Canada's Champions of Change


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Judge's Diary (Grace Wu): The Spirit of imagination

Posted by: GWU_1Smaller.pngGrace Wu
Resource Development Officer
Amnesty International Canada
Toronto, Ontario

"You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us,
And the world will live as one."

I'm sure you recognize those iconic words by John Lennon from his song, Imagine, one of my all-time favourite songs. I know, I know... no surprise that a member of Amnesty International would choose that song to be one of their favourites. Nonetheless, I'm not too proud to declare my earnestness and optimism upfront and say that all of you, out there, also love Lennon's, Imagine, and I dare say, maybe even secretly, share in the hopes and dreams that are embodied in his song. There has to be a reason it was voted by CBC listeners across Canada as the #1 essential song in pop music history, and ranked as the 3rd greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine! It so obviously taps into our hope for humanity to take care of our planet and to take care of one another.

As I sat with the other judges reading and discussing the stories of the 50 volunteers, Lennon's words kept on surfacing in my thoughts. Over and over, we judges read about ordinary individuals who simply, yet so courageously, always looked outside of themselves to see how they could make their community a better place. Many of the volunteers turned their own life experiences of hardship, persecution and personal tragedies -  almost insurmountable challenges -- and decided to look outwards. I'm reminded of the mom who now cooks and delivers food to shelters, helping to feed 200-300 people in her community every week. She does this because she remembers a time when she was wondering if she could make it to the next pay-cheque. 

Other volunteers who haven't had to face the same life challenges, nonetheless looked around their communities, and chose not to sit comfortably in their positions. Instead, they took action, and they gave of their time to those who thought they could help. Here, I remember the story of the retirees, who could easily be enjoying the fruits of their retirement; instead, they're out there giving their time and life experience to deliver mosquito nets to children all over the world to help prevent malaria.

I believe that all of these top 50 volunteers, and all of the 1,600 and more volunteers who were nominated, have one thing in common with John Lennon: imagination. They all had the imagination to imagine themselves in  another person's shoes. For some, they didn't need to imagine what our world would be like if we only thought of ourselves, and we didn't think of others; they had already experienced this world of indifference and apathy. But, they took those experiences and imagined what our world could be like if we decided to give our time to care. But, it doesn't just stop with imagining. The beauty and genius of John Lennon's song is that it's actually a call to action; that we have to have the courage to act on our vision for a better world. 

This also puts in mind another great Canadian, John Peters Humphrey, who imagined that a better world was possible in a post-World War II climate. Professor Humphrey, a professor of law at McGill University, lead and drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The UDHR expresses the principles of non-discrimination based on race, colour, gender, language, religion and politics; it embodies a vision of inclusion where all can participate and contribute fully to the development and well being of their communities. This vision, articulated by Professor Humphrey, asks all of us to look outside of the comfortable lives we live and to imagine a better world. I don't think it's too far a stretch to say that Canadians have a tradition of looking to make a better world, and I think our volunteers on Champions of Change have exemplified this spirit and tradition.

It was a privilege for me to sit with such an esteemed panel of judges, and to read and to deliberate (with agony!) who amongst these generous volunteers should be chosen as exemplifying volunteerism in Canada. Coming from an organization like Amnesty International where we rely on our volunteers and ordinary people around the world who also dare to imagine a better world, I can only say THANK YOU to these top 50 Canadians who have made such tremendous efforts. Theirs is the stuff that Canadian dreams are made of.

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