Elmira native and acclaimed writer Malcolm Gladwell is coming back to the region he called home. He is speaking at a Mennonite Central Committee event, “The Power of Partnership,” which highlights the ability for people working together to accomplish great things.
The talk will take place at Bingemans in Kitchener on October 27.
Gladwell will be speaking about the themes of his podcast, titled, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” This podcast begins with Gladwell speaking about his parents, and friends of his parents who helped sponsor refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s.
“That is actually when MCC began assisting groups like that, with resettling refugees. So we were very involved with that situation. And that’s what our beginning of refugee resettlement was called the “boat people.” And those were refugees coming out of Vietnam. And then we’ve continued that since,” said John Head, the executive director of Mennonite Central Committee Ontario.
He says the event was originally planned to celebrate the organization’s centennial year, but COVID put those plans on hold.
“We have to reschedule with Malcolm a couple of times. So this is actually the third reschedule that started. It was intended to be back in 2020,” said Head.
The MCC’s work with refugees includes shipping supplies to places such as Iraq, Ukraine, and to Syrian refugees in Jordan, for example.
“In recent months, we’ve shipped five containers either from our warehouse in the US or warehouse in New Hamburg.” Typical items that would be included in the containers include relief, hygiene and infant care kits and comforters, he said.
In Ontario, MCC is involved with homelessness transition, and works with other organizations to find permanent housing for people. Globally they work on conflict mitigation to try and stem the creation of more refugees at the source, before the conflicts happen, he said.
In terms of refugee crises around the world, Head believes the situation is getting worse.
“Unfortunately, I would say now on a global scale it is, if you reflect back on recent news events with what’s happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, what continues to happen in the Middle East, which has resulted in displacement of people from their homes.
“As you see in the news every night, what’s happening in Ukraine. We’re very active in Ukraine, both in the short run, providing immediate relief for those that are fleeing and we’ll be active, hopefully when peace comes in Ukraine in terms of reestablishing families, that have been displaced from their homes, so we’ll be active. We’ve been active in Ukraine – actually, that’s where the organization got its start , it was the result of conflict in 1920. That’s when Mennonite Central Committee was initially formed.
“In addition to that, we hear about natural disasters that are taking place and the impact of climate change, which is creating food insecurity for people in many different places. So, it does appear that things are worsening. But we’re grateful for donors and funding organizations that work with us to try to address those needs,” he said.
The funds raised from the event will go toward the MCC’s work. The net proceeds and donations will go toward material resource shipments to places like Ukraine, Iraq and Jordan. They will go toward the refugee resettlement program and poverty program in Ontario, among other initiatives, said Head.
He noted MCC works most effectively through partnership. “We have about 400 partners. We work with just under 50 countries around the world. And that’s how our work is done, is working with those that are on the ground, understanding the culture in national context. So they assist us and we work with them to accomplish the work,” he said.
“The theme that we hope to communicate from this event (is) lots of people doing little things add up to a lot. Very simple, very powerful in terms of how we work together with those in the community to have an impact on these issues around the world.”
People can make a difference, said Head. “You watch the news and you feel a bit overwhelmed, like, it might be something far away, [and you might think] we can’t have an impact as individuals and families, but there can be an impact if we work together.”
Tickets to the event can be purchased online at www.powerofpartnership.ca.