Why I Give a Day – Dr. Winnie Siu

Dr. Winnie Siu

My first introduction to Jane Philpott was a picture of her smiling at me from a poster card advertising an event where she was to receive an award for her work in raising awareness and funds to fight HIV/AIDS, particularly recognizing her efforts through the Give a Day campaign.

At the time, I was a medical student early in my clinical training, doing an elective rotation at Casey House and entertaining a faint career interest in global health. I had returned from the sub-Saharan African country of Zambia just a few months earlier where I had been working on an HIV research project. The trip had left me pondering questions about social activism, the role of Canadian doctors in international health, and my responsibilities to vulnerable populations as a physician. I had not met very many doctors involved in global health, and I was intrigued by this woman who had spent almost a decade working in Niger and was now receiving an award for championing the cause of HIV/AIDS in Africa locally. A few weeks later, I heard the name Jane Philpott again, in the context of the opening of a family medicine residency program with a focus on global health. I tucked all these pieces of information away in the back of my head.

Fast forward three years, a few more international experiences, a pervasive and growing desire to engage in global health, and a number of residency interviews later, where, at present, you can find me most days working in the residents’ room beside Jane’s office at the Health for All family medicine clinic at Markham Stouffville Hospital. I am now in my second year of residency, and one amongst the first cohort of residents to train in family medicine with an emphasis on issues of multi and cross-cultural health, as well as health of populations that are marginalized and vulnerable both locally and globally.

Despite this, I must be truthful in admitting that many days, the health and well-being of those living on other continents is far from my mind. Residency has a way of making you focus intently on the here and now – the patients on your list for that morning, the on-call shift you are working that night, the presentation you are (frantically, always) preparing for the next day. Mostly, this is good and necessary: I want to give my undivided attention to the patient who is sitting right in front of me. Yet it is so easy for me to forget to consider the global context of the health and wellness of populations – and my reasons for becoming a doctor in the first place.

In as much as Give a Day is a chance for me to contribute in a tangible way to the efforts of fighting HIV around the world, it is also a reminder for me to reflect on the motivations that I promised to stay true to during my medical training, like global health equity, social justice and human rights. What is remarkable about Jane is that I believe these issues are always at the forefront of her mind. For her, Give A Day is lived out every day of the year.

The two organizations that Give a Day supports, Dignitas International and the Stephen Lewis Foundation, have deep personal significance for me, as the founders of both wrote books which directly influenced my decision to pursue a career in global health. If you Google the salary of a second-year resident in Ontario, and divide this number by 210 (the number of working days in a year), I will be donating this amount, rounded up to the nearest hundred, to the Give a Day campaign on Dec. 1.

For some of you, this amount may be too little. To this I say: Great! I’m delighted that you’ll be able to give more!

For some of you, this amount may be too much. To this I say: That’s okay; it’s not how much we give individually, but the sum of our efforts that will make the difference.

And isn’t this the point of Give a Day, after all? The seemingly daunting, insurmountable task of an AIDS-free world will one day be achieved through – and only through – the synergy of our collective contributions.

“We need the best of many – not of just a few… We must strive for excellence.”

Stephen Lewis, Jane Philpott, James Fraser

This morning Stephen Lewis was the keynote speaker at our Hot Talks event.  After his powerful address, I asked the audience to do 3 things: donate, educate, activate.

The 1st goal – to donate – is the most measurable and perhaps the simplest step to take. The results are priceless. Clearly one of the essential aims of the campaign is to raise money for great recipient organizations – the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Dignitas International.

A 2nd goal of Give a Day (GAD) is to educate or “raise awareness” about HIV in the world. And this actually thrills me as much as our fund-raising success.  We keep people talking about important global social issues related to the theme of HIV. Give a Day educates us. And education is so critical – it’s what GK Chesterton calls the “soul of a society”.

Beyond GAD’s challenge to donate & educate is a 3rd goal – to activate. I hope GAD will inspire you to do even more than giving and learning.  A good education leads inevitably to action. Wm Butler Yeats, the Irish poet (and later politician), said “Education is not filling a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” I want to light a fire with this campaign.  And I’d like that fire to burn brightly, to show a vision of a new and better future for the people and places affected by HIV.

48 years ago today, I was a toddler living in snowy Winnipeg Manitoba. On this day 48 years ago, my mother was in our Winnipeg kitchen making a 3-year-old birthday cake for me. Her work was interrupted when she heard on the television that President John F Kennedy had been shot. For our society, it remains one of the most memorable days in modern history. A great man and incomparable leader had his life brutally cut short.  I think about the Kennedy family each year on November 22. I wish I had known the parents of John F Kennedy.  I often wonder: what were the ingredients that inspired the Kennedy siblings to be such leaders – lights and fires – for their generation? But they did more than just lead themselves; they called on others to take up the tasks of the day.  Less than four weeks after President Kennedy was shot, his brother Bobby wrote a new Foreword for a memorial edition of John’s book “Profiles in Courage”. The words written by Bobby Kennedy 48 years ago are relevant to our task today:

“The energies and talents of all of us are needed to meet the challenges – the internal ones of our cities, our farms, ourselves – to be successful in the fight for freedom around the globe, in the battles against illiteracy, hunger and disease.  Pleasantries, self-sustained mediocrity will serve us badly. We need the best of many – not of just a few. We must strive for excellence.”

I like to emphasize this point after Stephen Lewis speaks because his matchless speaking skills can be a little intimidating. Even in a confident crowd, many of us may feel inadequate and ill-equipped in comparison.  But it takes more than the actions of Stephen Lewis to combat the forces that propagate the AIDS pandemic. What did Bobby Kennedy say? We need the best of many – not of just of few. We must all strive for excellence. Strive is an action verb. To strive means to put your whole & considerable force behind this effort.

I hope you are already quite convinced that we should do our part to address the realities of HIV in the world. If so, you are not alone. Let us donate. Let us educate. And let us activate all the resources within our reach to strive together toward a world without AIDS.

Hot Talks Event Challenges and Inspires

Last night the crowd at the Markham Theatre was treated to an evening that challenged and inspired as they gathered for the first “Hot Talks at Markham Theatre” event where the topic for the evening was “Canadian professionals and social activism: an option or an obligation?”  Dr. Jane Philpott shared ideas of how we all can be part of the solution to AIDS in the world by hosting a Harambee, running a workplace campaign or finding other ways to “give a day”. 

Dr. Jane Philpott, Give a Day Founder

Dr. Jane Philpott, Give a Day Founder

Dr. Jeff Turnbull and Stephen Lewis engaged and enlightened the audience and challenged them to take action. 

Dr. Jeff Turnbull

Dr. Jeff Turnbull

The music of Madagascar Slim and Soul Influence ensured that people went away feeling inspired and energized, ready to find ways for social action in their individual lives.

Give a Day 09 Madagascar Slim

Soul Influence

Soul Influence

Hot Talks at Markham Theatre – November 12th – Stephen Lewis and Dr. Jeff Turnbull

On Thursday, November 12th at 7:30 pm Give a Day is very pleased to present Hot Talks at Markham Theatre.  We will be welcoming Stephen Lewis, chair of the Stephen Lewis Foundation and former Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, and Dr. Jeff Turnbull, Chief of Staff at the Ottawa Hospital and Medical Director of the Ottawa Inner City Health Project who will be discussing the topic “Canadian professionals and social activism: an option or an obligation?” The evening will also include beautiful music by Madagascar Slim and Soul Influence.  Tickets are only $20 and are available through the Markam Theatre box office by calling 905-305-SHOW or 1-866-768-8801 or online.