New support for refugees in Kelowna — CBC Daybreak South interview

The Okanagan Refugee Coalition for Advocacy (ORCA) is a grassroots organization that aims to support the activities of all the neighbourhood groups in the Okanagan sponsoring individual refugee families. On average, it takes about 12 people to provide all the social and moral support needed by a single refugee family. We call these sponsor groups “support pods”. One key way we can support all the pods is coordinating common needs, for example organizing ESL classes or driving lessons. This way, each pod does not need to be re-inventing the wheel every time.

One of our current projects is managing volunteer coordination. We are building a centralized database of potential volunteers in the city that we can vet and then deploy to groups that need them. Furthermore, we need to recruit people keen on creating additional pods for more incoming families. There is an echo effect as newly landed refugees immediately ask if the sponsor group can also sponsor other family members who have been left behind in the refugee camps of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, etc. There are many more Syrians that need our help.

Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs) have a support pod built in by definition. But Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) do not. This creates a two-tier system that doesn’t benefit anybody. So, ORCA and the local sponsor organizations have always discussed a long-term vision of taking the care and support networks that have been prepared to support the PSRs, and extending it to the GARs.

No GARs have arrived in Kelowna yet, but with Vancouver asking to staunch the flow, GARs could theoretically be redirected here. And as with the PSRs, we could get very short notice. We want to be prepared. That is what this CBC interview is about.

If you want to help, sign up as a volunteer →

Are we a “hapa” family?

Family Portrait
Family portrait by MAUD.

In One Big Hapa Family Jeff Chiba Stearns investigates why there is such a high rate of interracial marriage (95%+) amongst Canadians of Japanese ethnic heritage (otherwise known as Nikkei). Through interviews with his family and other Nikkei in British Columbia, Chiba Stearns explores the historical experience of the Nikkei in Canada and issues surrounding multiethnic identity.

The DVD of this film was given to my wife and I at Christmas by a family friend who, with a slight grin on her face, commented simply: “You guys should watch this.”

She was right.

Sitting down to watch this, my wife and I laughed when we saw it was about growing up as a multiethnic kid in Kelowna! This is a constant topic of discussion in our household as we watch our multiethnic kids grow up here in Kelowna. My wife and I don’t identify as Hapa, but I am sure our kids will. Does this make us a Hapa family? Sorta? ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Continue reading “Are we a “hapa” family?”

Helping Syrian refugees

Out of 11 million people diplaced during Syria’s five year long civil war, more than four and a half million are languishing in camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon and other countries. Many have been in the camps for years. At the end of October 2015, our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his intention to give sanctuary to 25,000 Syrian refugees. Not a large number compared to other countries, or even compared to Canada’s response to other refugee crises historically, yet this is still a large undertaking. Helping Syrian refugees is a massive national project and will take the support of many Canadians beyond the civil servants in Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

I wanted to get involved. After some investigating and talking with friends involved, I joined ORCA.

ORCA_header

The Okanagan Refugee Coalition for Advocacy is a non-governmental group that connects neighbourhood groups sponsoring local refugee families with common services and advocates on their behalf to policymakers and the wider public. ORCA tackles issues on a project-by-project basis with special focus on things faced by every sponsorship group, for example vetting volunteers, organizing English as a Second Language training, and even securing driver’s licenses. ORCA’s role is to support the wider network of sponsor groups as needs arise.

There are currently 8 (known) groups sponsoring a couple of dozen families in the region (you can see short profiles of each group at orcabc.org). Sponsoring a family takes a lot of time and money. Usually, each family is supported by a dozen people. In most cases in the Okanagan these groups privately raise at least $30,000 to see the refugee family through their first year. So far we have not received any Government Assisted Refugees (GARs). Most are Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs) or a mix of government and private (BVOR: Blended Visa Office-Referred).

Meeting with these neighbourhood groups (we at ORCA call them “support pods”) I have been impressed with their variety and resilience. These are regular people without any special training trying to help other humans in need. To get a sense of what kind of people are in these groups, and what they talk about, listen to this short CBC documentary about a sponsor group in Toronto. Some of the topics that come up in pod meetings are very intense, leading to philosophical debate. Groups have differences in how they approach problems, but they are all doing excellent work, and I aim to support them in any way I can.

Since starting on this project, I have learned that many of the problems that refugees face are actually part of bigger social problems. The standout is housing. Securing homes for incoming refugees, which often arrive with just 24 hours of notice, has been the main challenge of sponsor pods so far. But this is in the context of a wider housing crisis. Kelowna is ranked “Severe” on the Canadian Housing Rental Index. More than a quarter of people here spend half of their income on rent, and availability is very tight (2.6% as of Apr 2015). Other centers in Canada are also suffering from the same problem. In the long-term, we are looking to tackle issues like this — issues that not only refugees face — in a more holistic manner. In the meantime, there is only a couple more months of intake and a whole lot of soon-to-be-arriving families on the horizon that need help.

If you are interested in helping too, please visit ORCA and get in touch. In general, sponsor pods need to solve the housing issue. If you have access to affordable housing, please let us know. Sponsor groups are also looking for people with professional skills (doctors, dentists, etc) willing to donate their time, as well as drivers to help with mobility, and of course potential employers. Things like clothes, furniture and toys are generally not needed. Vehicles are, especially vans for large families. Monetary donations are always welcome. Since we have no central fund, talk to an ORCA rep to find out where your money is most needed. If you want to dedicate the next year or so of your life and help a family, become a sponsor pod member or start your own pod! There are more and more families coming, and long term volunteers that get to know the families and shepherd them along in their journey are sorely needed. If you are looking for a new project, or are looking to do some good in the world, I can assure you that helping a Syrian (or any other nationality) refugee family is highly rewarding.

Nice coverage of tech issues at the local level

Kelowna Capital News Tech Talk special

Kudos to Kelowna Capital News, one of our local newspapers, for running a special on technology last week. Tech is one of the dominant problems in the global zeitgeist, and it is not often that a local paper will put the resources into exploring such an issue in a local context. The Tech Talk package dubbed “Mainframe Communication” (!) is not super hard-hitting, which is understandable since it is geared toward a more general audience, but despite it’s name I think it shows an extraordinary level of awareness. I look forward to more coverage like this.

Included are articles on education, local politics, and employment with some pieces on the legal and social ramifications of unfettered tech. To read it online, check out this piece on Kelowna’s tech economy and see links to all the other articles in the package in the footer of that article.

Downsizing

Library of books I never read — Fired!

Closet full of clothes I never wear — Fired!

Old couch and coffee tables taking up space in the living room — Fired!

Living room — Fired!

Credit card debt — Fired!

We’ve been downsizing. Over the past couple of years we have been removing ourselves from the systems of debt and consumerism and working towards living more sustainably. This has proven to be a long process, where one must question every part of one’s life. We are not anywhere near done yet, but we have been building momentum.
Continue reading “Downsizing”

The best of 2015

This year was one of community, organizing and living better. After breaking down my current interests in a recent post, a pattern of community organizing and social activity is apparent. 2015 was a year of solidifying my thinking on social issues, especially those beyond tech, which has consumed me for the past few years.

Besides winning a victory over Bell Mobility and getting a nice letter from prime ministerial hopeful Tom Mulcair, here are some highlights from 2015:

Posts

Early in the year my writing performance was strong but it tapered off towards the end. Disappointing, and understandable that my most memorable posts were from the first part of the year.

In January I did a Kelowna news media audit. Thanks to this post I was able to interview insiders in the industry here, and learned a lot about the attempt Kelowna.com made to unseat Castanet… and why it failed. The post even generated an invitation to talk on CBC Radio. Later there were communications with UBCO to host a panel discussion between journos and academics to talk about media and transparency with the public, but that went nowhere. Nobody else seems to want to tackle this problem.

In March the LRC published my review of Kitten Clone. That is my second piece with them, and it was a lot of fun working with their editor.

I really enjoyed my second trip to the annual LinuxFest Northwest in April. My first experience was good, but this one had a lot of political events that I found very interesting. See More than computers — A recap of LinuxFest Northwest 2015.

For summer holidays we visited Japan, which made me think deeply about the sense of belonging that I have been building up in Canada — maybe for the first time. Check out the post In between worlds — thoughts from a short trip to Japan.

Media

I logged 47 films and 55 books this year. Only 6 were by women authors… :-/ Hmmmm… Of the 55, 42 were audiobooks. This is out of balance compared to years before. One reason is that I have been “reading” Infinite Jest … for 6 months. The “Infinite Summer” has certainly run long, but I am back on the horse and hopefully can finish in the next quarter. My GoodReads Challenge this year was 110%. Next year I will probably tone this down a little and listen to more Great Courses from The Teaching Company and history/education podcasts.

Books and film consumption by year, 2010 to 2015
Books and film consumption by year, 2010 to 2015

Probably the most influential book I read this year was Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I read it early in the year and it guided a lot of my subsequent reading. Highly thought-provoking and highly recommended. For fiction, The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin was a breakout book. It was my first foray into Chinese science fiction, and hard sci-fi at that — super mind-bendy. I look forward to the rest of the series.

For film, I would be remiss not to mention Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Maybe not the most technical film, but I still can’t stop thinking about it. I now know how real pop-culture fans feel about their respective fandoms. Going again this week. The Martian was another impressive film. I only saw it once in the theatre, but will watch it again as soon as I can get it in my house. I finally watched 2013’s Her (just yesterday in fact) and it blew me away. Finally, The Lego Movie and Big Hero 6 were the winners in Family Film this year.

Those are fun, blockbuster-type movie “experiences”, but for more hard-hitting media I consumed this year there are a few standouts: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, a documentary series from 2011 was very influential; as was Under the Dome, a documentary on China’s disastrous environmental record (see my full review here). The first few episodes of the summer television series Mr Robot had some great social commentary on tech. Even though the series was very enjoyable, it was a little disappointing that they did not more deeply explore the show’s early critiques.

Upcoming in 2016

Next year will see more learning/media focus on the Syrian refugee crisis as I work more with ORCA. There is also a fun secret project that will be done during Q1 (expect a post then). In the spring there is another trip to Japan planned, and in the summer a second wedding (my wife and I are renewing our vows for our tenth wedding anniversary). 2016 will also be a breakout year for my company. So, lots of positive stuff coming up.


See previous entries:

In between worlds — thoughts from a short trip to Japan

Every time I come back to Japan I ask myself: could I live here again? I spent 8 years here. I met my wife here. Both of my daughters were born here. There is so much about this country that I enjoy. The infrastructure is great, the safety, helpfulness, richness of culture and history.

Yet, I don’t think I could live in Japan again. At least, not at this point in my life. And the reason is a simple one: community.

We have lived for 3 years in Kelowna. Since leaving my hometown at 18, this is the longest I have ever lived in one location. I am involved in a few different community groups including the startup community, Japanese immigrant community, the wider immigrant community, and others. Once my children are more independent, I plan on being involved in more. This year, my oldest daughter completed kindergarten. That has a whole new community, a long term one made up of teachers and best friends and other parents. I care about what goes on in my city, province and country, and think of myself as an active and engaged citizen. I cherish my right to vote, and can voice my opinion to my political representatives which I have pretty much all met at one time or another.

If we moved back to Japan, I would lose all of this.

My wife takes our daughters back about once a year and puts them in school for a month or so, that they might have some Japanese education. Walking the kids to school, listening to the daily recap from the teacher, attending assemblies — even though I am pretty fluent in Japanese, my outsider status is pretty apparent. Not having the same shared experiences, I cannot contribute to my full potential.

This year’s visit coincided with the Gion Festival, a month long series of events, dating back to 970CE, heralding the beginning of summer. Gion matsuri is one of Japan’s three major festivals and the pride of Kyoto. It is a hot sticky mess as the summer rainy season brings humidity and typhoons. Everyone looks forward to going out in the (slightly) cooler evening, admiring the 33 floats, running into neighbours, drinking and revelling. Families are out with younger children way past their bedtime. Teenagers run around, flirting and sneaking drinks. It is a real carnival atmosphere. The floats represent different city neighbourhoods and are maintained, built and paraded by the community members. There are months of preparations, meetings and dance practices, bringing the community together. Parade members are selected as representatives of their neighbourhoods. The participants are full of pride, and are looked on by their community members with pride. Although there is the occasional foreigner in the mix, they are inherently a “guest.” Experiencing Gion matsuri this year just reminded me of how difficult it is to integrate into a foreign society.

My 8 years in Japan were not as an “expat”, but as someone who intended to live their forever. I am fluent with the language, knowledgeable about history, know more about Japanese traditional culture than many Japanese, and kept up with domestic politics and economic issues. Even armed with all this knowledge, lacking a common experience with natives makes it exceedingly difficult to integrate completely. I think most lifers in Japan find a comfortable niche and make it work for them. This would have been my approach, had I chosen to stay.

These challenges in integration have given me a little insight into the immigrant experience, which has been very useful in Canada. My wife got her Canadian Permanent Residency over 5 years ago, yet there are still many struggles. She is grateful that I can understand her feelings and at the same time be her “inside man” when it comes to Canadiana. I enjoy helping other immigrants, not from a pedestal of privilege (as a white male) but as a pool of understanding, to be drawn upon if needed.

I am a collection of strange experiences, without any real special skill or knowledge. I have always been in between worlds, serving as connective tissue between different communities — stuck between Canada and Japan; between Eastern and Western Canada; technology and politics; nerds and “normies”; between the past and the future. Always cartilage, never the bone.

However, at this point in my late thirties, with all the connections to the local community that I have been building over the past few years, I am finally achieving a sense of long-term belonging. Japan is a wonderful place, a place that we Canadians can certainly learn from and aspire to in many things. But for now, I am content just visiting. I have much to live for at my home in Canada.

Summer 2015 in Japan

For those that are interested, here are a bunch of photos and videos from my trip to Japan this summer:

Who watches the watchers?

Full disclosure: I back CANADALAND on Patreon.

Turning a critical eye towards the national news media is an important and valuable endeavour. But the daily lives of Canadians are influenced far more by local news. Although Jesse Brown’s eps on Hamilton and New Brunswick are informative forays into local conditions (and how terrible they are), it is too much to expect Jesse to cover every local media landscape.

That is the reason I started the Kelowna news media audit. It is an attempt to start a discussion, and to map out our local news media landscape to discover where it serves us well, and where it is weak.

Often the newsmedia is the lens the citizenry uses to observe the doings of local government. Thus it is of vital importance that we as citizens are precisely aware of the condition of that lens. It is key to government and public relations, and vital to a healthy community.

My piece from last week has generated some discussion. I made an appearance on CBC Radio’s Daybreak South with host Chris Walker, and I met the editor of another local outlet for some one-on-one time. And of course there has been some interesting feedback via Twitter. Overwhelmingly many have asked: what’s next?

I am not sure if I want to take the mantle of “Okanagan’s Jesse Brown.” It is a matter of time and training (I have neither). But the media audit certainly did bring up a lot of questions, and some potential paths of research. For example:

  1. Historical analysis: I listed the number of reporters on the beat (which was problematic since “the beat” doesn’t really exist any more). I would be interested in comparing this current number to 5, 10, 15 years ago.
  2. What went down with Kelowna.com? I have talked to two members of that team and I would like to pursue this story. The fact they had 11 reporters backed by tech entrepreneurs makes this story fascinating to me. In the meantime, check out this writeup from one of its former reporters.
  3. Wider context: While I listed the outlets responsible for civic reporting, I did not bring up the city’s public relations department, or other ways a citizen can get information on civic issues. There are more contours to this landscape, and we should be aware of them all.
  4. Related to #3, 15% of our population is foreign-born (according to ancient stats from 8 years ago because we haven’t had a decent census — a topic for another day) but I only covered mainstream English-language outlets. How do our sizable South Asian, Filipino, Korean, Iranian and other minority communities get the news?
  5. Inspired by this tweet, it would be interesting to take attendance for media that show up to council (since apparently some only show up sporadically). Who shows up when, and during what discussions? What conclusions can we draw from this?
  6. Would the media orgs in the community be willing to have a round-table discussion about the landscape here? I would be willing to facilitate, if we couldn’t find a media scholar to do so. Such a discussion would be valuable to the community, methinks.

If there are any media studies or journalism students that would like to tackle these questions, or even just concerned citizens like myself, feel free to get in touch. Maybe we can work together to get a better handle on how we see our own community.

Kelowna news media audit

kelowna newsmedia logos

I was inspired by the story of Joey Coleman, an independent and crowd-sourced reporter in Hamilton, who I learned about from this great episode of CANADALAND about the collapse of local news. It made me think about my local news media landscape, and I decided to compile a list of all the news media outlets in our fair city.

There are two conditions to be on this list:

First, I am only including outlets that provide some amount (however small) of local, civic content. In other words, I exclude outlets that are purely about culture, wine, tourism, festivals or other community events. Not that those aren’t great, I am just more focused on outlets that contribute to an informed citizenry. I want to list the type of outlets that would have a reporter in a city council meeting (hopefully every time…).

Second, I want outlets that create original content. I did not want to include aggregators, of which there are a ton. The orgs on this list have live bodies that type stories on a keyboard, or even better get sent outside to gather news.

The list below is based on what I could find out online, and asking around on Twitter and via email. It is probably not complete, but I am confident I have a pretty good foundation. If you have anything to add, please do so in the comments and I will update the list. Or, if you want to reach out privately, contact me here.


TV

Global News Okanagan. Owned by Shaw Media. 2 field reporters and 1 web reporter in Kelowna; 1 field reporter each in Vernon and Penticton. (source)

ShawTV Okanagan. Owned by Shaw Media. No real news coverage, but they do broadcast City Council meetings on Channel 11.

CTV Okanagan. Owned by Bell Media. 1 news reporter, 1 videographer/editor, and a Facebook page. Responsible for covering BC interior for CTV Vancouver. (source)

Radio

CBC Kelowna including Daybreak South and Radio West. The local incarnation of our public broadcaster, owned by us. Covering the entire Okanagan (and more): 1 reporter, 2 asst. producers, 2 producers, 2 radio anchors, 1 news editor. (source) But no podcast… that’s how I listen to The Current and Spark and all my fave CBC shows!

AM1150. Owned by Bell Media. 4 reporters. (source) Soundcloud which basically means podcast. Provides news coverage to the two other Bell Media radio stations in Kelowna: 99.9 SunFM and 101.5 ezRock.

The other stations don’t seem to have any news coverage, aka:

Newspapers

Daily Courier. Owned by Continental Newspapers Canada Ltd. 1 reporter? (awaiting response).

Capital News. A Black Press paper, owned by David Holmes Black (no relation to Conrad). As far as I can tell, 1 reporter covering civic news (a couple more doing sports and the like). (awaiting response)

Web

Castanet. Owned by Nick Frost. 4 reporters? (awaiting response by email) I like that they have audio uploads of city council and are even distributing them as a podcast, but what they should be doing is recapping them and providing analysis.

InfoTel. Owned by Bonnie Derry. 2 reporters. According to our Lord Mayor, these guys are regulars at City Council.

KelownaNow. Owned by Jim and Nikki Csek and one other minority shareholder. 5 “journalist reporters” in total (confirmed by email with the GM). Not sure how many actually cover civic affairs.


So what does this all mean? Could Kelowna support a Joey Coleman? Considering he is only approaching the break-even point in a market that is four times the size of us, I am doubtful. Yet one reporter for every 10,000 residents seems too low. Well, with only a 30% voter turnout (about 30K people), it is more like one reporter for every 2000 voters. I wonder if these two problems are linked?

Although I am not a media scholar and have no framework for analysis, I certainly think we could be doing better. That is in both quantity and quality. Shaw and Bell own a lot of our traditional news media, while the web-based news orgs are all private and self-identify as "marketing" companies. It'd be nice to see the CBC step up here, maybe add a digital presence, but they have a lot going on already.

Okanagan Bitcoin

#LeanCoffeeKL 96 - Cryptocurrencies
Photo by @scdaustin

Yesterday at #LeanCoffeeKL 96 we gathered to discuss cryptocurrencies. The meetup was really successful with a lot of new people coming out early in the morning to discuss and learn about bitcoin and other related topics. The spread of experience was pretty vast with long-time miners and evangelists to people who had only heard of bitcoin “5 days ago”. We also had some (non-tech) finance people around which lended an excellent balance. There were far too many topics to discuss in just an hour, and the discussion spilled out into the lounge area for about another hour. There will be a follow-up, and there is definitely enough interest to spin this off into its own group.

I look forward to seeing a monthly Okanagan bitcoin group. There are so many angles to learn and discuss centered on this topic, for example:

  • how to open a wallet (would make for a great hacknight)
  • securing your wallet
  • paper wallets and ASIC wallets
  • is BTC an asset, currency, money, or all of the above?
  • investment and arbitrage
  • altcoins and their applications
  • the politics of bitcoin
  • the technical aspect of the bitcoin protocol

I hope to see the group tackle each of these topics and more. If you are interested, please come out to #LeanCoffeeKL 97 – Cryptocurrencies Part 2 to register your interest and help shape the group that will grow out of this meeting.