Local nurse received humanitarian award for aid to Rwanda


All around us are people who inspire us just by the way they work and walk in the world. These are not the larger-than-life, charismatic leaders we see in the media. These people are the ones who inspire us by their convictions, the hours of unpaid volunteer efforts that make countless lives easier. These are the quiet people standing under the cracks in our government systems who do their best to catch the people falling through them. These are the people who inspire the rest of us to give a bit more and strengthen us by their presence no matter where they work in the world.

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Judy Bowman photo
Cathleen Connell holds her John Lindsay Sr. IWK Humanitarian Award.

I've written many columns about these dedicated volunteers, most recently Mickey Allison, Ryan Brideau and today, Cathleen Connell.

On June 19, Cathleen Connell of Miramichi received the John Lindsay Sr. IWK Humanitarian Award. This award was created by Lindsay's family to recognize IWK Health Care staff members who continually give of themselves to improve people's lives in the health centre and the community.

Connell received two nominations for this award, one she was pleased and surprised to receive from her supervisor Sue Ellen Morrison, on behalf of the staff in the Birth Unit at IWK. The award recognized her efforts to organize the "Give a Day' campaign in her unit for Dec. 1, World AIDS Day. "Give a Day" is a movement of Canadians responding to the AIDS pandemic in Africa. Each December, individuals, families and workplaces across the country participate by donating one day's pay to support grassroots AIDS initiatives in Africa through the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

"I challenged my coworkers on the Birth Unit to give a day's salary on World Aids Day," says Connell. "I started mid-November in 2006 and spoke at a staff meeting, put up some posters and we raised approximately $2,000 that first year. This past year, I did it again. This time I expanded it out to the hospital and had more advertising. We raised just under $4,000. I am not a fund raiser — I don't enjoy it, but I enjoy challenging people," says Connell.

In the nomination, Morrison credited Cathleen Connell's work for having a "profound impact on nurses in the Birth Unit. Her experience has given us a context to identify how we can be effective mentors to nursing students at IWK and her organization of the 'Give a Day' campaign was a catalyst for nurses to discuss how the ideas of social justice, advocacy and health education are represented in family centred nursing care at the IWK."

The inspiration for the "Give a Day" campaign came directly from Cathleen Connell's experiences in Rwanda in 2002. After graduating as a Registered Nurse from St. Francis Xavier University, she interned with the Coady International Institute in Rwanda just six years after the genocide.

The St. FX website says the Coady Institute was "established by St. Francis Xavier University in 1959, and named for Rev. Dr. Moses Coady. The Coady International Institute is dedicated to creating effective and practical solutions to works create effective and practical solutions to reduce global poverty and injustice Coady accomplishes this through leadership education, action partnerships, and initiatives to help young Canadians become active global citizens."

"In Rwanda," says Connell, "I was working at a health institute teaching nursing students. It was my first time overseas and I was with two other Canadians. I worked in two different hospitals gaining experience in internal medicine, and working in maternity with midwives. And then I volunteered at an orphanage as well. I turned 22 the summer I was there. It was a good time in my life for me to go, it was really eye-opening in every way: from they way people lived, what the priorities are, how people deal with death. The country has seen so much death and they deal with it very differently. I was working on a ward where about 80 per cent of the women were HIV positive."

On her return to Canada, Connell's experiences in Rwanda inspired her to continue dialogue about the health issues in nursing and AIDS in Rwanda. She was informed of this award this past spring after returning from another trip to Rwanda where she had supervised and supported nursing students in a clinical practice module in Rwanda.

"It was a real honour to receive something like this," says Connell. "Even the nomination itself was the only thing that really mattered because it was from my colleagues, the people I worked with. To know that people listened and valued the things I was interested in and supported them was more than I ever expected."

Next week, part two of Cathleen Connell's story details her insights and challenges for herself and nursing students in Rwanda.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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