“Not all heroes wear capes.” – It’s an expression often found on the internet. It of course, refers to the fact that you don’t have to be Batwoman or Superman or whoever, to do some good in this world.
During the Great Pandemic of 2020 of course, this phrase is often used to describe those of us who provide health care on the front lines. Cleary, the physicians, nurses, first responders, PSWs, support staff, environmental services staff and many others who provide front line care during this historically difficult time are heroes. They inspired me during my term as President of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), and they continue to inspire me now with their dedication and passion.
While there are many other heroes out there, I want to give a shout to one group that in many ways represents Canadians at their best, ConquerCovid-19.
The full story of how ConquerCovid-19 came to be can be found here. The short version is that they started out in mid-March as the brainchild of Sulemaan Ahmed and his wife Khadija Cajee. They heard their physician friends complain about the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in their clinics, and wanted to help.
Neither one of them is a stranger to advocacy for social causes. They both are already heavily involved in fighting the ridiculous No Fly list in Canada that erroneously lists thousands of children and innocent people.
Sulemaan, Khadija and four of their friends formed ConquerCovid-19 and using their business connections ( Executive Training with ServoAnnex) asked companies who had PPE to donate them to health care providers. Almost immediately, their friends and their friend’s children volunteered to help out (with apologies there are too many to list). The organization grew steadily and quickly.
Then a medical student who also was worried about the shortage of PPE heard about their endeavours, and offered to help out. As brilliant as medical students are, normally one extra student wouldn’t cause a wholesale change. But said medical student also happens to be the greatest female hockey player of all time, Hayley Wickenheiser. Next thing you know, she gets her friend
Hannibal King…. Green Lantern….. Deadpool… Ryan Reynolds involved and the star power catapulted the success of the organization.
A quick look at the their twitter feed shows that they have donated PPEs to organizations that deal with at risk youth, medical schools, support services for frail seniors, nursing homes, multiple child and youth services, shelters for new immigrants and refugees, rural and remote areas of the province and much more.
What’s more, they suddenly found people willing to donate supplies other than PPE. Instead of saying no, ConquerCovid-19 took on Hayley Wickenheiser’s mantra (Get Sh-t Done!) and took non-PPE supplies and found good homes for them. Have some extra computer tablets – send them to nursing homes so residents can communicate with families. Feminine hygiene products – send them to Women’s Shelters, and much more. There has also been a significant amount of cash raised from sales of what Reynolds calls “a boring shirt”. Ok he was more colourful than that, but check out #boringshirtchallenge.
All of this was in addition to the almost 500,000 units of PPE donated to medical clinics across the Province in co-ordination with the OMA. I was honoured to have been invited their April PPE drive where I saw the group in action.
That’s when I realized the best thing about ConquerCovid-19. They exemplify what Canada is all about.
It’s no secret that we are so living in a time where there is a tremendous, un-precedented call for social justice. The Black Lives Matter movement has forced us to confront and deal with inherent systemic racism against Black Canadians. In particular, Statistics Canada data shows that we are failing yet another generation of Black youths. Alas there are too many such stories in Canada.
Our record in dealing with our Indigenous population is disgraceful, with even the United Nations calling the housing conditions abhorrent. We have systemically discriminated against them, and there are too many individual stories to mention. There has also been a rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
Many will see this and despair for Canada. Make no mistake, all of us need to continue to be vigilant and work to improve our country. But when I think of Canada, I will, instead, think of ConquerCovid-19, and how it exemplifies what Canada is all about.
You see, Sulemaan and Khadija are Muslims whose families immigrated to Canada. The leadership group (whom I was fortunate to meet) includes Jews, Sikhs, Christians and those that are, let’s say, ill defined when it comes to religion. They have people of all colours in their organization.
ConquerCovid-19 is not just a snap shot of Canada in 2020, it’s a snapshot of the best of Canada. While we struggle to deal with our failings as a nation, rather than look with despair on our country, we should look to the hope that organizations like ConquerCovid-19 provide. To my mind, there is no other country on this planet where such a diverse group of people could come together, find a common cause that is rooted in charity and selflessness, and work co-operatively for the benefit of all.
The strength of Canada lies in it’s unique multi-cultural nature, where our differences are celebrated, not denigrated. Where our basic humanity, tolerance and kindness is the common thread that unites us all. That is what Canada is all about, and that is what ConquerCovid-19 exemplifies every day by their actions.
Thank you ConquerCovid-19, for reminding us of the promise that is Canada.