wall of Courage and form a non-profit called The Art of Courage where people can donate, sponsor a child, volunteer or show support in a myriad of ways. Wall of Courage has been instrumental in fundraising efforts.
“The last few years of the pandemic have been very trying on my spirit,” Haynes said. “It’s been particularly hard to raise funds for the projects when I couldn’t show my artwork in person or tour the Wall of Courage. Providing for the children has been my main focus and I have had to think way outside of the box to find solutions. This is how I ended up producing The Common Thread, a short documentary about my pursuit to find purpose in what I create and my struggle to understand why much of Western society ignores the violence in other parts of the world. I hope the award will send a few people to discover my film as well as my website and the website of The Art of Courage non-profit. We are looking to partner up with people and businesses who would like to round out their human rights global impact. We also wish to find 10 new child sponsors before Christmas.”
The medal winner for the Brockville area is Mezaun Hodge, co-founder of the Diversity Advisory Coalition of Leeds & Grenville
Mezaun Hodge is the visionary leader behind the Diversity Advisory Coalition of Leeds & Grenville (DAC), which was established in 2020. Through DAC, Hodge has been recognized for her exceptional work in creating a safe, engaging and welcoming community for all. As part of DAC’s programming, Hodge co-facilitates book clubs with Girls Incorporated of Upper Canada, which focuses on anti-racism topics.
Hodge is formally trained in front-line trauma work and assists Victim Services of Leeds and Grenville with race-related calls. In her role as an Investigator Advisor with Ontario Public Service Employees Union, she supports members who are facing harassment and discrimination. She is a vocal advocate in her moderator role with Canadians United Against Hate, which offers a platform to fight against hate and racism.
Through her work, training and volunteerism, Hodge is committed to understanding the harmful impact of discrimination and knows how to respond to discriminatory remarks and hurtful situations. Hodge is dedicated to educating others on the importance of disrupting racism and building a more inclusive community, now and for future generations.
“Growing up as a person of colour and from a different religion in the 70s and 80s, there weren’t any resources or anywhere to turn to when faced with race-related issues. No one in my family talked about situations they faced,” Hodge said. “I don’t want that for our kids, our youth or anyone for that matter. I want them to feel safe and to be able to come forward and talk about it. No one should be embarrassed about who they are or what religion they practice. Anyone who is a victim of bullying, racism or hate needs early support and intervention which is crucial in dealing with this type of trauma to prevent various long-term effects like anxiety and depression. We should celebrate what makes us different and unique.”
As we navigate through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, YMCA Peace Week illuminates how the work of building peace needs to continue now more than ever, the organization noted, adding that COVID-19 and the urgent calls for action for diversity, equity, and inclusion are challenging us, as individuals, as communities, and as a country, to reconsider where we’ve been and where we want to go.
“We all have opportunities each day to choose to act for peace. They may be small actions but they make a big difference and can create a ripple effect through our community,” Abrams stated. “By sharing our message of peace, we hope to inspire others to become engaged in peaceful actions.”