WHO conference deemed a hit

The balloons and streamers are gone, foreign delegates are back in their home countries, and volunteers are taking a much-needed break.
But those involved in organizing the World Health Organization’s 11th International and 5th National Conference on Safe Communities here agreed it was an overwhelming success.
“It went very well and people from outside of the area were truly impressed with the involvement of the community,” Doug Anderson, chair of the Rainy River Valley Safety Coalition, said Monday.
“They were very impressed with our spirit. I was proud to be living in Fort Frances,” he added.
Delegates from 33 countries descended on Rainy River District last Tuesday through Thursday for the conference, and were greeted with cultural displays, choirs, pipers, and throngs of welcoming citizens.
From a safety point of view, Fort Frances OPP Cst. Al MacDonald said the three-day conference was problem-free.
“It was very good. Everyone was well-behaved, and the delegates seemed to have a good time,” he said.
The conference didn’t go off without a hitch.
Volunteers tackled everything from broken photocopiers to a possible flag faux pas where the Macedonian flag on table centre-pieces was mistaken for the Imperial Japanese flag, which might have offended some delegates.
Volunteers rushed in and removed the flags before realizing they actually were all right.
For the most part, Anderson said he only ever heard about problems after volunteers already had solved them.
“There is one thing that I regret,” Anderson admitted. “We were supposed to have a tour to the east end and the west end of the district but we didn’t have enough people signed up to go to Atikokan. I couldn’t solve it.
“The biggest letdown was not being able to get people to Atikokan,” he stressed.
Participants from 33 countries who attended the conference all seemed to have glowing remarks during the closing ceremony Thursday.
“Very, very impressed with Fort Frances, especially the clean air and beautiful scenery,” said T L Ng, chairman of the Occupational Safety and Health Council in Hong Kong.
“In Hong Kong, there is high rises and air pollution everywhere.”
Ng, who will be heading the next International Conference on Safe Communities in Hong Kong in March, 2003, said he was amazed by the number of volunteers involved here.
“Six hundred volunteers. I don’t think we will have anything like it in Hong Kong. It’s big city, people don’t even know their neighbours,” he remarked.
Catherine Wong, general manager of the Occupational Safety and Health Council in Hong Kong, also was impressed by the number of local residents who attended various events, such as the mini-Culturama last Wednesday night as well as the opening and closing ceremonies.
“It is owned by the community, not imposed on them,” she said Thursday.
Even Paul Kells, founder of the national Safe Communities Foundation, commented on the local community participation during his presentation Thursday morning.
“I learned so much about how to connect to the community at large. The Rainy River District in this designation [as a safe community] made clear here the passion and sense of accomplishment and pride which allows us to move forward,” he told delegates.
One of the most memorable moments for Kells was the community dinner Tuesday night where citizens not only ate with delegates but others watched the entertainment from the stands.
“People were in the stands watching us eat. I’ve been to a lot of conference but we’ve never had a couple hundred people gathering to watch us eat,” he said.
“An example set in Rainy River is never leave 300 delegates alone, put 500 citizens in there with them,” he continued.
Anderson said hearing these comments made him proud to be from Fort Frances. “It really showed the dedication of a bunch of people and the front-line staff,” he said.
Organizers still have a few loose ends to tie up, such as determining the final price tag for this international event later this week, but Anderson said he’s almost sad the 11-year journey is ending.
“I’m glad it’s over but in another way, I wish it was starting all over again,” he said. “I think I could do it all over again.”