WHO delegates visit Emo

More than 100 delegates, volunteers, and residents attended sessions and a luncheon last Wednesday afternoon at the Emo/La Vallee Arena as part of the World Health Organization’s 11th International and 5th National Conference on Safe Communities.
The arena was decorated with safety-themed posters by students from Donald Young School, toy tractors, and balloons.
“The food was wonderful. The whole day flowed together really well, and all the presenters were very good,” said Chapple councillor and WHO volunteer Rilla Race.
“The volunteers represented the three townships [Emo, Chapple, and La Vallee] and they decorated, judged posters, and packed the delegate bags,” she noted.
“I was there all day as a volunteer and it was kind of a blur,” she laughed.
Emo Reeve Russ Fortier, La Vallee Reeve Ken McKinnon, and Chapple Reeve Bill Clink all spoke during opening ceremonies, and DYS students also performed skits.
There also were presentations on health and safety workplace resources, the rural/urban variable in driving characteristics, success with behaviour-based safety, S.A.F.E. Schools, the challenges of safe community programs for low-income families, and the prevalence and associated factors of falls among the elderly.
Guest speaker for the luncheon was Dr. Leif Svanstrom, professor of social medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and chairman of the Department of International Health and Social Medicine.
He gave an informal talk on “Safe Communities in the 21st Century—a grassroots movement or an illusion?” He walked around the tables as he spoke, relied on no notes, and asked for audience participation.
“My work should be of value to people I know,” he said, adding that his paternal grandfather was a farmer and his maternal grandfather was a sawmill labourer.
He gave a history of Sweden’s safe community movement, the main point being that the movement has to come from the grassroots because politicians don’t have the attention spans to deal with such long-term projects.
“The central level can’t control safety,” he stressed.
In 1991, Dr. Svanstrom was employed in Sweden’s safe community movement as an advisor.
“Suddenly, the program was kicked out of the national level, I still don’t know why,” he noted. “All health promotion level programs have been stopped. You can never trust the government.
“The most realistic kind of movement is your kind of movement,” he continued, referring to Rainy River District. “It’s created by the people.
“National and provincial governments have other priorities,” Dr. Svanstrom argued. “They’re like bumblebees going from flower to flower. They’re totally unreliable with new projects coming all the time.”
He added safe communities is still in its beginning stages.
“After 25 years, this is just the beginning. It’s something we’ll need for 100 years. There’s no program in the government 100 years old.”
Dr. Svanstrom also mixed humour and praise in his assessment of the WHO conference hosted by the district.
“I would have come to Rainy River because I like fishing, but the others are here because of you,” he remarked.
“Look me up when you’re in Sweden!” he added.